Back in March one of our readers, Alex, had read our stories about some of our hunting experiences we have had in what we call the Hilton. After a few emails and conversations back and forth we were able to point him in the right direction and below is his story of success.
No Vacancy – The Hilton is Full
The morning was cool, but it was already apparent that it would be another warmer than normal late
September day. On this occasion I decided to enter the Hilton, in a more round about fashion and to
walk slowly, listening for the calls of the many bulls I had seen and heard the day before. It was only the
second day of the hunt and little did I know, as I started down the well worn trail, that my journey would
be coming to an end.
After drawing a Utah, limited Entry Muzzle Loader tag for the Central Mountains Nebo unit, I was
pumped. However, reality soon set in that I was going to be hunting an animal that I had never hunted,
with a weapon that I had never hunted with and in an area I knew nothing about. Without a lot of time
to scout, I turned to the internet and researched for any information I could find on elk hunting and on
the Nebo unit. I was able to get in contact with several individuals who were very helpful. One of those
individuals was Jason Jacobson of addictedtohunting.com. It was Jason who told me about an area that
he and his fellow, self described “hunt addicts” call the Hilton.
I was descending into the Hilton for the second day in a row and the pessimistic thoughts of the average
hunter were beginning to return. I could not believe that I could have another day like the day before
and I began to worry that I had squandered my chances. I wondered if I had put enough pressure
on the area to single handedly push the elk out. Opening day had been one of the greatest hunting
experiences I had ever had. The elk had been extremely vocal and active in the morning and though I
had gotten in close, I was unable to seal the deal.
I started opening morning by traversing the ridge to what I now call the bear clearing, a small clearing
on the top of the ridge where on an earlier scouting trip I had a close encounter with a bear. As I
approached the bear clearing I heard the distant call of a bull elk. I walked to the edge of the ridge to
examine a lone spike bull that was on a hill off the back side. As I was looking off the ridge, I heard a
quick high pitched bugle behind me. I turned and slowing went in the direction of the call. As I was
working my way through the aspens on the far side of the clearing two rag horn bulls trotted out of the
pines and were followed by a decent five point bull. I brought up my gun and began the internal debate
of whether or not this was a good opening morning bull. Before I could make up my mind, the bull was
out of site. Desperate for another look I blew on my cow call. The bull immediately returned the call
with a bugle and began to work his way back towards me. I then decided to further encourage him with
another call. This was too much. The bull stopped in his tracks about 50 yards away. There were plenty
of aspens and pines to obscure any shot. The bull warily worked away from me and went back into the
pines from which he had originally emerged and I followed.
The area had been well traveled and was full of fresh sign. I worked my way to a more open area and
sat on a log. After about ten minutes, I heard a branch snap, and then another and another. The wind
had changed and the stampede was on! I could not see all of the elk, but the thundering noise made it
apparent that this was a large heard. I attempted to run parallel to the herd and worked my way back to
the top of the ridge. I then spent the next hour or so, trying to determine where they might have gone.
I dropped back into the Hilton and descended into the drainage. I stood there feeling a bit dejected
and wondering if I had made a mistake by passing on the five point bull. It was at that moment I heard
a distant bugle from a hill that was close to the main highway. I couldn’t help but think it was probably
just another hunter, but I decided to investigate anyway. I climbed the low hill and began working my
way through nasty, eye level scrub brush. All of the noise I was making made me believe that if a bull
had been there before, he wasn’t around anymore.
I eventually stopped to rest and have a short conversation with my wife; yes the Hilton does have cell
reception. While recounting the morning events, I heard another bugle and the raspy tone told me to
get off the phone. I hung-up and noisily worked through the scrub brush to the edge of the hill. While I
was looking off into the drainage, I heard another call to my right and behind me. I had walked right past
him! I slowly worked back to a cow trail where I could actually see farther than ten feet. After getting
into this position another bugle came from the edge of the hill. He had walked right past me and was
now where I had just been! I slowly fought my way back through the brush and as I peered over the
edge of the hill I could see the top few points on the antlers of a large mature bull, less than 20 yards
away. He must have seen me as well, because he immediately turned and began crashing through the
brush and off of the hillside.
