Labor Day weekend is the most anticipated weekend of the year for me, especially this year. As busy as I was with work, this would likely be my only extended weekend available to me during September. The question was, what do I do with this precious time?
I hadn’t drawn my elk tag and the general units I was looking at didn’t open up until the 15th of September. I could go tag along with my brother in an elk unit that I knew would promise a good time or hunt in a unit that opened up the first. But, what I really wanted to do was hunt an area I had scouted for mule deer during the summer. I was excited for the opportunity at some high country muley’s, something I haven’t really done in Wyoming. It was time.
However, seven hours of driving and an eight mile pack-in to camp would meant I would basically have one evening and one morning to hunt while leaving enough time to pack out an animal and camp, so I could be back to work Tuesday morning.
Saturday about noon I reached camp. I decided to set up in the same spot I had camped while scouting the area during the summer. After setting up camp, I made the short trek to the bowl I would be concentrating on. My only goal for the afternoon and evening was to locate a buck; I could concentrate on making a stalk the next morning. With the terrain flirting with timberline, it wasn’t hard to pick out some elk on the opposite side of the drainage. I pulled out my spotter to see if I could see a bull; I couldn’t. “I really shouldn’t be looking for a bull. I would kill myself trying to pack it out of here within 2 days,” yet I was still looking for one.
There was another drainage that I wanted to check out near camp that I wanted to check out. I hadn’t been able to scout it on my summer trip but it looked good on GoogleEarth. As soon, as I crested the top, I heard a bugle. That was the start of elk temptation. I was able to creep out on a cliff above the elk and locate the bull. He wasn’t huge but big enough to attempt a stalk. “I can’t pass up the opportunity at the possibility of my largest archery bull to date.” I only made it within a hundred yards of the bedded bull before being busted by a cow. Oh well. I was able to make it back to camp before the afternoon thunderstorm rolled through.
The evening found me back at the original drainage. “There are those elk again, and there is a bull with them; a big one!” The elk temptation continued, it’s hard not to when you have a tag in your pocket and you see a bull that rivals anything you have seen hunting before. I was able to resist the urge to go after the bull and get some glassing in, mainly because I didn’t feel I had very good odds in taking the bull in his current location. However, later in the evening they moved along the top of the drainage and I saw an opportunity. It appeared that the bull was just beyond a very large boulder and that if I could get there, I might be close enough. I did get there and was very close to some of the cows but he was still a hundred yards past the boulder. I let out a bugle hoping he would come to chase off the intruder, but he only screamed back and stood his ground. I was able to sneak back out of there without spooking the elk and returned back to camp without fulfilling my goal of locating a buck that evening.
Sunday morning I woke up to the sound of elk right below camp, splashing in the lake and making all sorts of noise. I was sure it was that big bull when I heard him bugling and glunking. I got ready as quietly as I could. The elk temptation continued. Luckily I was able to get out of camp without spooking the elk and they moved back into the main drainage, as did I.
When I got out to my glassing location, the big bull was directly below me. I still attempted to do some glassing for mulies but with a bull of that caliber in sight, I couldn’t help coming up with a plan to ambush the bull as he continued to work around the top of the drainage. Since a cliff separated me from approaching the bull from my glassing location, I looped around and came down in another location where I had a couple trails below me. As I waited for the herd of elk to work toward me, I started glassing again. I wasn’t able to see as much as from my glassing location but I was able to see the slope where I had spotted a nice buck on my scouting trip back in July. It wasn’t long and I turned up a buck and he was a good one. I was able to watch the buck as he fed throughout the early morning and also see him bed. Meanwhile, the wind was not holding steady, spooking the elk on two separate occasions which didn’t upset me too much as I had a good buck bedded in a stalkable position.
I made my way back to camp and waited where I waited for the wind to stabilize before I made my stalk. My camp overlooked a lake and I was able to watch the waves switch back and forth and back and forth before it finally stabilized around 11:00. It didn’t take long and I was working down the slope towards the location where I had seen the buck bed in my socks. The slope seemed much steeper than it did when glassing it from across the bowl and a couple times I had to set down my bow so I could scale some small cliff sections. The first time I was within sight of the buck, I estimated the horizontal distance to be no more than 40 yards but without a rangefinder and an obstructed line of sight, I decided to sneak in closer for shot I could feel comfortable about. I was able to get down to a better location where I estimated the buck at no more than 30 yards.
Half an hour later I was taking up the trail. There was a large amount of good blood right near the location he was shot, but it faded out very quickly and left me following tracks. Eventually, I had to resort searching in the last known direction of travel but after that didn’t pan out, I figured the best thing was to head downhill. I ended up jumping the buck and could tell my shot had only gone down through one lung due to the steep shot angle and the way the buck was bedded. I believe that jumping the buck would have been catastrophic but the buck had also broken a back leg somehow. He bedded down not long after jumping him. I pry could have let him expire there but was able to get two more arrows in hit, a great Wyoming buck down.
- Justin Starck -