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2014 Wyoming Elk Hunt - VERY long!

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2014 Wyoming Elk Hunt - VERY long!

Old 12-11-2014, 09:38 AM
Nontypical Buck
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Default 2014 Wyoming Elk Hunt - VERY long!

Like my Mountain Goat hunt, this is a hunt that has been several years in the making as well. Iíve been building preference points in Wyoming to be able to draw a Limited Entry hunt for 4 years now. I read a post on Monster Muleyís Hunt Adventure Challenge back in 2010 on a hunt in this unit and I really wanted to experience it. The entire unit is in a Wilderness Area which means no wheeled or motorized vehicles allowed. Even the government canít use them. Everything is done with horses or on foot. No chainsaws, no nothing. A true back country elk hunt.

On top of the backcountry wilderness aspect, the unit is supposed to be one of the better quality units in Wyoming with lots of elk and plenty of older class bulls. If you are 12 miles back in, you are probably going to be more choosy and not shoot the first raghorn you see.

Wyoming nonresident elk is the first drawing of the year for western big game hunting so I found out that I drew this tag in mid February. I was short of the minimum points needed to get the tag in the preference point pool, so that means that I actually got lucky and drew it in the random draw pool, I think the odds were something like 6% to draw it. I was super pumped and started making plans for the hunt right then.

As I mentioned in my Mountain Goat post, itís kind of one of those deals where sometimes you get too lucky. In May I found out I drew my once in a lifetime Wyoming Mountain Goat tag so suddenly my premium elk tag was going to have to take a back seat to the Mountain Goat tag. Instead of scouting my elk unit, I spent that time scouting my mountain goat unit. My buddy had planned on taking several trips to the elk unit over the summer, but instead took several trips to my mountain goat unit. When it all came down to it, they were able to make one day trip a few miles into the unit, but that was it. We were going to have to rely on talking with others and scouting via Google Earth.

I think I mentioned it in my mountain goat post, but I was surprised at how willing people were to talk about their mountain goat hunts in detail and practically give me GPS coordinates where to go. When you think about it, it does make sense though because it is a once in a lifetime tag and they know they will never get to hunt it again so they are very much willing to share really good specific information. Not so much when it comes to elk hunting. Although this is a premium tag and takes about 6 years of points to draw as a nonresident, for a resident it is about 40% draw odds so residents can expect to hunt it every couple of years or so. If they give you any specific information, that would mean that you might shoot the elk that they could have a chance at next year if they drew. So we knew there were elk in the unit, and knew some general areas to start looking but that was about it.

The way the week fell this year, opening day of October 1st was on a Wednesday. We had decided because we had never hunted the area before that it would be a really good idea if we could go in early and get some scouting done. We planned on going in on Monday and possibly scouting Monday evening and all day Tuesday if I could get tagged out in time on my Mountain Goat hunt.

Thankfully, I tagged out on my mountain goat hunt that previous Friday, so I was able to spend part of Saturday and Sunday switching gears from mountain goat hunting to elk hunting and was ready to go on Monday.

Right about this time I started to realize that my expectations were not going to be quite matching up with reality. Not because reality was a bad thing, but because I didnít have a very good understanding of exactly how much work it was going to take to get a camp setup 12 miles into the backcountry.

I had planned on packing light and I was in charge of the food. Mountain House was about 80% of the menu and everything else was non refrigerated items including foil packaged tuna, chicken, tortillas, etc. for lunches. That part went pretty smoothly. But food was only a small part of the big picture of getting a camp back in 12 miles. The first thing I was surprised at was getting fitted for a saddle out of a couple options and getting my stirrups setup and all kinds of fun stuff like that. Not sure why I didnít think about that kind of stuff, but it had just never crossed my mind. We spent several hours Saturday evening just going through all the gear we would be taking and getting everything sorted out.

We were going to be taking a total of 6 horses in with 3 pack horses and riding 3 so that was going to be more than my friends son could fit in his trailer. So I ended up getting to hook up his old horse trailer and hauling 2 of them in with me. My friend had a small pasture that he could hold them on so we ended up hooking everything up and taking them back to his house that evening.

Sunday we went to church together and after that dropped my mountain goat cape off at a local taxidermist so he could go ahead and flesh it out and get it ready to send off to the tannery. Iím going to use my taxidermist to do the full body mount, but this way we didnít have to worry about dealing with the cape over the next week or so. Sunday was a bit of a breather after going hard for a full week after mountain goats. A little grocery shopping and quite a bit of sitting around and catching up with some other friends that we have that live in the area and overall we had a really enjoyable day. I was starting to get excited about the elk hunt already though and still had a lot to get done to turn everything around for it.
The original plan had called for my friends son to go in and setup camp a week or so before the opener. Then plans changed and he was going to go in over the weekend. Well, with some rough weather and a few other issues, plans changed again and camp didnít end up getting setup. We were going to end up going in and setting up camp ourselves on Monday. No big deal, with an early start we would be fine.

I still had to check in my mountain goat with game and fish, but the local game and fish office is right on the way to where we were going to hunt and they open at 8:00 so that wouldnít set us back any. However plans changed and things popped up and a few errands and some last minute work requirements for my friends son and it was closer to noon before we ended up heading out of town.

Hereís a picture with the horse trailer hooked up to my pickup and the 2 horses that I ended up hauling to the trailhead.

Checking in my mountain goat at the Fish and Game office was actually a pretty pleasant experience. They got out a map and had me tell them exactly where I shot it so they could use that to compile the harvest data. They measured the horns and were very complimentary and congratulated me on shooting a fine billy. It took less than 30 minutes and we were ready to hit the road.

Part of the reason for the change in plans and delays was due to the fairly ominous weather forecast we were looking at. Wind, rain, snow, you name it, at one point or another it was in the forecast. It wasnít looking especially inviting as we got going that morning, but so far the rain had held off for the most part and the winds werenít as bad as they had predicted.

Driving to the trailhead, the previous rains had actually improved the road from what my friend was telling me. It had softened things up and as a result every loose nut and bolt wasnít trying to rattle off the truck and trailer. We did have to stop a couple times to relatch the gate on the horse trailer my friendís son was pulling ahead of us though.

We were heading into some beautiful country.

We were running just a little bit late, but the weather was holding for us and we were even catching a glimpse of blue sky occasionally and we were still in pretty good spirits and full of anticipation for the hunt ahead of us. The road had turned out better than expected and things were going great, what could go wrong?

About that time my friends son pulled over and said his engine was knocking pretty bad. We had 6 miles to go to the trailhead, but he said the way it was sounding he didnít think he should go any farther. The hood goes up and the oil gets checked and it shows that he is a full 2 quarts low on oil. Of course the nearest place to get oil is about 30 miles away one way with most of that a dirt road but sometimes it is what it is. A few trucks stopped and we asked if they had any extra oil and one had about Ĺ a quart, but we knew we needed more than that so we told them to just keep it. We tried to check a shop of an oil drilling type operation, thinking they might have some, but there was no one there to answer the door. So I unhitched from the trailer that I was pulling and made as quick of a trip into town to buy some oil as I could.

We put in a couple quarts of oil, fired it up and it was still knocking. Turned it off, checked the oil again and it was still low. I had bought 4 quarts of oil just to be safe and when it was all said and done we ended up adding all 4 quarts. The engine on his truck only holds 5 quarts so itís amazing that the engine was just knocking and hadnít seized up. It had been a couple months since he had changed the oil, but hadnít noticed it burning any or leaking, but it must be burning some because it sure was low. We fired it up again and it was still knocking, but after a little bit it smoothed on out and seemed okay. As far as I know it is still running fine although I think he is checking the oil more frequently now!

While I was gone they went ahead and saddled the horses and reloaded them in the trailers and when it was all said and done we probably only really lost an hour or so of time because I made some really good time getting to town and back and they would have had to spend most of that time saddling the horses once we got to the trailhead anyway.

Once at the trailhead it was time for another surprise. There were horse trailers EVERYWHERE! Talking with my friends they had mentioned that there would be quite a few people up there, but we were going in 2 days before the season and there were already trailers everywhere. The regular trailhead was completely full, some camping type areas farther up were jam packed, we ended up getting the last couple of spots in an overflow type area about Ĺ mile from the regular trailhead, and when we ended up coming out there was evidently quite a few folks who came in after us because there were trucks and trailers parked all along the road coming into the trailhead. I should have counted them, but I think a conservative estimate would be 40 to 50 trucks and trailers parked at the trailhead. This was a big area, but I couldnít imagine that many people in one spot. Oh well, we were committed and it was a big area. We were planning on going in at least 10 miles so hopefully we could still find a spot that wouldnít be too crowded.

This is just one side of the overflow area that is Ĺ mile from the trailhead. There are 10 trucks and trailers in this picture and I think there was a couple over by the trees that were blocked in this picture. There were 7 or 8 trucks and trailers parked on the opposite side of this spot as well.

