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Over-the-Counter Payoff

May 2023
Story by Skyler Barnett
State: Idaho
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

It all started on December 1st with the Idaho over-the-counter tag sale. As many know, the process can be more than a little hectic. The unit I desired and hunted last year sold out seconds before my turn was up. Since my friends and my dad were luckily enough to get the tags, I decided to get a unit right next to it that was still available.

Fast forward to October and several days before the season started. We set up my wall tent in my friends’ unit, but I was still close enough to my unit that I thought it would work for me. Later that evening, my dad and I scouted his unit but were unable to find anything. The temperatures were extremely warm, around 70-80 degrees, making everything really dusty and dry, which was the complete opposite of last year when we were lucky to hit 40 degrees.

The next day, I went to scout my unit, and my dad and my friends, Tyler and Jordan, went to scout theirs. I spent the whole day going up as many roads as I could. I soon found out that even though my camp was close to my unit, there really wasn’t any country that looked suitable for elk until I was two and a half to three and a half hours away. This led me to question whether or not it was possible to hunt knowing that I would have to drive five to six hours roundtrip every day. I eventually went to one of the few stores in this area and asked if it was possible to turn in my tag. I figured I could help my friends and my dad out instead and maybe kill a wolf or bear in the process. Luckily, the guy running the counter had no idea how to return tags and the lady who did wouldn’t be back for a few hours. I decided to keep my tag and tough it out. I would soon find out this was the best decision I could ever make.

As I got back to camp, I told my dad and my friends that I almost turned my tag in and the distance I would have to go to hunt. I made a plan to wake up really early and try my best.

The next morning, I wished my friends and my dad luck and left camp by 3:00 a.m. As I drove through my unit, I had five spots marked on my onX that I thought would be good. It turned out so did everyone else as every spot had two or more rigs parked at it. I finally made my way to my last spot, which, lucky for me, didn’t have anyone parked at it. I got out and spent the next several hours hiking an eight-mile loop back to my rig. The only thing I saw were a lot of mule deer and whitetail.

At 1:00 p.m., I made my way down the last canyon towards my truck. I decided to take a break as it was over 70 degrees and the burn I was going through offered no shade. I put my gun and my backpack down and then I sat down. I had just started to drink some water and eat a Cliff bar when, to my absolute shock, a bull came walking towards me less than 70 yards away. By the time I grabbed my gun and clicked the safety off, the bull was only 50 yards away. I could tell he was a 6x6, and I really thought he was 310-320", which I was more than happy to take. I pulled up my 6.5 PRC Christensen Arms and squeezed the trigger. The smack echoed through my ears, and I knew he had been hit. As I loaded the next shot, the bull stood motionless. I knew he was hit good, but I also didn’t want him to go anywhere. Right as I squeezed the trigger again, the bull fell forward and hit the ground, causing my shot to hit him in the guts. Either way, I was still happy as he was down.

As I made my way down to him, I couldn’t believe how big he really was. His thirds were over 20" long. I knew I had just killed the biggest bull of my life and with an over-the-counter tag to boot. I started to take pictures and found out it is way harder to take pictures of your animal by yourself than I thought. I had to take rocks and prop up my EXO backpack and then put rocks on top of my backpack to hold my phone in place. I managed to get a few good pictures and a lot of bad ones. I then quartered the elk and put the pieces in bags and packed the head and cape out. By the time I reached the truck, it was dark. I headed back to camp, getting back around 10 p.m. My dad was fast asleep, but my two buddies were still up. I casually asked them how their day went, in which they replied they didn’t see much but they did help a person get a deer. With a smile on my face, I told Tyler I needed help caping out my monster bull. They both looked at me like, “Yeah, right.” I replied that it was in the back of the truck. They asked how big he was, and I lied and said maybe 330". As they opened the canopy, they both looked at me and said, “You gotta be kidding me! That’s way over 330 inches!” Jordan couldn’t wait to score it in the tent, and I woke up my dad, who couldn’t believe what I had just killed.

The bull ended up officially scoring 376 5/8" gross and 370 4/8" net. The next day, Tyler helped me pack out the rest of the bull, and several days later, Tyler and Jordan ended up getting their bulls. Two weeks later, I was able to get another nice 6-point in Colorado with Tyler. Luckily, my brother-in-law, Pat, and my friends, Jesse and Jake, were all able to help me pack it out. We had a great time and can’t wait to go back next year. As Huntin’ Fool always states, it can really pay off to hunt some of these over-the-counter tags.