Monday, December 12, 2011

Like Father Like Son (Part I)

So I was able to harvest my first elk a few years ago and I had my dad along side me. It was a great experience but there is a bit more to the story. We both drew on the same elk hunt but I drew out 13 years later. Here is my dad's story...

Back in 1994, I drew a controlled hunt tag for a bull elk hunt in an area where I grew up hunting. However, this was not any average controlled hunt tag. This was a new hunt the Idaho Fish and Game had just offered. It was a rifle hunt for an antlered elk that ran from October 1st through October 9th. This was after Archery season closed and before any general rifle hunts started in the area. There were only 5 tags offered and I was lucky and drew one of the tags. With a small number of tags and plenty of hunter applications, I was feeling exceptionally lucky. This particular tag is an elk hunter’s dream. The elk are usually just going nuts with the rut during this time. No other hunts are taking place during this week, except this one. The rut is on and the bulls are chasing the cows like crazy. I was excited for the chance at a big bull, but really just wanted to harvest an elk. I had never shot a big bull and this might be my chance? I had not convinced myself on holding off and shooting only a big bull. I have always hunted to get meat for the freezer and the horns are a nice bonus. I told myself I might hold off I might not? We will have to wait and see when the opportunity presents itself?

When opening day finally came around, I was just as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. I headed out at 4:00 am with two of my friends Kendall and Vail.  Kendall was going to do the bugling and Vail was there with the video camera to catch the event on film. It was a typical cold, foggy Idaho October morning. We found ourselves parking the truck about an hour and a half before daylight at an old logging road gated by the forest service for foot traffic only. We waited a few minutes and then rolled down the window to listen if any elk were close and bugling? Sure enough, the elk were bugling and just at the top of the ridge above where we were parked. We knew we had over an hour before it would be light enough to shoot and the elk were only about a ten minute walk from the truck, so we kicked back and listened to the sweet Rocky Mountain music of the elk bugling. As we waited, we ended up falling asleep in the truck. We suddenly all came to an immediate alertness as we were awakened by the howling of a large coyote that had sat himself down in the middle of the logging road 10 yards in front of our truck. We were woken up by one of nature’s alarm clocks right on time. We quickly grabbed our gear and headed out on our search for the bugling bulls.

My main hope was to bag an elk to have venison in the freezer. My friends on the other hand were in search of a trophy. They had warned me that they would tackle me if needed to keep me from shooting a “small” bull. The elk had moved off farther than expected during the wait for daylight. As we reached the top of the ridge, Kendall bugled hoping for a close response, but got nothing. We continued to cow call and finally we could hear something walking through the grass towards us. Was this the big bull sneaking in? We set up for a shot and continued to cow call. We were sitting just inside the edge of the trees looking out into a clear cut. As the sound got closer we caught a glimpse of a couple of antler tips above the grass coming over a slight hill towards us. The elk took a few more steps and stopped. Then we realized why we only saw two antler tips, it was a young spike elk. This explained the silence, yet interest in the cow calls. I raised my rifle and took aim at the spike. I then heard a voice from behind me saying "Don’t you dare shoot him, or you are walking home!" I kept aiming, picturing the great venison steaks that would come from that fat spike. Again the voice sounded, "Don’t do it!" I was eager to pull the trigger knowing that would be some great meat for the freezer. Just then there was a bugle off in the distance that broke the concentration. Kendall said "He sounds big!" That was enough to convince me to hold off for now. I lowered my sights and we headed off in the direction of the elk bugle. We followed the elk sign and bugles for over a mile never closing the distance. The elk were on a steady pace headed straight away from us. The bugling stopped and the elk went silent.

             The elk activity was slower than we expected. We kept following the old logging roads snaking through the numerous clear cuts. After a few miles of hiking and bugling, I really started to second guess my decision to not take that spike. We made a turn on another old logging road that headed back in the direction we had come from, figuring we would work our way back to the truck. Just after we started down the road we heard a faint bugle off in the distance. It was in the direction we were headed so we sped up the walk. We came up on a slight hill overlooking a large clear cut and decided to stop and bugle. Kendall ripped off a bugle and before he could even finish the bull answered! He was in the thick pine trees on the other side of the clear cut. We all started searching the trees with are binoculars. Soon we saw elk moving through the trees. They were slowly headed for the clear cut. As we watched we could see several cows. We watched as they worked through the trees and stopped at the edge of the trees looking out into the clear cut. No sign of the bull. Then the cows took off across the clear cut on a dead run as if the stop light had turned from red to green. That is when the bull bugled again. All our binoculars moved from the cows towards the bugle. There he was! He had just come over the top of the small ridge and was headed down the wooded hillside towards the clear cut following the cows. I could not believe my eyes! He was slower coming through the trees then the cows, but I soon saw why. He had to weave his way through the trees tipping his huge 6 point rack from side to side. I immediately dropped my binoculars and started watching the bull through the scope on my Ruger 300 Win Mag. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing come through the trees. It was like a dream watching this majestic bull elk tip his huge head and antlers from side to side just to get through the trees. This did not help my nerves at all. I spoke first this time, "I am taking him!" Then Kendall and Vail both responded at the same time, "Take him!" I leaned against a small tree to steady myself and watched as the bull approached the edge of the clear cut and stop 300 yards away. He was angling towards me slightly and didn’t present a clear shot. My heart sunk when, just like the cows he bolted and headed across the clear cut! I followed the bull in my scope as he headed into the clearing. He then slowed as he reached the middle of the clearing. That was all I needed as I squeezed the trigger and the 300 boomed!  The bull stumbled, but kept moving. I re-positioned the crosshairs and squeezed again. This time he went down. 


        I started whooping and hollering and jumping up and down. After all the high fives were done, Kendall just looked at me and said, "Good thing you didn’t take that spike!"  As we walked up to the elk I was amazed at how big the bull was! It was by far the largest elk I had ever shot. We took lots of photos and began the job of skinning and preparing the elk so we could pack it out. On the pack out we realized how far we had walked in. It was well over four miles back to the pickup. The bull ended up gross scoring 358 B&C. It was October 1st 1994 at 9:30 am when I shot by bull.

      Part two coming soon.....


  1. Awesome story, Dustin! Your dad must have been flying high! I can't wait for part II.

  2. Is this northern Utah? We were impressed with that area and the description of the hunt was awsome.

  3. Thanks Don, both of these hunts actually took place here in Idaho.