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September 2023
Story by Chris Vieira
State: Idaho
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

After very little sleep from the anxiousness of hoping the peak of the rut was on, it was time to make the three-hour drive to my hunting spot. After weeks of scouting all over the unit that we drew, I went back into a location where I turned up a few bulls opening day with another buddy, Angelo. He drew this tag along with me but was not on this hunt because he had another adventure in Alaska fishing that week.

Another buddy, Costa, came into town and wanted to go along with me on my hunt. With our camps on our backs, we packed in two and a half miles where we had turned up the elk opening week, but there was no fresh sign. We ended up hiking another mile into another draw where we were picking up fresh bull sign and eventually our first faint bugle. We got in another half-mile and bugles were going off everywhere. I knew the rut was in full swing. Elk were responsive with every call we threw at them. On our first encounter, we called a bull in to 10 yards but had brush in between us. He knew something was not right and ended up running downhill. I threw out a cow call and froze him with a perfect broadside shot, but I picked the wrong pin and shot over his back. It was a clean miss. I was bummed thinking this may have been my opportunity and blew it.

With bugles going off everywhere, we got right back on another setup an hour later. This bull was bugling back and forth with me and finally appeared. He was licking his chops following a cow out of the timber at 30 yards. He froze right between some trees perfectly broadside, but all I could see was his head and neck. He turned away from me following the cow, so I drew back and popped out from the tree I was behind. He then turned to his right and looked back at me, giving me a quartering away shot at 30 yards. I let it fly, shooting right up behind the rib cage. I felt like it was a good shot with the height but was not sure of the penetration. Costa and I regrouped and gave it a little time before we walked up to see quite a bit of blood. We continued to follow a good blood trail for 30 yards and saw him laying with his head down by a tree. I thought it was a good, quick lethal shot, but he raised his head back up. I quickly ranged him at 40 yards and put another arrow into him, which brought him back to his feet. He then walked off through the heavy timber and out of sight.

I knew that second shot was good and it would finish him off, so we gave him another 30 minutes before tracking a heavy blood trail that led us right to him near a spring. I thanked God for giving me a second opportunity. To have harvested such a big, beautiful elk and the biggest elk by far with my bow was my dream that came true.

It was 5:00 p.m. after tagging and getting pictures of my bull, so it was time to get to work. There was still so much action going on all around us. Bulls were coming in close and screaming. As we were butchering, we had a bull that was the same size as the one I just took walk right up to us that I got on video. He was maybe seven yards away from us. He stood there for a couple of seconds and then took off through the timber. We worked for hours quartering my bull up and deboning to make sure we were not carrying out any extra weight we did not need to.
We threw down our bags on a tarp with our sleeping pads and called it a night. We had a half moon and elk bugling randomly throughout the night. One got so close at about 2:00 a.m. that he caught our smell and took off through the timber. I thought he was going to run over the top of us, so I quickly shined my headlamp on him to drive him the other way.

Morning came quick, and we got up and had a quick cup of coffee and granola bar. We knew we had a big pack out ahead of us. We took our camping gear and a rear quarter each and packed out roughly a mile and a half straight up and out of the bowl we were in. We went over the top and dropped our first of two loads. We still had to go back and finish up deboning two quarters, caping off the head and cutting the antlers. After getting the second and final load over the top where our other gear was, it was already 3:30.

After getting a bite to eat and a breather, it was time to get the load we had on our backs to the truck. Little did we know that the draw we had hunted in on the backside took us further down than I had expected when we came back over. We were a solid four miles from the truck, and with that much weight on our backs, it was a lot of stop and go with taking rests. First was a steep mountain we had to climb up and then a descent down the trail to the trailhead leading back up to the truck. By that time, it was 8:30 p.m. and we still did not have the first load to the truck. We left all of our sleeping gear, food, and water filters back at our first drop. We were completely exhausted, and temps dropped as it got cold. Costa luckily had his headlamp and suggested we leave our gear on the side of the trail and hike the last mile to the truck to get warm and sleep. I am so glad I listened to him because we had water back at the truck, slept warm, and got decent rest.

We woke up the next morning and got our first load back to the truck. The easy part was walking back with empty packs four miles, but the brutal part was coming back heavy. We made it back to the truck with the second and final load right at 8:00 p.m. when it was getting dark. We thought we would be able to do all this in one day, but it took every bit of two days to pack out. I was happy to get back to the truck and head home. Finally getting an appetite back, I was glad there was a spot to get a greasy burger and fries in our stomachs. After looking back and licking our wounds and regaining energy, I would do it all over again.