I began after this bull but stopped when I heard another bull that was bugling and moving in the
opposite direction. I followed the second bull for about a half a mile before his calls stopped and the
Hilton finally fell silent.
Later that afternoon I returned to the Hilton with Tyler, a young man and expert elk hunter from my
brother’s local church. We descended below the clearing to where the elk stampede had occurred that
morning. While discussing our options we heard the bugle of a mature bull. Tyler was able to call the
bull in close, but could not coax him out of the pines before the swirling winds of the Nebo gave us away
once again and brought the opening day to an end.
As I continued down the trail the next morning, I listened carefully for any sign that the elk were still in
the Hilton. I descended to where the trail came to an intersection and then turned left to climb to the
top of the ridge. Just before the trail’s summit, a lesser used trail breaks off to the right and follows
the ridge line above the Hilton to the bear clearing. I followed this trail along the ridge and wondered
if I was pushing my luck. I had already been to the clearing three times and had seen or heard a bull on
each occasion but now the Hilton was dead silent.
My heart leapt as I heard the beautiful call once again. The bugles were coming from the aspens on the
east side of the clearing. Determined not to miss another opportunity, I stopped to check the wind and
come up with a plan. I decided that instead of going straight toward the bull’s call, it would be best to
continue on the main trail until I was completely downwind.
I donned my camo mask, primed my muzzleloader and continued down the trail into the clearing. When
the calls were due east of me, coming from the exact place I had seen the smaller bulls the morning
before, I started through the trees. Then, I felt the wind swirl and heard the snap of a branch. Afraid that
the elk had caught my scent, I let out a cow call, waited about ten seconds and let out another. To my
surprise the second call was answered by a long raspy bugle.
I continued my advance until I could see some cows directly ahead of me. I worked to my right and
entered a small bunch of thick pines in the center of the aspen grove. I moved to the far edge of the
pines to where I could see some cows. I could not go any further without the risk being seen, so I took
a seated shooting position and let out one last cow call. This time the bull emerged from the herd,
advancing at a quick walk towards me and to my left. The trees were thick enough that there were very
few effective shooting lanes for a moving animal. I calmly chose a shooting lane well in front of the bull,
took aim at the empty space and waited…not even watching the bull’s approach.
The approach took maybe 5 or 10 seconds, but the wait seemed like an eternity. As soon as his shoulder
blade was in my sights, I made a slight adjustment and gently pulled the trigger. The gun erupted and I
watch through the smoke as the bull bucked, turned around, ran about ten yards and nose dived into
As I look back on the entire sequence, I am amazed at how calm and collected I was, but after watching
my first bull fall all semblance of composure was gone. I reached for a tube from the quick loader on
my belt and dumped powder pelts and sabot on the ground; it took everything I had left to get the load
from a second tube into the barrel and properly seated.
As I examined my bull I could not believe what had just happened. I had single-handedly and successfully
stalked and called in a mature bull. Not only that, when it mattered I was patient and made a clean shot.
I immediately called my wife to share my experience. She was getting the kids ready for school and
promptly announced, “Daddy got an elk.” A party instantly broke out on the other side of the phone and
listening to their screams of joy was the best part of my entire day.
The field dressing and the packing out of the bull is another lengthy story in and of itself. However, I will
say that the gutless field dressing method is really a two person job and is quiet exhausting when done
alone. My greatest accomplishment of the day was probably flipping the beast over, all by myself.
I would like to thank Matt, an individual that I met through the forums on the Utah Wildlife Network.
Matt was one of the people who had offered me assistance and was coming up that afternoon to help
me out in the evening and the following day. Although I had already shot my elk, Matt still came and
helped pack my bull out. I would also like to thank Jason, without his direction, none of this would have