To say that our 2015 hunting season would be a great year is an understatement. Back in February, we were excited to apply for the hunts knowing that my dad with his 17 points for Elk would be guaranteed a tag for the any weapon hunt on Wasatch. Someone in our hunting party has had a limited entry elk tag for the Wasatch every year since 2009. We've been lucky. This year I would be entering the draws with 7 points. I decided that since my dad was going to draw his rifle tag that I would put in for the Wasatch muzzleloader tag. I did this more as an afterthought expecting to acquire another bonus point. As anticipated, my dad drew his Wasatch rifle tag. Everybody was excited. Then, I saw a charge on my card for $285. You can imagine my shock and disbelief that I had also now had a tag for the Wasatch muzzleloader. My first inclination was to turn the tag back in so that I could devote the time for dad after he finally drew after 17 years of applying. However, because I only had 7 points, the chances of me drawing again if I turned the tag in were not good as max points for the Wasatch muzzleloader was 12 points. I decided to keep the tag and do the best I could but still devote most of my time helping my dad with his hunt.
Fast forward to August and early September, we had scouted and seen some very nice bulls. It seems the upper age class of the bulls on the Wasatch this year were big healthy bulls, but the numbers weren't there compared to past years. In fact, we probably saw more bulls than cows over the course of the summer and throughout the hunts. We had watched two very nice bulls and decided to hunt one that my dad really liked. We felt we knew where he was hanging and had a great plan to get him. The first few days of the rifle hunt were hot. The bulls were not real vocal. Monday after the opener, however, we were able to get my dad on the bull he wanted but the shot was tough being directly into the sun. My dad shot just over its back and we never were able to relocate that bull. Tuesday and Wednesday of the hunt the weather took a turn for the worse with temperatures dropping and heavy rain. That meant great hunting conditions. My dad had passed several smaller 300 -320 class bulls throughout the week in hopes of relocating the big boy. We never could turn him up to get another shot on him. With anxiety for me running high to get my dad on good bull, we headed out Thursday afternoon. By then, the storm had passed and the temps cooled off. It was like a light switch. The bulls lit up and the rut seemed hot and heavy. Also, the ground was wet so the conditions were perfect for moving in on the elk. The dry leaves were wet and no longer crunchy. As my dad and I located the elk in the canyon we moved in to make a play. It was an amazing experience! The elk were on fire and we were right in the middle of it. It was one of those moments that elk hunters dream about. The bulls were vocal and responsive to calls. My sisters and brother-in-law had set up on top to glass the area we were in. After seeing several of the same 300-320 class bulls, a call on the radio was made that they had located a bigger bull. It was much further down the ridge we were on and light was fading fast. My dad and hustled as fast as we could down to locate the bull to get shot. The bull had pushed several cows out onto an oak brush hillside that we were very familiar with. After what seemed like an hour (maybe 15 minutes) we were overlooking the hillside when we saw the cows move past a big group of oak brush with the bull following. The bull stopped and turned broad side. My dad gained as much composure as possible and settled down. With about 10 minutes left of shooting light, my dad made a great shot. Initially we were unsure he had hit the bull then we heard over the radio that he tipped over and was sliding down the hill. The canyon went silent and we heard the bull expire. We hustled as fast as possible up the side of the hill to find the bull before it got dark. After about 30 minutes and help from another hunter, we found my dad's bull piled up. What a relief! What an experience! What a bull! Hugs, hive fives, and celebration commenced. The sisters and brother-in-law got over to the area where pictures were taken and bull was caped and quartered. We decided to hang the quarters and straps overnight so we could call in the troops to help on the packout. Luckily the bull was only about 400 yards down the hill from a road. The packout was very steep, but we were able to get it done in great time. It was so great to see my dad finally harvest a great bull after 17 of applying. In addition, before my grandpa passed away he was in the process of building my dad a 300 Wby. He never finished before he died, so my dad had the gun finished this year so that he could use it on his elk hunt. That 300 Wby is a hard, flat shooting gun and is really a beautiful piece of work. It was really cool that my dad was able to take his bull with that gun. Memories of a lifetime were made that night. Thank you to Brian C., Russ, Brian O., Heather, Abbie, John, Joe, Chad, and my Mom. Here are some pics of the bull that night and the pack out the following morning.
Three days later my muzzleloader hunt started. We all recouped over the weekend and headed back up Sunday night for my opener the following morning. Monday and Tuesday were uneventful. We saw some nice bulls but couldn't close the distance for a shot. In addition, the temperatures increased again and the moon was shining bright. Most of the rut action was happening at night. Several smaller bulls were seen and could have been shot standing only yards off the side of the road. I had to leave Tuesday night to get back in town for a work commitment Wednesday and Thursday so I wasn't able to head back to the mountain until Friday. Friday was uneventful. Hot, dry, and full moons are tough conditions. I really wanted to push hard to get my tag filled that weekend, so we made a plan to drop down into a nasty hole where we knew elk were holding and bugling. Saturday morning found my dad and me dropping down it. Right at first light a great bull probably 400 yards away moved across an opening and disappeared into the pines. He was bruiser and we never did see him again. We heard him grunt several times that morning, but nothing more. My father-in-law and a buddy were on opposite sides of this group of canyons we dropped down into and the bulls were bugling hard for the first hour. We had been within about 100 yards of two separate shooter bulls that could be seen from the spotters above. However, with the thick pines, quakes, and brush, I never saw them. This is the type of area that's basically a mountain jungle. Limited ability to see but it was where the animals were so that's where we went. After playing cat and mouse for a couple of hours the elk moved over the ridge and headed up and out back to the trucks to regroup.
