My Hunting Stories

2016 New Mexico Elk

The story of course starts with drawing a coveted tag like all hunting fairytales do. But along the way, I met a princess of my own. I’d found an adventurous soul who was willing to sleep on the ground in a tent, camp and cook in the rain, and enjoyed fitness and outdoor adventures. When I asked her to join me on a late summer scouting trip she jumped at the chance.


Over four days we drove the unit, glassed and camped and hiked. When we jumped a herd of elk in thick timber, I reveled at the look on her face as they crashed through the downfall. The excitement had her. Glassing a herd of elk a mile away and hearing the mews and chirps of cows and calves through the clear morning mountain air, she proclaimed “John, you look like a kid in a candy store. I see why you love this so much!”

In the following months life had its ups and downs for both of us. She was a steadying influence on my nerves and always reminded me of the great hunt I had coming up in October. Time after time, she expressed how she would love to be in elk camp with me during the hunt. But her career had her pinned down during that time period and it wasn’t in the cards for her to make the trip. She would root me on from afar, awaiting my call that I had succeeded in my quest.

While we were scouting, I was introduced to George Rael. He was a local outfitter the same age as I. We instantly bonded as Elk Junkies, and he marveled at my luck drawing the tag. I told him that I was not going to have my usual contingent of family, (Father and Uncle) with whom to camp and handle horses. He immediately offered me his assistance, and I accepted the offer of packing services and saddle stock. While I would miss having my trusty steed Bob, in camp, it made the two day drive from California much simpler without having to haul stock. While I would camp solo, I’d have some local knowledge of the country and his energy to spur me on in the thin mountain air.

In October I made the drive over two days to the camp at the end of the road two days before the season. It was situated on the backside of a ridge that was the unit border and we had a mile and a half ride to reach our hunting zone. I visited with George at his home on my way to camp and saw the caliber of bulls he himself had killed and drooled at the possibility of putting a tag on what could be the biggest bull of my lifetime.

When opening day came we rode out under the rapidly filling moon, so bright, it cast shadows as we rode along the trail. In addition the wind howled with gusts and swirled unpredictably. At First Light we spotted a herd of elk far below us out of my effective range. We watched them head over the hill and heard the bulls bugling. The rest of the morning we chased bugles along the ridges until they clammed up at about 10:00 am. I remember being determined to keep up with my acclimated local as I gulped the thin air at 10,000 feet, and tested my legs endurance up and down the fingers and ridges.

We napped through the midday, alternately glassing the ridges and valleys below. As the sun began to drop, we headed down toward the creek in the direction the elk had gone that morning. Soon two bulls stepped out of the trees across the canyon. A six point and a five point. They cautiously made their way to the creek and I positioned myself on shooting sticks and held my crosshairs on the six point at 350 yards. After the big bull we had seen that morning I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger and end my hunt on Day One. We rode back to camp arriving after dark.

The second morning we were out again before light. More close calls with vocal elk in the morning. A rope burn from a hesitant mule the day before nagged at me. Each little ridge and valley seemed to have its own little pocket of elk and the switching winds kept giving us away. We were in them though. Later that morning we bumped a lone bull bedded high on the main ridge as we rode along. Just enough of a glimpse to see he was a nice bull, but not enough time to get off for a shot.

That afternoon we trekked to the far reaches of the public land in the unit and played cat and mouse with a bull in the timber. He had cows and we circled him trying to get in his path of travel before dark. After a couple times back and forth we got to an opening where he showed himself in range uphill. I took a rest on shooting sticks but had to crouch while standing to see the bull in my crosshairs. My tired legs trembled and I rushed the shot, missing cleanly.

I was furious with myself. All this way, all this time, all this effort to miss! Now we were 10 miles from camp, it was getting dark and we still had two miles to hike back to the horses. I’d been up since 4:00 am, and now it was 7:00 pm. My foul mood did not go unnoticed as later that night George exclaimed to the rest of the crew “Damn dude, he was PISSED!”

