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WY Try for a Bull/A Hunt for Bill/Late Season Cow

kwyeewyk

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 22, 2019
Messages
499
Location
Washington
I drew my first Wyoming general elk tag with a friend this season, along with an extra Type 7 cow tag, and have a total of 3 trips planned to fill our tags. I figured I'd consolidate the trips into one thread here, starting with my September archery/rifle solo hunt.

My calendar said my first hunt was supposed to run from Sept 19-28, and since I had no chance for a real scouting trip my plan was to line up a spot for every day of the hunt starting with the spot I wanted to hunt the most. If I found elk I'd be ready to set up a spike camp and continue to hunt the area if it seemed promising, otherwise move on to a new spot the next day. The plan was to hunt archery the first week, and if no luck with that, try the early Sept 26 rifle season opener. All my plans fell apart on Labor Day weekend when the NW blew up with fire activity.

Due to work commitments, my trip had to be cut down and I'd have to be able to get in cell signal most evenings to tend to work matters, so not much chance for spike camps. I had already organized some of my gear before the fires started, but had planned to take the kids on a backpacking/fishing/grouse hunting trip the weekend after Labor Day and was going to use that as a chance to pack most of the rest of my gear. The fires caused that trip to be canceled, and working OT pretty much every day until I was going to leave made it a challenge just to get my gear packed before I left. Needless to say I was a bit unorganized from the start. It was frustrating knowing my archery hunt was getting hacked, but I had to remind myself at least I have a job and my house didn't burn down, so can't complain too much considering what the fires did to others.

So I made it to Wyoming on Thursday the 24th, and after chasing down a few essentials I had left behind (a challenge in the small towns, I think Covid has depleted a lot of inventory for certain things) I finally made it to public hunting lands in the afternoon, so I decided to use that time to do some road scouting to figure out some access points and get a feel for where other hunters were concentrated. Saw quite a few hunter camps along the roads and some good looking country, and just at dark as I was driving back to a spot that looked good to camp was stopped by a hunter looking for a jump.

As we jumped his truck he started telling me about where he'd hunted and where the elk were. He'd been hunting most of the month and said it had been a tough hunt, they were only bugling at night and were spread out more than he usually saw, and more hunters. He said he gave up on bugling because it was only drawing other hunters. He gave me a ton of info, but it sounded like they were holing up in thick timber and were going to be hard to find and harder to get to. But at least there were elk around, so I was excited to give it a try.

Cow/calf and young bull moose from the road.
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I spent the next day working the thick timber patches trying to locate elk. I found lots of fresh sign, but as is typically at this point in the rut, very few elk wandering around. Ended up seeing two black bears, both at less than 50 yards, and not very afraid of me. If I were in Washington with a bear tag I probably could have gotten a shot at the second one.

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In the afternoon I found a lone spike, spooked him a little and started cow calling, he came back and circled me a bit but wouldn't commit to coming into the open and the ever-swirling winds eventually carried my scent to him and he gave up and wandered off. I covered about 6 miles the first day, marked plenty of sign, but had trouble finding the herds in their hiding spots. For day two I had to decide if I would stick with the archery season or go try the early rifle opener. My first spot I had planned to hunt before my travel plans changed was in one of the units that opens for the early rifle, so I decided I'd brave the opening weekend crowds and give it a shot since the archery bugle hunt wasn't looking so good from my first day.

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There were lots of vehicles along the road, camps, trailers, horses, a bit of a zoo, in the rifle opener unit, but my plan was to find a spot away from other camps and head straight into the woods and avoid trails and closed roads. It started raining the night before and by morning it was a wet mess. The ever-swirling winds were whipping the rain into a heavy mist that would instantly soak my binoculars. I started working my way up the slope and jumped some deer first thing, but started to get discouraged as I wasn't seeing any elk sign. The area I was hunting is a long series of slopes and benches full of timber and aspen and dotted with small parks and wet meadows/wallows, continuing up the slope until reaching the base of the tall peaks where the timber thinned into sparse patches. As I cleared the first slope and moved onto the first bench, elk sign became abundant.

Around this point I heard a very poorly blown bugle not far to my left, and then a cow call. I was 100% certain it was another hunter, there have been times when I thought it was a hunter but really was an elk, but this time I was sure. So I ignored that and moved onward, starting up the second slope. A couple minutes later the first shot rang out, a decent ways off to my left. A couple minutes later a second shot from a different location probably further away. Shortly after that I saw two hunters to my right, working up the slope parallel to me, so I headed to the left and they appeared to head to the right. The timber was thicker than I had expected and visibility and shooting distance were going to be less than 100 yards on a typical shot.