The next surprise was how much time and effort it takes to take a huge pile of gear and get it all sorted out and weighed and packed onto some horses. Not sure what I was expecting, but evidently I hadnít really thought it all out. My job ended up being just taking stuff and hauling it to a big pile on a tarp and then helping weigh stuff as it got packed up. I didnít keep a stopwatch running or anything, but when it was all said and done it took a couple hours to get it all sorted and weighed and packed. The horse that I ended up riding is the brown one right in the middle of the picture, her name is Salty.

We finally got it all sorted, everything loaded and ready to roll. I guess I might not have mentioned it yet, but I have ridden a horse 2 times in my life and the longest of those was for about an hour. Needless to say Iím not an experienced horseman. To add to the complexity, one of the members of the pack string was a 2 year old horse who hadnít ever been on a pack trip before. One more twist was that my friend was going to ride his sonís wifeís horse who was known to be somewhat temperamental and he would be leading a horse that had been borrowed for this trip. Oh yeah, and when it was all said and done we were now running way late and we only had a couple hours before it was going to be getting dark and we had at least 10 miles to go to where we were going to try to setup camp.

Finally getting on the horses and getting started was a relief though. The actual riding didnít seem too bad at all, although I got the easy part by not having to lead a pack horse and riding in the middle of the string. The horse I was riding was my friends sonís oldest horse, she actually isnít very old by most standards, but plenty seasoned and lots of hours of hauling people around on her back so that worked out really well for me.

Of course we get Ĺ mile up the trail, actually just past the actual trailhead and my friendís son asks if anyone remembers packing the coffee pot. I have no idea how anyone would be able to remember whether or not there was a coffee pot in that giant pile of gear that ended up on the pack horses backs, but no one could remember seeing a coffee pot. Not being a coffee drinker myself, whether we had a coffee pot or not didnít seem like a big deal, but 80% of our meals were going to need to be prepared by boiling water and as far as I knew, we didnít have anything else that could be used to boil water. After a short discussion, he heads back to where the vehicles are parked at a trot putting us behind even farther. It ended up being a very good thing though because we had indeed left the coffee pot behind and it was the only thing we had that would work for boiling water.

While we were waiting we did get to enjoy some beautiful scenery and the horses were very well behaved. I thought this ended up being a good picture of my friend Mike while we were waiting.

Looking at the trail ahead.

Okay, coffee pot secured, we now have about an hour to go before dark and we are really just starting to head down the trail. Having almost zero experience riding a horse period, Iím trying to do the math and figure out how far we are going to make it before dark and what we are going to do then.

This became my view for the next several hours. The white canvas ended up being about the only thing I could see after it got dark and we kept heading down the trail.

Of course since we were getting started so late, what else to we need to slow us down even more? How about a nice distraction? Possibly the largest Shiras moose Iíve ever seen in the wild. Of course with it getting dark and just using a small point and shoot camera the picture quality isnít very good, but I think you can get an idea for how big this guy was. He just hung out there and watched us from about 200 yards away for 5 or 10 minutes while we gawked at him.

Still not a great picture, but if you look at the pine trees in the cropped picture above you can see him standing in that little gap in the trees if you look closely enough. This gives you an idea of how close he was, he never did run off.

Okay, now we actually start to get into a rhythm and start to actually get a few miles down the trail. Darkness is full on by now and Iím pretty much just locked into the white canvas tarp on the pack horse in front of me and trusting that the horse Iím riding can see a whole lot better than I can. The trail had a few rocky spots where sparks are flying off the horses hooves in the dark and that was pretty cool. We went through a few spots that had a steep drop off to one side and I was actually a little happy that I couldnít see how far down the drop was.

Overall the horses continued to do really well, especially considering that it was the first pack trip for the 2 year old horse ever. She went across the first few river crossings really well considering, and overall things were going really smooth, although we still had a long way to go to where we were planning on camping. We got to one spot where the trail dipped down into a ravine with some running water and some rocks and the 2 year old horse ďSassĒ, decided to balk a little. The 2nd pack horse ďCharlieĒ ended up not paying very close attention and when Sass decided she was going to go she ended up going. Charlie ends up with a big yank on his lead rope and ends up nearly leaping all the way across the ravine right into the back end of Sass. I was sure we were going to end up with a huge wreck in the dark, but somehow they got themselves sorted out and we kept on going down the trail.

Not much later after crossing the river for a 3rd time (in the dark of course), either a bear or a moose (probably a moose) busted out not far from us and the horses were getting pretty unsettled. My friend Mike had been asking his son Zeke how much farther we were going to go before stopping and after that they both decided it was probably time to find a spot to spend the night. When it was all said and done we had covered just over 6 miles but we still had a ways to go and finding a good place to setup camp in the dark was going to be tricky so we decided to just unload and spend the night right there beside the trail and get going again in the morning.

Here was our camp for the night.

After boiling up some water and making up some Mountain House, we tried to get some sleep. With the horses stomping and occasionally neighing Iím not sure I got much sleep, but I think I did sleep a little. So far things werenít quite turning out according to plans, but thankfully the rain that was forecast held off and we didnít have to find out how our makeshift tarps were going to do at keeping us dry.

The morning dawned a new day and we were in the mountains and it was a beautiful day. After a couple hours in the saddle the day before including several miles in the dark I was ready to load back up and get camp setup and do some scouting.

One of the unique aspects of this area is the fact that most of it burned several years ago. It makes for some interesting scenery and lots of grass for grazing animals as well.

After a quick breakfast we were ready to get going and find a good spot for camp. Of course after taking longer than I expected to get everything re-weighed and loaded back up we were back on the trail.

At least we were going to be able to pick our campsite out in the daylight now.

The horse riding ended up being actually enjoyable. The new pack horse ďSassĒ had a few more struggles going across some wooden gangplank type stuff over some boggy areas, but overall did very well considering it was her first trip. The horse that Mike was riding kept getting too close behind the horse I was on and actually got kicked in the head once, but overall it was pretty smooth sailing. Riding in the daylight was more enjoyable than riding in the dark, it was really nice to be able to look around while the horse just followed along the trail.

We finally got to the area that we were planning on putting up camp. It looked like a really great spot for elk and we were actually really surprised that we hadnít seen or heard any sign of elk either last night or that morning. Another amazing thing was that although we had seen 40 or 50 trailers at the trailhead we only saw a couple camps along the river that morning. The outfitters camp was huge though, I canít remember if they had 8 or 9 tents setup on a bench above the river.

Hereís where we started looking for a spot to camp. Looks like a great spot, the only problem is that my hunting unit was on the right side of the river, not the left side. If that right side of the river looks steep, trust me, it was!

Kind of interesting that I took this picture on the ride in. Of course I forgot to take a picture of this area on the ride out, but I ended up getting pretty familiar with that particular spot. A little bit of a spoiler alert, but we ended up coming down that spot in the dark with heavy packs a few days later. If it looks steep, trust me, it was!

We ended up finding a nice looking spot for a campsite on the right side of the river and were able to get across the river to it and start setting up camp. We were just over 12 miles in according to my GPS. It was obvious that other people had thought it looked like a good camp spot in the past as there were hitching rails already lashed to some of the trees, some precut tent poles and best of all a really nice meat pole setup about 100 yards back in the trees from where we ended up putting the tent.

Thought this was a good picture of the horses tied up in the burned trees.

Not a bad spot at all for a camp.

Getting unloaded and getting the tent setup wasnít bad at all. My first time ever to have a canvas tent setup for camp. It was a lot bigger than I expected. With just 3 of us there was tons of room.

By the time we got camp setup and the horses taken care of it was already getting later in the day than we wanted. We had just enough time to get an evening scouting trip in and get back to camp and try to get ready for opening morning. We were in a spot completely new to all of us and didnít really have a good idea where to even start. Mike was starting to feel poorly and we ended up leaving him back at camp while Zeke and I tried to get in a little scouting. After the break from the horses I was ready to get back on and see some country and hopefully find some elk.

That was the one thing we were all surprised about. Based on talking with different people and reading different hunt reports, I honestly was expecting this to be a deal where I was going to get to have a choice between multiple mature bulls each day. We were so far back in and there was supposed to be so many elk I had been thinking through what kind of bull I would be willing to shoot. So far we had seen a whopping Zero elk. And not much sign either. We had heard reports of literally 1,000+ elk in the unit but so far we sure werenít seeing them.

We rode a couple miles and were going to go up a creek to some country that had looked pretty good on Google Earth. It became pretty obvious that with the rain and the steep country, we werenít going to be spending all our time on the horses, there was no way that they were going to make it up the trail we wanted to go on. We tied them off after crossing the river and continued on foot.

It was beautiful country and looked like there should be plenty of elk in there, but again, we just werenít seeing much sign and for sure we werenít seeing or hearing any elk.

