Growing up in a family that centered their annual vacations around the hunting season taught me at an early age to appreciate the outdoors and the family time spent together. This year marked my 19th year applying for a Utah limited-entry elk tag. I spent hours leveraging all the resources I had to calculate the right unit, weapon, and season to finally draw my tag.
The draw approached, and soon I received my long-awaited email notifying me I was indeed “SUCCESSFUL.” As luck would have it, one of my best friends, Eric, drew an early season rifle tag for the adjacent unit and the dates for his hunt would line up the nine days prior to my hunt. My sweet wife knew when the month of September hit, I would be somewhere on the elk mountain. I held on to my vacation and planned a few weeks off to help my friend on his hunt and then transition over to my hunt as soon as he finished.
In anticipation of my hunt, I began preparation, from dialing in my new CVA Paramount muzzleloader paired with the SIG Sauer BDX riflescope system to trips to the unit to learn and understand more of the terrain, trail systems, and animal habits. Countless friends and acquaintances offered me advice, met me on the mountain, and combed over onX to provide insight into historical elk patterns and drainages to focus on.
Over the coming months, we received pictures for both units of bulls we dreamed of. One bull that Eric had a picture of was a unique bull with a split beam on his right side. This bull had such incredible character and qualities about him that I thought how crazy it would be if I could see something like that on my hunt?
Labor Day weekend arrived, and my 15-year-old son and I took a trip up to the mountain. Visits with multiple archery hunters and an early season rifle hunter caused some concern as the conditions were hot and dry with many of the historical watering holes having dried up, pushing the elk into different areas. Setting up on various glassing points, we were able to turn up a few smaller bulls off in the distance, but overall, the anticipation of seeing multiple bulls and hearing pre-rut action on this scouting trip left much to be desired.
An acquaintance of my brother reached out and sent a video of a bull they had filmed in the days leading up to Labor Day. As I zoomed in, I could see a distinct split beam on his right side. I sent the video to my friend who had the rifle tag in the adjacent unit. He connected the dots that this was definitely the bull he had a picture of. The bull had traveled over 20 miles to my hunting unit, and I immediately shifted my thoughts to hopes and dreams of finding this bull in a couple of weeks when the hunt started.
Opening day of the limited-entry early rifle season came, and I headed up to join Eric for his hunt. The prospects of locating several trophy class bulls had us buzzing with confidence and excitement, thinking of how many bulls would we pass on before we found the shooter bull he was hoping for. After spotting a few bulls opening day and missing one opportunity at a great bull, we still had high hopes of a great hunt.
The next few days came and went with limited rut activity, a few smaller bulls located, and countless miles on the machines checking water sources and trails for sign. On Thursday, I headed home after the morning hunt to retrieve my equipment for my hunt. I headed back up first thing Friday morning, hoping to hear some good news from Eric. He was still holding out hope the rut would kick into high gear and they would be able to turn up the bull he was hoping for. I was able to get camp set up on my unit and decided to head back over for the evening hunt with my friend. After all, we had dreamed of doing this together and I did not want to let his hunt pass by without doing all I could to help him fill his tag.
That evening, I heard multiple bulls from my glassing point, but another evening passed by without success. With a heavy heart, I headed back to my camp and told Eric I would head right over if he found success the next day. Unfortunately, he ended up going home empty-handed.
With opening day for my hunt approaching rapidly on Monday morning, I worked hard Saturday and Sunday to turn up some elk. My brothers, my dad, and a family friend all came in Sunday and we divided into teams in an attempt to locate some action for opening morning. After hearing some bulls and returning to camp, my brother shared some footage of a bull they had seen close to dark. We decided to head to that area in the morning.
Limited sleep and the realization that the day I had waited for my entire life was only a few short hours away had me anxious to have my alarm light up. We jumped out of bed when it was time and gathered our equipment. My dad and our friend, Troy, headed to an overlook we were at the evening before. My brother, Brian, and brother-in- law, Matt, went to the point where they had seen the bull the night before. My brother, Eric, and I headed just a couple miles north of Matt and Brian. After a hike over the next hour, we hadn’t heard or seen anything. Holding tight on the ridgetop, we got news that Brian and Matt had some activity in the canyons below them. We headed straight off the ridge and down the drainage towards them.
Over the next few hours, we were in the thick of rutting elk. Passing on a lone 6-point bull, we headed down the canyon and over the next ridge. Following bugles, we found ourselves sitting within 400 yards of an elk frenzy. Three bulls converged with their cows, and we watched anxiously as cows, spikes, and these bulls went in and out of the trees. Soon, the large 5-point emerged from the trees victorious and took 21 of the 23 cows that had combined to form one large herd. We sat for nearly two hours and watched.
Over seven miles later and numerous elevation changes, we found ourselves back at the machines and headed back to camp to take a brief break. Eric couldn’t hold still very long as he asked for a glassing point to head to so he could try to find a shooter. With the help of onX, I sent him up to a vantage point. Not quite 30 minutes after he left camp, we got a message that he had located a nice 6x7 that was pushing some cows. We immediately gathered up our gear and headed out. On our way, our good friend, Nate Spencer, was out glassing for deer and reached out. To our surprise, he had just located the split beam bull a couple thousand yards away bedded down. In a moment of elation, we shifted course and headed his way. Upon arrival, he had his spotting scope set up and we took a quick look, noting that he had three cows with him. We studied the terrain and where our best chance would be. We grabbed our gear and headed out.
A wide-open flat lead up to a section of junipers that ran 600-700 yards wide at the base of the hill. Over the next two and a half hours, we maneuvered through the junipers. At one point, I found myself within 300 yards of where the bull was bedded, but he was on a shelf and I could not see him. If I stayed put and waited him out, there was a strong chance he would head out the opposite direction and I would never see him. I backed out slowly, and Matt, Brian, and I retreated back through the junipers to seek another vantage point.
While sneaking from juniper to juniper, I came around one in particular and noticed the cows had stood up and were locked onto us on alert. Knowing we would not be able to work any closer, I knelt down and set up the tripod and gun while Brian settled in behind me under a tree. The bull stood up and came out through the brush. I ranged, placed him in my sights, and calmly pulled the trigger. Smack! The first shot hit him right behind the shoulder. His cows headed to the left, and he turned to follow them. Moving slowly, he let out a massive bugle in an attempt to calm his small harem. I placed the sight high on his shoulder and pulled the trigger. After the smoke cleared, I watched him stagger from the direct impact. Soon, he lay down on the hillside and I knew he wasn’t going anywhere. We headed up the face of the steep mountain, and creeping up to a rock outcropping, I peeked over the top. I could see him bedded above us. I aimed and fired the final shot to put him down.
Nineteen years of emotions hit me, and I sat in silence on the mountain. My first thought was to call my wife who had supported me year in and year out with my hunting passion. After letting her know the news, Matt and I sat there for some time pondering what had just happened. Appreciation for this magnificent animal and years of memories and feelings filled my mind. I was so grateful for my brothers, Dad, and friends who were there to share this moment with me. The conclusion of my hunt found me with the bull-of-a-lifetime, an animal I previously could only dream of, and a story I will never forget.