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Overcoming the Droughts and Fires of Life

February 2019
Story by Jay Evers
State: Utah
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

After a disappointing 2016 New Mexico elk hunt, I was undeterred in my quest for my first bull elk. I talked with a couple of highly recommended outfitters in Utah, and Wade Lemon Hunting came through for me. I had hunted mountain lion with Wade’s outfit before, and they get stuff done!

We had hunted the Central Mountains for lion, and Wade called me earlier in 2018 with a conservation tag for the same general area. I felt confident that Wade would match me with a guide who knew the country. I was happy to invest in Utah’s great outdoors by purchasing this special conservation tag that would allow us to hunt the rut and give me a great opportunity for a nice Utah bull.

Lynn Tuttle was my guide. He is a talented guide, and his family treated me well. Special thanks to Brodie Tuttle for all of his pre-season scouting. Also, Tristan, Easton, and Tyson were great to assist when and where they could on the mountain. Even Steve, Lynn’s brother-in-law, came up to help us one day. This display of “community” reminded me of the South where I was taught to serve others.

On September 13th, I arrived in Salt Lake City from Birmingham, rented my little AWD SUV, and drove down to camp. After arriving and unloading my gear, we hiked out to do some glassing. We saw two satellite bulls and got a glimpse of one nice, big herd bull that had gathered several cows. It was unseasonably warm, which was affecting the rut. We weren’t hearing a lot of bugling, and the bulls didn’t want to leave the cows to engage a challenge call. I was looking forward to the first rifle hunt that opened on Saturday.

The next day, I was up at 5:15 a.m. and out the door with Brodie to glass. The sunrise in the desert was gorgeous, and we saw a couple of average bulls that should be studs next season. However, we had to cut it short because Brodie had to get to school.

We were up at 4 a.m. on Saturday to get up the mountain and into a nasty canyon that had a lot of burn scars and dead timber. We had a great morning with four good bulls spotted and many cows glassed. We passed on a nice 5x6 that would have scored in the 330-340" range. I was looking for a good 6x6 or better.

On Sunday, we were on the mountain before sunrise, and the views were magnificent! We saw two smaller bulls with cows. This trend was concerning to me. We heard two other bulls that would not show themselves. We were going to climb over the top that evening to get into some new areas. This would be a 90-minute hike up to cover about three miles each way. A storm came in and cooled things off. Two bulls came close and then ran back to their cows and moved them.

Monday found us back up and on top of the mountain before daylight. This morning, we went back to a formidable place called “The Bear Hole.” It was a rough day. A sheepherder moved hundreds of animals into this elk canyon with three barking dogs. We saw two smaller bulls and heard what sounded like a couple of bigger bulls. It was very thick and tough country, including working through a lot of burned forests.

In the afternoon, we implemented a “run and gun” plan where we would ride the mountain canyon roads, get out at mountain bases, and set up and call with the hopes of enticing a tending bull to leave his cows to run off a love-sick bachelor bull. We heard four or five bulls, and we saw two bulls that weren’t quite what we were looking to harvest. This had been tough hunting, but we would persevere.

We were on top well before daylight on Tuesday. The weather was cooler this morning, and I was hopeful it would awaken the rut. We were up on a hog’s back where we could glass two opposing, expansive canyons. We hiked up and over into a canyon where we had seen elk before, but we heard nothing. This was not what I would have predicted. We hiked back up to the hog’s back and over to the other canyon. It was a completely different deal! Bulls were screaming. We checked the wind, and the morning thermals were coming up and at our faces. Perfect! We started hiking down the steep face, and we heard multiple bulls bugling like crazy. This was more like it.

Lynn, Easton, and I kept going down and heard three bulls within a quarter mile of each other. It sounded like two herd bulls with cows and one challenging satellite bull. We moved further down, getting closer to the calls that erupted constantly from the three bulls.

After we got within the proximity of a strong bugle that was coming from 100-200 yards, Lynn said, “Is your turret still set at 300 yards?”

I said, “Yes, but I’ve dialed down to 9 power.”

Lynn told me to dial it down to 200 yards as we were getting close. We were so close that we could hear the bulls “drumming.” It was like a bass drum coming from a bull’s chest that told his cows to be still and be alert. We approached a mountain meadow, and one bull with cows was to our left, the bachelor bull down was low and right, and the most vocal bull was above him with his cows and closest to us. We were staying put given there was an opening in front of us. Lynn stopped behind and to the left side of an evergreen and surrounding brush, and I stopped right behind him. He stepped forward and leaned around the evergreen to glass in the direction of the screaming bull.

Lynn said, “Jay, I think he is a shooter and he is facing our direction. Be ready.”

Right then, I stumbled on a rock and thought I had really screwed up, but seconds later, Lynn whispered, “The bull is right there.” I think the sound of the rock had him thinking another bull was there, and he came quickly with the intention of kicking my butt, thinking I was coming in to steal his cows.

I instinctively looked around Lynn’s right shoulder and down the ridge and saw a huge, dark, majestic bull elk with huge fronts. Within seconds, I shouldered my Kimber .280 A.I. Mountain Ascent, knocked off the safety, put the crosshairs on his shoulder, and gently squeezed. Boom! Upon the report of my rifle, everything went into slow motion. I could see the impact, and I could see the bull’s eyes roll back as he fell backwards down the steep face.

This was perfect, harvesting my first bull elk at 40 yards! I got to see him up close and personal, and it was a blessing to experience his presence after listening to his powerful trumpet for almost an hour leading up to the time I intently pulled the two-pound trigger.

We worked down the steep face where he fell about 15 yards down into big, fallen timber. As I approached, I thought that he was everything I had dreamed about. He was spectacular. I squatted down and pulled his heavy head up so that I could pray and give thanks to him for giving his life to me. He would provide many meals for my family and friends. He was not just a trophy; he was to be respected.

After high fives, hugs, and tears, we called Brodie and Tyson on the radio to come to our position to help pack out the big 6x7 bull elk that green scored 352". The five of us were heavy when we started down the mountain with the big bull on our backs.

The mountains are spiritual for me, and there are many parallels in the purity and struggle of mountain hunting and this life on Earth. God puts many “seminars” in front of us each day while we are up there, like fires and drought up on the mountain and down below in our lives. The dry spells will pass, the rains will come, and He will rejuvenate the earth. We will all “green up” after we get to the other side of any obstacle. Just stay after it, and put one foot in front of the other. Sooner or later, we will get to the top!

Besides others already mentioned, I am appreciative of the Willie Ungerman family of Ungerman Meats and Taxidermy. He is a talented craftsman, and I can’t wait for his shipments to arrive. Finally, thank you to my wife and best friend, Kelley, for understanding my mountain habit. Thank you, Lord; you make all things possible.