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Scoot

Wyoming Elk Hunt

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I'm a little hesitant to start this story today because I leave for a conference tomorrow early in the AM and I'm not sure how much time I'll have to post subsequent days. However, I'm getting quite a bit of heat from several people to get started. I'll do my best to post daily, but I'll make no promises. Hopefully I can post today through Fri and likely won't get a chance over the weekend.

It was a fun hunt and it's fun to put the story together. I've got some good pictures in the mix, but I didn't get nearly as many pictures of elk in their natural environment doing their thing as NoWiser. There will be a decent number of random "filler pictures" in the mix to break up the writing. Hopefully the rest of the pictures will tell the story of the hunt and give you a fell for what it was like to be there. Regardless of whether we filled any of our three tags or not I'll tell you this-- it was a wonderful trip with two of my favorite people to hunt with. We didn't have any major equipment or mechanical problems and Mother Nature was pretty darn good to us. In short, it was a great trip! Some of my best trips and seasons have resulted in unpunched tags though, so don't think I'm hinting at anything related to whether or not we got any hero shots with elk.

Day 1

After several years of gathering preference points in WY my brother, buddy Jon, and I were happy to be heading back to the place we chased elk in late 2000’s. Between the three of us we had all tagged out on the previous two hunts in this area and we were excited to get a chance to do so again. Jon and I both failed to shoot an elk in MT last year (my brother didn’t hunt elk last year), so we were looking for a little redemption. Our hope was that Mother Nature wouldn’t throw us the curve ball she did last year and that we’d find elk in some of the areas we found them over half-a-decade ago. Not only was this a place that had pretty good numbers of elk, but it also held some real giants (by our flatlander standers at least). Here’s a picture I took on the trip of one of these giants.

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This picture was actually taken in SD on the way home- I thought it was funny. It really is a giant though!

As always, this was a public land hunt and we were unguided. Unlike last year, we would be hunting from a camp that could be reached by truck. That’d mean hiking in and out each day, but it would also let us use a heater in the tent, cook on a stove, eat nice meals, and have an occasional adult beverage at camp in the evening. All of these creature comforts were not accessible to us the previous two years, so this would be a little cushier hunt than the last couple we’d been on.

We drove all night to get to camp. We went through some nasty weather and it rained and snowed on the way there. We pulled into our 9000’+ elevation camp a little after 5:00 AM and made a plan of attack. Rod hadn’t slept at all the day before we left and hardly slept on the drive out- he was going to try catch a few winks in the truck during the AM. Jon and I geared up and would hunt until noon. We’d come back and set up camp before an afternoon/evening hunt at that time.

Jon and I headed West in hopes of finding some fired up bulls. With the snow and the temperature drop we thought we might get into some good rut-related activity quickly. After a couple miles we finally cut a track.

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A mountain lion had been chasing the same animals we were and he’d been there within the past hour or so.

The only other tracks we cut all morning were two sets of elk tracks. One was from that morning and one was at least a day old. Here are the fresh ones.

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Jon and I tucked our tails between our legs and headed back to camp. It was a very discouraging morning, to say the least.

We got back to camp and Rod was just waking up from napping on and off through the morning. We all dug in and set up camp. I was feeling fairly miserable after sleeping for just 45 minutes the night before. Both Jon and I crashed and Rod headed out to hunt. He packed up his bow, pack, and a treestand to put at the Self-pity wallow. This was the wallow that had been so good to us in the past. Not only had we shot multiple bulls on this wallow, but we had many other encounters with elk there and there almost always seemed to be elk around it.

On the way there Rod saw a tan flash through some scrub pines ahead. He glassed the area until he confirmed that it was a decent 5 point bull. He slinked to within 30 yards of the bull, but couldn’t manage a shot. After the bull headed away from him Rod tried to cow call it back. The 5 point would have none of that- he quickly vacated the premises. Several hundred yards later Rod found himself rounding a corner created by a rock outcropping. Just as he got around the rocks he cleared a pine tree and immediately spotted a cow, not 20 yards ahead of him. The cow lifted her head, but somehow didn’t notice Rod. Seconds later a saw antler tips above a rock and a 330” 6x6 came from behind the cow and joined her. Wow- he was beautiful and less than 20 yards from Rod. Rod, however, stood helplessly with his bow in his left hand and a treestand in his right. After weighing all his options, he decided to slowly try to step back behind the pine tree- only a couple feet back would do it. The second he started to move the bull busted him and both elk were gone in a blink. Dang, so close!!!

