September 18th: My hunting buddy and I are headed back in for another backpacking hunt. This trip is a bit unique in the fact that to begin the hunt we drop almost 2 thousand vertical feet in just a couple miles. We decided it was better to not even think about what we'll do if we arrow something down in here. On the way down we bump a bull with a group of cows, luckily the bull is relatively small so its not a huge deal. We continue down until we hit the public private border. This is our intended destination. The plan is to camp on the border and hopefully intercept the elk as they come off the private onto the public. The only problem we encountered is that there is literally no where even remotely flat to camp..... After 30 minutes of cursing ourselves for backpacking into a spot with no flat areas we finally settle on the least steep spot we find which is still quite steep. We pitch the tipi and begin setting up camp. As were setting up though we hear a bull start bugling on the other side of a medium sized creek basin. We figure what the heck, lets bugle back at him. My buddy throws out a couple bugles and to our surprise the bull starts coming in. We scramble to get set up because were right in camp and this bull is coming right towards our tent! Surely he'll wind us and blow out, but he just keeps coming. My buddy runs back about 50 yards and keeps calling. I stay at the tent. About 10 minutes later 45 yards to my right pops out a small 6x6. The wind was blowing right at him. He was so rutted up he must not have even cared. I was full draw on him. He gave me an eternity to decide. In the end he was too small to loose the arrow on. I let down and he just slowly walked off..... What a start to the trip.
After we get camp set up we just hang out for a while and glass. To the north of us a ways we hear some bugling start. Sounds like there are a couple bulls. We start heading that way. The bull is 680 yards away and all by himself. He is far bigger than the bull he is bugling at who has cows. We decide what the heck lets cow call at him. After a minute or so of sporadic cow calling he starts coming our way.
We continue to cow call and he continues to come our way. He stops every 50 or so yards to bugle. About 150 yards out he stops to wallow and rake a tree.
Conditions are perfect. After he wallows he continues on towards us. He is at 100 yards now and closing. I am in position, ready to draw when he crosses into range. He is at 70 yards now... He stops. Sniffs the wind, turns around and walks off..... The wind had switched just for the briefest of seconds, but that was enough for him to smell us. He wasnt spooked though. We walked over the small ridge to see him 500 yards away bugling at the bull that had the cows. Hunt was over for the day. We go back to camp, make dinner and go to bed (at an angle) or at least try to go to bed. There were 2 bulls each about 300 yards on either side of our tent that bugled at each other all night. It wasnt until 4 in the morning that they finally quit.
The next morning we were up and hopeful we could find that same bull and have another chance at him. It didnt take long, at sunrise we spotted him a mile or so away down on the private land with 15 cows. Now that he had the cows he wasn't going anywhere and we moved on. We watched another couple bulls have a bugle fest at each other before slowly walking off in various directions. None were quite what we were looking for so we did not pursue them.
After the initial morning furry we switched our focus onto another basin area. Luck would have it there was another bull with some cows waaay over on a ridge. All I could tell was he was a really good bull. It was not a short distance but we knew it was a bull we had to go after. After some planning we decided that we might as well leave camp, take the necessities (food, water, sleeping pad, sleeping bag) and go for a spike camp. It took us the majority of the day to get over there. We found a moderately flat spot, we threw out our pads and bags then went in search of the bull we'd seen that morning. From 4-6pm we saw nothing. We then herd some bugling coming from a small drainage about a 1/2 mile away. We continued in the direction of the bugling, there were at least 6 bulls in the timber all just screaming at each other. We knew we couldnt get in on them from where we were so we worked around down wind of them. At this point we were probably only 150 yards from some of them. We set up a classic caller behind shooter type scenario and began calling. We hadn't been cow calling 2 minutes when we herd crashing coming down towards us. It was a cow elk, she came down into the small clearing looking for whatever was doing the calling. Crashing behind her was a bull. Wholly cow im thinking, this might be it. The bull came into the clearing and stopped just over 40 yards, he gave me every opportunity to take him, I almost did but in the end decided not to. He was on the verge of being a shooter. We had seen some of the other bulls in here and I knew they were better than him. No sign of the big bull from that morning or Zeus for that matter.....I have yet to see him with my own eyes.... he has to be around somewhere. End of the day, time to sleep under the stars tonight since we had left the tent at the previous unlevel camp location. We had great weather and it was one of the most amazing nights backpacking I've ever had.
