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Wyoming Elk in the Bighorns
OK Kevin, since you asked....
Bowhunting the Bighorn Mountain range in Wyoming has been on my bucket list for quite some time. Last February, I learned that dream would become reality when the WY limited entry elk draw results were posted.
The Bighorn range is quite unique. Basically, it is a mountain range sitting smack dab in the middle of the badlands. You will get a view similar to this photo from both the east and west faces of the Bighorns.
The terrain can be extremely steep, with many deep canyons.
I did not see a single aspen tree in my hunt area. Instead, the hunting area consisted of deadfall-choked dark timber ridges spotted with sage/grass meadows.
I left Indiana the morning of Sunday, 9/5 and arrived at camp Monday afternoon (Labor Day). The remainder of the day was spent setting up camp. This was the view from camp that first evening. (Yes, those are the Rocky Mountains you see in the distance. On a clear night, I could see the lights of Cody, WY....some 80 miles to the west.)
The first day of the hunt, I saw my first elk of the trip...a single cow crossing a sage/grass meadow. I should have snapped a photo of her in order not to forget what an elk looked like...as she would prove to be my only elk sighting for a week!
There was no shortage of mule deer in the area. I must have seen 150-200 head of mule deer on this trip. Had a deer tag in my pocket, but every deer I saw was either a doe, fawn or young buck. Never saw one buck I considered stalking.
The elk hunting was extremely slow. No sightings, no bugling activity and no fresh elk sign was cause for concern. I talked to local game warden and he assured me the elk would show up when a cold front pushed through.
Spent the first week of the hunt hiking many miles to get a feel for the area. I wanted to be ready if/when the elk made an appearance. This waterfall was a couple miles from camp and well worth the climb.
Another shot of the waterfall.
Excluding elk, there was no shortage of game in this area. Blue grouse were abundant. I often considered inviting one of these birds to dinner, but they exhibited little fear of humans. Guess I would compare "hunting" them to walking into the barnyard and shooting a chicken. Oh well, I had plenty of food in camp anyway....
Of course, the trees were teeming with pesky piney squirrels... announcing my presence to any creature within earshot.
One good thing about the Bighorns is the fact there is no concern of grizzly bears. There are, however, black bear in the Bighorns. I walked up on this guy one morning as he fed under the fallen snag you see in the meadow. Unfortunately, he seemed a bit camera shy and all I got was the rear view.
My second favorite encounter of the hunt (the favorite will be obvious later), was a face to face with a bull Shiras moose. We met one morning in a sage/grass meadow, traveling opposite directions on the exact same trail.
At first, we both stopped and had a stare down. Thinking the bull would vacate the area at any moment, I snapped a quick photo.
I started walking towards the bull, but he did not yield. Wondering what he would do if I yielded...I continued towards him, but veered off the trail about 20 yards. That was all it took...he simply wanted me off that trail before proceeding!
With me no longer blocking the trail, the bull strolled right past....well within bow range...as if he did not have a concern in the world.
As he passed by, the sun hit his antlers. I grunted at him hoping he would stop...and he obliged. What a great morning encounter. Thanks Bullwinkle!
Following a long, hot hike Saturday morning (9/12), I had exhausted the last of the target elk locations in my area....and still had turned up zero fresh elk sign.
I returned to camp for lunch and pulled out the maps. A closer look at the ridge directly behind camp revealed a small drainage splitting the ridge at the far end. I had somehow missed that on the map earlier....and that drainage became the focal point of the afternoon hunt.
Arriving at the drainage, I was faced with something completely new to this area....FRESH ELK SIGN! The ground was littered with fresh elk droppings, tracks galore and even a few fresh rubs.
Sunday and Monday were unseasonably warm. The elk were not talking and I assumed they were held up in the dark timber attempting to stay cool.
I was definitely parked in this area, but with plenty of time left in the hunt and a cold front forecast for Monday night, I kept my intrusions very low impact....still hunting slowly through the timber and always with the wind in my face. Last thing I wanted was to blow these elk out of the drainage.
Tuesday morning dawned crisp and clear....with temps well below freezing. Anticipation was high as I left camp. Not a quarter mile into the hike, I bumped two cow elk with calves in a small meadow.
I stopped on the ridge above an extremely steep/deep canyon and heard two bull elk bugling back and forth in the bottom. My first bugles of the hunt on day eight...and those bulls were virtually unreachable. Still, this was a good sign the rut was coming together.
