It was nearly 12:00 am as we had just finished topping off the coolers and loading the remainder of our gear. I gave my wife and kid’s a hug goodbye and my brother and I headed for the truck. As my house became a distant blur in the rear view mirror, we were officially on our way to that long sought after place we like to call hunting camp. Wide awake, full of energy and with only a couple hour drive between us and the great mountains we love to roam, we could not wait to see what this journey had in store for us. After waiting what seemed like a lifetime, my brother had finally regained his Wyoming residency and we were pumped and ready to go.
The pavement beneath the wheels quickly turned to dirt and that meant one thing, we were getting close. With just a short stretch of rough two track road to overcome, we were all but golden. As we rounded the corner and made our final descent, the once abandoned campsite was instantly consumed by our approaching headlights. Now almost 3:00 am we promptly set up camp and retired to our beds knowing that we had just a few short hours before sunrise.
The alarm sounded and we sprung from our beds with the minute amount of energy we had accumulated from our very short but much needed rest. Although we were tired and worn down from the previous night’s events, it was the opening day of archery and nothing was going to hold us back. We stuffed our packs with food and water, grabbed our bows and made our way to an ever so familiar vantage point to put our optics to work. The sun was just starting to make an appearance over a distant ridge behind us. Lucky for us we had already spotted a nice bull with a bunch of cows on a hillside to our east, and what appeared to be two nice muley bucks feeding on a finger ridge a couple miles ahead. With both deer and elk tags in our pockets we had to make a decision and we had to make it quick. The stalking opportunity on the mule deer looked to be very promising and we both decided we couldn’t pass it up so we made our move. As we got closer, we decided to split up in hopes of putting the odds in our favor. I cut across and slowly closed the gap from above the bucks, while my brother worked his way down and across to a possible escape route we thought they might use if things didn’t go as planned. I knew I was getting extremely close and as I peered over the edge all I could see was antlers. I leaned back out of sight, knocked an arrow, and slowly rose to my knees in an effort to get a shot off. As I began to draw back, the smaller of the two bucks caught my movement. Both bucks spooked crashing to the bottom of the canyon in the direction I had last seen my brother. The first stalk of the season was a bust. We saw several nice bulls and a few good bucks over the course of the next few days, but unfortunately we ended up going home empty handed on first outing of the season.
Due to conflicting work schedules, we made separate alternating 3 to 4 day solo hunts back into the same country. It just wasn’t the same hunting without each other, but we made the best of it by keeping each other informed on what we had been seeing and where they were hanging out. In the mix of all of this my wife had won tickets to a Luke Bryan concert and had made plans to go with some friends of ours. With hunting consuming my every thought I had to break down and ever so kindly reject her offer to accompany them. Holy crap! Did I really just do that? Talk about feeling extremely guilty and selfish. She will understand right? Thankfully my wife is very understanding of my hunting addiction and invited her sister to go in my place. Thanks babe, I sure love you for taking one for the team.
My first solo hunt started off great. The first morning I spotted exactly what I had been looking for, a couple of really nice bulls and two really nice bucks. In particular a nice non typical muley that I named the crown buck for his unique third point that he had between his G2 and G3 on his right side that resembled a crown. Following him like a shadow was his buddy I named Heavy 4 for the impressive mass he carried throughout his typical four point frame. I watched these bucks feed, studying their every movement until they finally bedded down. Now it was game on. I circled around and above the bedded bucks and dropped off my pack. Next thing I knew there was a rag horn 4X5 bull working his way up the hill towards me. I thought about trying to make this a two for one stalk opportunity, but quickly decided against it. I knew that the bedded bucks would surely hear the bull crash through the trees if I had shot him, and more than likely they would have headed for cover. So I opted to pass on this bull at 20 yards and waited for him to feed off. I then continued my stalk in pursuit of the bedded bucks, only to find two empty beds. I was, however, able to relocate the bucks. I kept an eye on them for the next few days but was never presented with another stalk opportunity, just some great video footage.
The last night of the trip I found myself in one of my favorite, most reliable elk honey holes. Over the years I have had some incredible encounters with numerous giant bulls in this particular spot, and because of that it has become one of my go to areas. The fact that I had passed on an amazing trip to a great concert with my wife and good friends had led me to believe that I really had to make something happen or they would never let me live it down. So with a reduced cow/calf tag in my possession and a golden opportunity presented before me, I made the best of the situation and harvested a cow elk with my bow at 64 yards. With some great encounters, some nice animals located for the next scheduled trip, and some meat heading home to fill the freezer, this short but sweet solo outing turned out to be a great one. I knew it would be just a matter of time before I was back at it again. However, this time the bucks had better keep their distance because the bow would be left at home and the rifle would be up to bat.