Within a couple minutes of seeing the other hunters, right around 8 am, movement caught my eye upslope, and my first thought was other hunters, but as my brain caught up with my eyes I realized I was seeing antler tines moving down the slope towards me. Lots of antler tines, and a wide rack, and my focus went to the massive bases of the fourths, and I knew I wanted to shoot this bull. I pulled my rifle from the hip bearer and got ready for the bull to come into sight. The bull started to my right above me, then turned back for a moment and I though for sure he was going to come down and show himself. But sure enough he turned back and shot off to my right and disappeared into the trees, never showing more than a flash of his body. My heart sunk as I knew it was an incredible almost too easy moment (I was barely a mile from the truck) that just didn't play out quite right. I was expecting to hear shots from the other hunters I had just seen, but as mature bulls tend to do, he managed to slip past them as well.

It was both disappointing but also highly encouraging, as it seemed possible that other similar encounters could be in my future. I knew it was pointless to try to pursue that bull so I hunted onward up the slope. The rain relented for a short while, and as I moved further up the slopes around mid morning a shooting gallery started up above me. I'm guessing some big herds must have gotten pushed into the bigger parks at higher elevations where multiple shots were possible and multiple hunters were taking multiple shots. Must have been close to 20 shots, and then about 20 minutes later a similar round of shooting. Around noon I made it up to this area at the base of the peaks, and the rain came back with a vengeance blown by 30-40 mph gusts, and occasional shifts to hail.

This would be my one night I wouldn't have to go out to do computer work, and had planned to spike out up there. But with the wind making being in the trees scary, and not having my 4 season tent that could handle the winds in the open, I decided it would make for a miserable night staying up there and started working back down to lower elevations where the wind was less. I managed to find a couple groups of single or pairs of cows hiding out in some thick patches, and a few deer (one mature buck slinking into the trees with his head down) and moose, but no more bulls. Ended up covering about 10 miles that day.

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kwyeewyk

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 22, 2019
Messages
499
Location
Washington
Back in the valley that night I saw a small 6 point someone had shot, and realized at that point how big the bull I had seen that morning really was. My encounter with the big bull was enough to convince me to give this area another try for the third day. So that night I scoured OnX for sanctuary areas knowing they'd be hiding out after the shooting the previous day. I found what I was looking for, a north facing slope with thick timber above a creek drainage that had a small bench right about mid slope. My plan was to start on the south facing side of the creek basin and work my way up to elevation, and then contour into the timber patch at the elevation of the bench so I wouldn't have to try to climb the slope in the thick timber.

As I worked my way to the north-facing side of the basin I found lots of trails leading into the bench area of the slope and lots of fresh sign. As I neared the bench I suddenly spotted the body of an elk maybe 50-70 yards through the trees. I froze and began to slowly and quietly unclip the upper strap on my rifle and remove it from the bearer. As I was doing that, I thought that's a big blonde body and looks like a bull. The head of course was behind a tree. Before I had the rifle out my next thought was, my tag is good for any elk, do I shoot now and ask questions later, or wait to confirm it's a bull and see what it looks like? By the time I had the rifle shouldered to try to see if I could see any antlers I had decided I would probably shoot since even if it was a cow it was a nice one for sure.

I got the rifle to my shoulder and it was all blurry. I had adjusted parallax knob to range in the trees the day before, tried to adjust again and nothing. At that point the elk had moved another step behind the tree, I leaned my head to the right to try to get a look as my mind raced trying to figure out what happened to the scope. Then I realized there was another elk closer looking right at me. I froze, and could see it was a cow. After a minute she turned and continued to feed with her head away from me and I could see a calf with her. The first elk that I was now even more convinced was a bull after getting a look at her, had now moved completely behind the tree. I realized at that point that I had a flip up cap on my scope that had gotten turned the day before, and I mindlessly turned it back and didn't consider the reticle focus adjustment. I quickly messed with it and got it refocused, and the elk was still behind the tree. I tried to take a step to the side to see if I could see it through the trees, and broke the tiniest branch that made the tiniest noise, and that cow bolted and took whatever other elk where there with her, and I never got another look at the one I'm now convinced was a bull.

Watching the big bull walk off without showing himself the previous morning was frustrating, but not that bad since I didn't have any control of the situation. But pulling up on that elk and not being able to see through the scope, and blowing it when I was so close to sealing the deal, was way more frustrating because I knew I had just had my plan come together perfectly, and I, ME, MYSELF alone, blew it with a numbnuts mistake. I tried to cow call and they seemed to slow down on their retreat, but they were long gone and no hope of catching up to them without completely revealing myself and spooking them more. So I let them go, figuring I'd try again the next day. On my way down I ended up seeing another elk off a ways through the trees that looked like another bull, but never got another look. I covered about 7 miles that day.

