I just got back from a five-day elk hunt with R&K Hunting out of Coalville, Utah.
I am a relatively new hunter as I have only been hunting for about six years, three of which were in California where I could find no one willing to show me the ropes. We moved to Utah several years ago, specifically so I could hunt. I was able to draw a Dedicated Hunter Tag for buck deer, but elk tags in good zones with a high probability of take are not easy to come by. I’ve talked to many people in Utah who have been waiting 15-20 years to draw a bull elk tag.
I called Huntin’ Fool to discuss my options. I’m not a great offhand shooter, but if I can shoot off a pack or a tripod then I am good to 300 yards. I also wanted my wife to come along on the hunt as she enjoys seeing the animals and cheers me on. I had to call several different outfitters, none of whom were willing to accommodate my wife, before Huntin' Fool referred me to R&K.
I booked my hunt about six months in advance as I wanted to be sure to get a bugle hunt. When I spoke to a guide from R&K, he told me that many of their shots were in the 50-75 yard range, but certainly some were further. He also told me that most of their bulls scored between 270" and 300", which was fine by me since I was not looking for a trophy animal. I just wanted a nice, “average” bull.
We arrived in Coalville on Sunday afternoon, September 10, 2017. It was an unusually warm time up there with temperatures in the low to mid 80s. The lodge there is very comfortable with nice rooms, good showers, Wifi, and excellent food with plenty of it. It’s a very nice setting with trophies of elk, deer, moose, mountain lion, bear, and bison on the walls.
All of the guides were very congenial and helpful. My guide and I butted heads a bit at the start of the week over differing hunting styles. He insisted that we had to hike to get an elk and that I needed to be prepared to shoot offhand from a kneeling or sitting position as there would be little or no time to set up shooting sticks or a tripod. I was used to setting up in an area we knew animals came through and being prepared to shoot.
On the first day of the hunt, we saw four very nice bulls feeding in an open area at a distance of 649 yards, much further than I could shoot, and they moved off into the trees. Although I can hit well with my Remington 700 7mm-08, we would not have been able to get closer than 300 yards and I felt that was a bit marginal to try to take an animal at that distance with that caliber. After two days of hearing but not seeing any bulls, the guide and I sat down and had a meeting of the minds. He told me that we needed to hike and based upon my shooting experience and practice prior to the hunt, he thought I would be able to pull off an offhand hunt either seated or kneeling that would be adequate. I had my personal doubts but was willing to give it a try.
For the next three days, we hiked quite a bit, and again, we heard animals bugling but did not see them. On Friday morning, September 15, 2017, the weather changed dramatically to much cooler temperatures and a lot of rain. We were up on the mountain by 6:30, but we sat in the side-by-side until 7:10 when the rain tapered off. We started hiking down the trail and went about two miles without seeing any sign or hearing any animals. We had just about reached the end of the property and were going to turn around at 8:20 when we heard elk bugling on three sides of us. We spent the next 40 minutes trying to locate the elk, but they were moving continuously and we could not see them, although my wife had a cow elk approach within 10 feet of her.
The guide realized that one group of animals was moving along the ridge to our right, so we took off up the hill, pulling ourselves up with the smaller aspens and manzanita. When we crested the hill, there was a ravine below us that formed a "U" about 100 yards from us. The elk broke out of the aspens and started to run along the rim of the U, and my guide used a cow call and stopped them in their tracks. A very nice bull turned and came back about 40 feet along the trail and stopped again. I took an offhand shot, kneeling at 105 yards. I could see the shot make impact with the bull as he flinched momentarily and ran off into the trees.
We waited about 15 minutes and walked to the spot where we had last seen the bull. We walked 30 feet into the trees in the direction he had gone and found him lying on the ground. He turned out to be the largest bull shot that week and was a 6x6. Although we did not tape him, they estimated he probably scored 290".
We gutted the bull and came down the hill to get help, change into dry clothes, and grab a quick bite to eat. Three more guides went with us back up the hill, and they completely quartered the bull and cut out the back straps, tenderloins, and neck meat. I carried 70 pounds of meat down the hill, and they packed out the rest.
R&K has a very large, cold locker on the property, so my meat and elk head went in there overnight. We took off the next morning and took the meat to Fraughton’s Wild Game Processing in Evanston, Wyoming about 35 minutes away. I took the head to a taxidermist in Salt Lake City, Utah.
All in all, this was a very good hunt for me. My guide worked very hard to get me a bull. If I had not been so set on my way of hunting, the odds are I might have had a chance to get an elk earlier in the week. Of the 20 hunters who started the week with us, not all were hunting elk, but everyone got what they came for, whether it was an elk, a mulie, or a moose.
Here’s how I would score the operation:
Quality of meals: A+
Quantity and variety of food: A+
Cleanliness of lodge: A- (it’s tough to keep carpeted areas clean)
Comfort of lodge: A+
Quality of guides: A+
Opportunity to take an elk: A
Utah Elk Hunting