2017 LRH Group Elk Hunt Trip Report
By Andy Backus
This year we had a great group of guys join my dad and me for the 2017 Group Elk Hunt with Non-Typical Outfitters. We all met up at camp on Thursday afternoon October 26th. The first order of business was to check our zeros shooting off a solid bench on paper targets.
Non-Typical makes a point of having steel targets at most of their camps set up for shooting out much farther and many of the hunters took the opportunity to validate their systems out as far 700 yards. What a luxury it is to be able to confirm that everything is perfectly dialed in just before starting a hunt.
The first evening in the cook tent there was a great positive energy and lots of chatter as we all got to know each other. Later in the hunt one of the hunters mentioned to me that one of the things he really liked about coming on our group hunt was that there was a real feeling of belonging and comfort right from the beginning with the group. He'd been on several outfitted hunts in the past by himself and said it seemed like it usually took a few days before the ice had been broken and he could start to feel comfortable. But on the group hunt he felt comfortable right from the beginning.
After the delicious meal prepared by Dr. Brenda Wiley, Robb Wiley went over some of what the hunters should expect over the next days. He told us that, unfortunately the weather did not look ideal as it was forecast to remain warm and sunny. He warned us that elk sightings would most likely be at a minimum and for very short periods at first and last light and that the elk would most likely spend much of their time hidden in the dark timber on North facing slopes. He suggested that holding out for a giant bull might not be the best idea on this hunt but we would all have to make the decision for ourselves if and when opportunities presented themselves.
Lights came on in the tents around 4:30 the next morning and after breakfast the hunters headed out with their guides. Some rode right out of camp and others trailered horses for awhile before riding. My dad and I hunted together with Robb as our guide and we trailered for about 20 minutes before mounting our horses. Non-Typical hunts an enormous area and trailering out from camp allows them to get their hunters to where the animals are.
The air was crisp and the stars were glorious as we rode that first morning. I couldn't help but smile as we rode, just savoring the feeling of being on a hunt in the stunning Rockies with two of my favorite people. We rode for a half hour or 45 minutes gaining quite a bit of elevation before tying up our horses and continuing up the side of a draw on foot. As we snuck along the edge of the timber we heard a bugle from somewhere up in the distance. We worked our way to a glassing spot and spent the rest of the morning glassing the broken timber slopes around us. We spotted a few deer and a cow elk or two.
We relocated later in the morning and spent the afternoon glassing some meadows and timbered North facing slopes. Late in the afternoon we spotted a group of cows and a couple bulls dropping down the North facing slope across from us into the bottom where a young bull was screaming his head off. We snuck into a position where we hoped the elk would work across and up towards us but they never did. The wind direction and loud, crunchy conditions would not allow us to drop down and go after them but we were treated to what sounded like a rut fest going on to end the day. The hike down the mountain leading the horses was strenuous and we were glad to be back at camp for supper.
When we got back to camp we learned that Marshall, who had been brought on the hunt by his retired police officer dad Jim, had killed a nice 5x5 bull with a shot in the 600 yard range. His guide told me that before he decided to take the shot he asked his dad if it was bigger than the bull his brother had taken with their dad earlier in the year. When Jim said yes, Marshall pulled the trigger and the smiles on their faces explain the rest.
We also learned that Joe, a Marine stationed in California, had killed a nice 6x6 with his 33 Nosler that he purchased from my dad at Long Range Rifles, LLC ealier in the year. Joe had joined us for our Shooting Classes with Non-Typical Outfitters in August and he told me that he used one of the exact positions we had taught him to kill his bull at around 280 yards. Joe and his guide were foot hunting along the side of a draw when his guide spotted the bull in an avalanche chute across the draw and they immediately knew it was a shooter. As is often the case in the mountains, the opportunity was not going to last long so Joe had to get set up and make the shot very quickly. We chatted about how difficult the whole thing would have been had he not learned so much about getting set up for shooting in the mountains during our classes.