Rod sat Self-pity for several hours and all was quiet. The top wallow at Self-pity hadn’t been touched.

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The wallow just below it, however, had been used very recently.

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He left early enough to still hunt on the way back to camp. Part way back Rod heard a bull bugle less than 100 yards ahead of him. He cut the distance in half and found the bull. Unfortunately the bull was headed West at a good clip and Rod couldn’t catch up. Not one minute later he heard another bugle. Rod moved in on a 5x5 minutes later. He slinked in quietly and ranged the bull. The bull either saw or smelled Rod and began to act suspiciously. Rod leaned out and came to full draw. The bull was on high alert. As Rod let the arrow go the elk bolted and his arrow landed harmlessly on the ground behind where the elk had previously stood. Good news- it was a clean miss. Bad news- it was a miss! Oh well, Rod had gotten into elk and had a much more optimistic and encouraging day than Jon and I had.

Jon and I hunted the evening after our naps. In short, the evening was uneventful for us. We were concerned about the day we had. As we walked back to camp we didn’t know Rod had such a good afternoon/evening. All we knew was that we put on quite a few miles and cut almost as many mountain lion tracks as we did elk tracks. We also hadn’t heard or seen any sign of elk (other than two sets of tracks) and this had us quite troubled. It quickly looked like we might not have the kind of hunt we had here in the past.

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Alright, here we go! I skimmed it so far as I want to read in detail after work, but if I missed it I apologize. Scoot could you tell us the dates of your hunt? Helps me keep things in perspective (weather, etc). Thanks

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Good work Scoot, for awhile I was wondering how long we had to wait!! Conferences are made to skip for writing stories right? J/K

I like the snow....makes things wet but so much fun to hunt in! Only a little bit though! wink

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Alright, here we go! I skimmed it so far as I want to read in detail after work, but if I missed it I apologize. Scoot could you tell us the dates of your hunt? Helps me keep things in perspective (weather, etc). Thanks

We left after work on the 11th and planned to come home on the 19th or 20th, depending upon how things were going.

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planned on coming home the 19th or 20th. What? I hope that's some positive foreshadowing of things to come.

Nope- I just meant that was the plan. I used "planned" to show it was past tense, given that we had our plan in place for about six months before we ever left. That's all...

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You should change your user name to "Mr Adventure".

I can't wait to get home and show my wife my new nickname Nels. To say that will amuse her is an understatement! She's got nicknames for me, but none are nearly so complimentary! blush

I didn't get Day 2 out before leaving (sitting in the plane awaiting takeoff now). I'll try get it out after I land.

San Diego- I should be excited but I'd rather just be home sneaking out of work to bring my kids out in the woods to chase deer with me. Hopefully I can get back in time to sit on Sunday evening.

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Day 2

It was a “frosty bobber” in the tent that night, but since we were camping at the truck Jon just popped on the Buddy Heater and we slept nice and toasty in our tent. Once we got moving Rod and I hunted our way down to the East of Self-pity to a large cut that rose up out of the private land and well onto the public land. On our way down there we bumped into two other hunters. We quickly could tell these two were a couple of characters! To say these guys were interesting would be an understatement. At one point I joked that if they heard a goofy sounding bugle that didn’t really sound like an elk they would know to stay away because that was just us trying to bugle in a bull. The leader of the two replied “Locator bugles are fine, but remember, these elk would rather f#!*# than fight. You have to cow call them in.” I smiled and nodded and just agreed with him, even though inside I was in complete disagreement. This is a really common theme from the locals we talk to, no matter where we go. According to most of the local hunters we’ve ever visited with, locator bugles are fine, but after you locate them you have to sweet talk a bull in with cow calls. My experiences would completely disagree! (Note: this may or may not be foreshadowing!)

We talked with them about their plan so we could avoid messing each other up, then went our separate ways. After all was quiet in the draw we checked out we headed over to Self-pity. We adjusted the stand Rod had hung there and sat the wallow for much of the day. We struggled to find just the right spot for the stand. We’d always sat on the ground at Self-pity, but we were sick of sitting on the wet, mucky ground around the wallow. We ended up putting it here, just three feet off the ground.