The bench was loaded with wallows and small mud patches, scrapes and rubs, and big piles of bull scat.
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Accidental picture of the trail with tracks.
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The next day would have to be my last, so I was torn between continuing to work the area I had gotten to know somewhat and was having some decent encounters, or moving back to an archery area for one more day with the bow. Between the elevation and limited sleep and stress of having to work at night while hunting, I was pretty worn out and decided to just stay where I was and try to hunt the thick timber patch again. This time I would take a closed road/trail from the valley up to the ridgeline, and then work my way down hill and criss-cross the north facing timber patch from top to bottom.

The wind had finally stopped and it was a bluebird day without a breath of wind. It was probably harder with no wind at all though because the woods were dead quite and I could hardly move without making noise in the thick timber. The day before had taught me that a grasshopper fart will scare them off, so I did my best to creep as slowly and quietly as possible. It wasn't quiet enough though as I managed to spook them up as I got to the top of the timber patch, I could see some cows in front, and heard some more to my left, could hear the bull's antlers banging and breaking through the trees, but never got a look. There was a ton of sign in there and I wished I had been able to spend a week archery hunting there, but it just wasn't in the stars this year. I had to get on the road so I headed out around 4 in the afternoon.

As I was coming out on the closed road not far from the gate, I heard movement in the brush above and saw this guy. Covered another 7 miles that day.

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Shortly after I got back to my truck another hunter came down the trail. I asked how it went and he said he didn't get the big bull, then asked if I had seen the moose. I said yeah and he said he had killed a smaller bull moose that morning, and then saw this guy on his way back to get water before his packout and wished he had gotten him instead. I gave him some water so he wouldn't have to go back to his camp to resupply before he hauled his moose out. If I hadn't have had to get on the road I'd have offered to help him pack it out, but he was appreciative of the water at least. He mentioned he'd seen a bull elk and some cows come down through there and up the hill the previous evening so I figured that was probably the one I had seen at the end of the day through the trees the day before.

While I didn't kill an elk, I think it was a successful trip in that I had some good encounters, found elk where I thought they would be, learned some country and figured out I either need to ditch the reticle cap or maybe put a little glue on the rim so it's sure not to get moved around again. Headed back with a friend on Oct. 10 for a couple weeks, so hopefully in that time we can manage to punch our tags on a couple bulls, but both of us are more than willing to take a cow if it's looking like we won't find bulls.
 
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kwyeewyk

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 22, 2019
Messages
499
Location
Washington
A HUNT FOR BILL

Some quick background before we head out on this next leg of the hunt. Starting with me: My great grandparents on my mother's father's side came from Norway across the northern part of the country through Minnesota and eventually settled in north-central Washington, Siwash Creek of Okanogan County to be precise. When the water dried up at the homestead they moved to town and ran a small motel. My grandpa eventually went in the military and became an airplane mechanic, and when his service ended he took a job for one of the airlines in Los Angeles where he married and had 5 kids including my mother. My grandpa was a lover of the outdoors and mostly of eating fish and wild game, and he would visit Washington as well as Alaska, mostly for fishing but some hunting as well.

My uncle, his only son, would go with him and before long when he had grown up, left LA to move back to Okanogan County. My grandparents soon followed, and not long after, my parents as well when I was 2 year old. Thankfully for me I was spared from growing up in LA and had the good luck to grow up in the foothills of the Cascades in some of the finest country in the state of Washington. Unfortunately my grandpa died when I was 4 or 5 and I never really got to know him or spend quality time with him, as his health was in decline before then already. But he had a vision for his grand kids to love the outdoors as he did, and before he died he had a pair of bolt action .22 rifles waiting for my brother and I to grow into, as well as a semi auto 20 gauge and an old sporterized Model 1903 30.06.

I was obsessed with these guns as a kid. They were kept locked up in gun cases in his bedroom, and every trip we made to my grandparents house I had to admire these guns and dream of the day I'd be old enough to take them hunting. My uncle had the matching 12 gauge, but was kind enough to eventually let me have the 20 gauge and 30.06 without question, since I was the one who wanted to put them to hunting use. By the time I was old enough to hunt my uncle was all but done hunting (although he still loves shooting trap as he did as a boy with my grandpa), and I was the only one in my family interested in hunting. My dad was more than willing to take me, and he liked spotting mule deer in the sagebrush, but he had no real experience of his own.

Growing up in Okanogan County, I had no shortage of friends that hunted. I remember as a youngster that a lot of the kids that were gone for a week at the beginning of school for the County Fair, were also gone for a week or two in October for hunting season. Around third grade we got some new neighbors who's lot cornered ours, a kid in my grade who I knew, and we had a gap in the fences and a trail between our houses. His family has deeper roots in the County than mine, as they are part Native and qualify for partial tribal rights with the Colville tribe.

