finally, my first elk.

sk1

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This is a little background story as to how I arrived at shooting my first elk, if you're not interested the last paragraph talks about the hunt I shot her on


On Tuesday the 18th, I finally put down my first elk. This is my third season elk hunting out west in Utah as I am originally from Wisconsin. I can't imagine how many miles I've put on since my first season of hunting elk to finally harvest this cow. I wish my first elk had come at the hand of my bow, but I was unsuccessful this year and had drawn an any weapon cow tag so I went with the rifle in hopes of increasing my odds. My first year hunting elk I had few encounters, but did miss a cow elk as I misjudged the range.....I was eating lunch and a rutting bull chased her by me. I only had time to stand up, grab an arrow, and shoot....I was on such a steep slope I thought she was much farther away than she actually was and missed. I was pretty bummed, but that was probably the best thing that could have happened to me as I only hunted longer and learned more about elk. While Utah doesn't have the best OTC tags, one benefit of archery hunting is the Wasatch Front extended archery season goes all the way until December 15th or so each year. It's more winter range than not, but there are some pockets of elk, but not many. I hunted so many days that first season on the Wasatch Front without seeing elk I am almost embarrassed to say the number....3 days a week from October to the end of the season in December, didn't find a single elk until 4 days before the season closed, and was unable to get close enough for a shot the last 4 days of the season.

So with my first season under my belt, I really thought i knew so much more about elk.....wrong. I knew more, but was still so far off from really being a good elk hunter. That second season I had 13 different times with elk in bow range, but never fired an arrow. Some of it was my fault for making the wrong move, and other times it was just bad luck. At least I was seeing elk and on a regular basis. It seemed like every time I would come up with a plan I would go out and see elk....this was a huge improvement from my first season. Once the regular elk season was over, it was onto the extended archery season again since I hadn't punched my tag yet. I could no longer hunt it like I used to with the recent birth of my son....I hunted about one day a week from November until it ended December 15th. My luck continued, I would see elk every time I went out. I got to within 80 yards of a cow elk (out of my range) and I had another time I made it to within 75 yards of three 6x6 bulls. I needed to make it to 60 to be comfortable for a shot, and crunchy snow was my worst enemy stalking these elk. The best way would have been to try to guess where they would travel, get in front of them and wait, but a lack of daylight left and not being able to hunt for another week I was forced to attempt stalks on them. My season ended with no shots fired, I was pretty disappointed.

Now, that brings us to this current year my third season. I was positive I had it all figured out. I knew the country well where I would be hunting, but then it all burned to the ground. A combination of the burn, and rokslide spurred my decision to go on more of a wilderness backpacking style of hunt. This is what I had always wanted to do, but was new to the mountains and always did a base camp day hunt type of thing. In these 3 years of hunting, I have always been solo with no one to learn from.....I think it would have seriously helped my learning curve if I had learned by elk hunting with someone who knew what they were doing...but most people I know out here that elk hunt are road hunters and that's just not my thing. So I chose to do a backpack hunt about 6 miles into the wilderness in an area I have never been to. I stared at maps for hours on end, and finally came to a decision where I would hunt. I can honestly say rokslide made this transition into backpack hunting a thousand times easier than it would have been otherwise for me. To see that lots of people do it, and get an understanding for what gear I was going to need was awesome. I had absolutely zero experience in doing a backpack trip like this, and was totally confident when it was time to go. I saw elk every day I hunted, somewhere around 60 cows and 4 bulls.....and should have taken a shot once, but didn't.....long story. This year again I hunted the extended a little bit, saw elk every time, but never really was in a good position to get close.

Moving on now to my anterless any weapon cow tag. I somewhat cut my extended archery season short as my wife was ready for my season to be over. We have a 17 month old son and we both work fulltime, so on our only day off together each week I have been out hunting since August. Again this is more of a winter range area, and I was trying to fill this tag before there was really any snow. Each time I would go out and find elk, but never until last light as this area takes quite a bit of pressure from both hunters and hikers. I would always see like 4 cows right before dark, and often made foolish attempts at them as I knew I would not be able to hunt again for a week. One example would be I saw these cows 30 minutes before dark and had to drop down and go over 2 ridges and up a 3rd about a mile away to get close enough for a shot.....well I decided it was now or never so I took off running....jumping over deadfall sliding down hills, and falling on my face going up ridges. I was going down the hill of the second ridge needing to crest the third when I realize it's only the full moon that makes it look light right now. I was exhausted and realized all I did was make a rough hike out for myself, but at least I knew I tried and couldn't make it. This is how my next two or three days out went, seeing elk last minute and trying to get there somehow, even with a rifle I wasn't getting close enough. So finally lately we've been hit by snowfall, and the day before I went hunting there were 25mph winds gusting to 40 all day. The next day was forecast to have light snow all day and calm.....I knew I would get an elk and figured they'd be feeding all day. I was parked at my location in the dark but waited for first light to glass on my way in.....it hadn't been 3 minutes when I spotted 5 cows. On my way in I had chosen what finger ridge I needed to hike over and figured I would have a shot, I could see some of them were already starting to bed down. After hiking for a bit, I realized all the finger ridges were looking the same and was frustrated with myself for not being able to pick out the right one. I pulled out my topo map and determined it had to be the one I was right next to and started going up the ridge. When I was about half way up, I look out about .75 miles away further down and there is a bull and cow bedded, staring at me. I was angry at myself thinking I chose the wrong ridge and now they see me, but if they really did see me, they didn't seem concerned. So I dropped back down and after many ridges of thinking I couldn't possibly get close enough to them without getting busted, I made it to 234 yards. This was it, I was on the last ridge between them and me, and it was a miracle I made it this far without being seen. Now what to do, they were bedded down in 18 inches of snow behind scrub oak, all I could see of the bull or cow was their head. I looked around for the other cows I thought I saw earlier and couldn't find anything. I decided I would try and wait for her to stand up and stretch her legs or go feed somewhere. During this time I realized I was way beyond where those 5 cows I saw in the morning were, I was going up the right ridge and these 2 elk were not part of that group at all. I was starting to get cold and it was 2pm, I figured I would get into position to shoot and try to whistle to get this cow to stand up and give me a shot....if it didn't work I was going to circle around on my way back to the truck and try to get to those 5 elk I had seen in the morning. I whistled once, twice, and she just looked around.....finally on my third whistle she stood up and took one step forward giving me a perfect broadside shot. I hit her right behind the front shoulder and the bullet lodged into the backside of the other. She was expired in less than 15 seconds and took a 30 yard slide down the mountain before stopping in the scrub oak. It wasn't with a bow like I wanted, but I finally had my first elk. I shot her at 2pm....I was 2.5 miles in with 18 inches of snow and it was 8 degrees out. I had her back to the truck in 2 trips and finished at 4:30am.

