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2018...a year of firsts
2018 is wrapped up. Freezer is full...completely. We turned lemons into lemonade. By lemonade I mean heaping piles of prime meat.
My original plan was to do general archery deer in Utah and hunt a Type 9 tag in Wyoming with my 9 points. I reluctantly watched my usual Idaho OTC archery tags sell out gambling that point creep wouldn't jump for a 3rd straight year in WY. Well...it did so I didn't draw!!!! I was so pissed. Now I had no archery elk tag. The only other option to hunt my favorite areas was to apply for a controlled rifle tag and beat 6.8% draw odds. Well, I did beat those odds! Since hunting with guns is cheating, I decided to make it complicated and brought out a flatlander buddy from WI. He's going to start elk hunting soon so this would be a good chance to get him out spike camping in freezing weather and see how it goes. Plans were set.
My daughter turned 14 and this was her first year packing a weapon. She could hunt all three seasons but didn't have the time to be proficient with her bow, so we put a good amount of time behind the 30-06 in preparation for her deer hunt. I put a muzzle break on it and she shot it very, very well. So her season was set....until the draw results for Utah came out. Due to scheduling, I put her in for a long shot late rifle tag with 1.6% draw odds. Yeah it'd be very cold but it would fit the best should lightning strike. Well...it did! She drew that tag with 1 point. I had a good buddy that knows the areas the late bulls frequent so plans were set.
So here we go. Archery deer. A velvet mule deer has been my nemesis for 7 years. I have every excuse it hasn't happened. Spoiler alert. I have more now. I spent a lot of time scouting. Found the buck I've been chasing for two years and he grew an awesome extra point. Kept tabs on him all the way up until the day before the opener. I hiked up weeks earlier to carve out a flat spot for my tent quietly out of sight. This is my target buck.
Day before the opener I quietly crept up to my camp and setup. Then I hopped up a small cliff to glass the face. Found the buck immediately. He was looking at something cautiously. Strange. To my dismay, another hunter hiked up to the base of the bench where he frequents...and set-up a big tent in the wide open for all to see. I took this picture of the buck as he just stood there watching him set-up his tent. After a while, the buck headed straight up the mountain!!!
So opening day plans changed to say the least. I got up extra early, hiked right past his tent and straight up the steep mountain. I knew where he'd be. Sure enough as it started to get gray, he came sneaking back down with some does and had no clue I was there. This was it!!! I drew back for a 60 yard broad side shot...but the doe 15 yards away I didn't see had other plans. She took her boyfriend into the next basin before I could settle the pin. The rest of the opening weekend sucked. Way more hunters than I'd ever seen up there. Every pair of guys was geared up with radios guiding the other into animals. Others were walking up draws with the wind at their backs. I had one other chance at a nice 3x4 but it didn't happen. With that many hunters bumping animals, conventional spot'n stalk won't work. This was the buck I almost shot later that day.
I gave up and came back mid week. The guy in the tent was still there. For the first time ever. I didn't see a single deer up there. I went back a week later. His tent was still there. He was not and all the bucks were back in their normal places. I tried to ambush this big 4x3 twice but he vanished into cover.
The next day I put to bed this 4x4. Perfect spot for a stalk but it'd be an all day trip way up and around. 5 hours later I dropped down to socks and was inching my way to his bed. 40 yards away from where I thought he was and I was confident. I crawled to my target tree and snuck my foot into the quiet dirt...and then all hell broke loose. That damn buck changed beds and moved up to the tree I was going to set-up at. I didn't know there was a deep dug-out bed under it. I pretty much stepped on him and insulted my clean shorts!
***This buck eventually was shot. The guy posted a nice YouTube/Instagram video of it...but unfortunately he showed waaaaay to much scenery and all of the nice bucks up there. Next year I'm expecting way more company to say the least.
The next day I had the place to myself again. I was bummed to see my target bucks were shedding velvet by now. I tried to ambush that big 4x3 AGAIN but he vanished. I know I'm not spooking him. He's just taking a different trail every time I lose sight of him.
No problem. I have a back-up plan because another group of 4 bucks are much higher on the mountain. Decision time. I'm still in my wool stalking socks making slow but silent progress. I have a lot of elevation to gain. Do I go back for my shoes or just keep going? I kept going up. an hour later, I was at the groups level. Three were in velvet and nice wide bucks. Sun was hitting them now and they decided it was time to head to bed. I was in position assuming where the'd go. It worked perfectly. They side hilled a crossed a small draw 60 yards away in the wide open. I was in a tree line. I drew as they started to clear trees in front of me. I wanted either of the last two velvet bucks. One of them picked me off. The lead buck did not. He was tall narrow and had no velvet but there he was, broadside at a pre-ranged distance. I settled, stopped him and sent it with no regrets.
Shot was solid. It looked good. Obviously hit ribs and the opposite shoulder blade. I waited 20 minutes. Ate an early lunch and wondered. I sneaked over there to inspect. This is a good sign.