We wake up and go to where we had seen the big bull the previous morning. At first we see no elk, nothing. Then we hear a bugle above us, look up and see 2 smaller bulls.... Satellites. Then to the left of them 100 yards we see the big bull with his cows. Yes! we found him! At this point they are about 700 yards away. We hope they will come down to the ridge they had been on the previous morning. It quickly becomes apparent to us that they are going up hill to the dark timber. They were ahead of schedule, they had already been where we were. We tried our best to catch them but in the end they went into the timber. We got to the edge of the timber and decided to cow call a bit. After 4 or 5 minutes we were able to call a small satellite bull out but no sign of the big boy... he is a ghost... never to be seen again.
We have to leave the next morning. We know its going to absolutely suck getting out of here..... And it did. This was too incredible I'll be back in a couple days. The rut should be at its absolute peak in just a day or two.
3 days later I'm back with my Wife. Were backpacking into the same are I had been the previous trip but find a different and much more level area to camp in. We have 2.5 days here. This is the first time this season getting to hunt with her. She works to dang much.... Again, I am hopeful this is the trip where success may be found.
Camp is all set up so now time to glass. We glass for 1.5 hours or so before heading to a new knob for further glassing. On the way to the new knob we actually have a small raghorn walk right in on us. He was more surprised that we were i think. Anyhow, on to the next spot. We set up and do glass a bull with cows way down below us on private. Nothing we can do, they are content down there. Next we decide to do some blind calling. My wife can shoot a cow so maybe we can call something in for her. We set up in a small meadow and I start calling, 15 or so minutes later we see a couple cows poke out on the other side of the meadow. They are about 80 yards away. Then a bull bugles behind them in the timber, he doesn't sound very big so we proceed with trying to get her a cow. The elk hang up on the edge of the meadow though and just freeze for a few minutes. Way below us on the private we faintly hear a vehicle.... What? I cant believe it, its almost sunset, what the heck are those guys doing down there. They cant be hunting or else they wouldn't just drive around like that. The elk don't bust out but are definitely even more cautious now. Then 3 more vehicles roll up down on the private. They all park, they are about 3/4 mile from us... People, kids, and dogs all pile out of the trucks. Music starts blasting, kids and dogs are playing. They are doing a family campout.... Shit. At this point the elk get to nervous, turn around and go back into the timber. Hunt is over for the day. It sucks but I cant really blame the people, if I had a bunch of land Id love to go camp on it with my family.
Next morning we decide since the people are down below us camping we'll go up into the public land more. For the morning we hike uphill towards a big ridge while we glass along the way. We do see a couple spikes off about a mile. Then we hear a bugle from the ridge above us. Ok, lets go see what it is. We work up towards where the bugle came from. Its a large ridge, a little over a thousand vert so this is not a fast climb.
Eventually we make it up to the ridge. We see or hear nothing. Then a bugle right next to us! We look over and its a guy bugling at us to let us know he was there! NOOOOOO. We go down and talk to him. He turned out to be super nice and had arrowed and elk a little over an hour ago and was just waiting to go find it. We talked to him for about another half hour before going to help him find his elk. On the way to finding his elk we looked down and in the timber was a bull cruising a trail. We got set up and the guy we met actually ended calling for me. It all happened pretty fast but the best we can figure the bull he was calling for me was coming in and came across the elk he had just shot an hour and a half ago... Blew out. After that we walked down only another 75 yards and found the elk he had shot. We spent the rest of the morning helping him quarter his elk before exchanging phone numbers and continuing on hunting.