Reaching the drainage, all was quiet. I spent the next two hours still hunting the dark timer and glassing meadows. At 8:30am, it finally happened. A bull elk sounded off from the timber across the meadow above me.
I scrambled along the edge of the meadow towards the sounds as he bugled twice more. When I reached a small ravine at the top of that meadow, I stopped and waited for the bull to reveal his position again. The next bugle was close. The bull was coming my direction.
I stayed put in the timbered ravine, which split two small meadows above my location. The next bugle came from the meadow to my right. I could see the bull crossing into the ravine some 80-100 yards above me. He did not continue across the meadow to my left.
I was close to this bull and had the wind on him. I had not made a sound. He had no idea I was there. I dropped my pack, nocked an arrow, and began working my way up the left side of the ravine.
Maybe 50 yards into the stalk, I could hear cow elk talk close by and then spotted a cow some 50-60 yards up the drainage. I got on my knees in the shade of a pine tree and waited.
Less than a minute passed, and I spotted movement between me and the cow. It was the bull, feeding his way broadside into the meadow. I counted six points on each side and determined he was indeed a shooter. The rangefinder said 40.4 yards....and seconds later, the arrow struck home.
The hit was good and a complete pass through. The bull trotted maybe 15-20 yards in a semi circle and stood looking back into the ravine. He had no idea what had just happened. In no time, he started getting wobbly and went down on the spot. My Wyoming elk hunt was over.
The red arrow shows where the bull was standing when I shot. The green arrow is where he fell.
Walking up on the downed bull produced no ground shrinkage. He was everything I came to Wyoming for and more. He is a typical 6X6 with a devil point at the base of his left antler. What a turn of events compared to the previous week!
The remainder of the day and the entire day Wednesday were spent boning and hauling meat back to camp. There were six loads total, including the head. Each load was roughly two miles...one way...and then two miles back with an empty pack. What a workout. Definitely not as young as I used to be!
Of course, when it gets cold in Wyoming...it snows. No bowhunting trip to the mountains of Wyoming would be complete without snow, right?
I hung around for a couple more days and checked out a few more mule deer...to no avail. For the record, I only saw one more elk after punching my tag, a raghorn 5X5 at a water hole on Wednesday evening. Talked to a couple other elk bowhunters that were starting to see elk towards the end of the week though....and there was a week and a half remaining in the season.
Friday evening, I broke camp and pointed the truck towards Indiana. Thanks for everything Wyoming. The Bighorns are even more incredible than imagined!
Great hunt Paul, thanks for sharing.
Weird deal on the lack of aspen trees!
Did you encounter many other hunters besides the 2 mentioned?
Greg, those were the only two elk hunters I saw / talked with (and they were hunting together). There were more deer hunters than elk hunters up there. That said, I never saw another soul while hunting.
Thanks Paul. I needed a mountain fix, since it's been a few years. Great story and pics. Congratulations.
Wow! Talk about taking advantage of your opportunity!
Great job Paul!
Excellent hunt Paul, congrats!
great deal and well done. you really know how to get it done Paul.
Awesome story and adventure! Way to go Paul!
Congrats Paul! Just saw your thread, but better late than never. What a great story, made even better with fantastic pics! Only complaint is you didn't post this on the main forum so everyone could have enjoyed it!
That's a Wyoming moose and a Wyoming elk off your bucket list...what's next?! Ha!
Congratulations on the bull and thanks for the story and beautiful pics.
I had only been in the Bighorns once, on a trip west with the wife, sightseeing, and they had stayed in my mind ever since. Always figured there was some great hunting there, but never really pursued it while I was younger and more able.
Good to enjoy it vicariously at last through your photos and words.
Hadn't checked back in to the state site for a while, or I'd have enjoyed the coverage sooner.
Congrats !! Great pics and great story ! I have got to get to Wyoming to hunt one of these days !
Great story and picks pav. Wyoming is on my bucket list for elk. How many points did it take to draw the bighorn tag? I am in nw indiana if you would like to talk elk sometime. I would like to hook up with a good elk partner if you are interested.
Point requirements in the Bighorns vary depending on the unit. With the exception of 45, the southern units typically require fewer points than the north. Units 38 and 45 are top of the food chain. 39 and 40 are middle of the road...with the mid-30s units being the easiest draw. You can sometimes get in the game with fewer points if willing to spend the extra $$$ for the special draw. I burned 6 points on my tag in the special draw.
I live some distance from you...in south central Indiana....but always up for elk talk. Sent you my email address via Private Reply.