I think Iíve mentioned a few times already that this was some steep country, but Iíll say it again. This was some steep country. Looking across the other side of the drainage there were some really nice spots that looked perfect for elk, and there were some other spots that looked a lot more like sheep and goat country. I really thought the rock formations on this ridgeline were pretty cool with the holes showing on the ridge.

Another thing that I didnít realize at the time, and I will get into more detail later, was the fact that when you see waterfalls that means that things are really steep. I was just taking this picture because it was pretty at the time, but I think this really helps to give you an idea of how steep this country is.

The other side of the creek. More waterfalls, but above that it looked like a pretty good spot for elk. It was just going to be some serious work to get there to find out whether there were any there or not.

More scouting pictures. More waterfalls. More steep country, but it looked like a good spot, especially since there were only a few pockets of dark timber in the entire area with all the burned stuff.

Surely there are some elk up there in the bowl arenít there? We didnít ever find out. I blew a bugle a few times but nothing ever responded.

On the way up the trail we had seen some bear tracks, this area is supposed to have a very good population of bears including grizzlies so we were actually expecting to see more sign that we did. We followed one track for a while that we decided had to be a really big black bear.

Iím wearing size 13 boots for comparison. That is the front paw of the bear.

Did I mention that it was muddy? I still havenít gotten good at getting my video clips edited and uploaded, but I have a good one from my GoPro knock off of Zeke nearly busting it going down a steep spot on the trail in the mud. We both nearly fell several times slipping and sliding on the way back down.

I thought this was a really good picture. Looks like a perfect spot for elk, but again, that was on the wrong side of the river so we never rode up there to check it out.

We got back on the horses and rode back to camp just as it was really starting to get dark. Mike had a fire going when we got there but still wasnít feeling very good. We messed with the horses for a bit, boiled up some water for supper and tried to decide what in the world we were going to do in the morning on opening day. I got ready to spend my first night in a canvas tent a long way from civilization.

I donít think any of us expected opening day of elk season to turn out like it did, but Iím going to have to wait a few days before I can get back to the story so youíll have to wait to find out about it.
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Old 12-11-2014, 09:39 AM
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Part 2

So back to the story. I mentioned it a little bit in my first post, but after an adventurous pack in and getting camp setup, my friend Mike wasn’t feeling too good and skipped out on our scouting trip that evening. He wasn’t feeling much better that evening but we were hoping that a good nights rest would be the cure and we were all looking forward to opening day the next morning. Instead of getting better he woke up several times during the night and was getting worse and worse. We ended up deciding that he had gotten dehydrated and now more than likely had altitude sickness. The only cure for altitude sickness is to drop down in altitude and that was looking like our only option. After discussing our options, we decided that Zeke would ride out with Mike to the trailhead in the morning and take Mike back into town where someone would meet up with them and take Mike home.

The drawback to this plan was that we were in a designated wilderness area and in Wyoming a non-resident can’t hunt in a wilderness area without a resident guide or an outfitter. With Mike and Zeke both leaving camp for the day that meant that I was going to be stuck in camp and couldn’t hunt opening day. To make matters worse we had a light snow overnight and it would have been perfect weather to be out hunting. As I mentioned, it turned out to be a very unexpected start for the opening day of elk season. Stuck in camp by myself the entire day. At least it was pretty out with the new snow!

Mike was not any better that morning, but really the only option was to get him back down in elevation and the only way to do that was for him to ride out. Riding 12 miles with a splitting headache wasn’t sounding very good to him, but it was going to have to happen. After a quick breakfast they were on their way.

The 4 horses that were staying with me in camp watching the other 2 go. I thought this was a neat picture in the snow.

After they left I had the rest of the day ahead of me with pretty much nothing to do except sit around camp. The thought went through my head about what I would do if a nice bull elk showed up right behind camp, but I didn’t end up having to worry about that.

It continued to snow pretty good for a while that morning and I actually had to knock the snow off the tent a few times. It only snowed a couple inches, but at the time I wasn’t sure how long it was going to snow so I was trying to keep it from building up to much.

One thing that was a surprise to me was how hard it was to get a fire going. With the rain and now snow it had been wet for over a week and the wood was very wet to the core. Even before the snow the grass wouldn’t even catch on fire. In the past I have always just used a lighter and or a match and some paper and that was enough to get a fire started, but if my friend wouldn’t have had some fire starting gel I’m not sure we would have ever got a fire started. Even with the gel, you had to baby sit the fire really closely for a long time putting tiny sticks on it to get it going enough to where it would dry the next size up piece of wood out enough to actually allow it to burn when you got to it. At least that kept me busy for a while. I gathered up a bunch of wood and tried to rotate it around the fire once I got it going pretty good to try to get some of it dried out.

Hanging around camp was pretty uneventful overall. The night before we had caught a glimpse of a moose moving through the timber behind camp, and that morning I heard what I’m pretty sure was a bull moose calling along the river periodically. Almost sounded like a dog howling, but it was too repetitive to be that. It went on for over an hour off and on.

Lunch came and went, I started typing up notes to my story on my cell phone but that was kind of a drag, I’m not the best thumb typist, but I was pretty much out of anything else to do. It had turned into a really nice day and the snow had pretty much all melted off. Zeke was going to be coming back that night, but with 24 miles on horseback and a couple hours of driving ahead of him it was more than likely going to be after dark before he got back.

We had discussed what to do with the horses and the decision had been that it was probably best to just keep them tethered to the trees all day and Zeke would take care of them when he got back. I just wasn’t super comfortable taking care of them and really didn’t know what to do with them anyway. I was sitting around the fire typing on my phone when a horse walks by feeding with it’s tether rope dragging along behind it. OH! Now what do I do?

The horse was really calm and I walked up to it and grabbed the rope no problem. I kind of just let him walk along feeding while I held the rope. This didn’t seem too bad. I went over to another horse that was still tied up and looked at the knot that it was tied to the tree with and took a picture of it with my phone and thought that I would just go tie the horse back up. Then I thought that if I could tie one horse back up, why not let another loose and let them eat for a while.

I remembered Zeke mentioning that the horses would tend to stick close to the dominant animal and the horse that I was riding (Salty) was one of the dominant horses so I left her tied up and turned the other 3 loose. They did really well, hanging out maybe 50 yards from camp and moving around nice and slowly just eating. I started feeling guilty that Salty wasn’t getting to eat so I untied her, but I kept a hold of her lead rope the entire time, I was too scared to let her go.

I let them all eat for close to an hour and probably would have let them eat longer, but the 3 horses that were turned completely loose had started to wander away from camp. I walked after them, but that just made them move farther away. I started to get pretty nervous as they feed back into the trees behind camp and I went back and tied Salty up by looking at the picture I had taken of the knot on my phone and went after the loose horses.

Again, as I got close to them they moved farther off, away from camp so I ended up circling way around and cut them off. I worked toward them nice and slow and thankfully was able to grab the lead rope on 2 of them and the younger one just followed behind as I led them back to camp. I went ahead and led them down to the river to drink while I had them loose, but none of them drank very much.

When it came time to get them all tied back up I was VERY thankful to have the picture of the knot on my phone. It’s probably a knot most folks can tie in their sleep, but even though I was a boy scout I only have a few knots that I can tie on a regular basis. I learned a lot of knots throughout my life, but I just seem to forget them about as fast as I learn them. Anyway I got all 4 horses tied back up and for some reason felt like I had really accomplished something. I got pretty worried when the 3 started to move back into the trees, but when it was all said and done I got it worked out and at least Zeke wouldn’t have to worry about taking care of them when he got back after dark. I still have a picture of the knot on my phone.

Some more hanging around camp and it was starting to get close to dark. I had been doing what I could from camp and glassed around a bit and about sunset a big string of elk moved across the river and up the other side in a long row. I counted over 50, but would guess there were somewhere between 75 and 100 of them. They were over a mile away and a couple of the bulls were big enough I could see their antlers through my binoculars pretty well. The only problem was that #1, I was in a designated wilderness area without a resident guide, and #2, they had just crossed from the unit I had a tag for into a unit that I did not have a tag for. I was at least nice to see some elk though as they were the first elk I had seen since leaving the trailhead 2 days earlier.

I watched the herd of elk as they moved deeper into the other hunting unit and out of sight as it got dark. I got some water filtered and figured I would try to have everything ready to go with a hot supper for when Zeke got back. One thing about having horses in camp is that they are a pretty good indicator for when anyone is coming into camp. Especially when it is one of the horses that they know. Sure enough, long before I could see or hear anything they started neighing as Zeke got probably Ĺ mile away on his way back. Enough time for me to get the water boiling and have some Mountain House ready to go when he got into camp.

Thankfully his trip in and out had been long, but uneventful and Mike was back home still trying to get rid of the headache. He was going to give it one more day and if it didn’t go away he was going to go to the Dr. Zeke messed with the two horses and was very thankful that I was able to take care of the other four while he was gone. We talked hunting strategy for the next morning and decided that since we really didn’t have a go to spot we would just leave camp a little before shooting light on horses and see where the day took us. That would let Zeke get a little extra rest anyway.