The plan for the rest of the afternoon was to make a giant loop and end back up at camp. We followed the ridgeline we were on which took us about another 600 vertical feet up close to the top of the mountain. On the way up we actually ran into another 2 hunters hiking back up from where we were hoping to drop down into. Shoot, we just cant catch a break today. I was hoping that these guys hadnt actually gone all the way down to the public private border being that they would have had to drop about 2k feet, all they while knowing they would have to hike back up it. They were also no spring chickens so I just had to hope. We talk to them briefly before continuing on dropping back off the ridge looping around towards camp which is about 5 miles away. Lots of country to hunt between here and there. Eventually we end up where that big bull and cows had been on the previous trip, nothing, silence... Shoot. Back to camp we go. There is one big water/ wallow area on the way back though we can stop and check. We start making our way to the water source. Sure enough on the ridge above the meadow is a bull with cows! He is a borderline shooter but at this point my standards are dropping so why not see if we can get in position.
He is feeding in the direction of the wallow so were pretty sure he is headed towards it. The only question is if we can beat him there. 30 minutes later and we are close, the wallow is only 85 yards away. Then.... We see him come down to it.... He starts wallowing and raking. I only need to close 20ish yards for him to be in range. The problem is I would have to cross a little opening. There is a good chance he may see me if I try it. I decide to let out a few cow calls, figuring he left his cows just above him, maybe he will think they moved and come this way. He couldn't have cared less. He wallowed for another couple minutes then went back up the ridge to the cows never to be seen again. In hindsight I think when he was wallowing and raking I should have just walked right at him. He was so oblivious I really don't think he would have seen me...Oh well nothing I can do about it now. Its now dark and we are still a few miles from camp. We'll try again tomorrow.
Next morning we are woke up with a bull bugling not too far from the tent. We scramble out of the tent to try to figure out where the heck this bull is. It doesnt take long to find him. He is bugling from his bed 600 yards across a small drainage. He also has 10 or so cows milling around feeding to his right about 30 yards.
Once we got a good look at him it was apparent he wasn't a shooter. We decided to just watch them and have breakfast/ coffee. After a while I decided to bugle at him just to see what he'd do. It was hilarious, he wouldn't move a muscle but would return every single bugle. He and I went back and forth for the better part of a half hour.
Eventually his cows moved far enough away he was forced to get up and follow them. Id be lying if I didnt go back and forth on if we should go after him but this was one of those times it was just more fun to watch than anything else.
We hunted the rest of the morning but didn't see anything else and had to start the hike out. Its September 26th and I'm really starting to get nervous that this might not happen. I cant help but think back on all the encounters and wonder if I should have done anything different. Should I have been more aggressive? More Calling? Less calling? Stayed in one spot more? On an on and on....
This was the last multi day trip of archery season. I have to go work a little bit then I will just do day hunts for the rest of archery. Feeling the pressure hard at this point.
Its October 2: Ive been out a couple times since the last backpacking trip but not seen much. Today I'm on my own so I decide Im going to try an area I had scouted over the summer but not hunted yet. I spend all day hiking and glassing and see nothing, hear nothing. Its a gut punch. Where have they gone, this place had been loaded with them in the summer. At 4pm or so I decide I better start making my way out so I hop on what I found out was an open ATV trail. Maybe this is why there are no elk here? Obviously people have been driving this trail. Then I hear a bugle a half mile or so up ahead of me. It was so close the trail that I figured it has to be a hunter but I have to go that way anyway so I might as well go check it out. As I get nearer the bugling continues. Wholly cow, this might actually be an elk. The bugling is coming from some trees across a meadow.
The bugling continues as I get closer. At this point I'm in the trees, sneaking in quietly. I prefer not to call unless I have to. All of a sudden I see movement to my left. Only 70 yards away is a beautiful bull with 3 cows. He was without question a shooter and one of the bigger bulls I'd seen all season. They were grazing, completely unaware I was there. There was one medium size spruce tree in between them and me. If can use that tree as cover and get to it they will be at 50 yards. Holly cow this might actually happen. I knock an arrow and slowly close the distance. I loose sight of them when sneaking in though because im using the tree as cover. I get to the tree and peak around it. They grazed back about 20 yards...dang it. Now the bull is at 70ish yards. I dont want to shoot that far but feel confident doing it, I shoot that distance at my house every night. This is going to be the only shot this bull gives me. The bull is slowly walking from right to left, perfectly broadside. I range him at 72 again as he walks behind a juniper. I dial my Spot Hogg to 72 yards. When he comes out the other side my plan is to cow call to stop him then let him have it. I see his antlers appear, then his head and neck, now he is in full view completely broadside. I let a single cow call out. He stops perfectly. I let the arrow go....
