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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I make no apologies for the length of this read...


My 2015 hunting season had already opened on September 10th because I drew a pair of doe pronghorn tags in Wyoming but I hadn’t been able to make the time to drive out there before the Utah general muzzleloader deer hunt started.
The Friday before the deer hunt opener I was finally able to make it out to the range and found that over the course of the year nothing had changed. My groupings were what I had come to expect from the previous couple years, so I didn’t waste any components or money by taking more shots than what was necessary to see what I needed to see.
Darren and I went and bought groceries late Monday night, and I prepared my gear. Cody was set to fly in to Salt Lake International Airport at about 7:00pm Tuesday evening from Albuquerque, so the plan was for me to pick him up at his parent’s house once I had helped get all my little kids to bed for the night. We would than make the short drive up the canyon to my family cabin where my grandfather, father, and brother (with his two young sons) would be waiting for us. I had shared a couple of ideas for different hikes Cody and I could take on opening day and Cody said that he wanted to stay out the whole day. So we decided on a route that would take us far from the parking spot where we would leave the ATVs, hoping that we would be so far from the ATVs that going back to the cabin for lunch would not be a desirable option.
We decided to leave the cabin Wednesday morning and time the drive so that we would arrive at the gate right at legal shooting light. Our timing was perfect as we rode through the pre-dawn and began to enter the large meadow and approach the gate. We stopped to inspect a number of does at the side of the road to our right, then I glanced to my left and on the skyline not far from me I see a head with respectable antlers between the ears. I jumped off the ATV, ripped my right glove off with my teeth, and tried to get a primer in one fell swoop. It wasn’t as smooth as I had hoped or envisioned but eventually I took a bead on him at about 50 yards and tried to squeeze the trigger but nothing happened. There’s a little thing on a gun called a safety… and in this case it functioned exactly as intended sparing this buck momentarily. One quick flick of the finger and the quiet of the early morning was broken. A short tracking job later I found my buck piled up on a log in the middle of the game trail. He is a beautiful little 3x4 and my best buck to date.

The drag was short back to the ATVs and we were on our way back to the cabin to hang him in the basement in short order. Since we had planned to be out all day, hiking into relatively unknown areas to us we decided to take the morning and get my buck skinned, quartered, and boned out before heading into one of my favorite little bowls in the afternoon. By late morning we had the buck processed and I had saved the cape for my grandfather who had wanted to mount some old antlers from “Utah’s Glory Days” but lacked a good looking cape. We cooked us up some late breakfast and prepared to head out once again.

Shortly after lunchtime we were back out on the ATVs again. We made the several miles drive through mud puddles and up rocky slopes to the little parking area where the private property ends and public land begins. From there it was a mile and a half hike down into the bowl where we would sit in the shade of a large pine tree. We hadn’t even arrived at our spot under the pine tree when I spotted 2 spike elk grazing through the understory of some aspens 250 yards up the hill from us. Not long after that 4 cows worked their way along the edge of the pines and through the same aspens. It was early and it was hot so we knew at some point in the evening that they would come down to the pond directly in front of us for water, but for the time being the elk were content to mill around in the shade of the aspens and pines of this north facing slope.

Sometime around 3 or 3:30 some movement caught my eye coming from the bottom of the canyon towards us… a coyote. The coyote ran right up the bottom of the bowl right past the pond then up the hill almost directly into the elk. That kind of set everything into a bit of chaos. The elk barked and carried on for quite a while but eventually settled down, the problem was the coyote had ran between the elk and the pond so every time the cows started to come down to the water they got agitated again.
A bugle rang out from the pines and I was hoping to get a glimpse of this herd bull. He bugled several more times and sounded like he was getting close. Up in those same aspens where we originally spotted the pair of spikes I was able to get my first look at him. It wasn’t a great look but I could tell he was by far the biggest bull of the group and was very respectable. He ran around almost in a bit of a panic, kind of jumping around and darting back and forth through the trees for several minutes, then disappeared into the pines again. We had figured that since the coyote had been through the area that there was a very real possibility that would not get a chance to fill our antlerless tags tonight. So I decided to take matters into my own hands, got one of my mouth calls out of my pack, and blew two soft cow calls from where we sat. That turned the mountain to life. Within a couple seconds the herd bull emerged from the pines and stood still as a statue in the small clearing looking my direction and I finally got a really good look at him and what a stud of a bull. His left side was a perfectly formed 6 point antler, probably of 310 to 320 caliber if the right side was a match… however the right side was not a match. From the right side of this bull’s head grew a single curving spear of an antler that had to be 3.5 to 4 feet long. I was so interested with just looking him over and admiring the uniqueness of his headgear that the thought to take any pictures of him didn’t enter my mind until it was too late.
Then my attention turned back to the group of 4 cows who were now up and moving, being pushed by two smaller bulls, a 2x2 that appeared to have unusually thick antlers compared to other young 2x2s that I had seen before and a bizarre little 2x4 bull who’s left side looks more like a caribou antler. Two of the cows had made their way down to where they were just starting to get in range for a shot but it was clear that the discomfort from the coyote was gone and they would be coming all the way down to the pond. Cody was the first shooter in this scenario because he would only have the deer hunt to fill his antlerless control tag while I would have several other opportunities to fill my cow tag. Cody got set up on the shooting sticks and we waited. The first cow made her way down the trail leading to the pond. The first gap in the pines that she would pass through was about 150 yards. I told Cody to wait and be patient. The second gap that she would pass through in the pines was 115 yards, but again I told Cody to wait and be patient. Finally, as the cow cleared the last of the pine trees and stepped into the clearing around the water hole I told him to take the first good shot. She stopped and stood broadside at 85 yards and Cody’s gun went off. It was about 5:30 so we hustled over to her and began the quartering and boning process knowing that it was a race against darkness now. We also decided that we didn’t want to make two trips down into the bowl that night so we would haul her out in one heavy load each. We reached the top of the bowl right as the last little bit of light faded and fired up the ATVs to head back to the cabin. At this point we realized/remembered that the headlights on one of the ATVs didn’t work so we slowly made our way along the trail with Cody using his headlanp as his headlights which made for a couple of very interesting sections of the trail back to the cabin. We watched those elk for about 4 hours before a shot was ever taken and sitting back watching that little herd for that span of time was pretty cool.