I was not looking forward to the two hour ride back over the ridge to camp. Even the horses were dragging. But as the full moon rose and bugles echoed throughout the valley, my tired eyes gazed on the shadows of the trees in the moonlight and it was etched in my memory as a bittersweet occasion.

I arrived back to camp a couple hours after dark and collapsed in my bed after a quickly reheated meal. Doubts crept in about my endurance and shooting ability. After all I had done to prepare, this hunt was kicking my ass. I was exhausted physically and mentally. The missed opportunities weighed on my mind along with the visions of heavy horned mountain monarchs trotting off into the timber unscathed. It was a fitful night of sleep, and morning came too early once again.

That morning we rode up in the dark as before and tied up near where we had begun on opening morning. The wind had calmed some and we could hear a bull moving his cows up the draw to our left. We circled around to peer down in the draw expecting him to be on the ridge we started on, then back to near where we started. We saw his cows filtering through the trees below us and he just appeared on the open hillside 150 yards away, bugling like a dunghill rooster. After the evening before’s shooting foul up, I felt I needed to take the next branch antlered bull I could get in my crosshairs. I could see he was a good sized 5x with broken points and decided I was ready to be done hunting.


I steadied the crosshairs on his left shoulder as he was quartering to me and his cows continued to filter through the trees below us. I squeezed the trigger and saw the bullet hit as he reacted, packing a limp front left shoulder down the hill. I reloaded but he entered the trees and disappeared from sight before I could follow up. I had feelings of misgivings as his cows streamed over the hill across the draw. I was worried the bullet had not entered the chest cavity with the quartering angle. We cut across the draw looking for blood, and George went downstream in case he had made tracks down low. I worked back up to the site of the shot, picking up a small shed antler just before finding him expired under a small dead tree his death tumble had uprooted. I hollered out to George that I’d found him. He made it back to me in about 10 minutes, and we admired the warrior’s broken rack before hiking back to the horses to retrieve the kill.

Those mountain horses earned their keep as we each led a pack horse down the steep ridge to where my bull lay. We each readied our knives and made quick work of breaking down the bull. We bagged the hams, shoulders, loins and tenderloins in game bags and loaded them on two pack horses. The skull and antlers rode on top for the 7 mile trip back to camp.


It was nice to ride along the ridge I’d only seen in the dark and see the surrounding mountain ranges in the distance. We even had a few photo ops as we toasted the bull with the flask reserved for the occasion. We arrived in camp a little before lunch, and hung the quarters in the shade before relaxing with a cold beer and chips and salsa. The horses rolled and enjoyed their early respite and fed on a bale of hay.

That morning George had mentioned to one of the other guys that the wood pile was getting low. In my quest for good karma I’d made the statement “If I kill today, I’ll cut your wood”. So that afternoon we felled standing dead trees, limbed and split stove length logs. My successful hunt adrenaline kept me hustling as we made a sizeable stack. We continued the celebration into the evening, and I retold the tale of the shot throughout the night.

The next morning I packed up my gear and meat and made the drive to Flagstaff Arizona for the night. The next day I made it all the way to home and delivered the meat to Bud’s Meats, my favorite cut and wrap butcher. Thanks to dry ice and coolers some pieces were frozen, and all of it was cool. A week later, my freezer was filled with white paper wrapped roasts, and a month later, 60 pounds of sausage was added to the larder.

My bull’s bleached skull and antlers now adorn the wall in my bedroom. The small shed antler I found while searching for my downed bull has “VV 2016” inscribed in it resides with my princess. I am constantly reminded of the luck that I must have been blessed with to draw such a great tag, and meet a woman who has been so supportive of my love for the hunt.

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Two years to kill

Wyoming has been very good to me in regards to drawing elk tags and being successful on those hunts. Since 2007 I have drawn 7 elk tags with a maximum of 2 preference points. Up until the Fall of 2014 I was 100% on my success on branch antlered bulls in Wyoming. I knew that these streak was untenable and that October I was faced with my first skunk. It stung, and it has taken over a year an a half to talk about it publicly.