I watch the arrow fly, it looks perfect left to right... Then the arrow zips right underneath his chest and hits the dirt. The bull spooks and is gone....... How could I have missed, everything was perfect. Then I range where he had been standing when I shot... 78 yards. He had walked at the slightest of angles back when he went behind the juniper and put another 6 yards of distance between us when doing so. At that distance your arrow is really starting to drop fast and therefore caused me to shoot right underneath of him. Im sure some of you may say that's too far to shoot. All I can say is I confidently shoot that distance and if he hadnt moved back the 6 yards I would have punched my tag that day. This definitely put me at a low point of the hunt. So many days of scouting and hunting only to shoot right underneath a bull of a lifetime..... I go home dejected
At this point duck season has started and I feel bad for not taking the dog out yet. So I take a day off elk hunting to go after the waterfowl. It was much needed and rejuvenated my will to go after the wapiti.
I continue to hunt as often as I can and do get into elk but just cannot find exactly what I'm after. I know what bulls are in here I just have to find one somehow. On October 14 we got a bit of snow which seemed to shut the rut down quite a bit. I was seeing bulls with cows still but next to no bugling was going on.
I hunt to the end of archery unsuccessfully. Time to prepare for rifle season. I'll have a week or so to scout a bull and hopefully get him on the opener or rilfe....
I took the time in between the archery and rifle season to scout around the unit. I would drive over in the mornings to glass then again most of the evenings. The dog was very happy during this period because he got to come along again finally. It was really quite surprising how few people were out glassing and scouting, borderline no one. All week I watched multiple herds of elk on one particular mountain face. They would generally move a half mile in one direction or another each night. It was a ton of fun to watch because the bulls were still rutting and I would watch them try to steal each others cows. Thursday morning they all consolidated into one big herd and I just had to hope that didn't mean they were preparing to move out of the area. Even after all week of watching them it still wasn't clear there was a shooter bull in the herd. They were over 4 miles away so seeing them in detail was very difficult. On Friday I pulled my camper over, got setup and settled in. For this trip I have 10 days allotted. Friday afternoon I go to the spot I had been glassing the elk from only to find 8 vehicles there... oh no this is not good. 2 of the vehicles had no one in them, the people looked like they had backpacked in. The other 6 vehicles were there glassing. I talked to 2 of them that had a bull tag, very nice people but not what you want to see the day before opener. After talking to them I was almost afraid to pull up the spotting scope to check on the elk I had been watching all week. At first glance they are no where to be seen. Are they gone? Then I glass waaaay to the right almost a mile and sure enough there they are. Unfortunately everyone else there glassing also saw them. The lucky thing was the elk were even further back so if any of these guys wants to go after these elk they are going to have a serious hike ahead of them. The thing I knew I had going for me was that I had hunted this area many times in archery and knew it well. Eventually after looking through the spotter I could see one bull that looked like he could be a shooter but it was just to far to tell for sure. Only option is to go in there tomorrow and see.
My dad, my wife and hunting buddy either had to work or had prior commitments so they couldn't come with on opening weekend. I had been in contact with the guy my wife and I met back in archery season, the same one we had helped to quarter his elk up. He also knew the area well and offered to come with me the next morning. We devised a plan for the next day.
4:30AM: we meet at the designated spot. From there we take the UTV up into the mountains to where we will begin hiking. We know the majority of the hunting pressure will be coming from the trailheads so we decide to go up and over the mountain and drop down onto the elk. Without question, we know we need to be above those elk by first light.
5AM: begin hiking under a full moon. Its so bright out that we put the headlamps away, no need for them. We have a few miles to hike in the dark and are aware there is a possibility we run into elk long before we ever get to the ones we'd been glassing. Because of the full moon we were able with our bino's to glass the hills, mountain sides and meadows as we hiked. 2 miles in and so far we've seen nothing.