It was for sure the weirdest opening day of hunting season of my lifetime. Kind of surreal just sitting around camp by yourself all day.

Day 2 of hunting season started off much better as we had both gotten a good nights sleep and we were finally ready to actually hunt some elk. The only problem is that other than where the big herd had crossed over into the other unit, we really didn’t have a clue where the elk were going to be.

We had looked over the topographical map the night before and scoped out a trail that we wanted to check up a couple miles back down the river. On the ride over we were both surprised when we spooked up a couple of antelope! This wasn’t what I would think of as antelope country, but there was some big open areas and lots of grass so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Zeke had switched over to riding a different horse to get the horses that had done the 24 mile roundtrip a break and my horse had just hung around camp all day the day before like me so we felt pretty good about that part of things. The first couple miles were easy along the river, but then we crossed over and started up some switchbacks that were pretty steep and my horse really started struggling going up them. I weigh 205 pounds dripping wet and with all my gear, rifle, backpack and the saddle, she probably had close to 250lbs on her back so I don’t blame her. Zeke’s horse was doing fine and he was getting a bit ahead of me when my horse pretty much decided that she was done and stepped off the trail for a bit. The problem with that was that the switchbacks were there for a reason and stepping off the trail meant that you were now on some seriously steep stuff. She stumbled a bit and I got out of the saddle as quickly as I could (you might could read that as I fell, but I really didn’t think I fell, but I did end up on my butt with one foot still stuck in the stirrup.) After a little bit of excitement I was loose and standing there next to the horse. We were both breathing pretty heavy, her from exertion and me from excitement.

We both caught our breath and Zeke decided it might be best to lead her up the last part of the steep trail. Just walking ahead of her I started breathing heavy so I can imagine how much it must have sucked for her to be hauling us both up the trail. Zeke said that she was a bit out of shape, but that there just wasn’t any spots along the trail to really stop and let her catch her breath so he had just kept going up in front of us. I’m sure my inexperience as a rider didn’t help although I was trying to lean forward as much as possible to help keep things balanced. We all caught our breath and relaxed a little at the top of the switchbacks and then decided to continue on.

We rode right by several mule deer does that seemed more curious than afraid and didn’t even run off although they were only 50 or 60 yards away sometimes. The trail was now on somewhat of a shelf and not near as steep so the horses were having a much better time of things. Things started looking a little more elky and the trail started to get steeper again so we decided to leave the horses and continue up the trail on foot.

Again, this is where being totally new to the area was going to cost us a little. We could see that there had been horses on the trail ahead of us, but we didn’t know what the trail was like. With it starting to get steeper we didn’t want to have to deal with another episode like we did back on the switchbacks so felt that on foot was the best option. Ĺ mile up the trail we walk right into some folks camp. With several horses, big wall tents, etc. The trail hadn’t gotten any steeper, it actually had flattened back out and by far the worst spot was the switchbacks right at the start. Obviously we could still be on the horses but at the time we left them we didn’t know that.

There was a hunter in camp that had tagged out on opening day and we chatted with him for a little bit. They had a couple other hunters up ahead of us and knew of a couple others that were in the same drainage we were headed up as well. Not exactly what we were expecting, but we were pretty much committed to this spot for at least this morning. We had spent about 1 Ĺ hours getting to where they were camped. They had a pretty good advantage on us there.

The spot still looked really good and we kept looking as we hiked on up the trail. We left the trail and hiked up a ridge about Ĺ mile further in and spooked up 4 mule deer bucks, one of them that was a really nice one. When I had researched this unit, I debated on applying for the deer tag for this unit so I could have both a deer tag and an elk tag in my pocket but couldn’t get much feedback on the deer hunting. Just not many deer and not many tags issued so not many people who have hunted it. I could have probably drawn the tag in the special draw, but applied in the regular draw to save a couple hundred bucks and ended up not drawing it in the regular draw. I was pretty much regretting that choice now after watching a for sure shooter buck running off about 400 yards away.

We got up to the top of the ridge and although we weren’t rewarded with seeing any elk, we were rewarded with a very nice view.

This is looking back down the river where we had come from the trailhead. It’s hard to see the perspective here, but when you are traveling along the river those cliffs are 150 – 200 feet tall on both sides of the river.

It is some big country.

Larger panoramic image if you click on the link - http://padens.com/v-web/gallery/albu...ybull_pano.jpg

We climbed up over the ridge and were treated to another beautiful view.

Larger panoramic image if you click ont he link - http://padens.com/v-web/gallery/albu...mabel_pano.jpg

We didn’t know it at the time, but we would end up focusing pretty much all of our hunting in the bowl that you see in the middle of the panoramic picture above. The other hunters seemed to be more interested in catching the elk out in the open and doing more of a traditional spot and stalk approach. That’s what I was expecting at the start of the hunt, but after being in the area for 2 days and still not seeing an elk we decided that maybe we needed to get in there and go after them.

We hiked around the edge of the bowl to the left side in the picture above and did some glassing on our own. The wind was blowing pretty good and although it wasn’t really that cold, the wind didn’t make it a very pleasant day. We tried to get behind some rocks and out of the wind, but that wasn’t always possible in the open area along the top. After the 2nd glassing stop I was wearing 100% of the clothes I had in my pack including my rain gear which actually did a pretty good job of blocking the wind, but after sitting for a while I was still shivering pretty bad.

We moved again and concentrated on the timbered area and Zeke calls out that he spotted an elk. I didn’t believe him. We had been pretty much looking over the same patch of timber for a couple hours now from a few different angles and there weren’t any elk in there. He starts describing where to look and sure enough I see a cow elk down in the timber. Then Zeke says he sees a bull in there too but he can’t tell much about him other than it is a bull. We spend the next 20 or 30 minutes looking, but they are almost impossible to see even though we are only 400 yards away.

We moved spots again and were about 300 yards away and still struggling to see them in the timber. It’s pretty thick and every once in a while we can catch a glimpse of an antler but that’s about it on the bull. We do see a few cows and a spike moving around a bit, but the bull seems to be bedded down in about the thickest patch of timber on the entire mountain. Zeke thinks he is a shooter but not 100%. Both of us have just caught glimpses of pieces of antler, but that’s it.

We decided to go ahead and bugle to see if we can get a response and sure enough he answers right back. I can’t remember if we were cow calling or bugling or both, but we had a pretty decent conversation going with him but he still wouldn’t move. Zeke decided to back out and go down a little farther while I sat on him and we got a little 3 way action going on the conversation but I still never could get a good look at the bull. After a little bit the conversation stopped and we couldn’t get a response from the bull anymore.

After a bit Zeke came back up and we talked it over and decided to just go after the bull. We dropped down and headed into the timber and go a good look at where he was bedded, but that was about it. Lots of elk sign, but they had cleared out at some point and it was so thick that I never saw them go.

At this point we were about 2 Ĺ miles from the horses and the horses were about 3 miles from camp so we started thinking about when we needed to start heading back. We were pretty much standing in the only timber in the bowl and the elk were gone so we decided we might as well start heading back that way.

The ridge that we were walking around the bowl was right around 10,000’ and the wind had picked up some more. The snow was blowing and it was getting a bit hard to see especially along the ridgeline. Some side hilling and some more elevation gain and we were on a ridge trail headed back when Zeke about steps on a young bighorn ram that ends up running by about 20 yards away. I tried to get a picture of him, but by the time I got my gloves off and phone out he was too far away for it to be a decent picture.

That’s when it kind of sunk in to me that kind of country we were hunting in. This isn’t elk country, it’s bighorn sheep country! But we had finally seen some elk in our unit and one of them seemed to be a shooter bull so I guess it was elk country after all.

We made it back around and were headed back down a little earlier than we had planned, but the weather up top was pretty miserable anyway. The other hunters that had been up there glassing had given it up a long time ago. I thought this was a good picture of Zeke headed back down.

Anyway. We headed back down and stopped in and chatted with the guys that had the camp that we had passed through. We chatted for a bit and mentioned where we were camped and that we had seen the elk in the timber and we were probably going to come up again the next day but see if we could hike in from the bottom instead of riding all the way around on horses and if they were going to hunt the top that might work out pretty well for everyone. They said that’s what they planned on doing and that sounded like a plan to me.

They were really nice guys like most all hunters are and one of their group had actually shot a nice bighorn the week before up there. They did mention that they weren’t seeing near as many elk as they normally see, but they had seen a few and the one that they first guy we met shot was a neat looking bull. Almost looked like a stag with crowns on the backend. It was a 7 X 7 and not huge, but really neat looking.