Paul and Colby Martin mounted on CD and Wings

Wes Morris

Wes Morris

Dee Morris

Dee Morris

We had hunted beside the Morris family for the previous 3 years with them as our resident guides, and had some memorable close encounters with elk. In 2013 they began operating a lodge near a major trailhead into the wilderness some distance from our previous hunting country. Through the summer Wes, the eldest son, led pack trips into new country and found a basin with lots of elk sign. It was beautiful country with trees, large meadows and rugged topography.

We trailered our saddle horses to meet them where they had their summer seasoned pack string at the ready. The thunderstorms followed us menacingly across the Nevada and Utah high desert. We rode in the day before opening day under mixed freezing rain and snow flurries.

Hunting in a snow flurry in 2014











The next two days it snowed. On opening morning we saw numerous tracks pointed downhill, and I caught a glimpse of an elk headed “down and out”. The rest of the hunt we never came across another elk or any fresh sign. We relocated lower, and found old sign, but no shot opportunities. The elk had outsmarted us.


Last Sunset before pulling out of Elk Camp 2014

Our application strategy for 2015 was to take the long shot chance and apply for a unit specific earlier season tag. Drawing that tag gave us a 5 day earlier opening day and more of a chance to get to the elk before Fall snow pushed them to lower ground. Sure enough, my father, uncle brother in law and I were drawn as a party. My brother in law, was delayed and wouldn’t be able to join us on opening day. He would come a week later.

We arrived in Wyoming a couple days early to news that the thunderstorm that had accompanied us had laid down a couple inches of snow in the high basin we had planned to hunt. The clouds had cleared though and snow was melting fast. We could see the snowline receding from the surrounding peaks, although crunchy snow still lingered in the shade.


Riding into Elk Camp 2015 under blue skies with the remnants of a snow storm from the week before on the peaks and in the shade

We rode in under blue skies and finished setting up camp. The evening was eerily quiet, and not a single elk bugle was heard. Thoughts of the year prior were creeping in, despite the better weather. We made plans for the morning, watered horses an had a fitful, night before opening day sleep.

Night before opening Day.  Camp is set.

Night before opening Day. Camp is set.

I’d been fighting a cold-turned respiratory infection before setting off on this trip. I had antibiotics at the ready, but my doctor wanted me to hold out until day 3 of my hunt before taking them. The combination of the high altitude, and sickness had me panting for air at the slightest exertion. I know it had my companions concerned as I hacked and coughed each morning. But I did my best to keep up with my acclimated Wyoming partners.img_8722

Day One was eventful as my father and Dee were able to have a bugle exchange with a bull up the draw. unfortunately it attracted the attention of some other hunters down slope and that distracted them from pursuing the real elk in the trees above. Wes and I circled the basin to a saddle that looked promising and the number of elk bones bore tribute to the volume of elk that met their demise there. We posted ourselves with a good view of the saddle, only to have the group from below walk through our setup. We spent the rest of the morning working through the trees, finding elk tracks and sign, but nothing live.

That afternoon we looped through the trees above camp. The elk sign was there in scat and tracks and trails. A few distant shots at dusk way down below had us thinking we might be above the elk.

Day Two was more of the same. Boot leather and unanswered bugles. As the sun set though we heard bugles in the dusk to the east. I thought to myself that another hunter had moved into the basin and was trying to locate a bull. We made plans to go the other way in the morning.

On the third morning I awoke wheezing and coughing and sore. Dee assured me we would work up the ridge slowly, calling through the trees. As grey dawn came we paused to readjust clothing and Dee made a few soft cow calls. As we continued along the game trail, I heard a grunt off to our left. We paused, then a squeal and hoofbeats. I motioned to the tree I was going to try to get behind while Dee hissed “don’t think you have time, he’s coming. ”

The tree was twenty yards away and I was ten when I saw the tan body of an elk flashing through the trees less than a football field away. I froze as Dee began his seductive cow calls, and the bull answered as he trotted from our left to right seventy yards away. I saw branched antlers and flipped off the safety. First elk of the hunt was ok with me.