Thursday we tried a couple of things to fill Cody’s deer tag and my elk tag. We rode around in the morning just to give our bodies a little extra time to recover from the haul out the night before. We saw a lot of deer but didn’t shoot anything. In the afternoon we decided to go do some more hiking around and ended up getting separated. Ultimately I went south and he went west and we didn’t meet up again until dark when we returned to the ATVs. I saw a half dozen bucks with two of them being pretty nice but I was looking for elk and didn’t find any.

Friday afternoon we went back in to the ponds and sat in the same spot as Wednesday afternoon and evening. We knew it was a long shot because we would quite literally be sitting over the carcass of the cow that we left two nights before. A bull and cow moose were up the hill making all sorts of noise but eventually the caribou bull showed up and came all the way down to water. He was the only elk to show up that night and we made our way up out of the bowl and back to the ATVs before dark so that we didn’t have to drive out again using a headlamp in place of the broken headlights.

Saturday morning we decided to try the canyon right above the cabin and spend the morning there. We hiked to a small knoll and had a seat. We could hear animals in the canyon but it was so thick that we couldn’t see anything. I thought I’d get out my calls again and give it a try because the critters in there were definitely not deer & had to be moose or elk. I cut loose a couple quick cow mews and immediately something was headed my direction. After about 20 minutes I spotted a spike elk looking straight at me from some bright red oak brush about 150 yards away. He continued in my direction and eventually popped out of the brush at about 35 yards. It was a faceoff and he just stared at me wondering where this cow was that should be right there. More movement was heard from behind and within a matter of seconds a herd of a dozen elk… a raghorn 5x5, two spikes, and nine cows… ran over the knoll from behind me and within feet of my location. I was getting hit by the dirt and rocks they were kicking up and they ran past me. I was taken by surprise so badly that I didn’t even grab for my gun. The spike stayed put however, and as this herd crashed through the canyon in front of me the spike stared at me for another couple seconds before joining the stampede. I had never been successful (at least to me knowledge) in calling a bull into my location like that. It was really cool.

The last few years have taught me one thing… I enjoy hunting deer but I am an elk hunter! I love chasing those critters and any time that I can be in the woods with them I am happy. I have two bulls on my “hit list” for the general muzzleloader hunt coming up the end of October… I can only imagine how phenomenal that 6x1 bull would look as a European mount on my wall! But I’d not hesitate to shoot that caribou bull just because he is unique as well and I have several pictures of him from trail cameras over the summer so I feel like there’s some history there between us.
 

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Congrats, one great hunt.
 

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Nice job! Sounds like a great hunt.
 

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I always enjoy your write ups - congrats on a great hunt! I'm looking forward to your report on the general muzzy elk (I'm still kicking myself for not making time to hunt with you guys a couple seasons back!)
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
During the butchering process of the cow elk I found one of my buddy's bullets.

He was shooting 250gr Hornady XTPs over a magnum 3 pellet load of Triple 7. Expansion of the bullet was textbook and weight retention was expectional considering the potential velocity with the magnum load. I weighed the bullet at 221gr so ~88% retention. I should have measured the diameter to compare the before and after, and I may do that at a later date.

The really cool thing to me was the bottom of the bullet. The XTP jacket is designed to peel back in six equal "petals" and if you look at the third picture you can see that each of the six petals of the jacket peeled back as designed and actually folded back into a perfect overlapping pattern.

I'd say that this bullet performed exactly as it was designed to.
 

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