We made our way back to the horses and went ahead and lead them down the steepest part of the trail down to the river and then rode back to camp. We actually ended up timing it just about right as it was getting pretty dark as we went through the willows around the river and I wouldn’t have wanted to do that when it was all the way dark. We got back on the trail and rode back to camp in the dark.

It had been a pretty good day overall. We were actually into some elk and thought we at least had a line on a shooter bull. I usually do a good job of keeping track of my mileage with my GPS, but with the horseback riding and the hiking I was having a little bit of a hard time keeping it all sorted out. I ended up just letting my trip meter run the entire week and tried to keep track of what was on foot and what was on horseback. Instead of knowing the exact mileage and elevation gain each day I just have rough totals. The rough totals do add up to what the GPS tracked for the entire week though so I’m not fluffing the numbers. Doing the math and backing into it, we ended the day with 13 miles traveled, 7 of those on horseback and 6 of that on foot. On foot we ended up with 2,600’ of elevation gain conservatively and topped out at 10,800’. We left camp on horses in the dark and got back to camp on horses in the dark. Not quite the same as the day before when I sat around camp the entire day.

Back at camp we were kind of getting into a routine. I was the waterboy and the cook and Zeke took care of the horses. I ended up getting sand in my filter and it was getting really hard to pump to filter water so that part was taking me a lot longer than it should have. I was filling up every container we had in camp when I was filtering so it was ending up being a 20 to 30 minute chore each time especially with my pump not working as well as it should. I was still ending up done with my chores and having supper cooked before Zeke was done with the horses though so I was still getting the better end of the stick on that.

After a quick supper we looked back over the topo map and my GPS and made our plans for the next day. We were going to head out on foot from camp and go up the drainage where the waterfalls were. We had checked it out a couple times and looked it over from the top and were pretty sure it would be doable. Not fun, but doable. We weren’t really pumped about trying it in the dark though we were going to plan on just heading out of camp a little before shooting light again. This time without having to mess with horses we could actually sleep in a little. We set the alarm for 5:30 and it didn’t take much before we were both asleep.

Day 3.

Another mountain house breakfast and we were headed out in the dark. We found another old camp with a meat pole, corrals, hitching rails and the works right next to the creek that we were going to be working our way up. This area for sure has had plenty of folks putting in camps at one time.

We were able to find a decent game trail that did some switchbacks up the steepest part of the base of the hill and then once we got up on the ridgeline it was fairly easy going. Easy going as in, we weren’t having to use our hands to climb with, but the kind of climb that took some stopping and catching your breath every few minutes. We were gaining some serious elevation though.

Here’s a shot looking back at camp. The white spot right in the middle of the picture is our tent.

We kept climbing and got into a little rougher area along the ridge line where we did have to do some climbing. Nothing terrible, but we both made the comment that we really didn’t want to be coming back down this in the dark. Sometimes what you don’t want to do ends up becoming reality when you are hunting though!

We made it to where we had seen the elk the day before and found a nice spot to sit and glass the area. We were looking at it from a different angle and could actually see into the timber a lot better than we were able to the day before, but we weren’t able to glass up anything this time.

We always try to spot first, but when that fails in my opinion it never hurts to throw out a few calls and after a few cow calls and a bugle, we got a response but instead of being in the timber right below us, the response came from the next ridge over.

Of course the bull again was in the thickest nastiest stuff around, just to the right of the clearing in the middle of this picture in the spot where the timber is the thickest. I circled the area where we thought he was in yellow.

Of course the bull wasn’t going to come our way and make things easy for us so we tried to decide the best way to go after him. The wind was blowing pretty much right to left in the picture above so it wasn’t going to be a big factor if we just went straight after him, but our worry was that we would end up in the same situation as the day before if we went straight at him. He would be in the thick timber and even if we closed the gap to a few hundred yards there was a good chance we would never see him. There was plenty of escape cover behind him and we would end up exposed on the ridge.

We decided our best option was to pull back and go all the way around the main ridgeline and drop down the ridge behind him. That would cut off his best escape route and pretty much force him out in the open. We would have to cut across the wind at some point, but we figured they would be happy down in that thick timber and not mind us crossing over Ĺ mile above them. It was a long way around but we really felt like it was our best option.

We made it around and it was indeed a long way over there with some more elevation gained. I put a yellow spot on the ridge that we were first glassing and calling from. If it looks a long way off, it was actually farther because we walked around the ridgeline to get there. We were hoping that the bull was still bedded down in the trees right in the middle of the picture. You can see the way the ridges are bare on the south side and we were hoping that by coming in behind him we would get a shot at him climbing up that ridge to the left.

Of course like the best plans of mice and men, we failed on this one. As we were going down the ridgeline to the right we spotted about 7 or 8 elk dropping down into the main creek bottom and going up the other side of the big ridge. It was some ugly nasty stuff, but we were still hopeful because we didn’t see the bull in that group. We scoured the timber and called and didn’t get any responses. The bull we had hiked all that way to get to was officially gone.

We sat down and talked things over and ate our lunch. We were talking about where the bull must have gone and could actually see some cow elk over on the north facing slope on the other side when we heard him bugle. He was over there too, it just took us a while to find him.

I had taken this picture back when we were hiking down this ridge just because I thought it was such a pretty shot of the snow capped mountain in the background. Now I get to use it to describe just where these elk were hanging out.

Most of them were in the timbered area across the draw. There was one cow moving off to the left of the picture toward the burned area and it seemed to be the oen that the bull was most interested in. He just kept following after her.

I ranged them at 783 yards which is a chip shot for some of those long range folks, but that is about 383 yards further than I am willing to attempt a shot so the option was to either try to get closer or find some other elk. We hadn’t seen any other elk so my thought was to try to get closer. Zeke was smarter than me though, and said that was a lot farther away than I thought. How could it be farther than I thought? I had a range finder and it said they were 783 yards away.

Zeke said something about having to go all the way down and then all the way back up and I thought he was just being a weenie. He said I could go after them if I wanted to but he wasn’t going with me. I settled for watching them to see what they were going to do.

We watched them for a good while and the bull continued to follow the one cow like a love struck teenager. Up and down, back and forth, I think she was just enjoying leading him around the side of the mountain. Eventually they moved all the way out into the burned timber and seemed to be lower and in a spot I was almost sure we could get on them. Come on Zeke, let’s go get him.

Zeke agreed and off we went. We kind of shadowed them as they moved left, periodically I would cow call and the bull would answer just about every time so he was easy to keep track of. For a little while it looked like he was going to come down into the bottom and we actually setup for a shot, but he ended up hanging up or more likely following the hot cow wherever she chose to go other than into my line of fire.

Last we saw they had gone into the draw between the shaded ridge and the sunny ridge. There was a raghorn off to the left of this picture and that was another reason that the bull seemed to be so fired up about this hot cow. The raghorn kept his distance, but everyone knew he was in the vicinity.

We waited for a while and again I was able to convince Zeke that we just needed to go a little farther to seal the deal. We were pretty sure that they must have bedded down in that draw. The bull bugled a couple times and then quit responding so we decided to go on after him.

My memory has softened since it has taken me so long to get this written. We did have to do a little back tracking here and there getting down to the creek to get around some cliffs and frozen waterfalls, but hey, that’s part of hunting right? We finally got down to the creek and now needed to start climbing up the other side. Piece of cake right?


We climbed up and it was as steep as it looked. The snow made things a little tricky, but it really wasn’t too bad. Lot’s of deadfall and it was warm so the snow was nice and quiet so the stalk was looking pretty good. Hadn’t heard the bull bugle in a while, but we didn’t want to announce our presence so we didn’t call either. We slowly crept up to the edge of the draw and the bull and the cow were gone. We start to scour the ridge with our binoculars and Zeke calls out “There he is”. He was on the top of the ridge and the hot cow was right in front of him. They were headed straight toward us.

I got out my rangefinder and ranged him at 253 yards. Well within my shooting range. He was still coming our way, but I didn’t feel like taking any chances. I got setup and had a good rest and told Zeke I was going to shoot whenever I felt like I had a good window with the timber. He came into a nice open window and stopped. I shot and could tell that I hit him good, but I always keep shooting on elk as long as they are still standing. He hadn’t even moved so I shot again. I was pretty sure that was also a good hit, but now he was starting to stumble and moving downhill but he was still on his feet so I shot again and for sure hit him this time and he was on the ground.

Whew! It was all over but the crying. We waited a few minutes and took a few pictures from the spot where I had shot him.

I circled him in yellow on this zoomed in picture.

He was down and out and we decided to get right over to him instead of waiting around any longer. It was still about 2 Ĺ hours before dark so we thought we had a pretty good chance of at least getting started on getting him a good way back down the mountain before it got dark.

I posted this earlier in a separate thread but one very interesting thing to me when we got to him was that one of the bullets didn’t seem to even penetrate the skin. This was on the entry side of the bull, not the exit.