Found my arrow. This is also a good sign. I started tracking. Easy blood trail but he's covering some serious ground. Given the steep gradient though, anyone could cover that much ground dead or alive. I fell every 10 feet or so as my socks didn't quite do well on rocks and loose dirt.
It took me an hour to cover a couple hundred yards but there was my first September muley, dead on the trail. It was warming up quick so I dragged him into some shade.
Good looking buck! That velvet buck will happen! Keep after them!
Pack-out sucked. 4.5 miles and 3,200 feet down to the truck. The main trail is popular for recreational hikers. Mid-week there are not as many. I usually get some frowns and an occasional comment from leaf lickers but most people are just great. My favorite part was loading the deer at the trail head. Two old ladies were so excited to see it and they never hunt. They insisted on getting their picture with the head. I obliged but regret not getting one of them myself. I had a buddy meet me halfway down to take some my gear. That was awesome because my feet were hamburger!!!
Scouting with my boy. It was his first time hearing a bugle.
Scouting with my boy. It was his first time hearing a bugle.
Alright 1/4 tags filled. Next up is my October rifle elk tag in Idaho. As I mentioned my buddy from WI really wants to archery hunt. I insisted a practice run to vet gear and really know what it takes would be a big leg up. Also, just getting into elk and learning what you can and can't get away with would really set-him up for his future hunts.
My 10 year old and I pre-scouted my archery stomping grounds and found a good bull. A couple weeks later my buddy and I rode ATV's in, parked them and hiked in to spike camp per the OHV regulations up there. To our dismay the next opening morning, 5 locals rode in day hunting of ATV's instead of hiking in per the regs (it would've been a long hike for them...so they took the easy route). This completely defeates the purpose of the restrictions and the benefits to those who follow them. Two of these guys hiked up to us, saw what direction we were headed, cut us off and that was the end of the first opportunity. I never heard a shot from them. We moved on but didn't find any other nice bulls that day.
Eventually, the outlook for my area became even more dismal after seeing how much damage the sheep did to the area. We packed up camp, hike up to the atv's and headed out. In 6 years, this is the first time I ever had to relocate. I took pics of all their plates on the way out and sent them to the warden.
I have an awesome buddy that offered to drive up there 3 hours and take us into a new area. I've always mapped it out as a backup spot but never been there. He camped with us that night. I didn't mention how cold it was during this hunt! I'm from WI originally and never experienced cold like this. We were spike camping to boot. I couldn't keep any water thawed. It sucked!!!! This is why I prefer hunting September.
We loaded up the ATV's and rode in to a camping spot. The next morning we were off.
We immediately were hearing bugles and getting after them. 3 different bulls were sounding off. We gained elevation to get a bead on them but were not too aggressive. No need since nobody else was around. By mid morning we were chilling waiting to get after them. My buddy had to get back home so he gave us some pointers on the area and headed out. He wasn't even 100 yards out when a nice bull started bugling.
We moved closer but couldn't get a specific location. We waited a few more hours trying to glass him up. When thermals started coming down, we made our move down and up to the area slowly. Then they started sounding off on their own and we just kept dogging them slowly. I lost track of my buddy behind me as I worked into the herd and set-up for a shot. I got busted picking up my rifle. The herd split up. I gave chase after they moved off. It was getting close to shooting light now. After blasting through slick deadfall, I had second thoughts and quickly doubled back to find my buddy. I was literally yelling through my bugle tube to find him. Once I found him, I said take your coat and hat off, we are sprinting through this stuff to catch up...NOW.
So we did. Ahead two different herds merged with 4 bulls and 30 cows. It was crazy. I crept out into a shooting position. Found the biggest bull that appeared to be missing part of a beam. Settled the cross hairs, shot...and watched a branch tip over in front of him. Oops. The herd didn't know what to do. The bull looped around from 100 to 253ish. I had to move positions stop, get my binos out to make absolutely sure I was going to shoot at the same bull again. With that many elk I was worried about throwing copper at two different bulls. At this point I had literally a minute of light left but I still ranged him 4 times because I didn't believe he was only 253 yards away. It seemed so much further across this draw. He was about to bail over the ridge. Somebody placed a tree root right in front of me at perfect kneeling position with a built in V for my rifle. The second shot was true and the only one needed. All that practice paid off.
I snapped this pic right away after the shot. The bull was standing just below the skyline by the 3 pines protruding from the aspens.
Blood trail was easy. 60-70 yards away there was my first Mid-October elk. An old busted up bruiser with a 60" main beam. Still wish I would've had an archery tag but this is a good back-up plan I guess. Maybe it was a good thing I bumped that herd of elk because they covered so much distance, it ended up only being a .63 mile pack-out to a trail.
As soon as I got back it was time to switch gears. My kids first deer hunt was on deck. Realistically, we only had one or two days to make it happen. I glassed up a few small bucks right away that morning. They were in a very stalkable spot...but it'd be a lot of hiking to get up there. We packed up and started after breakfast. It was a 3 hour hike but they stayed put the entire time we were out of sight. Once we were up there, I actually found a couple extra bucks in the group. One was a decent 2 or 3 year old. His body was quite a bit larger than the other four. He's not in this picture. Too much brush.
