This year I was lucky enough to draw one of Utah?s limited entry bull elk tags. As I have been exclusively an archery hunter for the last 10 years, I naturally put in for the archery tag. This year has been a great year for antler growth due to the real wet spring. Feed and water have been very abundant and the deer and elk in this state have shown tremendous growth. I was very excited about getting a chance to hunt in an area that I have guided in over the last two seasons.
Scouting throughout the summer turned out to be better than I had expected. We were seeing lots of quality bulls all year and as the hunt drew closer I was starting to think that I had figured out these bulls patterns. Scouting bulls in the spring is easy (relatively speaking) as the bulls are still in velvet and tend to spend a lot of time in open meadows. I knew that once they shed their velvet they would head for deep cover though, and that would prove to be the case this year.
For some unknown reason (money I think), Utah has set the archery elk hunt as the first hunt of the year. Unlike Idaho, Colorado, and most other states that let archers hunt during the peak of the rut. Utah saves the rut for the limited entry rifle hunters. This has never made much sense to me, as an archer needs to be able to located bulls and get much closer than rifle hunters do. Our hunt started August 15th and ended on September 11th this year. Under the best circumstances, this time of year is difficult to hunt big bulls with a bow and as it turns out, this year the cards were stacked against us.
After one of the wettest springs on record, July, August, and September ended up being unusually dry and warm. To say that the elk were not moving much during daylight hours would be an understatement. But that is just my luck. If I have the tag, nothing will ever go the way you would script it. But I figured that going in, and there is nothing that you can do about the weather. With all that being said, I set off on what would turn out to be one of the most challenging things I have ever done?
I was very fortunate this year to be able to finagle my work schedule to allow me to hunt 23 out of the 28 days that our hunt was open. This was by far the most time I have ever spent on one hunt. The area that I was hunting was between 8,000 and 11,000 feet above sea level and as I found out (the hard way) very vertical. Because of the heat (it averaged around 80 degrees during the day), I found that the bulls spent most of the day in dark pines and to my disbelief, did not spend much time on water during the day.
Typically, the elk don?t talk much during August but by the first of September they usually become vocal in the morning and evenings. That was not the case this year though. By the 5th of September, I had only heard a handful of bugles and that just made the hunt even harder. I knew were the bulls were hanging out but with them not saying much I found myself bumping them in their beds. I bumped the big 7×7 that I was after three times (if I had been hunting with a rifle he would have been dead on day 5).
The wind down in what I now call the narrows would not cooperate either. When I was able to locate a bull, the wind would throw the screws to me before I could get into shooting distance (swirling wind sucks!). Same thing happened on the one occasion I had were a bull came into the water I was setup on just before dark.
About the time it started to cool off just a little (during the third week) the moon ended up being full and in my opinion that messed things up even more. I spent a total of 7 nights in a tent down in the narrows and while the moon was full the only bugles I heard were 5-10 minutes before dark and all night while I was trying to sleep. It wasn?t until the 9th of September, when the moon was half and didn?t rise until after 10pm that we finally got the bulls to ?heat up? a bit. Even then, they were real vocal on the 9th but dead quiet on the 10th. On the morning of the 11th, our last day, they were talking until about 8am and then they were quiet the rest of the day.
Now don?t get me wrong, throughout the last 7 days we would get bulls talking for 10 to 25 minutes before dark and that helped us get in on some bulls. However, with that little time it was difficult to get shot opportunities.
It might sound like all I am doing is complaining and to some extent I guess that I am. I had a great time for the most part. I learned a lot about my gear (what works and what doesn?t), and about the habits of elk, and mostly about myself.
When all was said and done, I was able to pass on 8 small bulls (the biggest being about 310?). On the 9th I was able to stalk in on a 360+? herd bull with 26 cows and get a shot off (I made a great shot on a dead tree at 48 yards, but that?s a whole other story for a later post) and on Friday the 11th I got an arrow in a nice 260? last day bull. Unfortunately my arrow came out after about 80 yards and plugged the wound and we lost the blood (talk about the highest of highs and the lowest of lows).
After 8 ? hours of searching I finally had to give up (I hate loosing an animal more than anything). The DWR knows I shot him and I am going back down on Wednesday to hunt crows and wind. I hope that I can find him so I can at least get a European mount. I hate to loose the meat but hope to recover the antlers.
In all, it was a hunt of a lifetime! It had everything you could ask for, beautiful country, great company, emotional ups and downs, some opportunities, and lots of close calls, great memories, and ultimately a chance to hunt one of the craftiest, elusive, and magnificent animals in the woods. I have no regrets. I can honestly say that I left everything I had on that mountain (including 26 pounds!) and I know that it will be something that I will always remember.
One last thing ? my dad also had the tag and we got to spend 12 days hunting together in some of the most beautiful country God has made. My 10-year-old son tagged along once too and having three generations in the hills is the stuff memories are made of. I couldn?t have asked for more? Well maybe just a bit more?