As he cleared a tree I held the crosshairs behind his shoulder and fired. He flinched and jumped and turned, now coming from right to left. At fifty yards he stood there. I squeezed off a second shot, reloaded as he still stood there. A third shot didn’t seem to phase him, and I moved the crosshairs forward to the shoulder and shot number four folded him like a wet tent.

Day 3 of my 2015 hunt with the first elk I saw.

Day 3 of my 2015 hunt with the first elk I saw.

Dee’s whoops and hollers echoed through the basin as we made our way through the downfall to where the bull lay. Six tines to a side, dark with sap and bark, and ivory tips curling up at the ends. We just sat there in silence as the sun rose and filtered through the trees, and the jays began talking once more.

Dee ponders my bull

Dee ponders my bull

After telling each other our interpretation of the events, and our thoughts as they were happening, we got out the knives and skinned and quartered the bull in preparation for the packhorse, 1.3 miles away at camp. We bagged each quarter, tender loin, loin and neck meat in game bags as the flies began buzzing in the warming day, and positioned the bags in the shade for retrieval later that day.


Packing out My Bull later on Day Three.

Packing out My Bull later on Day Three.

With my bull back in camp the energy was one of renewed hope. Dee and I told the story with about three different variations. Suddenly my respiratory function was much better as I breathed a sigh of relief to have filled my elk tag.

There is more stories to come from our 2015 Elk hunt.  Check back to read about Colby’s “Cash Money bull”, and Dad’s Skunk Breaker.


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2014 Nevada Pronghorn

In May I learned I had drawn a Pronghorn tag for “Horns longer than ears” in the Northwest portion of Nevada. I was shocked because I thought it was a long shot tag that was statistically unlikely to draw. I immediately planned a scouting trip with my running buddy Leigh for the 4th of July Weekend.
Scouting the Unit

Over 3 days we covered the unit main roads to get a feel for the area. I was struck with the feeling that antelope densities were not high as I had experienced in Wyoming and Colorado. Many waterholes were dry, and the animals we saw were pretty skittish.

Curious Does and Fawns

Curious Does and Fawns

We were fortunate to make friends with a local cowboy who gave us names of landmarks to check out. This was the biggest part of why I chose my specific part of the unit. We only saw about 25 animals total and small bucks. It was then I decided I would need at least two full days of scouting before opening day.

A rare sight in the desert.

A rare sight in the desert.

Opening day was on Friday, August 22nd. On Tuesday, I took the kids to school and finished packing the truck for the trip to the Black Rock. After various stops along the way I was at my home on the range in an aspen patch just an hour before dark.

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That night I could hear the rodents rustling all around the underbrush and edges of the tent….ALL NIGHT, rustle, rustle, rustle…They were bold. They would grab food off the table with you right there. I made sure to keep the tent zipped up and I was glad I had hard sided lockers for my dry food. A nearby camp caught 18 in traps one night resetting them. I watched one get caught 30 seconds after they set it.

Wednesday morning (Opening day -2)

I woke up after daybreak for my first day of scouting. I found a little buck right off the main road. About 3 more miles up the road along the Wilderness boundary, I found another better buck with 9 does. I watched him push them around the lower draws. I never did relocate them the rest of the trip.

Midday was uneventful on antelope sightings.

At 6:00 pm I started seeing antelope again. It was on a bench that had good grass, and the rancher was hauling water to cows on a 10 mile two track circuit. Saw total of 5 small bucks and 7 does and fawns before dark

Days total: 7 bucks, 16 does and fawns. Also saw a few Feral Horses.

Thursday morning, (opening day -1)

Woke up to find 3 mule deer bucks checking out my camp. Nothing monster, but I had heard them come down the trail and drink water behind my tent that night.

Drove to the area I had seen the majority of antelope and pushed into a wilderness access road. Right at the turn I found where the deer and the antelope play. There were 6 antelope does and fawns, and 4 mule deer bucks at 7:15 in the morning. Further along I saw a decent buck with 2 does , then I found a Spring 1 mile in from the road that had a good buck and his does at it, along with a herd of Feral Horses. I liked how he looked through the spotting scope and decided I would be there on opening morning. I hiked in a dead end road to look over some more big country in the wilderness. A decent buck and 2 does busted me 300 yards from the road end. Found their trickle of water and a huge roadless canyon that fed into the main canyon. It was pretty but I wrote it off as not good antelope country.