Setting up for the shot was very stressful for her. The group had no idea we were above them. Wind was perfect but they kept moving around, sparring and weaving through cover changing positions. It took 30 minutes for a clean shot to present itself. During that entire time she was behind the scope keeping tabs on them. The shot was solid. She dropped him in his tracks. No tracking. The other bucks had no idea what the noise was. They were young and dumb. Heck, two of them even bedded down right there at the kill site.
We skidded down to him and found her first big game animal. Taking pictures and breaking him down was a challenge to say the least. It was damn steep with nothing to tie it to. It rolled three times on us. She held it the entire time I broke it down.
Next up was her limited entry late elk tag in November. This was an any weapon tag but like I mentioned earlier, she didn't have time to throw arrows with the proficiency I'd allow before hunting. This November hunt was going to be new for both of us. Fortunately, I have a good buddy very familiar with the area. This is the kind of guy that will bend over backwards to help a fellow hunter. His Dad even came out to help glass...and eventually pack quarters!
I didn't want to risk burning her out mentally by camping in cold weather so we decided to rough it at a Best Western Plus.
The night before the opener we glassed up this bull and planned to get after him first thing.
This is great. I'm sure a few folks will scoff at the firearms but I can't get enough of the off season story telling on Bowsite. Congrats on a great season, keep em coming!
Opening morning that bull was in the same place with a couple cows. We stalked them but they fed over into oakbrush. We looped around through some nasty stuff to keep tabs on them. We tried pushing them up the draw but they went another direction. My kid and I looped to cut them off while my buddy kept at it. It almost worked. That bull came out 40 yards away from us but she didn't shoot due to some sparse oakbrush. I was impressed she held off.
Should've seen her face when she saw just how big these things are up close!!
We spent the next few hours hiking up to the trail. She out hiked us old timers....but then fell asleep in the side by side as we relocated.
At dusk we started glassing up other bulls but they were too far away to get after. As time was closing, my buddy's Dad spotted a group of bulls. We moved into position with little time to spare. The distance was too far for her (500 yards). My first instinct was to play it safe but my buddy was all about sprinting over there with cover...so that's what we did!! We hauled over there and popped up within 200ish yards. I set-up my tripod at kneeling level and she pumped a few rounds into him as my buddy was watching.
Aside from having someone helping us glass the elk, it was a huge help because he was able to watch the elk while I could focus on her and making sure she was doing everything safely. I honestly didn't look at the elk that much. With that much adrenaline everywhere, safety and shot sequence was my priority. I deferred the game monitoring to him.
At the end, the bull was down. We walked up for a finishing shot to seal it up.
We came back to start breaking him down. It was hands down the biggest bodied elk I've been a part of. His antler bases are very large. Anxious to get the tooth data back. Sure was cold as soon as that sun went down!!! We left everything up there and came back the next morning for a team pack-out. THAT was awesome.
This is why I love Bowsite . Good stuff
Great read so far!! I don't care what weapon you use, love to read the story. Congrats to your daughter!!!
All in all, it was a fantastic year. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't pressure her into hunting deer early with archery equipment (or elk for that matter). It was still a great experience and fun to share it with dedicated friends who enjoy helping as much as hunting.
Way to go! Living out west sure beats good ol Wisco!
Great work and congrats to you and your kids!
Congrats to all and thanks for taking the time to tell the stories!!!!
Great job! Thanks for the story and congrats
Outstanding! Quite a year for the two of you!!! Many congrats and thanks for sharing.
As pointed out earlier, any weapon is fine with me. Way to make it happen - congrats to your daughter and thanks for sharing.
Wow, Jason you & the family got it done, nice work sir!!
Congratulations on a great season and spending quality time with your daughter for her first hunts!
Very cool, thanks for taking us along. My 14yo granddaughter has a deer and elk under her belt so I can attest to you being very proud of your daughter.
Wow what a year! Congrats on some dandy animals! Awesome to be able mentor your daughter and get success! Thanks for sharing!! Great photos too
Great read! Congrats to you and your daughter on a great season!
Grats to both of you! Good stuff. Thanks for posting.
Great stories and great to see the kids out there! Well done!
Loved it. That's awesome. Sometimes a guy just has to break out the rifle and get it done! Great job. Both bulls are sweet!
Good work! Congrats on a great season.
That's great, Jason....way to pass it on!
Awesome stuff man! I love it.
Jason, you are having way too much fun, but nicely done. my best, Paul
Congratulations to all of you
What a great year YZ !!!
Congrats to all of you Petes
What a great read Jason!
Congrats for sure
Good luck, Robb
GREAT year and post! Congrats to you all!
Great memories made congratulations!!
Congratulations to you both... good stuff.
Great story! Thanks for taking us along for the ride. Memories both of you will cherish for the rest of your lives!
Good stuff!! Thank you for taking the time to type it up.....
Awesome too both of you. Forrest
Awesome, Congrats on a great year Jason.