Pretty crazy, I’m sure glad I kept shooting until he went down because I don’t think that shot would have done the trick by itself. Not sure which shot that was, they were all grouped pretty well and right where I was aiming, but I’m still shocked at the performance.

Here’s a link to the thread where we never really seemed to figure out exactly what happened, other than it was crazy.


The sun was getting lower and we were starting to get a sense of urgency, but still felt like we were in fairly good shape. We knew we weren’t going to get off the mountain before dark, but we had discussed our options and felt like we would be able to at least get everything packed down to the creek and leave half of it there to come back and get it the next morning and then follow the creek out and skirt around the bigger waterfalls and still get back to camp at a fairly reasonable time.

The bull was wedged in between 2 trees and we weren’t sure we wanted to take the time and effort to move him for pictures so we just left him where he ended up and took pictures there.

This wasn’t the bull that I was expecting to have on the ground when we started out on the horse ride in, but after the limited number of elk that we had seen so far and the fact that we were needing to be headed out the next day whether we got anything or not I was very happy to have him on the ground. I had set my goal on shooting a herd bull and this guy was that as he had about 7 or 8 cows with him most of the day.

This picture shows his weakest feature. His inside spread is only 28”. If he was a little wider he would be a 300” bull, but as is, he taped out at 289 3/8”.

Here’s a picture of Zeke with the bull. This picture does a good job of showing the steepness of the area around him. The ridge to the left in the picture is where I shot him from, the ridge right over Zeke’s head is the one that we came down.

This is where time started getting away from us. I’m not the fastest guy at quartering up an elk, but I’m not the slowest either. With Zeke helping I figured we could get it done in about an hour and that would leave us about an hour to get down to the creek and maybe make some decent progress down the creek before it got too dark.

We spent a little time inspecting the bullet that didn’t penetrate, I went ahead and deboned all 4 quarters to save on weight, and that part seemed to go about like I would have expected. Maybe a few minutes slower, but not bad. I still wasn’t worried about getting out. One thing that we did notice that started making me think that this was a bit steeper spot than I thought was that when we accidently would kick a rock loose while we were moving around that it would roll down the hill. Not just a few feet, some of them would roll for 40 or 50 feet before stopping. Hmm….

The first real snag that I hit was getting the head off. I don’t carry a saw, I debone all the quarters and usually don’t have any problems just taking the head off by cutting around the first vertebrae and giving it a few good twists. For some reason it just wasn’t working. I cut around, twisted, got Zeke to help me twist and the minutes just dragged by. I handed the knife to Zeke and told him to try. No luck for him either. He asked if I was at the right spot at the base of the skull and I told him yes. He gave up and I went back at it and realized I was cutting between the 1st and 2nd vertebrae instead of at the base of the skull. Once I started cutting in the right spot we had the head off, but we had burned about 15 or 20 minutes messing with it.

It was getting a lot closer to dark now, the sun was about down and we still weren’t loaded up. Zeke was adamant that he wasn’t going to be climbing back up here again so we needed to at least get everything hauled down to the creek. That didn’t sound too bad to me either. How hard would it be to carry everything down the mountain 600 – 700 yards? So we decided we would just load everything up and carry it all down at the same time. We would stash Ĺ of it at the creek and continue to camp and then come back the next morning.

The next kink in the process was getting the game bags stuffed into Zeke’s backpack. We had planned on him carrying a hindquarter and the loose meat with me carrying a hindquarter and the boned out shoulders plus the rack to somewhat even out the weight. He has an Eberlestock X2 backpack and there was no way he was getting a hindquarter stuffed into his pack. He ended up having to take some of the loose meat (backstraps, neck meat, tenderloins, etc.) out of the game bag and putting them back into the game bag once it was inside his backpack. Then we switched him out the front shoulders that he strapped onto the outside of his pack.

I was using my Stone Glacier Solo pack and it is a breeze to get loaded with the load shelf so while I waited on him to get everything loaded up I trimmed as much off the head as I could, lost the tongue, lower jaw, started skinning the face, etc.

Zeke got loaded and was able to get his pack on and stand up so I tried to do the same. I was able to get my pack on by laying down, rolling over to my knees and standing up. Uffda! My normal daypack stuff, my rifle, 2 boned out hindquarters and the antlers was a load!

We still had some light left and were pretty confident that we could get back down to the creek before dark. This wasn’t turning into the ideal situation, but we weren’t too discouraged yet.

It didn’t take long to get that way though. Zeke fell first, then I did. At least it was steep enough that it wasn’t as hard to get back on our feet. Zeke fell again and I can’t remember if I fell again or not, but we weren’t going to be able to continue at this rate, we hadn’t even made it 100 yards. It was just too steep to be packing this much weight.

I told him that I was going to take one quarter out of my pack and leave it and he should do the same. He agreed that we should lighten our packs, but he thought we could just carry the other game bag with us and be able to set it down to help stabilize ourselves. I’m not sure if it first happened by accident or what but we realized that if we just threw the game bag a few feet in front of us that it would roll down the mountain 50 or 60 feet until it hit a tree, rock, etc. and stop. Then you could make your way down to it and repeat the process. I have the TAG Caribou game bags and they are pretty sturdy but I did realize that they might get ripped a little as part of this process, but at around $10 per bag it was going to be worth it. They were getting dirty, but were holding up amazingly well after the first few rolls down the mountain.

We were both still falling although we weren’t so overloaded to where it was scary like it was at the start. I would alternate between going down backwards or sideways to turning around and lunging a few steps to grab a tree to stop myself from getting out of control going down the mountain. At one point I was going down backwards and slipped and ended up sliding about 20 or 30 feet on my belly before I was able to get stopped. During that slide my rifle ripped the hanger off where it attached to my pack so I had to redo the straps to hold my rifle on. Also during that slide the antlers popped the strap and came off. The strap was extended too far and only had about Ĺ” of webbing to hold it and that’s why it came off. I adjusted it a little tighter, got everything strapped back together and on we went. This was becoming the longest 600 – 700 yards of my life.

It was getting very close to dark and we were still not to the creek yet. We had consulted a picture that I had taken to try to make sure that we weren’t going to end up cliffed out at the bottom and I was actually pretty confident that I had us going in the right direction for a smooth trip down to the creek. About that time I toss my game bag out in front of me and it starts rolling, and rolling, and rolling… It rolls out of sight and a few seconds later we hear a loud SPLASH! We were excited because we were finally to the creek. Or at least within a couple hundred yards. Zeke tosses his bag out in front of him and again it rolls and rolls and rolls, out of sight but this time there isn’t a splash. Hmm…

We continue down and it is as steep as it has been the entire time. We are holding onto trees for dear life as we move down after the bags. Down lower the snow is more shaded and consistent so we are having to do everything we can to keep from falling. Maybe 50 yards or so farther down and the strap on my pack pops off again and the antlers fall off. It was so steep they actually started rolling down the mountain. At first I laughed, but as they started to gather steam I quit laughing pretty quick. They are cartwheeling down the mountain and before you know it they are gone out of sight as well. Again, no splash. Not sure what to think about that.

We kept on going down, going from tree to tree always careful to keep a tree below us that we could grab onto. I was starting to second guess the route we were taking and hoping that we weren’t going to get cliffed out because it was going to be a nightmare if we were going to have to climb back up what we were coming down.

Another hundred yards or so and Zeke hits a nice game trail!!! I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so much joy at finding a game trail before in my life. The snow had melted off the game trail and it was very easy walking compared to anything we had experienced in the last several hours. A nice zigzag and we were down to the creek before we knew it.

Now we needed to find the game bags. We had heard one splash so we figured we would just walk down the creek until we found it and the other one should be close by. Hopefully the antlers would be close by as well.
We made it about 10 yards down the creek and this is what we found.

There were cliffs on both sides and a 20 – 30 foot tall waterfall! It was pretty much full on dark now and this was a heartbreaker. It's hard to describe how low it felt, but it was a deep down knot in the bottom of the stomach kind of feeling. We were both very tired and not really liking any of our options that we had ahead of us at this point. We shined our headlamps around and couldn’t see the reflecting strips from the game bags at the bottom of the falls, but we were pretty sure at least one of them was down there somewhere.

One option was just hanging out there in the dark until morning when we could see and although that was the easiest option as far as physically demanding, it was the least appealing one to either of us. We really needed to get back to camp to check on the horses and we didn’t have any bivy gear to speak of and very little food as well although I guess we could have cooked up some elk. I didn’t even think of that option at the time.

Another option was to backtrack up and around the ridge that we had come down to get to the creek bottom in the first place. That had actually been a pretty tricky descent though that involved us having to backtrack a few times to get around some cliffs and waterfalls.

The last option would be to try to get back up on the first ridge that we had been on the day before and either go back up and around or simply hike the reverse route that we had when we had gone after the bull the day before. That seemed like the best option, but first we had to find a way up and out of the creek bottom.

