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This is a very long post, but I wanted to share my experience and thank all of the members who were nice enough to lend advice. This is a great community and a great source of knowledge for a newbie like myself. This was my first elk hunt in September of this year.

The anticipation was killing me. I had just received notification that I had drawn out a limited entry bull elk tag in the La Sal mountains. Hunting was a new obsession, I had only been applying for big game tags for two years. This was like winning the lottery, a chance to participate in an amazing hunt in some beautiful country. Being so new to hunting, not having grown up doing it or having anyone mentoring me in the pursuit, I was completely overwhelmed. Nevertheless, I started building up the gear. I spent every week at the range practicing with my newly acquired rifle, just picturing a bugling bull elk in the crosshairs. I spent two weekends down in the La Sal mountains scouting that summer, seeing three good sized bulls and a ton of cows in our planned hunting area. Every evening at home was spent online looking at maps, articles, Randy Newberg, MeatEater, and SoloHntr videos, and perusing the Utah Big Game forums for advice and knowledge. As I crossed off each day on my calendar (I started at 90 days), I became more and more excited. I packed and re-packed my gear during the week leading up to my hunt, making sure every piece of gear was right where I wanted it to be. I gathered coolers from friends and family, filling them with frozen milk jugs in the early morning before we left for the La Sal's. When we finally hit the road, just myself and two buddies, the speed limit signs seemed to be teasing me. How can I possibly do 70 MPH when I am en-route to this much anticipated hunt??
We finally arrived at our camp in the early afternoon and set up tents, laid out gear, and planned for the next day. Man, it was hot! The daytime temps hovered around 76 degrees. Being that high up in elevation, I could feel the sun baking my exposed face. That evening we set out to scout some areas we wanted to hunt the next day. About 45 minutes before dark we were traversing a ridge and jumped two small bulls hanging out in the oak brush. Wow, even these "small" bulls were massive! My heart was jumping out of my chest. After dark we headed back to camp and I tried to sleep. After tossing and turning for what seemed like an eternity, my alarm went off at 4:30 am. I got up, made a strong cup of coffee, grabbed my gear and headed out in the truck to our first spot. After getting out of the truck and hiking for about an hour, we arrived at our high glassing point. I began to see ATV and UTV lights traversing the mountainside. The sound of motors was quickly drowned out by a lone bugle just east of our spot. I bugled back, sounding more like a wounded duck than an elk. Nevertheless, the bull responded, his bugles became closer and closer to our position. My palms got sweaty and my pulse started thumping in my ears. Just as I was about to respond, a group of hunters crested the ridge near our position, talking loudly and crashing through the underbrush. I sent out a bugle, but the only response I got was from the other hunting party. Turns out that was the only bugle I would hear for the remainder of the morning hunt and the evening hunt later that day.
The next day we set out early again, the excitement of the previous day still fresh in our minds. We decided to try a different spot where we had heard some bugles from camp the night before. There were few hunters on this side, so we thought our chances might be a little better. We quietly arrived at a high glassing point before dawn and sat for the morning. As my coffee started to wear off I caught a glimpse of movement in my binoculars. After focusing in, I had a nice sized black bear in my sights, watching as he loped through the oak brush. Watching the bear took most of the morning as we did not hear any bugles or see any elk.
To spare you time consuming reading, I will skip ahead to day 4. Feeling a bit deterred, I began to wonder if I was doing something wrong? We were in all the right high places, we were sitting like statutes glassing the terrain, but all we saw were other hunters on ATVs or UTVs. The silence of the woods was only broken by engine sounds or truck doors slamming, there were simply no bugles. The evening of day 4 we decided to hike a bit further off the road, really get up high and put boots on the ground. Each day we were averaging 8-9 miles, but on day 4 we wanted to get away from everyone else. We found a perfect spot on a rock outcropping, with 180-degree views of a meadow and thinner aspens. After about an hour I saw a brown shape moving in my bino's at about 700 yards. It was a bull!! And a big bull at that. I had my buddy send out a cow call to get him to stop. He stopped and looked back towards the sound. After ranging him, he was standing at 695 yards just looking back at us. I slid into position and looked through my scope, but I knew I could never take that shot. I promised myself that I would not take a shot like that as a novice hunter, it wasn't right. It still haunts me, seeing that big bull in my scope at 700 yards, but I know it was the right decision based on my inexperience. He quickly headed off into the trees, vanishing from our view. We tried to close some distance to his general area, but he was long gone.
Our final full day of the hunt brought little bugling activity. We decided to hike up to where the private land and public land bordered each other, high up in the aspens. Following my GPS the entire time, we found a nice little spot with some water and just waited, listening for any kind of early morning elk sounds. I heard nothing. Nothing but two gunshots way off in the distance. My confidence and my morale were taking a serious hit. How could this be?? This hunt historically has a 87% success rate! It is during the rut! The bulls are supposed to be bugling and crashing through the trees like possessed demons!
After a little personal pep talk I told myself that this was my last evening of the hunt and I should make it count. We hiked, and we hiked…and we hiked some more. After settling into a nice high spot overlooking a meadow we heard a solid bugle and some grunting about a mile away. I responded with a bugle and this bull sent back a "oh yeah? I'm coming to straighten you out" bugle. I looked at my GPS. He was on private land, but there was a chance I could draw him onto the public land where we were set up. We went back and forth for about 30 minutes, each one of his bugles getting closer and closer. It was surreal, I was actually communicating with a bull elk?! He was only about ½ mile away and closing fast. The good news is he was heading onto the public land from his sanctuary on the private land. I started to get ready, double checked the wind, double checked my rifle, double checked my GPS. Just as he was close enough for us to hear him crashing through the trees, a UTV came roaring up the little trail like a bat out of hell. The driver simply waved at us and started glassing the trees. After about a minute of not hearing anything, he took off down the trail leaving us in disbelief. I never heard from that elk again and the light faded into dark.
The hike back to our truck and the truck ride back to camp was silent. We were all discouraged, knowing that we had to leave the next day. The realization set in that this would not happen, that I had to go back to my home-life responsibilities, that I had my 5 days in the woods, and would come back with coolers filled only with ice filled milk jugs. I began to get pissed. How had we hiked this area for 5 days straight and only seen three elk? How had every good opportunity get spoiled by a UTV? How come the elk weren't rutting? How come it was 76 degrees during the day? Why was it so dry? Why, why, why, why me?
The 5 ½ hour ride back to SLC gave me some time for reflection. Was my hunt success only measured by bringing home an animal? Was it "unfair" that there was little to no rutting activity? Was it "unfair" that it was so hot and dry down in the La Sal's? Was it "unfair" that we were hiking our tails off while everyone else was on vehicles? It didn't take the full 5 ½ hours to answer those questions, but the simple answer was no. We saw three bull elk, three bears, shared some great laughs around the campfire and saw some beautiful country. Nonetheless, I was able to bugle back and forth with some elk on my first hunt. Even more amazing, my enthusiasm for getting out and hiking the mountains looking for elk only grew. Now I won't be getting a LE opportunity for probably another decade or three, but I won't hesitate to try my luck at general season tags next year. I came to realize that this is something I want to do for the rest of my life, that the excitement of hiking through the wilderness chasing wild and unpredictable animals is a fantastic reward. I probably made countless mistakes, but I learned and will learn from them all. I have an antlerless elk tag in December to look forward to. Who knows, I may just get lucky enough to harvest an animal. Until then I will focus on the enjoyment of being out in the woods.
 