My father-in-law is coming to visit from Wisconsin and has the same tag, we start hunting on the 27th to try and get him his first elk as well......he calls it a bucket list item of his. We have 4 days to hunt as the rest of the time he will spend visiting his daughter and grandson, I hope I can guide him to success also.

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I took her to work this last shift and got everything squared away in our down time......about to make some jerky in the dehydrator after I get this posted!

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Now for next year....I'll do the same backpack hunt I did in Utah this year, and should be drawing a Wyoming tag next year....I can't wait!!
 
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sk1

sk1

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Sorry it's a really long post lol.....I had no idea it was that long until I hit post and went and looked at it. I don't blame anyone who just scrolls straight to the pictures haha
 
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sk1

sk1

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Congrats! love that you're working up that jerky at the fire hall

no better way than getting paid to do it!! just need to hide the jerky from the guys, they eat it all before i can get it off the trays and stash it.....
 
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sk1

sk1

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Thanks guys, felt great to finally get one down...I worked hard for it. Hopefully I can continue that success into next year.

Snowing like crazy here right now, should be good for my father in laws hunt tomorrow!
 
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sk1

sk1

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well my in-laws got here and we went out yesterday for the first day of our hunt. We were hammered with snow the day before and somewhat rolling into that morning, so I figured as long as we kept walking the ridge line eventually we would run into elk. As we left the truck we decided not to take the snow shoes, the snow was about 18 inches but there are so many times we cut through tight scrub oak we'd have to keep taking them off and thought it might be more of a pain than it was worth. Well at times the snow was 3 ft deep, so maybe this was a mistake. About 2.5 miles into our hike we saw somewhere between 8 to 12 cows or so, the more times I glassed the more I would pick out bedded in the scrub oak....could have been even more. We were trying to wrap around a knob and follow a ridge line back down the canyon to get to them while staying out of sight. It was quite a hike to remain out of sight, and just then I noticed some elk tracks on the same side of the ridge as we were on.....it was still snowing from the day before so I knew they were from that morning. I glassed the tracks and followed them until I saw 2 bedded cows. I figured we would try to make a play on them quick and if things didn't work out we had elk on the other side of the ridge as a backup plan. After about an hour we were at 325 yards and I didn't know if we could do much better as there ended up being 7 cows down there bedded and we didn't have much cover. I asked him if he got a good rest if he'd be comfortable with the shot, and he said he'd rather try and get closer. After another 45 min we made it to 250 yards and I told him this is as good as it's going to get unless he really wants to risk jumping the elk more than we already were getting into this spot....I was darn near belly crawling in 18+ inches of snow to not be skylined in their view. We watched for awhile and picked out the biggest cow he could that had a decent shooting angle, as many of them were facing straight at us or straight away. He shot once, thought he missed and shot at the same one again. She had been hit on the first shot and fell over after trotting 35 yards or so, but didn't show any signs of injury initially. So then she falls and he is all excited to have his first elk, but then I got sick to my stomach. I saw another elk go down and I told him he shot two. He was completely sick to his stomach and told me he didn't know how that was possible he never took his eye off the one he was shooting at. We had a very disappointed solemn walk down to his cow. At this point I looked over and told him there's the second one, and he says great it's staring at me alive and wounded......so we were thinking now this is even more horrible we may have to finish it off so it wouldn't suffer. As he walked over to it, she jumped up and ran 40 yards then walked away, it was a calf that was never even shot at! She bedded down when she saw her mom lay down and was completely fine and healthy. My father-in-law let out a scream of joy, he told me he just didnt understand how he possibly could have hit two as once again he never took his eyes off the one he was shooting at, she was the last one in the herd. While we hate to leave a calf without its herd, we could now tag his elk and enjoy the hunt. It truly would have ruined an entire trip if he had shot two, we both felt sick.

It was a great hunt, shot her at 2:25pm and had her packed out in one trip, 3 miles later we got back to the truck at 8:15pm....really would have liked snowshoes for the way out, I was exhausted breaking trail!

Oh, and this just goes as a reminder to make sure you know what animal you're shooing at if you're sending multiple shells downrange! What a relief it was to know he was right and only shot at the one cow.

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huntwest

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Congrats to you and the FIL. Loved the story, sounds like you earned your elk the hard way.
 
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