Elk hunting in the mountains of the western states has been a dream of mine since I was in high school. In September of 2011 my dream had finally come true, but ended in heartbreak. I had chased a big bull around the Bridger Teton National Forest for half of a week and was only able to lay eyes on him once. After getting once chance him and not being able to wrap my fingers around his antlers, this “ghost” became my white whale that I had to pursue again.
After a lot of sucking up I was able to convince my wife that heading back to Wyoming to finish what I started was a good idea. I trained harder, did a Tough Mudder endurance race, spent more time at the range, and devoted a lot of free time to preparing to fulfill my dream. More than anything I wanted to end the nightmares of 2011. Nothing was going to keep me from punching my first elk tag.
Upon arriving in Wyoming and seeing the big bull elk in full rut while driving through Yellowstone and Teton National Parks, the excitement and adrenaline were flowing. My hunting party and I couldn’t wait for the first day of the season to start. The day before opening day of rifle we all met at the ranch to shoot our rifles and get fitted for our saddles. Our guides all had ideas of where to take the groups of hunters in the morning, but I already knew where we were going. I had a date with my white whale.
The horse ride in on opening morning was only about an hour in the dark meandering on a backcountry trail to a secret honey hole my guide and I discovered in 2011. Once we got to the meadow and tied up the horses, Dan let out a few bugles to see if anything would respond. All was quite so we decided to make the hard trek up the hill through the dark timber to get to the area we last saw him years ago. Once to the top we heard a blood curdling bugle that could only be the bull we were after. We managed to set up in a small meadow where I was hoping to ambush the beast with my bow.
The bull kept bugling as he approached our location. I could see him coming through the timber so I brought my bow up to be ready. However, he stopped about 60 yards away in another small meadow and looked around for the cow elk he thought he was coming to get. He was a very large and majestic bull. The sunlight was shining into the opening right onto him like a spotlight. The white tips of his massive set of antlers glistened as he turned his head. In my mind, this was the ghost.
I looked over at Dan and my father and they also had a great view of him. The look on their faces was priceless. They were both trying to let me know just how big this bull was. In what seemed like forever, the bull just stood there and hardly moved a muscle. If I had my rifle in my hand I would have had a perfect broadside shot through a small opening in the timber. But, I was bound and determined to get a bull with my bow. Dan decided to slowly work his way behind me to setup a new calling location to hopefully draw him in. However, the monster slowly walked away and eventually winded us only to never show his face again. It was a good feeling to know that the ghost from 2011 was alive and well, at least in my mind he was.
After the ghost left us, we headed up to a wallow that Dan and I found in 2011. We decided to just sit there a little bit and see if we could find an active bull. After a few bugle calls, we heard another deep and gravely bugle from a nearby bull. I got into position again with the bow in hand and waited as the beast headed our way. A few short minutes later the bull presented himself with about a 30 yard broadside shot, but I decided to pass on the small 4×4 raghorn. I told my dad I wasn’t going to shoot him and that the choice was his. The safety went off and we spent the rest of the day getting the bull packed off of the mountain.
At dinner that night, Dan and I agreed that it wouldn’t be wise to head back to the honey hole to chase the big bull from the morning as it was too close to the remains left behind from my dad’s bull. With the number of bears in the area there was a good chance that a bear may have found the carcass by the morning and we just didn’t want to risk it. The plan was to head up to the area my dad got his bull in 2011. This would require about a 6 mile ride in on horseback up Angle Mountain. Knowing that we were going to be hunting the high country I figured that the chance of a close enough shot for the bow was out of the question and decided to only take my rifle.
As day light approached, Dan and I got to the top of the mountain and setup to start glassing for elk in the valleys below. After Dan let out the first bugle call we got a response from two different bulls that seemed to be together. We decided it was time to get moving and see if we could chase them down. As we got closer we were able to glass a few cows and calves that were near the bulls. Luckily they were moving away from us and didn’t have a clue we were trailing behind. About half way down the mountain we got busted by two spike bulls. Dan and I decided it was best to push them off and hope they didn’t alert the rest of the heard. This idea proved itself to be the correct one.
