The year was 1992 and as a fifteen year old I had beaten ridiculous odds and drawn a Monroe elk permit in my home state of Utah. After several missed chances at what were considered very big bulls in those days we discovered a loose scope mount. Once we had that rectified I killed the next bull I shot at, a 300” class 6x6.
Ever since that hunt I have wanted a chance at a so called redemption. The years slowly passed and each year came with the same results, the dreaded “Unsuccessful” letter. During these years I was able to hunt elk in several states and assist many friends and family members on their highly coveted tags.
Finally 18 years later I was going to have my chance! I didn’t know the unit I had drawn as well as I would have liked so my wife, one year old daughter, and brother spent every chance possible learning roads, hiking drainages, and talking to anyone and everyone that would part with information. Scouting proved to be very difficult! The weather was unusually cold and wet, dipping into the single digits at night in the middle of July. We later learned this would actually limit horn growth as bulls finished out their antlers and lacked the nutrition normally available due to the frost bitten vegetation.
With the hunt fast approaching and only one borderline shooter bull seen, I was starting to wonder if the opportunity was going to present itself on a bull worthy of the wait. The week before the hunt I spent everyday on the mountain but one scouting and calling for a friend with an archery tag. It was tough! The bulls were mostly non-responsive to calling and only active for brief periods at dawn and dusk. So much for finding a bull to babysit until the hunt arrived.
Opening morning arrived clear and cold. With no target bull located, my wife and I headed into an area that seemed to hold a high concentration of bulls. First light had us working three bulls but could only convince a small five point to come in to investigate. The next hour or more were quiet as we worked our way further down the ridge. We stopped to eat a snack and between bites I let out a bugle. A couple of bulls bugled back on the ridge above us so we moved in trying to keep the wind in our favor.
It was as if the proverbial switch had finally been turned to “on” as we called in bull after bull for the next four hours! Some as close as five feet! It was a great day even though the best bull we saw was probably 350.
We had a great camp full of family and friends and after an awesome dutch oven dinner we headed out for the evening hunt calling in two more bulls that would push the 360” mark. I elected to pass on both being opening day. I got a lot of ridiculing back at camp as we showed off the video from that evening’s hunt.
Day two we headed into a different area with my wife and nephew Cory along for the adventure. After a long hike in the dark, dawn greeted us with a good number of bulls screaming out their obscenities at one another. What a day this turned out to be! We called in so many bulls it was hard to keep track. We heard three different fights and saw two broken bulls that would have been very tempting had they been fully intact. About noon we stopped to rest and eat. During our 30 minute lunch we even called in three different bulls! One of the bulls we kept after sounded like a hippo but we never could catch a glimpse of him in the thick timber. Finally at about 3 p.m. we had to leave to meet our ride at the bottom of the mountain.
Day three was very windy which made the morning difficult. We did manage to call a 340” bull into about 5 yards. It was quite the sight watching him scream in our faces and then huff and puff right past looking for the cow he knew was there.
Coming back to camp each night was awesome sitting around the fire and listening my friend Dallen’s crazy stories. It really took the pressure off by being able to relax and relive the day’s events. We all agreed we needed to try and i.d. the Hippo bull and continue pounding the area until we did.
The next morning found Misty, Dallen and I heading off in the dark once again. As dawn broke several bulls could be heard issuing challenges back and forth below us. As we moved toward the first deep growling bull we caught a glimpse of him hot after a cow about 150 yards out. At first glance I thought this was the one, until he turned and revealed very short fifths. The bull had everything else and would still probably scare the 370” mark. After some deliberation I decided to let him walk away. A decision I questioned the remainder of the morning.
We called in several more bulls over the next few hours but none that hadn’t broken tines or that even began to tempt me. About 11a.m. we could hear another very deep sounding bull not far off. We moved in above him and I started to work on him. I could see several cows begining to head our way so I prayed he would eventually show himself. Around this same time a bull had snuck in behind us and cut loose an enormous scream. Dallen began excitedly barking “shooter,” “shooter,” “shooter.” I swung myself and my gun around just in time to see a large bull peering over a pine at about 75 yards off. I couldn’t see all of his rack but did notice his eye guards nearly touched. Before I could get a shot he turned and headed down the hill toward the original growler and the cows.
I turned my attention back towards the cows and continued calling softly. Dallen continued to go bonkers behind me about the bull so I knew we needed to get another look. Just then a small five point stole two cows and pushed them right into our laps. This infuriated both bulls as they began a frenzy of bugling and destroying everything in sight. The cows turned and went back to the frenzy leaving the poor five point standing dumbfounded at 25 yards. I continued calling and caught a glimpse of the growler as he turned and pushed a few cows headed away. I called a bit more aggressively and a bull began glunking and working his way back towards us.
Finally about 100 yards out I could see him coming. I could see the touching brow tines and knew it was the bull that had Dallen so wound up. As he dipped under a limb I could see very long tines and tons of mass and made the easy decision to end the 18 year quest. The bull continued up the hill towards us and he passed by at under 25 yards. I leveled the crosshair on his shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The bull lurched into the air as I chambered another round and shot again as he ran out of sight.
The hugs and high fives followed as we relived what had just happened. Even though I knew the bull was hit very hard we decided to give him some time just to be certain. As we topped a little rise I could see him dead and the celebration continued. Words like “nasty” and “unbelievable” were repeated over and over. I was in awe at how fortunate we had been and how lucky I was to have shared such an experience with my dear wife, my family and some great friends!