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We had one bull 300-400 yards below us bugling once in a while, but he was on private land and there was no going after him. Other bulls were occasionally bugling farther down on the private land, but these were untouchable to us and all was quiet at Self-pity and on the public land we were hunting. Early in the afternoon Rod still hunted his way to camp until it got dark while I sat Self-pity. Rod got skunked that evening. I had a bull coming into the wallow, but a hunter ended up getting between me and the bull and he eventually chased the bull away. It was really interesting- this guy’s primary call was a terrible, plasticy sounding bugle that I’m certain my 9 year old son could do better than. However, every once in a while he’d make other sounds and he was actually quite good at a lot of different sounds. In fact, he made every sound in the book! He clearly had no idea when and/or why to use these sounds, but he could make them very well. He aggressively bugled, locator bugled, chuckled, grunted, glunked, and made a bunch of other sounds. It was both impressive and amusing at the same time.

Eventually I had enough of the “super caller” and left Self-pity. I worked East and called to the draw my brother and I had called to in the AM. I didn’t get a response to locator bugles, but I did get a bull worked up over some lost cow calls. He came in to about 200-300 yards, but would come no closer. Light was fading fast, he was several hundred feet below me, and the thought occurred to me, “Did I remember to put my headlamp back in my pack last night?” I checked and the answer was “no”. I decided to not drop the 300 feet of elevation and travel away from camp knowing I’d end up getting back to camp later than I wanted and fumbling around in the dark. Instead, I sat there and called back and forth with the bull. I knew I wouldn’t call him in, but I just enjoyed the moment for what it was. I was in God’s country, bowhunting for my favorite animal in the world, on the hunt I’d waited many years to come back to, and I was talking back and forth with a responsive bull. With no chance to kill this bull, I still loved every minute of it. I soaked up about ten minutes of this fun, then slowly hunted the draw back towards camp in the last half-an-hour of light.

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Jon went East to new country (to us). He thought a change in scenery might be a good idea and since things were slow in our old stomping grounds, maybe some public land to the East might be good. He heard his first bugle at 9:00 AM and just as I would expect, dove in off the trail right after it. He dropped many hundreds of feet in elevation. Other than bumping a cow and a calf, he didn’t find another elk in the draw he jumped into. After putting on a lot of miles in a mix of broken terrain and dark timber, Jon heard two bulls bugling further East and a little North of him. He headed off in search of the bulls. On the way there he found this beautiful wallow.

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After checking out the wallow, Jon heard one of the bulls bugle and was better able to pinpoint his location. He moved in as far as he dared and got into the elk’s bedding area. Soon he was bugling back and forth with the bull. This went on for 45 minutes. Eventually Jon got inside of 100 yards of the bull and the bull swooped up his cows, turned tail, and ran. It was a fun interaction, but Jon was hoping for a little different outcome. All of this happened on the South side of this little cut.

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After that Jon headed through a saddle into the draw to the NE of the one he was in. Soon after he spotted a cow in a small park below him. He then saw another, and another, and another, eventually seeing 15-20 different cows in the park. He knew there must be a bull with them somewhere, but the bull wouldn’t show himself in the park. Jon keep glassing and looking and he waited for the bull to show up. He soon heard the bull bugle below the park. He wouldn’t come out of the dark timber, but likely was keeping tabs on his cows from just out of sight from Jon. Eventually the shifty wind alerted a cow and she became leery of Jon’s presence and she, along with the rest of the cows, headed down the draw. As one would expect, they took the bull with them.

After struggling to see much sign in the fresh snow we were starting to sign where we expected to see it.

Bed_zps3de8efca.jpg

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Day 3

What a fun day this was! Jon and I headed back to the same area he’d been at the day before and Rod still hunted from camp down in the general area of Self-pity. Jon and I worked our way along a ridge line, glassing and listening for elk below. However, the wind was so powerful it made it tough to glass and even tougher to hear anything below (not to mention we could hardly keep our hats on our heads!) We decided we needed to drop elevation and get out of the prevailing wind. We did so and decided to go down to the wallow Jon had found the day before. What a great wallow! You can see below- the trees and rocks around it were splattered with mud and it was being used regularly.

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Just to our left was a small park with a few quakies in it.