6AM: 2 miles in and so far we've seen nothing. We've reached the apex of the mountain and are now will begin heading downhill. Its not the fastest hiking due to a fair amount of downfall. After descending a few hundred feet there is an eruption in the timber only 20 yards away. ELK.... a handful of them absolutely blow out and go crashing down through the timber. We had no idea they were there. All we can do is hope they don't run into and spook the elk were going after.
7:20AM: There begins to be the first glimmers of light. We are just about to leave the timber we have been hiking through for the last mile or so. If the elk read the script they should be right below us.
7:30: We slowly creep out of the timber glassing down into the sagebrush, hoping to see elk. Nothing, where are they? We continue another 100 yards out onto a sagebrush bench/ridgeline. From here we can glass a number of directions, we're frantically glassing.... They have to be here somewhere.. right?
7:35: Bugle..... then another! Further down below us and a ways off. We scamper down another hundred feet or so to try to see where that came from. Then we see the huge herd.. All the way across the big drainage on the opposing mountain face... NO. They are just over a thousand yards away. There is not enough time for us to get over to them before they timber up for the day as we would would have to drop all the way down into the bottom of the drainage and back up towards them. There also is no bull in the group that is a shooter. Then right down below us we hear another bugle. We look down and its a second herd of elk, these ones are on our side of the drainage. I can see cow elk but the bugling bull is obstructed by trees roughly 700 yards away. He is bugling at the elk on the other side of the drainage. We start to descend the ridge down towards them using the intermittent trees as cover.
7:50: We are within 500 yards above the elk now. We can see cows but still no bull. All of a sudden the cow elk start to move at a brisk walk uphill but also angling away from us. All we see is cows so we just watch. Then the bull steps out.... All I could see is that he was super wide and tall. I instantly knew he was a shooter. He is not stopping though and following the cows. He disappears into some trees. We are pinned down, there are more cows coming from behind him. It only takes a couple minutes for all the elk to go into the trees and over a small knoll. This is our chance, we sprint horizontally across the mountain to get ahead of them and cut them off. Its only a few hundred yards and we are there. Were on a small rocky outcrop looking down. We see cow elk but no bull... He must be coming. I lay down and get prone in preparation. Then I see a bull... its a raghorn, I know this is not the bull I had just seen. The bigger one has to be here somewhere, then another slightly bigger bull steps out. Is that him? I pull up my binos, no way that is the bull I had seen. I had only had a couple second glance of that first bull but I swear he was bigger than these two I'm looking at. Then there he is.... the big one, no question that's him. I get ready.... I cant shoot though, he has a cow in front of him and another partially behind him. It doesn't take but a couple seconds and he is clear of the cows. I range him quickly.. 230 yards... I put the cross hairs on him, pull the trigger... Whack. He staggers for a second then takes a couple steps. I put another round in him just to make sure and he tips over dead. The 6.5 PRC did the job.
It was unreal, the last 6 months had led up to this. I couldn't have been more happy. We waited almost 10 minutes to go down and look at him, I just wanted a few minutes to soak in what had happened. Now its time to go lay hands on him.
It is done, I cant believe it. We get to work pretty butchering him up. I call my hunting buddy to let him know, amazingly he dropped everything to come and help pack. I also called my wife, she said she would be off work at noon, pick up my dad would meet us halfway on the pack out to help lighten the load.
I don't know if my buddy teleported or what be he was there in just a little over 3 hours. I have no idea how he got there so fast. We decided between the 3 of us we would bone him and pack him out in one go, besides my wife and dad were meeting us halfway to help. How bad could it be?
This was a mistake in retrospect. It was easily the heaviest pack I have ever had but we were so jacked on adrenaline it didn't matter... until my legs decided they needed to cramp up.
A couple hours later we met up with the wife and my dad. They were invaluable in getting everything out in one trip. We made it to the truck just after sunset that night, shared a pizza, mountain dew and reflected on the day.
In the end I never even laid eyes on Zeus but I am pretty sure he got shot later in rifle. I saw a picture and it sure looked like him... RIP Zeus.
Again a absolutely huge shout out to all the hunttalker's who helped especially @Griztrax. This is one of the reasons why this community is so great.