Napped through the midday at camp.

Went back to the cow trough circuit. Spotted a buck with does that I decided was my back up buck.

The "back up buck" at 200 yards.  The night before the season.

The “back up buck” at 200 yards. The night before the season.

Further down the road just before dark, I watched a 70 inch buck chase off a rival from his does. Headed back to camp happy I had a plan for opening morning.

daily total: 7 mule deer bucks, 6 Antelope bucks (2 shooters), ~27 antelope does and fawns, More Feral Horses (quit counting and a lot of repeats)…
Opening Morning

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I headed out at 5:00 am for the hour drive to my spot and was near the springs at daybreak. In the Wilderness I saw one buck hightailing it over the ridge, and another with a doe out in a big open bowl that looked unstalkable. Neither was my target buck at the springs. I snuck around through the draws with the wind in my face and set up 80 yards from the springs with a commanding view of the basin for 3 miles in a 90 degree direction. Nothing moving except Feral Horses. Had a total of 40 of them come into the springs. They got as close as 35 yards but never spooked or showed any signs of seeing me. That grey sweatshirt was great camo.

That afternoon I had no action at the springs so after a walkabout (where I had a doe and 2 fawns at 108 yards), I went to my back up buck’s location to see if I could find him. I parked the truck by a draw and he and his does came out of the draw behind me at 300 yards on the skyline. No shot before they took off. I bumped them twice more and pretty much blew ’em out of the country. Spent the rest of the evening glassing in the wind and saw nothing….nada , zip , zilch. I was feeling pretty down.
Days total: 3 bucks, 8 does, 40 feral horses. One blown opportunity.

Opening Day +1

I decided to head back to the springs but vowed I would stalk any buck in a good position I found on the way. Right at daybreak I parked behind a rise and glassed the valley I would have to drive to to get to the trail that would take me to the spring. I found the unstalkable buck from the day before chasing a doe. I watched them feed around a big hill and then drove my truck down to a draw a little closer, by the Wilderness boundary and loaded my pack and flanked counter clockwise around the hill.


When I crested the hill I saw the antelope had moved another half mile to the next rolling finger. I backed back down the ridge and looped counter clockwise again for another mile around to the next saddle. The antelope had not moved through the saddle when I moved up to the crest, so I hugged the rim rock along the top, and peaked into the valley. I spotted three antelope does, as they saw me, and all looked in my direction. After a minute I finally located the buck 30 yards behind them quartering toward me at 311 yards. I took a rest over the rock and held the crosshairs at 7x just in front of his withers. At the shot he jumped and ran about 30 yards toward me and stopped broadside. I put the crosshairs on his neck and dropped him there. The .300 win mag 150 grain bullet had hit in front of the shoulder and exited in front of the hip. These critters are tough!


All this time I had an idea he was a mature buck , but when I walked up on him I was pleasantly surprised. I looked at my watch and it was 7:09 am. It took me an hour and a half to take pictures, and then break him down for the hike out to the truck.

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Now that I have had time to reflect on the hunt, I’m glad I did this hunt solo.  I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I found I was able to find more antelope during the hunt than during scouting.  I also think that now I’m more comfortable with the area and terrain. I could enjoy taking someone else with that tag to that area.

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The Morris Boys Know Elk.

Since 2011 my family and I have been honored to know the Morris Family. These folks have become an integral part of our Fall Hunting Trips to Western Wyoming.

This was the first year that all four Morris men had Wyoming General tags for Elk.

Wes was up with the first opportunity. On opening day they had a great deal of competition from other hunters. At one point they could hear someone talking not 100 yards from their setup. On Day Two, brother Jase was able to sweet talk this five by five bull into range, with brother Matt assisting.

Dee narrates:
Wes , Matt and Jase followed the bull and about 15 cows calling them along the way for about half a mile. Jase did the calling and the bull was very responsive turning back several times but not close enough to shoot. Finally at the dark timber line, the bull had enough and turned back to face the pesky young bull. Wes took him with one shot at 40 yards.