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Beyond that on a hillside almost a mile away I could see a small pocket of aspens that really intrigued me.

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We sat there from late morning until about 4:00 without a sight or sound of an elk. Mid-way through the afternoon I wandered across the draw to the aspen grove in the pic above. I figured there was a good chance there was a wallow at the head of it, but it turned out to be a wild goose chase. I had a nice walk and got to stretch my legs and it helped me get through the monotony of sitting a wallow.

I got back around 2:00 and we made it another couple hours at the wallow, but all was quiet. We tried to nap, but struggled with this.

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Soon we headed up to the saddle that connected the draw we were in to the draw Jon had seen all of the elk in the night before. We got in the saddle and glassed down into the park Jon had seen all the cows in previously. After a minute or two of looking we heard two cow calls from the dark timber right below the park- they were perfect cow calls with one being slightly higher than the other. Both calls sounded like absolute text book mews. I immediately turned to Jon and said “I think that’s hunters.” Jon hesitated, then agreed. I’m not sure he really agreed with my assessment, but he verbally agreed in spite of his questioning it in his head (I think). Soon after, a bull bugled from the same place as the “hunters” and this was a bugle that was a no doubter! Not only was the bugle from a real bull, but the cow calls were obviously from real cows and not hunters.

We checked the wind- it was good (for a change). We decided to act fast while the wind was cooperative. We dove in and when the bull bugled, Jon hammered him with a challenging bugle. I sat, with an arrow knocked, and waited for the bull to charge in. Twenty seconds later the bull bugled from 150 yards further down the draw. Immediately we were off and running. We cut the distance again and once gain Jon cut off the bull’s bugle. Seconds later I caught a glimpse of the bull walking up the hill to our left with his cows. The quick sighting immediately told me he was a large, wide, beautiful 6 point bull. We ran after him, this time much slower as we here going straight up the hill now. Fifty yards up the hill and the bull bugled again- Jon hammered a huge bugle right over the middle of the bull’s bugle. This time, instead of running, the bull decided to stand his ground and fight. However, instead of a challenger arriving to fight him, the bull looked down and waited. Fortunately he couldn’t see two flatlanders struggling to get up the hill fast enough to get in range for a shot. He waited for the fight some more and bugled once again, letting the challenger know that he was there and ready to rumble.

I saw him several times behind and between the scrub pines above me, but I had lost track of him. I knew I was close, so I ranged a large, thick pine tree immediately above me. As I looked at the “29” on the screen, I saw something immediately behind it- the bull’s rack turned left, then right again right in my field of view through my rangefinder. I pulled my rangefinder down and saw the broken figure of the bull behind the scrub pine. The bull was between five and ten yards behind the pine and unfortunately it was much too thick to find a spot to shoot through. I saw an alley to the right of the pine the bull was facing, but I’d have to get five yards up the hill and to my left to have a clear shot through it. Just before I made the final couple steps to have a clear shot through the alley the bull walked right through it. He was instantly behind an even bigger, thicker scrub pine tree and offered me no shot.

We dogged the bull down the draw for another 100 yards and he tipped off the edge of a sharp drop and down towards some aspen trees. I carefully tipped over the edge of the small ridge and looked into the green and golden quakies. There I saw a medium sized 5 point bull staring at me. Instantly I knew he wasn’t the same bull we had been chasing- he was covered in mud from a recent spa session at the local wallow and he was markedly smaller than the bull I nearly had a crack at. Of course, it made no difference to me- I ranged him and instinctively clipped my release on D loop. Just as I started to draw my string back the bull had seen enough and took off like a rocket! I was a couple seconds too late or too slow to get a crack at him. We dogged both bulls for another 20 minutes, but it was to no avail. We couldn’t catch them and we couldn’t get the bull to take on a challenger again. We were covered in sweat and huffing and puffing, but wow what an exciting exchange! I love getting in a bull’s kitchen and screaming obscenities and calling his momma names, and that’s exactly what Jon had done. On top of the great exchange it was also fun and great to know that Jon and I had been on the same page and his calling was exactly what I was hoping as the whole thing unfolded. It’s pretty fun to be on the same page as your calling partner. I’m convinced if I could have covered a little more ground going uphill I would have killed that big 6x6. So close!