My friend's dad was named Bill; he was a gruff old log truck driver who was the master of one liners and could roast anybody to ashes with five or six words. You'd better be ready for a ribbing if you spent any time around him, but in the end other than being gruff and grumpy from working his ass off every day, he was pretty good natured and fun to be around if you could handle the roasting. And Bill loved to hunt; self-admittedly he was mostly a road hunter by the time we were old enough to hunt, 16+ hours a day behind the wheel and bad knees can do that to you, and I learned more from some of my other friends' dads about things like bowhunting or proper gun safety while bird hunting in a group with dogs or whatever. But he loved to hunt and he was always willing to take me. He knew all the logging roads around and knew where the deer and grouse were, and would bring home deer and hang them in the yard for me to see and fuel my lust for hunting. When I killed my first grouse he showed my how to pull it apart instead of plucking it as I was trying to do.

For Bill, it was all about the family tradition, and he never gave it up, even as his health failed. Hunting camp was a sacred thing, and he passed that on to his boys. The one hunt he always regretted never filling a tag on was elk. My friend and I kicked around the idea of trying to get him out to Wyoming or somewhere with more elk than Washington, but in the end it never worked out, and he passed a couple of years ago. Bill's failing health was a wake up call to my friend that we aren't getting any younger, and I had told him of my experiences in Wyoming on cow hunts and he was on board to buy points toward a general tag with me. We picked up left over cow tags last year and he was able to take his first elk.

So this hunt we're dedicating to Bill, for his love of the hunt and hunting camp, for his love of the tradition. The killing was never the important part for him, it was the time spent together with his family and the prospect of good meat for the table. So this hunt will be a success, no matter how many tags we fill, dead elk will just be icing on the cake.
 

kwyeewyk

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 22, 2019
Messages
499
Location
Washington
Well I'm finally getting around to writing up the rest of this hunt, 2 weeks in Wyoming made it awful hard to come back to reality, and I've struggled to get back to normal life as all I can think about is studying google earth and onx in the areas I was hunting and thinking about future hunt areas.

After traveling most of Saturday the 10th, we got started on our hunt early Sunday morning. We decided to check out some new ground that I had hoped to get scouted out on my first trip down but due to the truncated schedule never got there. That would give us a chance to acclimate a bit while we did some road scouting to start to learn the new area. Right away we ran into problems with our first plan as we discovered the main access road was under construction and was a muddy mess, and worse yet, what appeared to be viable side roads where either inaccessible or too risky with the mud, so access to the areas we hoped to check out was going to be many miles on foot just to get close. We spent the first half of the day in this spot, and decided to take a drive on the highway to another access road that we hoped would give us better access.

As we got onto the forest road we made it about a mile up the road when I spotted what I was sure was an elk standing in a clearing not far above the road. I told my friend to stop and he came to a stop behind some trees. I told him I'm pretty sure there's an elk standing up the hill from the road. I had already told him he had first shot, so I handed him his rifle and figured if there were elk we might be able to get off the road behind the trees and work out to where we could see them. Just as he walked around the truck, another truck came up the road in a hurry and drove right up behind us. I ran around the truck and jumped in to move it out of the road a little further so they could get around. By then, my friend was standing up the hill above the road looking with his binoculars. I figured if there were any elk they must be long gone now, but I walked up to him to take a look. Sure enough just then an elk moved through the trees and gave a few quick glimpses of a large, fat laden body as it quick stepped out of sight. We both figured it looked like a bull as big as it was, but never saw any antlers.

We decided we'd give the area a try, but the area where we saw the elk had other hunters covering it the next 2 days, and we spent the next 3 days struggling to cover the ground to find elk in this vast area of open meadows and dense timber. On this side there were far more roads than I thought there would be, and the distance between everything was much greater than I picked up on from e scouting. We soon figured out that we weren't going to be effective in this area without having more time to scout it out and hone in on some spots without having to cover endless miles to find a few tracks.

We did get to see some good pronghorn rutting activity and watch a buck chasing a doe through a boulder field at 50 MPH, seemingly floating across the boulders that were as big as them.

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Quite a few grouse around too.

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It was a beautiful area, and not many hunters either, if I could hunt there every year I'd spend some time figuring it out, but in the end it wasn't very productive for us for elk, and it was miserably windy, so we broke camp and headed for familiar ground that Thursday. Scenery was nice.