If that kind of Elk Hunting action is your cup of tea, I’d recommend you talk to my friends at the Big Sandy Lodge.

After packing the Bull back to civilization, It was a first come-first serve for the remaining elk tags amongst the clan. A couple days after Wes scored, Father Dee called this heavy, wide 5 point bull into rifle range and downed him on a bench on a ridgetop.

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I was honored to be able to assist, with Mokie, my uncle’s 24 year old gelding who packed the hind quarters , and hide, while I packed the boned out loins, tenderloins, and trim meat in my Badlands 4500 internal frame pack. I joked that I “wouldn’t ask Mokie to do anything I wouldn’t do” as he jogged back to the ranch with a vigor that belied his age. Jase and Wes each carried a front quarter while Dee packed out the head and rack.  Mama Kay even came out and packed rifles back up the treacherous trail.  It was a true family affair

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My family and I hit the road the next day , but I soon received notice from Matt that he had connected.

The message said:

5×5 at 401 yards

and then the picture loaded.

IMG_8623Matt continued the story…

Awesome hunt. Not the bull we were after but he had about 40 cows with him.  Jase is going back after the stud in the a.m. The two herds merged and put on a HELL of a screaming match. 

Even 500 miles away I could feel the excitement that must have been felt in that household.

The next night I got the Update…

I asked:

Any Action for Jase yet?

The Reply almost immediately was :

“Ohhhh YEAH”

And I knew it was going to be good.


And the final Morris man to connect gets a heavy, symmetrical 6×6 bull.  Earlier in the bowhunting season  he had called in a 5×5 bull but passed.  That discerning nature seems to have paid off.

All in all, the Morris Family has proven that the elk hunting gene runs strong.  I know it has been my pleasure to be in the woods with them and that we share a kinship, that I have felt with few others.


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2013 Wyoming Mule Deer

When our group didn’t draw Non-resident Wyoming elk Tags, we looked into the Deer and Pronghorn Draw.

I looked at the Draw odds for a limited entry unit, and determined that my odds were reasonable if I applied for the higher priced “Special Tag” With five preference points, I was able to draw my unit. The problem was, I’d never set foot in that country until I set up camp on September 23rd.

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After setting up my wall tent and stove, I climbed a mountain I’d decided to focus on that sat ringed by a pretty well traveled road. i assumed the road would cause the deer to be concentrated at the highest point, far from the road at 10,000 feet elevation. What I did find was plenty of elk sign, but very little deer sign, or deer.
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At a secluded lake I was fortunate to witness a six point bull elk with his harem as they ghosted into the timber. I also spotted three more small bulls at a distance, but returned to camp without a single deer sighting. I began to doubt my deer spotting ability.

The next morning I glassed the side of the mountain as daylight spread across the mountain. One lone pair of deer were skylines briefly so I went to that side to see if I could find more of their ilk. Sign was more prevalent, but downed trees and steep side hills funneled me back down before I could reach the summit. I slunk back to my camp, and was surprised to see a small branch antlered buck watching me from the roadside. I attempted a stalk , but the wind was wrong, and the deer had vanished by the time I returned.

That afternoon, I watched a tiny spike feeding unconcerned along the treeline, and began to re-evaluate where I was looking for deer. After chatting with a local glassing for bear, I headed to another nearby area for a different angle to glass the mountainside.

When I arrived at my location I busied myself getting a tripod set up to glass. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a deer eying me. It was a buck! I ranged him at 27 yards then came to full draw. Looking at his forked horns then back at his clear vitals, I said “Whack, you are dead”. Then his small 3 point companion tempted me, and I “counted coup”, and let down.

As I turned to go back to glassing, I spotted another buck. I ranged him at 99 yards. He was bigger! He had me pegged but seemed unconcerned. Soon he was joined by another, then a third, and a fourth buck. Between the four of them they began to act a little spooky, but more inquisitive.

Eventually they high stepped into cover. A few minutes later I saw them heading back up the mountain, towards a decommissioned road, I made plans to venture onto in the morning.