We dropped our packs and Zeke scouted ahead of us to see if we could get out on a game trail that he found and I went back where we had come from to see if I could find the antlers. Zeke was gone about 15 minutes or so and came back with great news that the game trail was indeed going to get us up and out of the creek and at least in the direction we wanted to go. I spent the 15 minutes or so unsuccessfully looking for the antlers.

We loaded up our packs and started up the game trail. Very tired, but we had a plan and were making progress. It was pretty tough going as we gained elevation with heavy packs, but the game trail was nice. Of course about Ĺ way up things fanned out and the game trail petered out. This is where having a GPS with previous tracks showing is a lifesaver. I could see the path that we had taken the day before and it was just over 1/3rd of a mile away. We just headed for it, cross hilling as much as we could so we didn’t have to gain any unnecessary elevation. It was pretty rough going, but not too bad and before you know it we were back on the path from the day before.

We backtracked down to the bottom of that draw and started up the other side. This was pretty steep going and we were only making it 50 or 60 yards before we were having to stop and catch our breath. We ended up on some loose rock/shale stuff and that got almost impossible to go up so we ended up having to skirt around it. We finally got back up the ridge that we had started out on that morning. Now all we had to do was go back down the ridge to camp and get through the spot that we had both commented on that morning that we didn’t want to have to come back down it in the dark. One thing for sure, it was now full on dark.

Here’s the path that we ended up taking. I actually took this picture the day before not realizing that we were ever going to be crazy enough to end up on that far ridge. The green dot is where I shot from, the red dot is where the elk died. The yellow line is the route that we took to get down to the creek, then skirted around that ridge, down into the draw then back up to the top of the ridge that we started from and then down that ridge back to camp. The skips in the line are where we were out of sight behind a hill. Somehow it seemed even farther in the dark.

After what we had already been through, the area that we had commented on not wanting to go back down in the dark was a cake walk. Easy peezy. Just a steady hike down the ridge and following the track on my GPS we were doing really good. Very tired, but making it without too much trouble. We ended up back on the same game trail we had come up and were back down before too long. It was a lot easier going down than it had been going up, even with a little bit of weight in our packs.

We ended up getting back to camp at 11:15. Very tired and hungry. Doing the math on the GPS trip computer we only ended up hiking 7 miles that day but it was possibly the hardest 7 miles I’d ever hiked in my life. I didn’t manage to log the elevation gain, and I’m sure it wasn’t that impressive either, but we both felt like we had been through the ringer.

Zeke went to mess with the horses and I went and filtered water and worked on boiling up some water for supper. By this time I was pretty tired of filtering water, but I wanted to eat and all we had was dehydrated food so filtering water was what I did. It was also a drag to have to go get the food off the meat pole and re-hang it each time, but this time we had some actual meat to hang back up with it. We were both very happy to be back in camp safe and sound, no injuries and all the horses were there and camp seemed to be fine as well. It was after midnight when we crawled into bed, we discussed the best option for the next day and decided that Zeke would go back with me to get the meat and hopefully find my antlers and then we would get back to camp and pack up and head out. Zeke said that we needed to be working on packing up camp no later than 2:00 so if we weren’t able to find the antlers by noon we were going to just have to leave them. That didn’t sound like a very good option to me, but I was hoping that with daylight and a good nights sleep we wouldn’t have too much trouble finding everything.

I wasn’t worried enough that it kept me awake or anything. We both slept very soundly and woke up the next morning when it was light outside. More water filtering, another mountain house breakfast and we were ready to go retrieve the meat and antlers.

Again, our unfamiliarity with the area left us with no real choice but to start out back the way we had gone in the day before. We had looked back at some pictures I had taken and were pretty sure we would be able to get past the waterfalls at the bottom and get to the creek bed, but after getting taken out by the unknown waterfall the night before we were not sure what to expect after that. Here’s the route that we took in yellow.

One we dropped down into the creek it didn’t take too long before we hit our next obstacle.

We thought we had gotten around the 2 waterfalls at the bottom but evidently there was a 3rd one higher up. It wasn’t near as daunting in the daylight though and with nearly empty packs it was just a matter of skirting up and around it. It looked like that would be an easy spot to get back on the ridge on our way back down too.

Once past that waterfall, things were pretty easy going. We were constantly going back and forth across the creek, but it wasn’t very deep and other than a few icy spots it was pretty uneventful.


We started getting pretty close to where I had marked the waterfall on the GPS the night before and we were both hoping we would get all the way to the bottom and find the meat and antlers with no problems. Everything had gone very smooth so far. So of course we turn the corner and find another nice little obstacle.

I think it was right about this point that my feelings really started to change about waterfalls. What I had always regarded as nature's beauty was now becoming another obstacle that we were going to have to deal with. The falls were only 10 feet tall or so, but that was too tall for us to climb up, especially with the deep water at the bottom of them. No problem, just go around right?

That’s exactly what we did, but going around wasn’t exactly a cake walk.

I was really impressed with how good Zeke’s dog was at climbing. He would just get a good run at it and scramble on up.

We got around the smaller falls and started back down and there were both game bags laying in the creek. They were actually coated in ice from the overnight stay so from that perspective they were fine, although the bag with the front shoulders in it had ripped open and you could actually see them laying there.

That part was way easier than we were expecting. We were just over a mile in from camp and about 1,000’ of elevation gain and we already had both bags of meat located. It was just a short scramble down to them and we had brought new bags to swap them out into so that part went really well. One thing you might notice in the picture, the cliff behind them is 60 – 80 feet tall. No wonder the first game bag (the one on the left with the hindquarter in it) made such a splash the night before!

Now that the meat was located, we started looking for the antlers. In no time at all Zeke calls out that he sees them. It took me a little while see them, but no doubt, we have the antlers located.

This is one of the many pictures that I took that I am ending up using to illustrate something that wasn’t the intent at the time the picture was taken. Somehow I didn’t take a picture of the antlers stuck up on the top of the cliff so this is as close as it comes. I took this picture of the waterfall, but the very top left corner is the slide area where the antlers were. You can’t quite see them in the picture but that’s where they were laying.

That is also where the bags of meat shot off the cliff down to the creek. It’s a wonder that the game bags held up at all.

This was a huge blessing. I had actually prayed about finding the meat and the antlers intact and here it was not even 11:00 the next morning and we had everything located. Now the trick was getting them!

Zeke started carrying the torn up game bags down the creek and tossing them over the smaller waterfall because there was no way we wanted to load them up and do the climbing that we had done to get around it on the way in. I proceeded to head after the antlers.

I got back around to the creek and found a game trail going up the other side. It wasn’t going the direction that I wanted to go, but with the alternative being a sheer cliff face I was happy to find a game trail. It wasn’t really that bad getting up and over to where the antlers were, a few tricky spots, but nothing too exciting. I did end up having to go quite a bit out of the way to get around the cliff, but in retrospect if we had made it down in the daylight the night before I think we could have come around that way fairly easily when it was all said and done. But we didn’t get down in the daylight and doing things in the dark makes it a whole lot harder.

I made it over to the antlers and now had a new problem. The antlers were in a chute with a decent layer of snow and essentially nothing that I would be able to hang onto to keep from going over the cliff.

The picture just doesn’t look very steep, but there was no way I felt I could just walk up to them and pick them up without slipping and sliding off the cliff. I tried getting down to them by hanging onto the little pine shrubbery, but there just wasn’t enough to hold onto there so give me the confidence to risk my life. I ended up staying just on the uphill side of the shrub and got my parachute cord out of my pack and tried to lasso it.

After a few minutes of that I decided that parachute cord doesn’t make a very good lasso and started trying to figure out another option. I found a decent stick and tied the cord onto both ends and decided that was going to be my best option. After a couple misses, I got the stick firmly stuck around a few antler tines and started pulling them toward me. They ended up with the back tines digging into the dirt and not wanting to slide backward, but after a little bit of persuasion I was able to pull them up to me.

VICTORY! All the tines were intact and I had the antlers and the meat! I strapped them onto my pack and started making my way back. Again, the method that I used was going from tree to tree and always trying to keep a tree below me that I could grab onto if I started sliding down the mountain. Just a little bit of scary stuff and I was able to get back on the game trail that we had come down the night before. Instead of following it down to the top of the waterfall, I followed it backward and ultimately up and around and back down to the creek where Zeke was waiting.

Looking over everything in the daylight, I realized how lucky we were to end up on that game trail the night before in the dark. If we had kept going straight the way we were headed it could have gotten really ugly really fast. I would like to think our method of keeping a tree downhill from us to hang onto would have kept us from going over the cliff, but I’m sure glad we didn’t have to find out.

While I was getting the antlers, Zeke had knocked the ice off the meat and transferred it into new game bags and we were ready to load up and rock and roll back to camp. Again, following the creek seemed relatively easy, just rocks and some ice for the most part, it wasn’t the thick brush that you find along some creek bottoms.

