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November 2019
Story by Rob Jensen
State: Utah
Species: Bison, Elk - Rocky Mtn

2018 turned out to be a banner year in Utah. After years of trying to pull an upper end premium bull elk tag there, I finally came to the decision to draw the Central Mountains, Manti unit on a multi-season tag. My wife was also on the threshold of drawing a bison tag, so we figured why not apply for that also?


May came, and to our surprise, we pulled both my elk tag and my wife drew the bison tag for the Book Cliffs. At that point, preparations began. I started scouring maps and talking to as many people as possible. We learned more about the unit and areas that hold elk than we figured. On July 4th, we finally made the first scouting trip. After glassing for a few hours, we finally turned up a decent bull above Scofield.


August 18th came along for the opener of the bow hunt. Our plan A on the opener was overrun with fellow hunters. It seemed like everyone, like us, was scared away from the northern end of the unit because of the Coal Hollow fire. Around mid-morning, we finally said enough of the crowds and moved up north. The morning of the 25th came, and we were walking into an area we knew had elk. My nephew, Jerry, looked into a clearing and said, “There’s a bull, a big bull!” We spent the next 30 minutes watching five bulls feeding, with one bigger bull in the mix. We figured he was a solid 340-350" bull. As we watched him rip apart a small quakie, I jokingly told the rest of the guys that I didn’t want to make a stalk on him because I didn’t want the hunt to end so soon. I wanted to hunt as much as possible on this hunt, because it’d likely be the last elk hunt I ever did in the state of Utah. I didn’t know how much those words would come back to haunt me.


The week of the rifle hunt finally came. One of our friends told us about an absolute monster bull in Manti canyon. We made plans to switch areas and give him a shot. Opening morning came along. We were in as good of position as we could have been but never saw the bull. Panic started setting in. I figured the early rifle would have been the best hunt, but that was definitely wrong. The next morning, we hit an area outside Stirling that our buddy had told us to try. First light found us on elk. The deadfall in the canyon made it next to impossible to get on them quick enough, though. We saw plenty of bulls and cows, and I passed up a shot on a 330 class bull.


We kept on it for the rest of the rifle hunt. Conditions stayed hot and dry, and the elk stayed quiet. We ended up back up north around Scofield, fighting the sheep. The early rifle season ended, and the muzzleloader season began. Things kept up the same with hot and dry conditions and quiet elk. No big quality bulls were to be found. The final day of the muzzleloader hunt, my brother and I gave it one last go. We got on a big bull with massive amounts of webbing on the tops of his antlers. I would have gladly harvested him, but he only offered a shot on his hind quarters.


Along came the midseason rifle hunt. The hunt was starting to get exhausting. My buddy said he’d found a really nice bull while scouting for spike elk in Manti Canyon and invited me up to try to harvest him opening morning. The elk moved overnight, and that bull hit the thickest patch of the canyon as soon as the first shots rang out. The weather had also taken a turn. We attempted to make another try on the elk above Stirling the next morning and had fogged in conditions with snow on the ground. The roads had turned to solid mud. I hunted alone a couple of days, trying to find elk, and finally found higher concentrations around Huntington Canyon. I got on one nice bull but just couldn’t seal the deal.


I came to the decision, along with everyone else, to give the elk a rest for one weekend and get the Book Cliffs bison hunt out of the way. We’d been out on that unit enough the past few years that we figured it would be a slam dunk hunt. My wife and I decided to let our nephew we were raising have the opportunity to kill the bull with Utah’s youth mentoring program. We signed the tag over to him.


Opening morning came, and the entire hunting party was where we had traditionally seen the bison. We kept pushing. And driving. And glassing. Every canyon, every patch, every gully where we’d seen the animals before were deserted. Finally, at about 4:00 in the afternoon, we found them.


We started the stalk. My nephew, my brother, my wife, and I all went and left my son-in-law, Ron, at the truck, watching them. We kept stalking slow, hit the cedar line, and moved down. We hit the spot we figured the bison would be at, and there they were 30 yards away. The bison started getting anxious, and Jerry told Jamey to go ahead and kill the bull closest to us. He figured it was about the biggest bull there. Jamey put one right behind his shoulder and absolutely leveled him with his 25-06. I never figured a bull would drop like that with that small of a gun. The bull wasn’t the biggest we’d ever seen there, but it was definitely the biggest in the herd. We took care of the bull as quick as we could but still got out of there after dark. We pulled into Clay Meier’s at 12:30 at night, and they graciously took in the animal to hang it.


The next morning, I got up at 3:30 with my brother and nephew, Jerry, in tow. We went over the top of Huntington Canyon and parked on the canyon we wanted to try before first light. As soon as we could see, we were on the elk. Bulls and cows were everywhere. Bulls were screaming in every patch. Horse hunters above us kicked an extremely large bull with 40 cows, and I tried a shot at him. I missed. I’d fallen a few times and bumped my scope without realizing it. I hit way under him. It was a massive disappointment. I held off on hunting until I could have my gun looked at.


I continued hunting the same area. I kept talking to other hunters who were seeing elk. I’d constantly hear, “There was a 340 inch bull over here 20 minutes ago!” and “There’s a 350 inch up that canyon on 30 cows!” I kept pushing and hunting. I met one great guy named Eric who really helped out and offered to help on the late hunt if it came to it.


The final day of the midseason hunt came, and I was on a couple large bulls with cows. The bulls would keep screaming but wouldn’t come out. The snow was waist deep, so I couldn’t push to them. It ended in a stalemate.


I was worried headed into November. The words I’d said in August about wanting to hunt every single hunt kept haunting me. We went up the first weekend in November to try one last time for a spike for my nephew with his muzzleloader. We found a couple 6-points tucked away in a slot canyon. One was a very nice 340” bull. The other dwarfed him. We left them with plans to be back on the opener of the late rifle hunt the next weekend.


The bulls left for the opener. The next day, we were back at it with a fresh layer of snow on the ground. A small 5-point was in the slot canyon, but the two bigger bulls disappeared. He stuck around the next few days as I kept hunting the area. I hunted further north, and I got into elk. I jumped a 340 class bull but couldn’t kill. I hunted with Eric in areas he’d normally seen bulls in in November, but we just couldn’t find them. I talked to some other guys who graciously said they’d help find me a bull that lived on the unit.


My brother and I went out with them Friday to try to find a decent bull. We saw more elk with them that day and the next than we’d seen the whole hunt. We tried to get on a couple bulls without any luck at all. As we were headed out on the highway on top Saturday night, we looked uphill and pulled off the road in a hurry. There were elk. With 45 minutes of shooting light left, we put the spotting scope on them and the bull was a stud. We ran uphill and got into position, and I eased the crosshairs onto the bull. I squeezed off on the bull, and he dropped like a rock. Finally. After 50 days of hunting, hundreds of miles on all of our boots, and countless hours glassing, I’d finally taken my bull.


It was the hunt-of-a-lifetime. I wouldn’t change anything about it. I had moments when I regretted saying I wanted to hunt every hunt. It worked out for the best, though. I spent months up on the mountain with my family in some of Utah’s most scenic country. I harvested the bull-of-a-lifetime, which was miraculously unbroken, in November with one of the prettiest capes I’ve ever seen on an elk. That was just icing on the cake for an epic year of hunting.

Utah Elk Hunting