We were able to get down to the valley undetected by any of the other elk. The two bulls were still bugling back at us every time we let out a call. By the sounds of it, one bull was much larger and older than the other. We set up on the edge of a meadow and watched a small grove of trees that was about 125 yards in front of us. One of the bulls let out a bugle and we knew he was in there. Dan kept cow calling and could see movement in the trees headed our way. I had two small pine trees obscuring my view and had to just go by what Dan was telling me. Finally the bull presented himself and came out into the open. I still couldn’t see him until I leaned over and saw a beautiful 5×5 making a beeline right at us. I knew that he wasn’t the big bull in the group, but I also knew at that point we had no chance of getting to him with all of the other elk in the heard.
When this 5×5 came into clear view for me to get a better look I told Dan that I was going to take him. I knew he wouldn’t be the biggest bull in camp but he had a great looking rack and I knew that the 200 plus pounds of meat I would be taking home would taste much better than the tag soup I ate in 2011. Once he got to about 50 yards he turned broadside and presented a shot. I flipped the safety off of the .300wsm and put a bullet right into the heart. He buckled and went down, but got up and started running so I put another shot into him and got his liver. The bull went right down and the celebrating began. I had finally punched my bull elk tag and crossed something off of my bucket list. However, Dan and I knew that we still had a lot of work ahead of us.
Once the photos were all taken and the excitement wound down, Dan and I were able to quickly quarter and pack the elk onto our horses. We knew that it was going to be a long walk out on foot as the horses were loaded down. As we walked out, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Even though I was on a guided hunt, we were hunting on 100% public land and still had to work as hard as I would have if the hunt was DIY. I truly earned this elk after working so hard on my previous experience chasing the mighty wapiti. I told Dan that I was now an elk hunter and his comment back to me was that I already was even before I pulled the trigger. I had already experienced more in the mountains of Wyoming chasing elk than most hunters will experience in years of hunting.
While my hunt for elk was over, I still had a mule deer tag to fill. The next few days saw a change in the weather. We had extremely cold and windy conditions on the mountain. The deer were moving, but all we were seeing were doe. During lunch one afternoon we finally spotted a buck on a mountain across from where we were sitting. We glassed him for a while trying to decide if we should take him. He was what seemed to be a large 3×2 that was tall and wide. This buck was not what I was after and we let him walk.
The next morning Dan and I decided to try another spot that has produced decent bucks in the past. It was a crisp and clear morning that allowed us to see forever once we reached the mountain tops. The Teton Range looked spectacular in the distance and almost proved to be a distraction from the task at hand. Bull elk were bugling their brains out in the valleys below us but never did make an appearance. After a short time, 4 fork-horns came out of the trees below us. We watched them for a while as they continued their way down the mountain. I was starting to think that my chances of a big mule deer buck were slipping away.
Minutes after the fork-horns disappeared three more bucks came walking out along the same route the others had used. The only difference was that this time two of the bucks were shooters. I picked out the largest buck which was a magnificent 4×4 and put the crosshairs right on him. I squeezed off a round and missed him. He didn’t walk very far and stopped giving me another broadside shot. The second round hit him and he jumped straight into the air kicking his back legs. Dan and I both got excited thinking I hit the mark. Little did we know at the time that we were in for a 5 hour tracking job that would end in disappointment.
The second shot must have grazed the brisket of the big buck and he took off. We gave him time to lie down, but he kept going. We tracked that buck down the mountain seeing areas of good blood and areas where there was nothing. Eventually the blood ran out and we had no choice but to call it and head back to the horses. In the quick moment I had to take the shot we didn’t range the buck so that I could accurately place a bead on him. I knew that the shot placement and wounding of this animal was my fault. I had no other choice but to take my tag out and punch it was if I had recovered the animal. In my mind it was the only ethical thing to do as I did not deserve a chance at another trophy. In hindsight, the next morning brought over a foot of snow in the mountains and the chances of getting back out to chase deer were slim.
Even though my hunting trip to Wyoming ended on a low note, it will be an experience that I will never forget. I took away a lot more knowledge of hunting elk in the mountains that will prove to be valuable in the future. The next trip is already in the works and I will need all of the skills learned to make this a success as it will be a DIY hunt. Not only were my dad and I successful in punching our elk tags, a total of 7 out of 8 hunters in camp were able to get some delicious elk meat in the freezer. Each of us has a story to tell about the hunt. My story was all about Redemption on Angle Mountain.
If you would like information about hunting in the Bridger-Teton National Forest please contact Jesse Rodenbough at 4 U Outfitters