That evening we also learned that one of the hunters had passed on a decent 5x5 wanting to hold out for a bigger bull and another hunter missed a shot at one of the biggest bulls guide Barney had ever seen in the area due to a ranging error. Some of the hunters actually saw quite a few elk that first day but they were too far to go after and some hunters saw little or even no elk. This would continue throughout the hunt as some guys saw tons of elk and some guys were frustrated to not see many at all. But all in all it was a very successful first day.
After my hunt was over I ran into a group of local hunters hiking down to their truck who said they had not seen an elk all season and it was the toughest hunting conditions they could ever remember. Considering those comments our group really did extremely well both in bulls killed and in elk sightings on this hunt.
On hunt day two my dad decided to take the day off as he was nursing a leg injury that hadn't fully healed by the start of the hunt and some of our rugged hikes the first day had flaired it up a bit. Robb and I had a wonderful day together. We started our morning off by heading back to where we had ended the day before. As our horses climbed the steep mountain trail Robb stopped and motioned to me that something was up ahead. I dismounted and grabbed my rifle all in one motion and was seated with my rifle rested on my shooting sticks in an instant. Robb explained that we had bumped some cows and he was watching them to see if they had a bull with them. I stayed ready to shoot until he told me they were gone and there was no bull. My juices were flowing though.
Soon after reaching our main glassing location we heard elk bugling down in the bottom again so we decided to work our way over to a new vantage point. We quickly spotted a small bull and some cows about 500 yards away part way up into the draw we were now at the edge of. As we watched them for awhile Robb suddenly scrambled for his spotting scope and glassed one drainage over to a small meadow. Over the next half hour five bulls made their way out into the meadow and we could tell right away that four of them were shooters. As we watched, two pairs of the bulls began to spar at the same time. What a cool sight!
Robb and I discussed our options and decided we would head back to camp, grab a quick lunch and work our way over to hunt the drainage that included the small meadow the five bulls had been in. As we loaded up the horses and got ready to leave Robb spotted a group of elk one drainage over in the other direction with a very nice shooter bull. We watched them head for the timber and decided we would still head over after the five bulls.
As luck would have it the bulls never came out into the meadow that afternoon or evening but i did spot a decent bull in a small gap in the timber higher up the mountain. And just before dark we heard a loud racket heading our way and a small heard of cows with a spike bull worked its way out into the open below us. If only there was a nice bull with them it would have been a 200 yard chip shot!
When we got back to camp we learned that Bob from Virginia had killed the best bull of the week! Bob had joined us for the shooting classes also and told us he too used one of the shooting positions he learned and practiced all summer at home to take his trophy bull at around 550 yards if I remember correctly. One of the other hunters, Charles, was with him and later told me that after Bob shot his bull they discovered there was an entire herd of elk hiding in the brush and timber near him that scattered, and they estimated that they saw 100 elk.
Charles was the brother-in-law to Jon who had brought Charles, Jon's dad Bill, and Jon's 13 year old son Nathan on the hunt. They were all from Virginia also and discovered that Bob's family farm was about 5 miles away from theirs in the middle of nowhere. What a small world!
On the morning of day three Robb's plan was to take my dad and me up and over the top of the mountain peak above the meadow the five bulls had been in previously. He knew there was a hidden sanctuary up there and he thought the bulls were living in it. We trailered the horses up a steep, bumpy two-track and then rode up from there.
The ride up was pretty epic with deep snow for the last half hour under clear skies with amazing stars and the moon lighting the way. We tied our horses up just below the summit and slowly snuck over the top. Almost immediately I spotted an elk moving in a gap in the timber but it disappeared too quickly to see what it was. A short while later Robb spotted a bull and told me to get ready. I got a quick look at it and decided it was a little too small. As far as I could tell the bull had no idea we were there and I wanted to figure out what the first elk was. Little did I know that Robb had already seen the multiple mule deer bucks and does starting to bust out of the area and before I knew it the opportunity was gone.
Robb was a little frustrated with me because I had told him I would be happy with a 5x5 and it was a 5x5. He got that famous Robb Wiley look of determination on his face and headed down the mountain towards the small meadow the five bulls had been sparring in. My dad and I had to hustle to keep up with him.