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We spent most of Thursday breaking camp and moving to the area I had hunted on my first trip down. We found there to be very few camps left and found a nice one and got set up to spend the rest of the trip in this area. The next morning my friend wasn't feeling up to much of a hike, but I was itching to get back out in the area I was more familiar with and see what I could find. So he planned to do some easy hunting at lower elevations and go scout out other access points, while I was going to go back up the mountain and see what I could find.

At first I was headed back to the last spot I had hunted on the north facing slope with the bench on it. But as I was working up the closed road, I figured that spot would make more sense to hunt with my friend since it was easier to get to and had a good spot where I figured I could plant him and I could work a loop and possibly move elk to him if I spooked them. So I decided to head the direction I had hunted my first day out in this spot when I saw the big bull. Around 2:30 I made it up to the base of the peaks where it starts to open up into bigger parks. The last time I had been up here the wind was intolerable, but this time it was a beautiful day without too much wind. So I worked my way higher, up into the beginning of the truly steep country, where I figured elk would be hiding out. As I made my way into the openings, I spotted a deer up on the high mountain above me. All alone I figured maybe it was a big old buck, but just a lone doe all by herself up there. I thought "that's where I want to find the elk, they must be up here somewhere."

I had only gone maybe a quarter mile, working up and across the slope, when I finally spotted what I'd been looking for, elk! Up above, in a small saddle with an opening in the trees. Several cows, moving in and out of sight. At one point I thought I saw antlers, but then it turned out to be sunlight on some branches by her head. After looking over at least 7 or 8 cows and calves, I started to wonder if there was bull with them or not. 250 yards. Just as I was wondering if I should just shoot a cow and call it good, right on cue a weak raspy bugle called out, quiet and muted by the wind, gone as fast as it sounded. My heart leapt, he was up hill from the cows. One of the cows was suspicious of me and kept looking at me, and I started to wonder if I'd be able to find the bull without scaring all the cows off first.

Finally they all moved out of sight and I was able to work my way up the hill further. Suddenly another animal came into sight on the open slope above the cows, and right away I could tell it was a bull. A quick glimpse through the scope was all I needed to see that he was at least a 5 point, and that was all I needed to know. I dropped prone and lined up for a perfect broadside shot. I squeezed the trigger and the bull instantly disappeared around the hill and the cows bolted down out of sight within seconds. I didn't see the bull really react to the shot, but at the range I was at with a prone shot, I knew in my heart it must have been a good shot. I ranged where he was at 186 yards.

So I walked back down to where I had first spotted them and dropped my pack, sent my friend and my wife a message that I had gotten one. I ate a quick snack and drank some water, and headed up to see if I could find blood. As I got closer I could see where they had run off too, and I started worrying about how thick the trees might be where he died, and how far into the trees he might have made it, just hoping there'd be a good blood trail.

Before I made it up to where he had been standing, I spotted him laying on the ground, not 10 steps from where he'd been when I shot him. The relief of seeing him dead right there was immense, and the elation quickly set in. I'd done it, just how I'd dreamed of, just how I had imagined it for the last 3 years while endlessly returning to this area in my e-scouting. It all happened just as I'd hoped it would. I love blind luck when I'm hunting, but even more I love it when I make a good plan and it all comes together, and this felt like 3 years of planning had finally come to fruition.

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kwyeewyk

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 22, 2019
Messages
499
Location
Washington
I broke the bull down as quickly as I could on the steep slope. Once I got the first side cut off and tried to roll him over, he ended up tumbling down the hill about 50 yards. I got him all broke down and had just enough time to do a crappy job of hanging the quarters in a tree a ways off from the carcass before it got dark. I knew if a bear came around my hang wasn't going to work, but I didn't see much hope in getting a bear proof hang built, especially with dark coming, and figured I'd have to risk it. So I headed out with the head and all the loose meat on my first trip out. It rode pretty nice and I had about a 2 hour walk out in the dark.

Of course I ended up losing my cell phone charging cable at the kill site, and didn't realize until I was nearly down the mountain. So I tried to save the battery on my phone so I'd have enough charge left to get back up to the kill/meat hang site the next day. The next morning my phone had gone from the roughly 30% charge when I'd shut it off to now being completely dead. I knew having left in the dark, and with the steep slopes and rough terrain that I'd have a lot of trouble trying to find the meat without GPS, and I didn't want to stumble around looking for it with the possibility that a grizzly could have set up camp on it overnight. After thinking it through and realizing that I might not find the cable at the kill site either, I decided I'd have to leave the meat on the mountain another day and make the long trek to town to try to find a new charging cable. We spent the afternoon driving some new areas closer to town on our way back.