My last night of work couldn’t get over fast enough. All I could think about all week long was returning to the mountains in hopes of harvesting either the crown buck or Heavy 4. Finally I was able to make the trip once again, and I knew it was going to be another late night since I didn’t arrive at my campsite until midnight. On top of that, I was at it again solo and had to take on the task of setting up the wall tent alone and in the dark. After an hour and a half of assembling what was now my new home for the next few days, it was time to light the pellet stove and acquire some much needed rest. I lay down on my cot and watched as the reflections of the flames from inside the stove danced across the tent wall. The fresh aroma of burnt pine and the soothing resound of the pellet burner from across the tent generated complete serenity. Life just doesn’t get much better than this.
I awoke later that morning as the bright sun’s rays pierced through the pines and engulfed the tent with an immense amount of light. Are you kidding me? I couldn’t believe that I had actually slept in. To make matters worse, the unexpected and delayed morning seemed to be only a start to the unfortunate events that soon followed. The deer that once roamed the nearby hills had seemed to have completely vanished and it had left me frustrated and in a state of confusion. The only rational conclusion that I could come up with, was that the hunting pressure during the opening week of rifle season, had pushed them into more secluded and remote country. So that is exactly where I headed. I hiked a few miles off the beaten path and before I knew it I was back into the animals. I have always enjoyed exploring new country, I just didn’t expect to or necessarily want to do so at this point in the game with only two days left to hunt. As I sat on a knife ridge overlooking the beautiful country I had just discovered, a nice extremely heavy six point bull fed out of the pines just a short 25 yards from me. As impressive and as welcoming of a sight as it was, to see this giant up close and personal in this beautiful country that he called home, I couldn’t get the crown buck and Heavy 4 off my mind. As magnificent and as promising as this newly discovered country appeared to be, something just didn’t feel quite right. My gut instinct was telling me to return to the finger ridge where I had watched the bucks all September long. I had hunted the finger ridge hard the previous two days and didn’t turn up anything bigger than a young spike. Why was I feeling so strongly about going back? I wasn’t quite sure but I knew it was the right thing to do.
I threw on my pack, slung my rifle over my shoulder, and began the long trek back out and to the top of the main ridge. From there, I worked my way back over to the finger ridge. Instead of working my way horizontally over from the south side like I normally did, I decided to drop in straight from the top of the ridge and work my way down. I had just cleared the thick timber at the top of the ridge and was now working my way across the large open sagebrush face. I caught movement in the trees off to my right and quickly shouldered my rifle to get a better look. The buck only a short 70 yards away, was quartering away from me, but I was immediately able to identify him as the Heavy 4. Undetected and with the wind in my favor, I cautiously watched the buck feed while I waited to see if the crown buck was with him. As time passed by with no sight of the crown buck and with the sun now quickly on its downward descent, I settled my crosshairs behind the shoulder of Heavy 4 and pulled the trigger. The bullet flew true penetrating both lungs and the buck dropped instantly in his tracks. Extremely excited about harvesting one of the bucks that was ultimately on my hit list overwhelmed me with a huge sense of accomplishment. It was truly an amazing and rewarding experience. I could not believe that everything had finally come together and that this was the end result to an unbelievable hunt. What a dream come true! After taking it all in, I snapped some quick photos and immediately began breaking the buck down into quarters as the sun disappeared over the ridge and out of sight. With a heavy pack full of meat strapped to my back and sporting an impressive set of antlers, I knew the hard work was just about to begin. I took in a deep breath and began the heavy haul back to the top of the ridge, making my way back to camp.
The following morning I loaded up my gear and headed for home, another successful hunt now in the books. I couldn’t wait to see my family, and I was also excited to fill my brother in on the news. Although he wasn’t there personally to share this harvest with me, I still believe he was a big part of my success on this hunt. It was great to be able to hunt with him again this year and I truly cherish the time we get to spend together, doing what we love most. To my wife and friends, Justin and Amber, I want you to know that a small part of me really wishes I would have been there to enjoy the concert with you. However, there is a time and place for a concert and for me that is not during the middle of hunting season. I hope reading about this incredible journey that I endured, helps you understand why I made the decision I did, but if not just know that I was simply following my “Gut Instinct.”