Due to the limited tag drawing process, I was searching for a way to get draw more tags. Two years ago I took up bowhunting to increase my odds of obtaining a coveted Utah elk tag…It worked!! I drew a tag in the south central part of the state in an area I had never been to although my buddy had a great hunt there a few years ago. Knowing I had a lot of work to do, I began the task of learning a new unit in search of bull elk.
I spent several hours on Google Earth learning the lay of the land and looking for likely spots before my first scouting trip with a couple friends. We covered a ton of ground and set up some trail cameras in areas my buddy had previously hunted, then headed back to my northern Utah home. When not scouting, I was constantly on the computer, pouring over too maps, and generally obsessing about my hunt. During the summer, I made three more scouting trips (five hours each way) and had very little to show for my efforts. A few cow elk, a small five point, and of course a good ole black angus on one of my trail cameras.
Although I was a bit frustrated with the hunt quickly approaching, I was able to get down there a few days before the opener to look for bulls. I set up camp with the intention of staying as long as necessary in order to be successful. After further scouting however, I found where the elk activity was pretty decent about 1.5 hours to the south east. I moved camp in order to avoid losing sleep due to the drive and began the hunt with a renewed perspective. After a few days I was seeing good bulls.
The weather was not in my favor, but at least I was in the right place. I had found a good bull that deserved a closer look, so I set out amidst the impending storm. It was less than 30 degrees with wind chill and there was lightening and rain for three hours then came hell and snow with whipping winds. Wednesday and Thursday were horrendous as well and I was stuck on the mountainside for several hours in the freezing temps. I was well prepared and knew I would encounter weather, I just wasn't planning on pure hell, it was difficult to find shelter.
After the weather delay, I continued on in search of the bull we had located. As I got closer, I decided to back out because the wind was not blowing in a favorable direction and retreated down the mountain. As I started to back off, I dropped low on the hillside and heard something directly below me (100 yards) get up and move. I heard him hit a log, break a few sticks and them some loose rock slid. It wasn't something busting out of the area, but it had to be an elk and I knew the bull I had been stalking was above me. Fortunately Josh was watching the hillside in his spotter and caught a glimpse of something moving through the timber. He only had a five second window as the bull stepped through a small clearing, and Josh confirmed it was indeed a different bull and counted at least 8 points on the one side. He jumped on the radio to let me know all the commotion below me was potentially the bull we had been dreaming about. The rain had started up again and the wind never stopped blowing. Dark was quickly approaching so I had no choice but to back off and make a new plan. I knew if I didn't push him out of the area, there was a good chance I'd be able to find him Saturday morning. I reluctantly started hiking out, and by the time I got off the mountain, I couldn't put my mind at ease and continually was thinking about the bull and the circumstances of the day.
I got off the mountain and back to camp and promptly turned the lights out around midnight. After a short restless night of strategizing my morning plans over and over, the alarm went off and I was eager to start my two hour hike in the dark. It was time to make something happen! It was a very crisp morning covered in clouds without rain and temperatures were around 35 degrees. I put in my diaphragm and let out a very subtle bugle just to see if I could get anything to answer. Almost immediately I had a bull to my right, it sounded like a smaller satellite bull. I was pretty excited, maybe the 3 days of rough weather and cool temperatures was working and the elk would finally help me out. The bugle came from the direction I was headed and I knew I needed to get closer. Another 15 minutes went by and not single peep. I decided to cow call a few times which generated zero interest. I kept moving and 15 minutes later I was around 9500ft. The point I was shooting for on my GPS was 9800 ft so I didn't have far to go. I didn't want to give away my location but I was all alone and and had no choice. I had to be aggressive, I decided to bugle again…
I proceeded with a less aggressive bugle and almost instantly got what I assumed to be the same small bull to answer me, now much closer. I went to respond back and was almost immediately cut off by a much more aggressive bull and bugle. At that point my blood was pumping and that was all I needed to hear. I hoped it was the big bull to prove he was still in the area. My game plan from this point was to shut up and move until I found him. It took me 20 minutes to get near the 9800ft mark I was shooting for and during that time it there was complete silence. It seemed like hours with no communication and I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I was very apprehensive and approaching with baby steps not knowing where the bulls were. As I moved closer... finally, I got it! A very aggressive bugle and it wasn't far.
I kept the same slow pace and when I got to the flat point I was shooting for, I immediately stopped behind a tree and started glassing the area for him. Everything came together, I caught some movement and sure enough it was the antlers of an elk bedded in the timber about 150 yards from me. I put my binos on about dropped them when I saw the 8 points on the one side. It was him! Now what? How was I going to get closer in this thick fallen timber. I could only see his rack and I'd never be able to get a shot unless I could sneak right into his bed. Again, I checked the wind and kept moving. I made up 50 yards which took me another 20 minutes and eventually got within 100 yards. At this point, the timber was so thick I had lost my visual. All of a sudden I catch glimpse of an elk walking through the trees, its him! He's up and moving. He had no idea I was there and I could move with him to close the gap. I took cover behind every tree making sure he didn't catch my movement.
Within 15 minutes, I was much closer and spotted him as he stopped to rake a tree. He was being very loud and it was the perfect setup for me to get in position. At 50 yards I had no shooting lane. Trees and branches were everywhere. I knew I had to wait for him to turn his head and keep moving closer. It took a solid 20 minutes for me to move 20 yards but he didn’t move an inch. He stood in the same place attacking the same tree. I remember thinking this KUIU gear is incredible. No matter what kind of skill set I might have, at 30 yards if an animals sees anything abnormal, there won't be another opportunity to exercise those skills. At 30 yards, I needed two steps to the left to get what I perceived as the best shooting lane with no branches and the best vital shot I was going to get. I waited for the bull to make his first mistake as he turned his head and I got my first step. It took another two minutes before he looked away again and I was able to take my second step while drawing my bow at the same time. It was only seconds after at full draw I saw my sight bubble level out I had a clear heart shot. I released my arrow and and saw it hit him PERFECTLY! The moment was surreal and I could see the effect of the arrow almost immediately. The rest is history!