The next day I'd told my friend I'd get an early start and head up high to get the first load of meat and haul it down and stage it at the closed road, and he could hunt around the lower areas and then if he felt like it start hauling meat down the road. I plotted a good path up the hill avoiding windfall and any need for going uphill on the return trip under weight. I found the meat undisturbed and got busy staging it down another half mile in the open flatter areas where I could bone it out. Once boned out a loaded up the first load of a hind quarter and front shoulder. It rode nicely and I had the first load down to my staging area by early afternoon. I sent my friend a message to see where he was at and he replied that he was just up the mountain on the edge of the northslope with the bench, and he had just blown a bull out of his bed. So I told him to keep hunting, my haul was going easier than expected. Got it all down and back to camp just before dark, with less than 12 miles on my track for the day.

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We headed back to town that night and got a motel room to do some cleaning up and laundry, as by that time I'd managed to get pretty bloody. I needed to check in at work Monday morning, so my friend headed out to hunt and I'd meet him after working, doing laundry, and taking my elk head by WGFD to pull the lymph nodes. When I'd made it out to meet him, he'd glass up a lone bull about a mile away in a spot we had hunted last year. We'd learned how hard it was to get to due to wind throw, and decided we didn't have time to try it that day. We then went back to where he had killed his first cow elk the year before. He'd gone up there earlier in the day hoping to find the skull as we forgot to pull the ivories out. He didn't find it, but had spend some time remembering his dad Bill, as well as his brother who he'd lost in a car accident several years ago, and sprinkled some of their ashes at the site. As we reminisced on last years hunt, we ended up finding her skeleton and the skull with ivories still intact. So we toasted her and Bill and his brother with a shot bottle of Crown Royal that we shared.

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kwyeewyk

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 22, 2019
Messages
499
Location
Washington
We spent one more day exploring new ground with no success, and decided our best bet for the rest of the hunt was probably going to be to stay focused on the area where I'd killed my bull. We knew there were plenty of elk around in there, and my friend was coming to the realization that 1)his chances of killing an elk were going to be better the more time he could spend hiking rather than driving, and 2) he was more capable of hiking than he realized. So the next day we planned to work the bench on the north slope.

As we started climbing elevation the next day, we started finding sign crossing the closed road. It was going from the area we planned to hunt to the other side, and the wind wasn't quite right for the area we hoped to hunt. So we kept working higher to a trail that intersected the road. At that point we found a lot of fresh tracks going to the opposite side of the road we'd planned to hunt. We started following the trail and soon realized we were seeing a huge amount of very fresh sign. I told my friend you only see this much fresh shit when there's a big herd. There was a big hill on top of very steep slopes above us that looked like a perfect hiding spot for elk and we figured that was where they were headed. We finally found some bear sign, the only I found in the area the whole time I hunted. Not too big, not quite clear enough for me to say what kind.

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At one point we found a clumped up pile of fresh bull scat that was of such large diameter that it was clearly from a large mature bull. The sign was constant for a while, but then the trail started to fade. I started to think we'd lost them, but as we moved through a clearing my friend suddenly stopped me. Through some trees on the other side of the opening were two elk, the closest with it's head down, the one behind it appeared to be a calf. My guess was a cow and calf, but the other never showed it's head, and the were soon out of sight. The wind was swirling, and I figured we didn't have long before we were winded. I told my friend there's probably a big herd there, but they were in the perfect spot where we had no way to get a look at them without getting right on top of them.

I told my friend we needed to get to the next rise as quickly and quietly as possible, and we should be looking right down on them. He headed for the next rise as quiet as he could and I crept along behind him. As we started to get close he whispered that he thought he heard them run off, I said no! they're still there, I'm sure there's a herd, they'll be there. As we crested the hill just as I thought we were looking right down on them at 86 yards. First thing we saw was the bull hot stepping his way down the hill and quickly going out of sight. There were a few elk on that side and they left with the bull. The rest of the herd started milling around, smelling us but not quite sure from where yet. As they milled one stopped in the open and looked right at us. A nice spike, but of course this side of the road no spikes allowed, so I said don't shoot him. Within seconds they figured out enough of where we were that we heard the bulk of the herd that we never put eyes on crash up the hill. Sounded like at least 20 elk. They ran a short way and the bull let out an angry bugle calling the herd and cursing us in the same breath. I threw my own bugles at the cows, but a few seconds later he bugled again, much further away now. So close but so far.

We saw them working up through an opening across the basin a few minutes later as they made their way up the mountain. We marked where they'd gone on onX and figured we could probably get over there, but figured we'd probably better leave them alone for another day. My friend was pumped from the close call and was realizing he could do this. He'd hunted archery elk with me twice before and we'd seen a few elk, but other than that and hunting cows in Wyoming last year, has no real elk experience, so hearing the bull scream after tracking them down and nearly getting him was a huge first for him.

