It was late October, and our Wyoming elk hunting party consisted of the two father/son teams of Shane and Colby Larsen, and Wes and Tyler Harvey. I was the odd man out. In years past, both fathers (Wes and Shane) had connected on cows and bulls. Colby and Tyler had connected on cows but were still looking for their first bull. Having moved west in 2009 and hunting elk only one season, I was still looking to draw my first elk blood.
Our original plans had changed due to circumstances beyond our control. So, 3 p.m. the day before the opener, we found ourselves scrambling to find a place to camp. To make matters worse, a storm was rolling in, which was going to make the road into elk country impassible for our trucks and horse trailers. We made the decision to at least get into the backcountry while the road was still good, and hopefully the rest would fall into place.
So, with six horses, two mules and two four-wheelers laden with gear, five “blind mice” headed into the night with a hope that no one was camped at the only camp site of which we were aware. At 12:30 a.m. on the opener, we were finally taking shelter from the blowing snow and sleet, and adding a few extra logs to the fire for the sleepless night. We got lucky.
WELL, WE MADE IT
Opening morning found us excited and eager. We could still hear the wind howling, but hey, it was opening day; and regardless of the weather, we grabbed a bite to eat, threw on gear and headed out. We were met with several inches of new snow, wailing wind and minimal visibility.
With the weather being nasty and unpredictable, we decided to leave the horses in camp and head out on foot to see if we could spot something close. We split up and, moving slowly, glassed every inch of country open to our limited visibility.
The only good elk news on day No. 1 was brought back to camp by Shane and Colby. During a short window of visibility, they spotted five cows. Although these cows were too far to go after, we hung onto this bit of info for hope.
We woke on the second morning, and in the air was a new eagerness and anticipation that maybe at least one of the three would be able to wrap his fingers around the headgear of his first bull.
The first peek outside the tent flap revealed extremely cold temps—well below zero. However, the storm had passed. A sky full of stars greeted us, ensuring the sun was soon to shine.
The plan was to saddle the horses and head in the direction that Shane and Colby had spotted the cows. With the blue skies, sun shining and new snow, the beauty of the country was something out of a National Geographic television show.
We’d gone about a mile when we stopped to a make a few adjustments to a saddle. That was when we spotted the first two bulls. They were across a ravine and sparring with each other. Adrenaline began pumping and we made plans to get closer for a possible shot.
After riding a little higher to get a better position, we secured the horses in a small draw. On foot, we worked our way along a ridge and into a clump of trees. From there we could see seven bulls feeding below us.
A rangefinder told us the bulls were at 380 yards. However, we felt as though we were in a hurricane with the sun shining—there was no way we were going to get an accurate shot with the gusty north wind. Thankfully, that wind was in our favor and our scent was carried away from the elk.
Trying to decide our next move, we observed the bulls feeding in our direction. The decision was made to set up and wait.
After considering the terrain, we figured the elk would feed up the draw to the north, and we were in great position for the ambush. If all went as planned, the bulls would come in sight at about 120 yards, giving us a slam-dunk at three first bulls. Shane and Wes got in position 20 yards away to ensure that the bulls didn’t select a route to our south and go by undetected.
The original plan was that Colby would set his sights on the first bull, Tyler would take the second and I would get the third. We would shoot on the count of three.
Honestly, I was having doubts that Tyler was going to be able to pull the trigger. As we lay in the snow, waiting, his gun was ready on his pack but his hands were stuffed under his arms. He assumed a position which telegraphed to the rest of us that he felt like a package of game meat in the freezer! I happened to have an extra pair of gloves, so he doubled-up hoping to gain some relief.
The next 5 minutes seemed like forever and we still hadn’t seen the elk. I looked back at Shane and Wes and made hand motions, asking if they could see any of the bulls. Negative. I got up and moved a little—and spotted one through the trees below us.
Back in my original position by Colby and Tyler, we waited for what seemed like another eternity. Shane and I met halfway between our positions to discuss the situation. With each second that passed, our perfect plan seemed more doubtful. My words to Shane were, “We at least need one bull on the ground. So, the first person to have one in his scope needs to put him down.”
ELK IN FAST-FORWARD
The next events happened so fast it was like we were part of a movie and someone was pushing fast-forward.
Shane returned to his position and I was returning to mine when I heard an excited whisper. I turned to see Shane pointing to a huge rock. I immediately saw it—one of the bulls had separated from the group and his rack was visible behind the rock. He stepped broadside at 50 yards and looked back into the draw.
Colby and Tyler were not in a good position for a shot, so immediately Shane, Wes and I raised our guns. In the seconds that passed, Shane and I looked at each other and he nodded for me to take the shot. A squeeze of the trigger on my 7mm-08 Rem. and my first elk was on the ground!
But where were the others? Did the shot spook them? If I hadn’t shot, our position would’ve been compromised because the bull would’ve walked right into our laps.
Wes finally saw the others moving up the draw like we originally pictured. Colby and Tyler were in position as the remaining bulls filed into view, one by one.
The first bull reacted as the shot from Colby found its mark. Then, the second bull stumbled as Tyler’s rifle delivered the shot. Both bulls took to flight, but both fell within eye-shot … and within 200 yards.
Three bulls down within 5 minutes— thank you, Lord!
There were high-fives and smiles all around. Our “freezer package,” Tyler, made the comment that he was thawing out due to pure adrenaline.
We hadn’t anticipated three elk in one morning—and only the second day of our trip—so we’d left a horse and a mule almost 2 miles back at camp. By the time pictures were taken and the elk quartered, it was late in the afternoon. We were able to load two bulls on the horses but would have to come back early the next morning to finish packing out my bull.
The remainder of our 4-day hunt included everything from searching for a lost horse and a mule (and finding them), a mule spending a night with elk hams tied to her sides before we were able to catch her in the morning, two more cow elk tags filled, and to top it off—a kind brother-in-law who happened to be bouncing along the roads in his truck with his friend at just the right time to help take our five elk back to our vehicles.
The final day left a bittersweet atmosphere around camp as we packed our gear. Bitter because once again we would have to wait another year to be back in elk camp, but sweet thinking that we wouldn’t have to spend another night sleeping next to someone who hadn’t showered in almost a week.
Although the saddle bags were stuffed to the brim with sleeping bags, clothes and leftover food, there’s no way they were nearly as full as our memory banks were of a hunting trip with two father/ son teams, an odd man out and “three firsts on the second!”