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I awoke to a dusting of snow, and clouds that promised more. The intensity increased as I walked up the road that now was a game trail. Along the way I bumped numerous does and fawns, but the visibility disintegrated as the morning wore on. The swirling winds caused a nice buck to spook out 200 yards ahead of me, too far for a shot or even a clear photo. At 11:00 am I called it and headed back to camp.

As I walked back to camp I made the decision I would go to lower ground for the night then return when the weather cleared.   As I packed up I could see there was going to be significant accumulation.  I ended up packing tent, stove and all my gear as a foot of snow came down in two hours.  It was a butt puckering drive down the 18 miles to the highway.  I broke the drivers side windshield wiper.  With big wet flakes piling up on the windshield I did not want to lose momentum by trying to stop and repair the wiper.  So I alternated wiping away the snow with my left hand and looking through the passenger side that the wiper was barely keeping up.

I was able to wire the wiper blade on when I reached the highway, and at that point I’d decided I was done for a day or so in the high country.  I headed for town, bought a new wiper blade, and a pair of Pac Boots (Kenetrek Grizzly’s) and spent the night with some friends in a warm, dry bed with sheets.

The next four days are covered in the story of my Antelope hunt….

After tagging out on my antelope hunt, we established our base camp at our friend’s place and commuted to the deer unit.  Monday’s evening scouting trip did not turn up any deer, so we tried a new spot in the morning based on some conversations with the locals.

2013-10-01 09.49.25Tuesday- Opening day of Rifle season

My father and uncle came along to add extra eyes.  We saw does and small bucks early just after daybreak, as well as a bull , cow and calf elk.  Then we covered six miles on foot before lunch, as we peeked into bucky looking niches surrounded by aspens on a glacial carved bench. We surprised a band of pronghorn at 150 yards and throughout the day we bumped them repeatedly.  We chuckled as a young buck brought a potential girlfriend within 30 yards of us in the open.  Finally, the boss buck ran him off, and we watched him cast aimlessly about looking for company the rest of the afternoon.

Another highlight of the evening was watching a cow and yearling elk feed out on our right while four does fed out on the tree edges on our right.  We walked off the hill at dark, and had dinner in town.


The next morning we returned to where I’d had my archery season encounter with the six bucks.  Almost immediately I saw a buck on the skyline.  I attempted a stalk, but he busted me and ran off into the thick timber before I could get him in my sights.  I felt like I’d blown my only opportunity I’d have and i began doubting my decision to pass on the little bucks the week prior.

After talking with a couple of road traveling moose hunters, we used the time remaining of the morning to still hunt along a treeline paralleling a road.  At 10:00 am my father convinced me to return to the truck.  I remember him asking me.  “So what do you want?”  meaning did I want to hike to the top of the mountain, or glass from below.

My smart aleck reply was “I want a buck to step out in front of me near the truck ” in a joking tone.

As we reached the pickup parked along the road, a buck stood up and ambled toward the treeline.  I could see deep forks and long lines with my naked eye.

I sprinted into the trees and he locked eyes with me like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  His antlers were obscured by branches, even at the bow close range.  When he moved his head, I saw antlers, and put the crosshairs on his shoulders and jerked the trigger.   Once again I obliterated a shoulder as he crashed through the trees and fell dead just steps from where I pulled the trigger.

Upon closer examination I saw he had long tines and a huge body.  I was glad to be done hunting even though I knew there were monster bucks in the unit.

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He joined my antelope at Fetzner Taxidermy for the European mount treatment, and I look forward to the final mount.  His 130 pounds of hanging weight became steaks and breakfast sausage at Hog Island Meats.

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2013 Wyoming Antelope Adventure

My Father, Uncle and I all had Wyoming Antelope tags. In addition I also had a limited unit deer tag, 80 miles from the Antelope unit.  Our Antelope hunt was scheduled for the last weekend in September, before my Deer rifle season opened.

One complicating factor was the fact that a freak Fall snowstorm blew in and made travelling the roads challenging.

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We spent a couple days enjoying the warm fire, and hot coffee of Big Sandy Lodge while we waited for the weather to break.

