My first real solo hunt in Wyoming was to be a hunt close to camp. It allowed me to sleep later than we had been.
I headed up a closed off road. It's USFS here and the roads aren't always clearly marked. It is your responsibilty to know which roads are opened/closed and to what type of usage.
This particular road was closed to all motorized vehicle, including ATVs. Basically, it was walk, horseback or bicycle.
About 1/4 mile up the road there was a camp. They didn't get the memo on the road. They were in a small wall tent, still sleeping I suspect. They had driven their rig (4X4 pickup) to the spot they were camped at.
I continued on the road until I reached my jump off spot. It lead me to a saddle between 2 ridges. My son had gotten an elk to answer one of his bugles up there but, that was as far as it went. That was the same morning I arrived at camp, 4 days ago. I was hopeful that the bull was still around. That side of the road had seen very little pressure, compared to some of the other areas.
When I finally crested the saddle, and began to descend into the next system, I just couldn't catch a break on the wind. It eventually caused me to end up lower than I had wanted to cross over to the next ridgeline. At some point, while on this nature hike, I did throw a few bugles and sat around but, there were no responses or other indications of interest. There was fresh sign but, this morning, they were MIA for me.
I decided I had plenty of chores and cleaning that needed to be done in camp, and with the sun getting high and the temps rising, I did the unthinkable and veered straight toward camp. I abandoned the whole plan of crossing over to the second ridgeline.
I cooked brunch and cleaned everything I could, myself, my laundry and every bit of pots and pans I could find. I even hung a line to dry the laundry. I made sure I would be finished in plenty of time to make the evening hunt I had discussed with my son, the previous day, before his departure. I was going to return to the ridgeline he had taken me on my first evening in camp.
The plan was to hunt both Thursday and Friday evening on this ridge, with his decoy silhouette elk, that he owned a couple years and had never actually deployed. The thinking was that, if an animal showed up for the party, they'd be focused on the silhouette and that would allow for a closer shot with my recurve setup. Having 2 tags in my wallet, one being general(any elk) and the other a cow/calf only tag, I wasn't planning on being picky. Yes, of course I would have loved to shoot a bull but if I were to fill the cow tag, that would take the pressure off of the meat supply issue. As it turned out, I didn't have to make any choices on this hunt.
Around 5:30, I began to get responses to both bugling and cow calls. Before it was all said and done, I had 4 bulls down below and/or across the canyon from me but, only one even sounded like he might be heading my way. Two of the bulls had very distinct bugles and I knew they were bulls we had heard over 2 1/2 miles away, near where my son had killed his bull. All the pressure over there had pushed them toward this canyon.
I found myself running out of daylight again and had to pick up and head back to the quad. As I reached the road, and headed toward the quad, I noticed there were fresh elk tracks over my quad tracks from my ride in. I couldn't help but think I needed to spend more time in this general area.
When I arrived in camp, I poured over the maps I had with me. There was a horse trail in the bottom of this canyon I had just come from. I considered that the planned hunt for the next day(as discussed with my son) might be a waste of time. We had seen quite a few rifle deer hunters over there and they had been doing alot of shooting.
The decision was made. I would abandon the plan I had discussed with my son before he left camp. I would head in on the horse trail, on foot, and hunt the bulls in the canyon where I knew they were. I was so sure I would at least see and hear one or more of the bulls the next morning that I actually had trouble getting to sleep at first.
The next morning, I have to admit, my heart sank a bit when I arrived at the trailhead and there was a horse trailer there that had not been there the night before when I passed through. I was concerned they might hear the big boys screaming and start hunting where I intended to hunt. There was alot of country back up that trail and I just hoped they were deer hunters trying to get to the higher spots for deer before light, hence their early departure on horses. I headed in on the horse trail, in the dark. I got back a couple miles and did some triangulating on saved position above. I decided I was in the right spot to head across the creek and up and over the ridge.
I have to say it didn't look nearly as steep in the dark or early light but, it was nearly straight up. I was beginning to become accustomed to the terrain but, the thin air was another matter that was not so easily adapted to.
I picked my way through it and up. I would cow call softly every once in awhile, just in case someone (or rather some elk) was listening.
When I thought I was getting within a reasonable distance of where I thought the elk were likely at, I threw out a bugle. Immediately two bulls answered. One of them was a bull we had heard before, near where my son had killed his bull. I decided at that point he would be my intended target and started making my way toward him, checking the air currents constantly. I continued to make soft cow calls as I moved on up and around the two hogback points I believed were between he and I. It was still early and the air currents hadn't stabilized. I knew once the sun was up, being on a mostly west facing slope, I would have wind or air currents blowing down hill. I tried to stay at the halfway elevation of the hills until the air stabilized better. There were times when I would blow my windcheck powder and it would just drop straight to the ground.
Finally, I made my way close enough I felt it was time to force his hand. It was somewhat open where I was. Basically, in a dirt strip that ran up and down the hillside for about 300 yards. I knew if he came out in this strip I would be able to see him. I only hoped he hadn't dropped down the hill at all, during my latest movements toward him.
It was time. I bugled, followed by a couple cow chirps directed downhill and away from where I last knew him to be.
Immediately he answered, almost not allowing me to finish my challenge.
I was concerned that he had faced away from me somewhat when he answered. I hadn't heard any cows with him yet, so I wasn't sure if he had any cows to defend or push away. I did know one thing, he was less than 100 yards away, on the other side of the strip and uphill. Uphill was good, as the sun was breaking over the top and wind currents were pushing my smell downhill and away from him.