My good friend, Brian ("SatchSquatch" on UWN), was deer hunting that morning in an area about 45 minutes from where we hunted that morning. Brian only had one morning to hunt the muzzleloader deer hunt with his dedicated tag so he decided to hunt a different area than us on Saturday morning. We hardly ever see elk in this area he went to hunt and when we do they are usually just cruising through to a different canyon. He was all by himself that morning so he hiked up one side of the canyon to be able to spot the other side and hopefully locate a shooter buck then put a stalk on. He saw 4 or 5 bucks that morning but none that fit the bill so he expanded the areas he was glassing to see if he could turn anything else up. He noticed something on the ridgeline literally a mile away with his binocs and started watching it closely to see if it moved or if it was one of those infamous rock or bush animals.
It never did move but while watching it he noticed what was undoubtedly an animal below it on a hillside. He pulled out his spotting scope and realized it was a bull elk which was quite surprising. He noticed it looked like a nice bull but because of the distance it was hard for him to tell for sure. He watched it and took a quick video of it as it walked into the trees. He though the bull was all alone. Being that we were quite a distance from where he was, he made note of the elk's location in case we wanted to go back and hunt it in the evening. He kept his eyes out for deer the rest of the morning and happened to catch a glimpse of that bull moving through the trees again a little bit later. He watched it and took video of it thinking it was going to go up out of the canyon into another one. To his surprise, it worked all the way up the hill to the top of the trees then took a loop over the trees and stayed on the hillside he was on. He grazed and wandered a couple hundred yards back into a different group of trees on the same hillside and that was the last he saw of him.
At this point it was getting to the time of day when the animals stop moving and go bed down. He was getting ready to hike out and head back to the cabin for breakfast and possibly a nap but he tried us on our cell phones before he hiked off the ridge and out of service. This was the same time we were getting out of the canyon we were in so we were able to connect. He asked us what we wanted to do and told us the bull was in a huntable area and he didn't seem to be going anywhere. At this point, BYU was already getting hammered by Michigan so we headed over to meet up with my friend to try and get on this bull. The bull was with one cow in this canyon. We figured that she was hot and he was tending her as he didn't leave the area all morning long. He said that he thought it would be a 330's - 340's bull but it was hard for him to tell due to the distance. Brian kept on watching the area the bull was in but never could see him again. About an hour and a half later, we got to where Brian was and met up with him. During his wait, he devised a plan that he thought would put us all in the best positions to hunt that bull in the middle of the day.
After we met up with my buddy, it was already 1:00 in the afternoon. My dad, Brian, and I dropped down off the road to the area Brian had last seen the bull. My dad stayed on the North side of the canyon while Brian and I circled around to get on the South side of the canyon. We moved slow making sure to keep the wind in our fact and blowing away from where we thought the bull was. After 30 minutes or so of trying to relocate this bull, my dad radioed us to let us know he found him bedded down in the bottom of the canyon about 600 yards below us. This is where the excitement started.
Now, it was close to 2:00 p.m. and close to 80 degrees. I told Brian to rip a big bugle to see what the bull would do. He bugled and the bull immediately stood up. This was all being conveyed to us by my dad over the radio in our ear piece. I cow called and Brian cow called and bugled again. At this point, the bull was facing us raking a quaky trying big time. My dad said, "whatever you're doing, keep doing it he's coming your way." By now my heart was pounding and we were able to locate the bull as he started bugling back at us. I slipped down into the quakies just on the inside of the tree line. Brian moved above me twenty yards and grabbed a stick and started raking the quakies he was by at the same time bugling. The bull below us seemed to be on string and was coming in mad. The bull bugled several more times as we continued our efforts at calling. The bull was quartering up the hill from left to right. The wind was blowing hard straight up the canyon to our right. It seemed like the bull was trying to circle us to get our wind, but we were in a position to prevent that from happening. The bull was closing quick and was coming up looking for a fight. The bull covered over 500 yards in a matter of minutes. As the bull bugled right below me and Brian bugled back right above me, I put my binos up to see an animal move into a shaded opening under a quaky. It was the bull! It was tough to see him with the naked eye but I had a great view of his front shoulder, neck, and head. I settled down as much as I could and put the dot on him and fired. I looked up to see his feet in the air and him rolling down the side of the hill. I was pumped. It was an amazing experience!! One of those experiences that will be burned in my memory forever. We'd done it. We filled two limited entry elk tags back to back with two different weapons. Brian and I grabbed our gear and went down to ensure that the bull was down and not going anywhere. Once we confirmed he had expired the celebration began. It was so neat it's almost hard to describe. The stars aligned perfectly that afternoon and I had killed an awesome bull!! It was a great team effort. Brian had located him early that day. My dad relocated him bedded down in thick nasty brush. Brian bugled and called the bull like a pro. I was so relieved to make the final shot count by putting the bull down. As always, it amazes me how big those animals are. We again called in the troops to help with the pack out. This pack out, though, was all downhill and only about 800 yards. I really couldn't be happier with how this hunt transpired. Thank you to my dad, Mike, Brian O, John, Abbie, Brian C., and Bryan S. for being so willing to help out. Thank you to my wife and girls for letting me chase these critters for the better part of two months. Here are pictures of my bull and the pack out. I also included a youtube link of video that Brian had taken of the bull earlier that morning. It's been a great year so far and we have some awesome hunts moving forward. Besides the general deer hunt, Brian drew a rocky mountain bighorn sheep tag with only a few points on the Range Creek unit. 2015 very well could be the best year our hunting party has ever had.