We had the impression that the bull had gathered up most of the elk in that area, but weren't sure so the next day we tried hunting the other side of the road on the northslope bench. It was our only day in this spot that we didn't find elk in the field (that night at camp a small herd walked right past camp just after dark), and it did appear that the bull may have gathered most of the elk around, as there was plenty of recent sign, but no luck finding any elk.

Our hunt was coming close to ending at this point, and it was looking like the weather was finally going to come in right when we'd have to leave. The last Saturday the snow finally came, and our plan was to head up the hill away from the road and look for tracks. We made it about half way up the lower slopes and had found no elk tracks yet, and were starting to wondering if we'd find any. We found a tree with some shelter and ate some lunch under the branches. As we were sitting there we heard a branch snap and some thumping below us. We quickly got out from the tree to look around, but couldn't see anything. We got our stuff on and headed down to see if there were any tracks.

We went a little ways and jumped a nice muley buck, and figured it must have been him we heard. We followed his tracks a little ways, and suddenly cut a set of elk tracks. We determined they were heading down and started following. We made it a few hundred yards and realized that we were looking up at our lunch tree from an opening about 60 yards downhill. They had walked out into the open right below where we had been, and they stopped and turned back and dropped down lower. After cursing ourselves for somehow missing them and piecing it together, we think they must have come out just as we were walking away from the tree and just missed them.

We followed them and they worked consistently down the mountain, but the fresh snow was very crunchy and it was going to be hard to sneak up on them. Sure enough pretty soon they quickened their pace and started splitting up. Soon we were following only one of the tracks, and eventually it had led us nearly down the mountain. At that point it turned and headed back up the mountain, effectively escorting us down and leaving us. As hard as it was to leave with the weather finally coming in, we knew we had to call it and pull out that night, so we headed back knowing that we'd nearly filled two tags, but one was going to have to do for this trip. A success on multiple fronts, and a hunt we won't forget.
 

kwyeewyk

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 22, 2019
Messages
499
Location
Washington
Bound and Determined

So I need to add another chapter to this story. As we left Wyoming in October in the midst of the first good storms of the season, knowing the elk were surely piling into the area we'd been hunting just as we were driving away, my friend was having trouble accepting tag soup on his general tag. Not too long before our hunt in October he'd mentioned to me he picked up a Randy Newberg Gerber, and I replied "Yeah those look nice, Newberg is my hero, he's got good hunting videos if you're ever bored." Well I think he watched about every one of Randy's videos he could find, and the fire really got stoked at that point, and then some good encounters during our hunt had the hunting fire blazing.

We started looking over the regs to see what options would be available for a last chance for him to fill the freezer and came up with a couple of options. The first was a low elk density area with unlimited permission slips for an HMA, but would need some weather to make it much of a hope. The other option was the refuge hunt, if he could get a permission slip. He tried for the refuge permit and didn't draw it in mid-November, but had some days he couldn't work so he headed out to the low density area to see what it was like and maybe get lucky and find something. He spent a few days and found a few tracks, but no luck finding the elk in the vast expanses, and no weather in sight to help move them in, so he headed home.

The next morning, a Monday, he started blowing up my phone while I was in work meetings, and I had a sneaking suspicion he pulled a refuge permit. Sure enough, he managed to get the permit for the next two days, the two days before Thanksgiving. So I sat there and worked through in my mind on how we could possibly pull this off. So I replied, "Leave tonight, drive all night, get there, kill one, drive home, be back Wednesday night?" His response: "That's the plan!"

So after some quick juggling of work schedules and a call to my Dad to see if he could watch the kids when my wife would be working, we confirmed our intent to attempt a wham bam freezer filling trip. We knew the pressure would be on when we confidently stated to our wives that we were going to kill one in one day and be back before Thanksgiving. But honestly I figured it wasn't that far of a reach considering the hunt.

We met up in Spokane and left my car at a park and ride and were off around 9:30 pm, and shortly after daylight we were coming over Teton Pass into Jackson. We drove north of town along the highway at first to see what we could see from that side. What we could see was hundreds if not thousands of elk lounging around anywhere from 100-1000 yards from the road or so. They appeared to mostly be in the archery only or limited range weapon only areas, which we had realized on the drive we hadn't though through and brought any weapons for these areas, so we'd be limited to the any weapon areas of the HMA.

As we drove into the main access area and got to the any weapon area, our worries were realized when it became obvious that all of the elk we'd seen from the highway were in the limited weapons areas. There were lots of vehicles driving the roads, some hunters, some not. Hunters parked in the parking areas sitting in their vehicles watching the hills, presumably waiting for a herd to come walking by. We figured we'd drive the few roads there were and then make a decision on how to proceed.

