by Jordan Mecham
SUCCESSFUL. The long awaited result of which all hunters dream. When the draw results were released last April, we had thought it was a mistake, my brother and I had both drawn limited entry muzzleloader elk tags on the Wasatch Unit. I thought I had received his email by mistake because I used my credit card for both of our applications. However, luck was on our side; it was one of the best days of our lives. It had been four years since we had been able to hunt together and now we were going to be chasing
While my brother and I have hunted in central and southernUtah all our lives, we had never stepped foot on the Wasatch unit.However, my dad and grandpa had hunted this particular area fornearly 40 years, but they mainly hunted mule deer and the occasionalspike elk. But as luck would have it, our cousin Darren had beenhunting elk in the area for a few years. We scouted the areas thatour family members Nate and Darren had suggested over the nextthree months. We set our sights on three different bulls, two of thembeing bigger than most of the bulls that we had scouted. The rut wascoming in full swing and the bulls were going nuts. So with onlythree days left before the hunt, we were chasing 3 bulls: a six pointthat we named Big 6, a big and unique 8x7 that we named Machado,and a beautiful dark horned 6x7. Any of these bulls we would behappy to tag.
Opening morning finally came. I set out after the Machado bulland my brother headed out after Big 6 and the 6x7. At first light,Nate and I headed out on horses but only heard one bugle and didn’tsee any of the bulls that we were hoping to see. I made the mistakeof turning my radio off that afternoon, figuring the elk would not beout, and missed the opportunity at a monster five-point bull and Big6. It was a long ride back to camp. The entire time we were wishingI had not turned our radio off. When we arrived back at camp, mybrother told me that he and Mark were within a few hundred yards of the big 6x7 the entire day but couldn’t get any closer. It was an unlucky day.
After our unlucky day, we went around the opposite side of the
mountain to see if the elk had been pushed over the top. From the
moment that we went around the mountain, we were in elk all day.
Bulls were screaming and chasing cows. There were so many bulls
bugling that it was hard to decide which bugle to chase. As the
day went on, we realized both my
brother and I had passed five or six
300-330 class bulls. With only an
hour of light left, my uncle Shane
called us on the radio and told us
to get to where he was because he
had spotted a different 360-class
bull. And so the chase began.
We only had 20 minutes
of light left so we were in a
hurry. We caught up to the bull
wallowing in a spring. He had
a hot cow that he wasn’t going
to leave. Nate and I were able to
sneak within 120 yards before
he spotted us. With one quick
glance at his antlers, I could
tell he was a big bull and one
that I would be happy tagging.
Being in such a hurry to get
to this bull, I had forgotten
my shooting sticks. I let out
a quick cow call, he stopped and turned broadside. Not having my shooting sticks, I was stuck taking a freehanded shot. I gently pulled the trigger. The bull took off down
the hill and out of sight. We walked over to where the bull had been,
but we couldn’t find any blood. We checked the rest of the evening
with flashlights for a blood trail, but we again found nothing. Given
the quick shot and the bull not acting injured, I must have missed.
The next day we went back to the spot to see if we could findany blood, but again found nothing after hours of searching. Aftercoming up empty handed with the search for blood and no signof the bull from the night before, we decided to head back up toa spring that we hoped Big 6 was at, though we hadn’t seen himin days. My brother decided to stay a few hundred yards above thespring as Mark and I dropped down to be level with it. We had onlybeen sitting down for 20 minutes when we heard a deep bugle. Itsounded more like a growl than a bugle. We sneaked down a creekbed and got within 80 yards of the bull that was growling.After setting up, the cows started to feed forty yards from us in abig clearing and the growler bull started coming towards the cows.I threw up my binoculars as quick as I could. It was Big 6! I couldsee his bladed 4ths and 5ths, and I knew it was him. I got readyand set the hammer back and waited for him to enter the clearing.After what seemed like an eternity, he came right behind the cows.He stopped broadside at 40 yards. He was mine. With a dead rest,I put the cross hairs right behind his front shoulder and squeezedthe trigger.
Waiting for the smoke to clear, I expected to see the big boystumbling or tipping over. However, I didn’t see any of that. Hehad his shoulders pulled back and he was looking around to seewhere the loud noise came from. He started walking away from usvery slowly and started bugling again. I thought, “Are you freaking kidding me! I missed? I really missed?” He was a bull of a lifetime and I missed at 40 yards. Tears were definitely shed that night. I had missed twice in two days at a 360 bull and a 380 plus bull.
