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October 2023
Story by Pierce Blitch
State: Utah
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

As a non-resident, it took me 20 years to draw this tag – Manti-Central Mountains with a muzzleloader. The wait was worth it. Knee surgery for a meniscus tear from my 2021 elk hunt in Wyoming took place in April 2022, and I was not sure that I was even going to apply for an early hunt. I went ahead and applied anyway when I talked to Wade Lemon at Wade Lemon Hunting and he said this would be mostly a horseback hunt. I had been on a horse for several hunts and was a little surprised when my horse turned out to be a 15 hands mule. It was nice having a good mount on some of the steep mountain trails. It’s tough to train at basically sea level in Augusta, Georgia for a hunt at 7,000-9,000 feet.

We heard or saw three to seven bulls every day but just could not get close. On the fourth day, we trailered the horses/mule to a different trailhead and started just before daylight. We saw a bull with some cows on an opposite hill around 8:30 a.m. and got into position as it looked like they were going to close the distance for us. The bull stayed right with the sun at his back for almost 20 minutes and was difficult to locate except for the occasional bugle. All of a sudden, he stepped out across the way just above some rocks that we had ranged at 285 yards. He was steep uphill at 15-20 degrees, and I had to put the extended bipod and muzzleloader on top of a dead sage and lean back to get enough elevation. I just knew I was going to get scope eye. I had already spun the dial on the Leupold VX5 to 300 yards and sent the 320 grain Fury bullet up the hill. John Jensen, the guide with me at the time, told me that I had missed and to reload. I was almost reloaded when John put his hand on my shoulder and said not to worry, the bull was down.

After the smoke had cleared, John had watched the bull walk downhill a couple of steps, turn to climb back up, and then he backed down and tipped over into the thick oaks. After high fives, we called the head guide, Kim Payne, on the radio and told him we were going to wait 45 minutes. During that time, he rode up and over the adjacent hill and looked down into the oaks to see the bull down. After a 20-minute ride over to the opposite hill, I was finally able to put my hands on this fantastic bull.

A big shout out to LR Customs for the work on my Remington Ultimate Muzzleloader. The Blackhorn 209 pushing the 320 grain Fury bullet at 2230 fps went through and just behind the shoulder at 305 yards. Special thanks to The Girlfriend, Gina Blitch, who lets me go on an adventure every now and again.

The bull rough scored 318 5/8" and is all that I could have hoped for with the muzzleloader. I can’t wait to get back on the mountains again next year for another adventure.