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Great story and sounds like you had a good time with your crew.

It sucks you did not get at least a look at that bull after calling him from so far. Personally I do not like the use of ATVs as I have also had a few shots ruined by one. I am sure we have all had that ATV rider passing by and waving completely clueless to the fact you have a bull or a buck in your cross hairs.

I am glad you are not discouraged, that you view your hunt as a success based on the time spent with friends and family, the fact that you look positively into the future and that you are addicted to elk. Welcome to the degenerate Elk-O-Holic crowd.
 
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Great story. Thanks for sharing.
Sounds like you had fun. One of my most successful elk hunts we came home empty handed too. But the memories were priceless.

Oh and elk next to an ATV trail :shock: who'd of thunk.
 

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That was a great read. I have hunted elk since childhood and when I finally drew my LE early rifle elk tag my hunt was very similar. It can happen to anyone. Thats why its hunting not killing. I had alot of the initial feelings you felt after tag soup only those lasted a solid year for me. I think back on my hunt now and smile, alot!

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G891A using Tapatalk
 

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your story makes me feel better about my last 3 years hahahah. it is hard as hell to track these beautiful animals down, especially when you have a tag in your pocket, but it also sure is fun talking with them and chasing them through these amazing mountains.

You'll get em next year, and if not, i bet you keep trying :mrgreen::mrgreen:
 

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Argh, there's so much buildup that it's hard to think about coming home without a full ice chest. Good story tho, and good luck on the antlerless.
 
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