"Eventually you will be in the right place at the right time" is what I kept telling myself all summer. Having hunted elk for over a decade in my favorite hunting spot in the mountains of Western CO, about two years ago I set the goal of shooting a big bull. Every bull I've shot up there has been a young satellite, from 4x4's to 6x6's, just nothing BIG. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I knew that I was familiar enough with the area to start refining my hunting techniques. And to be clear, I had no timeline on my big-bull-goal, it was just “before I die” as this elk country really does not have trophy genetics. I knew it would realistically be a very long time before I dragged a big one out of these mountains.
October 19th finally showed up and me and a buddy backpacked into elk country the day before the 2nd rifle season with our OTC rifle tags. A little scouting at sunset on a knob just behind our camp showed that elk were pretty much all over the place. What we were wondering was how we were going to get close enough for a shot since the elk we were glassing were well out of range.
Opening morning found us on the same oak-covered knob to see where the elk had moved to, with the plan to stalk whatever bulls we happened to find. With a fantastic view in all directions, the mountain swept a couple of miles downhill to the south, and a big canyon of aspens below us to the west with a ridge of gambel oaks beyond.
At first light we spotted a herd moving through the oaks 750 yards below us to the south, and only one young 4x4. As I have never passed up a shot on a legal bull, I really tried to get setup for a shot... no luck. Too many oaks were in the way. I just could not find a steady position to shoot from for this long shot. Before long the bull moved from the clearing, and was gone. With only the one small bull, the two of us, and this early on opening morning, it was not worth abandoning our vantage point to close the distance on the 4x4. At least not yet.
Now this spot where we were sitting was more than just a great vantage point. For years I've glassed this large canyon from far off and watched many elk herds funnel into the aspen forest below us, pushed by hunters several miles to the west. And almost like clockwork from years past, about a dozen shots rang out a couple of miles west of us at about 8:15am. So our attention turned from the herd south of us, to focusing on the western ridge of gambels. After 20 long minutes a couple cow elk started to crawl over the ridge. I ranged the cows at 630 yards and this time was able to lay my backpack over a flat rock, my gun over my backpack, with enough room to lay down prone. I was comfortable with the distance as I had been practicing longer shots all winter, spring and summer. I figured it was worth getting ready in case a bull showed up.
And sure enough about ten or so elk started moving over the western ridge towards us. The oaks were taller than the elk so all we could see were quick flashes of body here and there…. And then we saw the white tips moving through the oaks. The herd was following a game trail, hidden from our view, which fed into a small grove of aspens on the steep hillside. I was laying down prone ready to shoot, and those white tipped antlers just happened to be attached to a very large bodied bull. That bull walked right into a clearing where the oaks met the aspens … and stopped. The excitement of the moment had me more focused on the task at hand rather than exactly how big the bull was, although it was pretty easy to see that he was a good bull.
I had already dialed 11.75 moa into my elevation turret. The entire setup from distance to moa correction to turret adjustment had already been checked several times. The bull was quartered towards me so I aimed hard on his shoulder. With no wind it did not take me long to touch off the shot. With the bullet impact, the bull wheeled around 180 degrees as if he were going to run back the way he came, but just stood there for a brief moment with his huge body tensed up. And then he fell head over hoof down the steep hillside out of sight.
It took a while to walk over to the bull as a direct path was not the easiest way to reach him. His steep tumble had his final resting spot on a flat patch of earth. I suspect he tried one or two unsuccessful steps after his fall. When I was within 50 yards of him I could see how huge he really was. It was exactly the kind of bull I had been dreaming of for years… Now, don’t get me wrong, walk into a Cabela’s and giant bulls are a dime a dozen, most of which are larger than this bull … But thinking back to my first hunt on this mountain in 2000 , thinking how many times this mountain had thoroughly kicked my ass, all the hard earned lessons of patterning these elk herds, I had finally shot a big bull. I was in the right place at the right time. And I was pretty happy about that.
As usual, I had to inspect the shot after I had finished removing the quarters and caping the hide. The Bullet entered his front right shoulder, traveled through both lungs and missed the top of his heart by less than a quarter inch, completely severing his pulmonary artery. The bullet exited the far rear ribcage on the left side. In the picture you can see the exit wound. I had a dead elk so I could not complain about the bullets performance. It’s all about shot placement, right?
My buddy ended up shooting a young 5x6 the next morning and we spent the next 3.5 days packing out. With the truck parked at the top of the mountain at 10,000 feet, our camp setup at 8,800 feet and several miles into the back country, we hiked a whole lot of miles uphill loaded down with elk quarters. Reaching the truck with our last load we were worn ragged, and a cold beer never tasted so good. Our adventure ended with a five hour drive home, just in time for the snow storm to make the garage good and cold for butchering. And as tradition goes, our first dinner at home was elk heart fajitas.
Good story, GREAT pics. What are the guns details? Those pants don't fit with the environment so good.
First off, that is hilarious that you commented about my pants ... you sound exactly like my hunting buddy, and I admit I deserve it. But flat out they are great for packing elk. haha. I'm glad somebody called me on them though.
The gun started out as a Win M70 Extreme Weather SS and it's got a Pac-Nor 24" stainless 338-300 wsm ultralight weight contour barrel. Had all the metal teflon coated. Then I glass bed the action and set the factory trigger to it's lowest setting which is right at 2.75#. I was shooting a Barnes 210 grain TTSX with a 2825 fps muzzle velocity. Never planned with the lightweight barrel for the gun to be all that accurate, but it really shoots. So I topped it with a vortex viper pst 4-16x50.