As we snuck through a small patch of timber and came to a steep drop off on the downhill side Robb spotted a shooter bull in a gap in the timber at the far side of a small hidden meadow below. It was obvious that this was going to be another of those mountain hunting situations where time was going to be very limited. The bull only needed to take a couple steps and he would disappear.
I pulled my backpack off and plopped down in the snow while deploying my shooting sticks. Robb Added his pack on top of mine for rear support as I ranged the bull with my Sig KILO 2400 Ballistic Rangefinder. The bull was at 558 yards with a fairly steep downhill angle. My KILO immediately told me how many minutes to hold over and I dialed my scope. Wind was negligible. The bull was broadside and just as I was about ready to send it I noticed a fairly large diameter branch blocking part of his vitals. While Robb and I frantically discussed whether or not I should take the shot the bull took a few steps. Now he was quartering away but his vitals were clear.
I aimed diagonally through him towards his far shoulder and squeezed the trigger on my 7mm Dakota. Unfortunately as my gun recoiled my shooting sticks collapsed so I was not able to spot my hit. Rookie mistake!
Robb and my dad were both spotting with binoculars and neither of them could say for certain where I had hit the bull but they both told me he was still standing there and I'd better get another one in him and fast! It took me what seemed like an eternity to get the bull back in my scope and I think Robb lost some more of what little hair he has left waiting for me to get on him. I finally did and sent a second round which blasted through his shoulder catching one lung and the top of his heart. We later found the bull about 30 yards from where I had shot him. Both shots were hits although the first was a bit far back.
What a great experience to have my dad right there with me. It reminded me of some of the great hunts we had together when I was much younger. I can tell that the memory of this hunt will stand out for both my dad and me for the rest of our lives.
After tagging and breaking the bull down we loaded it onto one of the horses and the mule, and loaded our packs onto the third horse which left one horse for my dad to lead and sometimes ride out. We had a long, hard climb back up and over the mountain followed by a long hike down off the mountain but hikes like that always go better with antlers on the mule.
And to make the point about how warm and sunny it was on this hunt, I was down to no long underwear and my short sleeve shirt for most of the day which is obviously very unusual for the very end of October at 8 - 10,000 feet.
On Day four my dad and I headed to town to grab some ice and take care of some business and my dad decided that his leg was bothering him enough that he was done hunting for this trip. One big motivator was that he was scheduled to fly to Las Vegas a few days after getting home from this hunt for a rim to rim Grand Canyon backpack trip and he obviously needed his leg to be feeling as good as possible for that. Here is a report on his Grand Canyon trip.
I got to work de-boning my elk and packing it into a large cooler with ice for the ride home to Wisconsin. That evening Charles got back to camp with a big smile on this face. He had killed a nice bull at over 800 yards. Here are Charles and guide Barney with Charles' bull.
My dad and I left camp the morning of day five and several hunters had not tagged out yet and were on their last hunt day. Jon from Virginia contacted me a couple days later to say that he had a blast chasing around a really big bull most of the week but never quite got the right shot opportunity and on the last afternoon he took a meat bull.
All in all our 2017 LRH Group Elk Hunt was very successful despite the difficult weather. As usual the camaraderie in camp was fantastic and everyone was pulling for their new friends. There were plenty of bumps and bruises and everyone was tired but spending time doing what we love in some of the most beautiful mountains on earth has a way of making everything alright.
My Dad and I would like to thank Robb, Brenda and all their guides and staff for working so tirelessly to provide a one of a kind experience in God's country. And we'd like to thank all of this year's group hunters for joining us. It was truly our pleasure to get to know you all and we look forward to hearing from you in the future.
If you are interested in joining us on the 2018 LRH Group Elk Hunt with Non-Typical Outfitters in Wyoming - HERE - is a forum thread with some information. We'd love to meet you out there next year!
And here are pictures of a couple great bulls taken during the same five days at Non-Typical's other camp not too far away.
Andy Backus is a husband and father of two little girls. He grew up hunting whitetail deer in Wisconsin with gun and bow and over the years has been fortunate to hunt and explore most of the Western US states and Alaska. He plays soccer to stay in shape and also enjoys most other sports and outdoor activities. Andy is the Field Editor for Long Range Hunting Online Magazine and also manages the Long Range Hunting Store.