We watched thousands of elk herding up along the northern edge of the limited range area, but they seemed to know the boundary and stayed well within it. We wondered why nobody else thought to bring a bow or shotgun with slugs or muzzleloader and go chase them in the limited weapons areas? We figured there must be a reason and assumed because it's so flat and open you probably can't get in range very easily, and the elk probably know the game and run in circles rather than running over to the firing squad in the any weapon area. When we got to the eastern end of the refuge we found lots and lots of bulls bedded and feeding up on the ridges just outside the refuge. After drooling over hundreds of bulls with no luck trying to find a cow that might be over the line, we headed back to try one of the parking areas and hike up on one of the ridges.

Unfortunately we didn't think to bring a real camera and the long distances were a bit more than our phones could handle.
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As we were driving back we spotted some elk running across the flats, headed for the limited range weapons area as fast as they could. The sight distance there is long and it's hard to judge distances, but we realized they were a mile or more away and were going to be safe before we ever got anywhere near them. We figured it was a good sign since they came from the area we were headed to. We then realized that the large herd that had gathered along the northern part of the limited range area had moved, either on their own or pushed by hunters.

As we neared a parking area, a truck with Wyoming plates stopped and said there's a big herd to the north coming down the draw and there's a bunch of hunters up there who will probably start shooting soon. We asked him where he was planning to go and he said he'd "killed on up on the ridge earlier, and now they're down in the parking lot!" So we parked there and started across the field in an attempt to cut them off when they surely head south to the limited weapons area.

We made it a good ways and the elk were still holding tight along the edge of trees along a draw. About then the hunters up there caught up to them and started shooting. Slowly but surely they began to string out and move south. Even with our head start we realized we might still not cut them off as we hustled across the vast prairie. We made sure to keep our heads and watch out for other hunters who might shoot towards us or that might be where we want to shoot, and mind the weapons restriction boundaries.

The first of the herd had already about made it to the "safe zone" when we spotted a couple stragglers that lost the herd coming right for us. They were still probably a mile away though, and soon stopped, searching frantically for the herd. We kept working over assuming they'd eventually take the same path as the others and come right to us. We gauged the rest of the herd and soon realized the stragglers were going to be our only chance since even if we managed to get in decent range of the rest they now had houses/buildings in the background and we wouldn't be able to shoot that way. At the back of the herd was a big bodied, heavy antlered bull covered in dark mud making him look almost black and we had to stop to admire him as he walked in annoyance into the limited weapons area.

Sure enough the stragglers eventually found the scent trail of the herd and started running along the same path. They were closing quick so we found the first bit of a rise and my friend dropped prone to get set up for the shot. He said "the front one's the cow with a calf behind her" as they dropped behind a small rise. When they came back into sight he said "try to stopped them" so I stood up with my arms spread. That did the trick and they stopped. He quickly shot the front one and they turned to run, it was clearly hit and limping, made it about 10 steps and piled up.

We realized they'd switched spots when they went out of sight and when they came out the smaller one was in front, but it looked like the other was probably actually a calf as well. We concluded it was probably the case that their mom was one of the cows killed by the other hunters and that's how they ended up as stragglers. Either way, the tag was now filled and no doubt this one would be a good eater. It was about 3 in the afternoon, we'd gone over a mile across the flats to cut them off, so we headed back to get our gear and get to work.

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As we walked back more elk were moving around from the south, and then another large herd made it's way across the flats from the north with only one shot that we heard as they ran south to safety. We drove out on the retrieval road as far as we could and had just started hiking when the refuge warden drove up for a quick chat. He checked license/permit etc. and mentioned they hadn't heard any of the shooting and wanted to make sure we were actually retrieving. We got the elk broke down and loaded up, dropped off the head and hunter report card and headed for home. A quick nap as we crossed into Idaho, and we were home by early afternoon on Wednesday, mission accomplished! All things considered, the refuge hunt was calmer than some of the crowded elk hunts I've seen in Washington, and for a freezer filling last chance option, worked out pretty good. Props to @Derek44 for sticking with it and feeding the family, I know Bill would be proud.
 
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Derek44

New member
Joined
Nov 13, 2020
Messages
4
Location
North Central Washington
Bound and Determined

Haha. That was crazy!!! Thanks for the short notice rework of your schedule and making the trip down with me. Also, though a viable option like we discussed, I’m glad we didn’t run into town to buy a shotgun😂. Even though that could have been fun in its own respect, I’m happy it worked out to drop that elk with my new rifle. And one shot one kill to boot!! Hoping to make it out with you to assist on your type7 later this month but if not, it was an amazing memorable season with many more to come!! Life’s short. Hunt hard right?!?!?
 
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