After little sleep that night I awoke early the next morning anddecided to sight my gun in again. Turns out I was shooting a footand a half left and a foot high at twenty-five yards. Now with the gunsighting in correctly, and seven guys now helping us, we combed thearea from morning until night. We did not leave the mountain. Butwe were only able to turn up Big 6 once more and could not get closeenough for a good shot. After three full days of searching for him andnot finding him or a blood trail or hearing an elk bugle, we made thehard decision to leave Big 6 and see what the other canyons offered.Then on the sixth day of our hunt, our dad received a call fromhis sister saying that our grandpa wasn’t going to last much longer.We all decided to head down the mountain to say our goodbyes. Ourdad decided that he was going to stay with his dad until he passed,but he told us that we should continue our hunt. We contemplatedstaying with my grandpa, but we had already said our goodbyes. Wethought it best that his children enjoy some alone time with himbefore he passed away.We arrived back at camp the next morning with the horses readyto go in to the canyon where Machado and some other big bulls hadbeen spotted. It was ten minutes before light when I felt my phonevibrate in my pocket. It was my dad. I thought that he was calling tosee what our morning plans were but my thoughts changed when Iheard him crying. He said, “Well… your grandpa just passed away.”I was sad but happy at the same time. My grandpa had some serioushealth issues and his wife had passed away 17 years ago. It was justtime for him to go.
We must have had my grandpa’s help that day because as soonas I hung up the phone, three bulls started bugling like crazy anddidn’t stop for the next two hours. Being in such dark timber andthick oak, it was nearly impossible to see the bugling bulls, so mybrother and I decided to drop down in on them while my brotherin-law Josh and cousin Darren moved onto another spot. We letout a few cow calls and two bulls started bugling like crazy. Wemoved as fast as we could to close the distance. After dropping 500yards below the horse trail, we decided that I should stop and calland that my brother should drop down on the bulls. It wasn’t 20minutes later that I heard him let out a cow call of his own and thena loud BOOM. I completely expected to hear a yell of excitementbut nothing. He shot right over the top of the bull. We were on areally steep incline and the bull was below his feet. We spent thenext thirty minutes looking for blood but found nothing. It wasa huge let down. I had my radio sitting on my pack as we weredeciding what to do next when the best words anyone could ask forafter missing a bull came through from Josh and Darren, “Hey getyour butts up here. We have two huge bulls spotted down below uspushing some cows.” My brother decided to keep looking for bloodwhile I got a head start.I knew I had to move fast, but it was so steep. The oak grewmore sideways than up. It was a constant fight the entire way upthe hill. I hiked as fast and as hard as I could to get to Josh, Darrenand those big bulls. I finally reached the top and the 8x7 and a big6-point were bugling about every 30 seconds to a minute. There wasan old horse trail 150 yards above where the elk were feeding. Wefigured that the best plan would be for me to sneak down the horsetrail above them and wait. This way I would be in a better positionto make a move. Knowing my brother was not going to be too far behind me, I picked out a spot for Daren and Josh to send him oncehe reached them. There were two bulls and two tags to fill. Couldwe really pull a double on two big bulls? Would the elk still be therewhen I made it down there? It was worth a shot.
I was now 20 yards from the point where I could look over andpotentially take a shot. I put the cap on my muzzleloader and tooka minute to catch my breath. I slowly walked and then crawled tothe crest of the ridge and peaked over the top. Nothing. I didn’t seeanything. Betting that the elk had moved down the ridge, I movedoff the top about ten yards to stay out of sight and quickly keptworking my way down. Not sure where the elk would be, I keptmoving quietly down the ridge. I hadn’t made it more than 50 yardsdown the ridge when I heard some limbs break in front of me. Ipulled my gun up as several cow elk started crossing the top of theridge 75-yards away. As each one of the elk went in front of me, Ikept waiting for one of the two bulls to cross. A minute had passedand nothing followed. I heard a crash above me, but I didn’t want totake my eyes off of what might come behind the cows.All of a sudden a big bull jumped out where the cows hadcrossed. Not wanting to shoot while he was moving, I started makinga deer bleating noise with my mouth. After making the noise twice,the bull stopped and turned and looked at me. You could tell hewas confused. And so was I. I guess my adrenaline got to me, and Iwasn’t thinking straight. I couldn’t believe he stopped. I placed thecross hairs on his front shoulder and pulled the trigger. He whirledaround and started running up the ridge away from me. He wentthrough some tall oak and the only thing I could see were the topshis antlers. After 50 yards, I could see his antlers start to sway backand forth and then they disappeared.The crash and noise above me was my brother running down theridge to catch up to me. He had heard the shot but didn’t see thebull drop. I was pumping my fist in excitement when I saw him. Wehigh fived, hugged and hoped that the bull went down. We didn’twant to chance bumping the bull so we waited for 20 minutes beforewe followed the blood trail. The suspense was killing us. Doubt keptgoing through my mind. Did I hit him good enough? Was thisgoing to be a repeat of earlier? My stomach was in knots.I had my brother walk to where the bull was standing when Ishot and then I walked to him. We started looking for blood andheaded towards where the bull had hopefully tipped over. Fortyyards into the search, we got a strong whiff of an elk and knew hehad to be close. The oak was so thick and tall that we could not seevery well. As we made our way a little farther through the oak wefinally caught a glimpse of some white ivory tips. Big bull down!There were a lot of emotions as we grabbed the antlers andstarted taking pictures. It was almost as if our grandpa was therewith us in spirit. So many things happened that day that typicallydon’t happen. It was a moment when time felt like it had stopped.It was a moment of humility and respect for the animal and ofcloseness to our grandpa that we will forever remember. What abull. What a hunt. What an amazing memory we’ll have for therest of our lives!