I decided it was time to try the old trick that has sealed the deal in the past. I picked a doug fir arrow from my quiver, nocked it on the string of my recurve and laid it on the ground to be ready to access, in a split moment , if needed. I picked up a big dry branch and started to thrash the bush I was hiding behind.
That was it. He came unglued and headed straight at me. He popped out above me in the strip and walked across the opening. I thought he was going to move into the brush on my side and drop below me to try and wind me so I shifted around for a 15yard shot in an opening I thought he might get to before he was below me.
At the edge of the brush, he did a 180 and walked (more of a pacing actually) to the middle of the strip just above me. All the while, he was staying within 20 yards of me and had not detected me. I carefully and slowly turned again 180 degrees to prepare for a shot out from behind the brush pile in the opposite direction and into the open strip. As if on cue, he walked into the window I had picked and, I came to full draw and released in one fluid motion.
The wooden shaft hit it's mark and, on impact, blood poured from around the feather fletched wooden shaft sticking out his side.
He ran downhill at what seemed like 50+mph spilling blood out with every leap.
I watched him for the 150 yards of sprint he made in the open and as he turned hard left into the brush below, near the bottom end of the clear strip. It coudn't have been 5 seconds but, it seemed longer, and then, I heard the crashing of his beastly body as it hit the ground. At least, that is what I convinced myself I had heard.
I tried to calm myself. It's always more of a task when you're by yourself. I thought how I wished my son were here with me, to help calm me down and share in that moment.
I snacked and drank some water but, after a mere 15-20 minutes I could stand it no longer. I walked over to where the bull was when I hit him. There was blood and hair, I knew there would be. I decided I wanted to follow the entire tracks/bloodtrail he had left. Follow it all the way to where he entered the brush, and then, based on what I saw blood colorwise and amountwise, I would make a decision whether to sit longer or head in after him.
Just 40 yards from where I had hit him, on the blood trail, was half of the wooden shaft. It looked as if I had 3/4 penetration, judging from the blood on the arrow. All of the blood on the trail was out one side but, it was squirting and spurting with every leap and bound he made. It was really just as I had remembered it, when it was happening.
I made my way all the way to where he had turned into the brush and was convinced, even more so now by the amounts of blood seen, that he was down. It must have been him that I heard crash to the ground in the brush.
As I slowly moved into the brush, following the blood trail, an animal took off running. Actually it sounded like more of a trot. I thought to myself "now you've done it, you started after him too early and jumped him". as quickly as that thought entered my mind another came, "run at him and make sure it is him and make him bleed worse". Sounds rediculous, I know, after the fact but, it didn't at the time. I actually nearly caught up with the animal as it was going up the steep side of a draw. It was a cow and she was huffing and puffing trying to make it up the other side.
At that moment, of seeing the cow, a calming moment of relief came over me. I knew, in that exact moment, without a doubt, my bull was down. I believe she smelled his rank, rutting, musky odor and was near him when I spooked her. I moved directly toward where she had come from, which just happened to coincide with where I heard the crash earlier (go figure). This is what I saw as I approached the site
Now the work began. He was drapped over a log where he fell. I will spare everyone all the details but, I spent the next few hours trying unsuccessfully to reposition him so I could break him down. Eventually, I realized how much energy I was wasting on this. I decided to gut him and prop him open to cool. I then headed to the trailhead and camp to gather tools (come along, rathet straps and packboards) to better muscle him around and break him down.
Wen I returned, I was able to get him all bagged and laid out on a log, elevated off the ground, to allow cooling throughout the night until we could return.
I carried the head and rack out in the dark.
When I arrived at camp, my son was already there. I asked him if he had seen my note yet. He hadn't, so I walked him to the back of my pickup and opened the canopy. I should have had a camera right then, what a picture it would've been.
I was so happy he had brought the horses back with him. It was still up in the air whether he would when he had left on Wednesday evening.
The next morning we headed off with the horses and some gear to pack my bull out.
After the 2 or so mile ride in, we tied the horses up and headed into the brush and up the hill to move all the meat and gear down where we could get the horses to.
There was some bushwacking involved.
Then came the usual even out all the panniers and pack the horses.
As we came to the trailhead with the elk, a Game and Fish officer was pulling up. He said he had been on the opposite side of the canyon listening to us as we moved the elk to the horses and then pack to ride out. I'm guessing he wasprobably near where I had been the evening I had heard the elk bugling.
He looked familiar and I asked him if he was the same officer that had checked me the day I had shot an all drake limit of Goldeneye on the Salt River(back in December). He answered yes and said he remembered me. He actually inventoried all the meat to check we had not wasted any. He asked to see each quarter, back strap tenderloins and hamburger trim. He came to our camp and checked the head and antlers shortly after we returned there.
When we returned to camp, it wasn't long and the rest of the clan arrived. We butchered, wrapped and put most of the elk in the freezer.
Then there were some pictures taken of old Paw Paw and his elk head.
Then came the proclaimed family time, which lasted the duration of the weekend.
It was my daughter inlaw's B-day today. So, what else, a party next to the river.
Young Hunter played in camp with the friends he brought with him, the family GSPs
Here he is with Lily. Lily is the dog I wrote about that had had the accident with the horse.
The other 2 dogs were there too. Sage the old hunting dog and Scout, the pup we brought over on our August trip.
The following day, Hunter shot his bow with dad.
We broke camp and headed home. The weather was rolling in as we drove the 50 miles of rock to the hardtack.
My son had taken his skull in to the skull shop for dermestid beetle treatment, when he came back to town for work during the week. So, we went to the shop for a few pics of both racks together, for future records.
My Son and I still both have a cow tag each for the same area. I'll be headed back for a rifle hunt in October. Wish us luck.