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We got back to camp late that night. On the drive Jon and I both had a similar thought- Rod filled his tag today. I mentioned it first, but when I did Jon had a similar premonition- Rod shot a bull on Self-pity today. Odds probably weren’t in favor of that, but we both had a feeling that Rod had defied those odds. Rod was at camp sipping on a beverage when we pulled in. He asked about our day and we filled him in on the fun we’d had and the two close calls. Afterwards we asked him how his day went. He walked over to his bow, shined his headlamp on his quiver, and asked “Does something look wrong here?” I knew what he was asking to look for and I was happy to see exactly that; there was a bloody arrow and a broken arrow in his quiver. I asked, “Did you find him?” His response was, “We’ve got a bull down, boys!” Hoots, hollers, hugs, and high fives immediately followed! We all grabbed a cold beverage and sat down to hear Rod’s story.

Rod got down to the wallow early that day, about 9:00 AM. The thermals seemed to settle into their uphill swing early too, which was good for Rod. According to Rod, by 1:00 he hadn’t seen anything larger than a squirrel and he was seriously questioning both the decision to sit there any longer and his sanity! At 1:30 he caught movement down the hill and to his right- a bull was making its way through the woods and in his general direction. The bull was about 60 yards away when Rod saw him. He came in above the bottom wallows and below the top wallow. Rod quickly realized it was a pretty nice 5x5 and knew just as fast that he’d happily shoot him if he got a crack. The bull came in to nearly right below Rod and just as he went behind a small cluster of trees Rod drew his string back and anchored. The bull didn’t see him, but for no apparent reason he stopped, still shielded by the trees. Rod held. The bull inspected his surroundings- it seemed like he wanted to check to make sure all was clear ahead of him. The bull took a couple of quick steps forward and Rod released his arrow. Rod saw the hit well- it was perfectly place vertically, but was a few inches farther back than ideal. The bull bolted ahead at the shot, ran 30 yards across the hillside, and bedded down, still in plain sight of Rod. However, the bull was behind some brush and although Rod could definitely see him, there were enough sticks in the way to block a follow up shot.

Seconds after the bull bedded and while Rod was trying to figure out what to do, he heard a stick snap below him. He turned his head to see a second bull that was following the same path as the first. Rod was relieved (and a little surprised, given how things usually seem to go) that this second bull was slightly smaller than the first. The bull stopped in the same spot as the first, looked around and spotted the bedded and dying bull, and casually walked over to it. He lowered his head and went after the injured bull! He locked antlers with the bedded bull, shook his head several times, then backed up and walked out the way he came in. It was quite a sight for Rod to witness!

The bedded bull expired quickly after that and Rod went over to him and got to work. He quartered the bull and hung each quarter in a tree, then he packed up the loins, backstraps, and antlers and headed for camp. It’s not a long hike back to camp, but it is a pretty steep one , especially for the first ½ mile. Also, it’s through dark timber that is full of blowdowns and is generally a pain in the rear to go through. Add a load of meat and horns on your back and it’s even a tougher hike out. Here are a couple pictures to show what kind of terrain Rod had to pack the bull through. Keep in mind that these pictures really don’t do the slope of the mountain justice!

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Rod got back to camp not long before sundown and decided to wait for backup to get the rest. He figured no matter how many trips he took that night we’d still have to go back in the AM for a final load. Once he got the meat on ice he did dug into a different cooler and grabbed a celebratory beverage and relaxed. I bet that beverage and the hour of waiting for Jon and me to show up felt really, really good! There are few things that feel better than a little reflection on punched elk tag not long after you fill it- the excitement and the relief are both quite gratifying! …at least that’s how I experience it.

Rod was by himself, which makes hero shots a lot tougher! He did the best he could given that he was working with a camera on a timer. Here’s Rod with his bull.

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Rod back at camp after we finished the packing of the bull.

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Sure seems like Scoots writing makes it sound easy!

No chance that we find it easy! This area has good numbers, which obviously helps a ton. But it's tough work humping up and down a mountain chasing elk . Plus the real work starts once the elk is down. A lot of guys don't appreciate how much work it is to break down a 700-800 lb animal and to haul it off the mountain on your back. Rod got the first part done but we had 4 quarters to pack out in the AM. We planned to do it in one trip which meant 80-90 lbs in our packs. My legs get sore just thinking about it!

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