Heading down the creek in the daylight we were very thankful that we didn’t have to repeat the route that we had taken the night before. The ridgeline right in the middle of this picture is where we ended up the night before on our hike out after backtracking up and around in the dark. Hiking down the creek was a piece of cake compare to that!

This is just another picture of the creek bottom. Not a nice smooth path by any means, but to me climbing over the big rocks and tree trunks is better than busting brush like you have to do in some creek bottoms. I took some video hiking through some of this but still haven’t looked at it or edited it. Maybe I’ll get it posted sometime.

Everything went really smoothly on the way out. By now we were getting to be pros on getting up and down around the big waterfalls at the bottom and in no time we were down. Here’s a picture of me with the last load breathing a sigh of relief.

We got back to camp and didn’t spend much time relaxing. As in zero, zilch, nada. It was a little after 1:00 and we had work to do to get packed up and get back to the trailhead. I worked on – you might guess it – filtering water and cooking another mountain house meal for lunch and Zeke started working with the horses to get them packed and ready.

Again, this process took much longer than I expected. I tried to help out, weighing things and helping with the panniers and doing what I could, but time just seems to fly by getting things packed up and ready to go. Before we knew it, it was 4:00 before we were pretty much packed up and ready to go. With a 12 mile ride ahead of us and only 2 Ĺ hours of daylight I knew I was going to get to experience some more night time trail riding.

Here we are all packed up and ready to go.

Headed down the trail. Zeke was stringing 4 horses and I was riding Salty. The horse in the back was pretty new to being a pack horse, she is Zeke’s wife’s riding horse and other than packing back in the day that Zeke made the round trip out with his dad this was her first time to be a pack horse.

It took a bit to get going because she kept breaking the lead between her and the horse in front of her. I think we ended up stopping and retying her lead 3 or 4 times in the first mile. About the 2nd or 3rd time we got the closest to a true wreck of the trip. Zeke was just getting off his horse and going back and retying things. He got off and went back to tie her up when the younger horse crowded up on his horse and the next horse had an opinion on how that was going and they all decided they had opinions and in a split second the entire string is galloping away across a big open area. I’m sitting there on Salty and offered to jump off and have Zeke ride after them, but he just kept walking after them, whistling and yelling WHOA. They probably got 200+ yards away before finally settling down and stopping. Thankfully nothing had broken loose and they were still all together. Zeke was able to get everything tied back and get them headed back down the trail again so no harm no foul was the end result. After that each time the back horse broke the lead, I rode up and held onto Zeke’s horse though just to be safe.

Here’s a picture headed down the trail.

After a while everything settled into a rhythm and we started just clicking off the miles. You end up crossing the Greybull River several times going in and out and by this time the horses were pros at it and it didn’t even phase them.

We crossed paths with a guy coming in on foot going after a bighorn sheep solo which seemed like a herculean undertaking to me. He looked pretty loaded down headed in, I couldn’t imagine hauling one out 10+ miles solo.

We also crossed paths with Zeke’s friend who had been planning on sharing camp with us at some point. He had got sidetracked with truck breakdowns and work problems and several other things and was just coming in that evening with his wife. We were headed out with his pack horse (the white one) so there was some negotiations on bringing the pack horse back the next week for him to be able to pack out an elk and the rest of camp. One more stop along the way to retie a loose pack saddle due to a broken breast collar and no other issues all the way back.
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Old 12-11-2014, 09:40 AM
Nontypical Buck
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We finally got to the trailhead a little after 9:00 PM. My friend Mike and Zeke’s wife had texted my satellite messenger asking when we were going to be at the trailhead, but we had told them that they didn’t need to come out and we were fine. We were getting close to the trailers and Zeke shouts out “Hey, that’s my wife!”. We were taking a trail between too different parking areas and they were driving her pickup back around looking for us and drove right by. Zeke went ahead and took the pack string back to the trailers and I turned around and headed after them.

That actually ended up being pretty fun. The horse I was riding wasn’t exactly thrilled to be turning around and heading away from the rest of the horses, but We went off at a trot and I was just standing in the stirrups and we ended up catching up to them right at the last parking area before the road stops. My horse was neighing loudly pretty much the entire time. They headed back to the trailers and I followed right behind them, my horse still neighing away.

They got a little bit ahead of me and we were still at a trot and I was pretty proud of myself on my riding when she decides to bust out into a full gallop. Needless to say, galloping along in the dark had never been an item on my bucket list, but if it had been, I could cross it off now. We ended up getting back to the trailers almost at the same time and it sure was nice to see them.

They had stopped and picked up some Subway sandwiches for us and a huge bottle of diet coke for me and told us to just eat and they would take care of the horses. It was hard to just sit there and let them do all the work so we helped a little, but it sure was awesome that they were there to help out. I very happy to see them even though we had said that we could handle it and they didn’t need to come out.

We made it back to Mike’s house late that night and all that was left was packing up and heading back to Texas. I had left the ATV’s with Mike after the last scouting trip and then brought my Ranger up there on this trip so I had 2 ATV’s and my Ranger there. I had actually measured everything out and figured out that if I elevated the back wheels on my Ranger that I could tuck one of my ATV’s on the trailer behind it and put the other ATV in the back of the truck and on paper it would fit. It took a little bit of maneuvering, especially getting the ATV on the back of the trailer sideways, but I was able to get everything loaded and ready to head back to Texas.

I had left home on Friday the 19th of September and was headed back home on October 5th, 17 days later. I was tired, had a few bumps and bruises, but was very thankful to be headed home with a nice mountain goat and a bull elk. I ended up driving home through the night with a short rest stop and was home safe and sound less than 24 hours later.
I was very ready to see my wife and son and they actually seemed happy to see me too!

That’s going to be it for now. I would be happy to try to answer any questions anyone has or if anyone has any advice to give me I’m more than willing to listen. I still might add some video clips if I can get them looked at and uploaded. I have a few clips of me riding the horses for sure and I’ll have to go back and check if there is anything else worth adding.

For sure the video portion of the hunts is what I need to do more work on. That part really is hard to step back and do. I think I could do it if I wasn’t the one carrying the rifle, but for these hunts that was the essential ingredient for me.

Sorry if some of this is a little disjointed as I started and stopped writing it several times over the last several weeks. I'm sure I missed putting some stuff in there and probably put a whole lot of things in there that no one really cares about, but I just tried to document everything I could.

Hope you enjoyed reading it.

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Old 12-11-2014, 09:45 AM
Fork Horn
Join Date: Mar 2011
Posts: 162

what a hunt! im sure you wont forget a second of it
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Old 12-11-2014, 12:59 PM
Giant Nontypical
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Allegan, MI
Posts: 8,019

That is undoubtedly the best write up accompanied by so many fantastic pictures that I have ever seen on the net since the day I got a computer 15 years ago! WOW and Congratulations is all I can say and I know that isn't enough for the time you took to make this documentary of your hunt!!!
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Old 12-11-2014, 04:30 PM
Giant Nontypical
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 9,227

Those pics remind me of some of my elk hunts in CO. Got to love using a wall tent for a base camp! Great write up.
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Old 12-12-2014, 01:00 PM
Nontypical Buck
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Thanks for the comments.

Of course I've remembered a few things that I forgot to include originally.

Final total on the GPS from the time we rode out until we got back to the trailhead was 52.16 miles and 14,943' of elevation gain. There was also about 1 1/2 miles that I didn't get logged when I forgot to turn the GPS on and when it ran out of batteries once. Of course that included quite a bit of miles on the horses, I tried to go back and keep track of it each day and ended up with 37 miles on horseback and 16 miles on foot when it was all said and done.

The thing about the hunt that still leaves me shaking my head is that we actually lost half the meat and the antlers packing out that first night. We had a good idea where they were, but I really wasn't sure if we were going to find them the next day or not.

Also, I'm not sure if I effectively communicated how much Zeke really didn't want to go after that bull in the first place. He understood how steep that spot was and how much of a pain it was going to be to get him out a lot more than I did. I did a lot of apologizing for pushing him into going after it with me and thanking him for helping me that night while we were packing back to camp in the dark. It pushed my limits physically and mentally. Looking back on it now it doesn't seem near as bad as it did when it was actually happening.
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Old 12-12-2014, 05:55 PM
Giant Nontypical
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Allegan, MI
Posts: 8,019

"It pushed my limits physically and mentally. Looking back on it now it doesn't seem near as bad as it did when it was actually happening."

It always seems to be that way after you get them out and every year I say that's the last one, LOL!
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Old 12-13-2014, 07:29 AM
Nontypical Buck
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 1,149

Great job with the pic's.
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Old 12-13-2014, 11:54 AM
Join Date: Dec 2014
Location: idaho
Posts: 2,773

congrats on getting your bull. sounds like it was an outstanding hunt. you overcame many setbacks and were successfull anyhow. great job and excellant writeup
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