2017 was going to be a year to remember. My friend Rudy was driving out to Utah to join Jasen LaRue and I on our second annual archery elk hunt in Utah. We all picked up our Over-The-Counter archery tags and packed our equipment. The season started out similar to last year, we hiked in and set up camp under the old pine tree, set up our tents, and filtered enough water for the next few days. We ate our rehydrated dinners and climbed into our sleeping bags, thinking only of what the next morning had in store for us.
Opening day was started with very with a cool hike and very little elk movement. I dropped Rudy off at a water hole that the elk frequent, and hiked to a wallow that I had found over the summer.
In the afternoon I hiked up to see how Rudy was doing, and to retrieve my SD card from my trail camera. We sat and had lunch while we looked through the photos from my trail camera. We had elk visit the water hole regularly for the last couple of weeks. I packed up my things and headed back down to the wallow. Later that afternoon, a cow came in and drank, just 14 yards from Rudy. He held out, hoping a bull was following her. He waited patiently, and as the cow walked away, he heard another elk coming down. As the elk came down the trail, something spooked it and it turned around and went back to its bedding area. We hunted hard over the next few days, but we weren’t seeing any elk. It was hot, and they were moving mostly at night. On Monday night, Rudy and I decided to hike out and had dinner with his Fiance’, who was staying in a hotel in town. We did some laundry, refueled with some good food, and hiked back in on Wednesday morning. Jasen decided to join us at the trailhead since he had been deer hunting with some other friends. When we reached camp, we saw that we had had a visitor while we were gone. Jasen picked up my bottle of Dead Down Wind that was lying next to his tent. He threw it to me. I saw that it was all muddy and thought that it had blown over in the recent storm. I picked up the bottle and it was empty. I had only used the spray two times. I looked closer and saw big bite marks in it, just as Rudy found his water bottle was torn open.
We had a bear in camp! We looked over all of our gear. The only things it ruined were either left out of the tent, or under the vestibule. I have made it a habit to hang our food on a rope strung between trees when camping in bear country, and luckily the bear didn’t get our stash of mountain house and oatmeal. After looking through our things, we packed up for the day, and hiked to our spots. It was supposed to be a hot day, so Rudy opted to sit on a wallow, and I went to a water hole. I dropped Rudy off, hike up to my spot, and literally set my pack down when I received a text from Jasen. I had spotty service, and it took a while to see the message, but it had a GPS coordinate. I thought that was weird, but when I received his first message a few minutes later, it said “BBD, BIG BULL DOWN!”. I congratulated him and told him that I was on my way and that I had my camera.
I nearly ran down the mountain to get Rudy. I was breathless when I reached him. I asked if he had heard the news, and he excitedly answered that he had. We gathered our things and hiked to meet Jasen. After searching for him for a couple of hours, we saw him coming down a game trail. I ran up and gave him a big hug. I’ve only been hunting with Jasen for two years, but he has worked so hard and earned this bull. Jasen recounted the morning as we hiked up to his hard-earned trophy. Jasen made the long, wet hike, knowing that he was already behind schedule. He hiked quickly through the dark, trying to beat daylight, as he made his way to the water hole and bedding area. As he crossed the valley of wildflowers, he decided to check his trail camera to see if anything had passed by in the last few days that he had been gone. He stopped at his camera and pulled out the sd card, putting into his viewer. As he looked through the photos, he noticed that some good bulls had just been through the area a few days ago. Seeing elk in the area instantly made him smile to himself as he put the card back into his camera. As he closed the camera and turned it back on, Jasen heard a twig snap below him. He quietly turned and caught movement below.
To Jasen’s disbelief, he saw the tan of elk hide move through the brush below him. Jasen quickly pulled out his rangefinder and read 35 yards. The elk stepped out from behind a small pine tree and revealed that he was a bull. A good bull. Any elk taken on Utah OTC hunts on Any Bull units are a trophy. Jasen couldn’t believe himself. He happened upon this bull by chance and didn’t want to lose this opportunity. He nocked an arrow, drew back, settled in, and waited.
The arrow struck the bull and he instantly dropped to the ground. The bull slid down the steep mountainside, overturning sticks and brush as it left a red trail down the hill. Jasen knew he had to get another arrow in him, or risk losing the bull. Jasen ran down the mountain and hooked around beside the bull. As the bull tried to stand, Jasen made another shot. The second arrow found its mark, and passed through both lungs. The bull quickly expired. As Jasen told his story, we pulled out our knives and got to work.
We loaded up the bull and packed him down to a staging area that was lower on the mountain. We set up an area that was shaded and elevated off the ground by moving some deadfall and breaking branches off of a large log. We hung the meat from the downed tree to keep it off the ground, allowing it to cool more quickly.
After hiking the meat to the staging area, we took a well-deserved break and refueled with snacks and Yeti. Jasen’s friends were on their way to help pack the bull out to the trucks, While Rudy and I made our way back up the mountain to hunt, since he only had a few days left to hunt. It was Thursday morning. Rudy and I woke up, sore from cutting up Jasen’s bull. We made breakfast and poured a little extra Yeti into our water bottles to help us get motivated. It was a cold morning as we hiked into our spots. Rudy decided to hunt the lower wallow again, as it was to be another hot day. I dropped him off and hiked to my water hole. I sat up against a pine tree as the sun rose, thinking about how luck I was to be able to be in that moment in nature. As the sun rose and and the birds began to chirp, I heard another sound. It sounded like a hoof against a log, and it came from above me. a few minutes later, I heard a small twig break, and this sound was much closer. Another few minutes went by, and I heard an unknown sound behind me. I slowly turned and looked. I didn’t see anything, so I turned back around. WAIT! What was that shadow? I looked again, and the triangular shaped shadow took the form of an elk head. I saw slight movement, and then antlers appeared. It looked like a decent bull, so I reached for my bow.
I drew back and settled my pin. Upon release, my arrow found it’s mark with a loud thud. The bull jumped and ran across the mountain. I took a few minutes to settle down and began texting my friends with a BBD message! Jasen and Rudy made their way up the mountain to help me start trailing the elk. We found two drops of blood and some hair stuck to a tree branch. We ended up following tracks for a while, and then a natural direction that he may have taken. We searched all day and finally found him late afternoon and the meat was still good.
There wasn’t any time to waste, so I notched my tag and began quartering the bull. It was getting dark, so we hung the meat and headed back to camp. The next morning, Jasen and I made our way to start packing the meat out, while Rudy continued hunting. It was a long hike to the truck, but we made it in two heavy loads. Between the three of us, we drank nearly an entire container of yeti that week.
Photos and story by David DeAustin | @daviddeaustin