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When it finally cleared we drove down to the desert on Saturday with our good buddy Tony, to find some speed goats.  Tony is a long time Wyoming resident who was getting ready to go in for a hip replacement surgery.  He couldn’t run the hills with us hunting for deer, but he was able to help us navigate the maze of two tracks on the High Desert.

2013-09-28 13.23.48We were happy that the lower elevations did not have as much snow accumulation.

2013-09-28 17.48.43After some adventures that involved a large flock of sheep, some slimy two track, a couple groups of antelope we passed on, and an arroyo that tried its best to capture us, we were driving towards some distant antelope that held promise.  Another large herd diverted our attention, and I got out and got ready to shoot if the buck met our standards.

Now, remember, I’d been bowhunting deer for 3 of the 5 prior days.  I was feeling a little uncertain about whether I was going to leave Wyoming empty handed.  While it was a far cry from “Last Call”, I was not holding out for a Booner buck.   While Tony, my father and uncle debated the merits of the buck, I saw prongs above the ears, good mass, a nice curl and decided I could look at him for the next few years.

I announced:  “I like the buck with the herd”

No response, and no objection from the rest of the crew, so I took up the slack in the trigger, and the shot broke to my surprise.  I re-centered the scope at 7x and saw him run off with the herd, slowing and stumbling and finally cartwheeling as the 25 does ran off over the horizon. My 150 grain bullet had passed through both shoulders and the heart from 350 yards.  the bullet hit a good 6 inches from my point of aim, confirming the distance estimation.

My uncle and I took care of field dressing and photography chores as my father and Tony tried to make a play on the original buck we’d sighted, to no avail.  We returned to the Big Sandy Lodge that evening to finish the skinning. A rough taping measured his horns to be 14 inches over the curl, with 5 1/2 inch bases.  We estimated my first pronghorn to be about 70 inches total.

2013-09-28 16.41.36The next day we dropped down into the desert to see if we could fill a couple more tags.  We had narrowed down our search area to an area around an artesian well head that irrigated a patch of desert and attracted numerous groups of antelope.  Almost immediately we saw a heavy lone buck  my father was intrigued by.   This buck was very wary, moving out the moment our truck stopped.  My father got out to try to stalk into range as we backed off to watch from afar.  From the movements of the buck we decided to put my uncle Colby in a flanking  position to the East that would give him an opportunity at the buck if he did not pass in range of my father.

As it happened, the buck spotted Colby and spooked off in a North by  Northwestern direction.  We collected Colby to try a play on a group of three antelope further East.  Meanwhile my father is still pursuing the original buck on foot.

We were able to get Colby into position 287 yards from the buck in the group.  He fired once hitting the buck, but he refused to go down.  Shortly after we heard multiple shots to the West.  The sheer volume made us think it was Sage Grouse hunters we had seen earlier.  While Tony and Colby watched his buck, I drove back to where I’d left my father earlier.

I arrived back at the spring, and did not see my father in the immediate vicinity.  Then on the farthest Northern Horizon, I saw him waving his blaze orange hat.

I navigated the two tracks until a slick clay bottomed creek stopped my progress.  I continued on foot to find him deboning an antelope.

It turns out that he had doggedly pursued that original buck, and Colby’s shot had actually turned the buck into his direction.  The multiple shots we had heard, were indeed from him, and although lighter in the ammo department, he did collect his buck, all the while on foot.  It was a real testament to commitment, as he was over a mile and a half from the original drop off point and had zig-zagged all throughout the coulees in pursuit.  Not bad for a 71 year-old Californian.

With Dad and his Antelope in the truck we drove back to where Colby had his buck bedded.  A quick followup shot (through a shoulder) ended the chase, and like that we had filled 3 antelope tags in less than 24 hours.

2013-09-29 15.06.41This was our first Antelope hunt as a family, and I’ve gained a new appreciation for this style of hunting.  It gave us a chance to get out and pursue big game animals with our good friend Tony, but was not a grueling backcountry ordeal, as some other adventures have been.  We saw lots of animals, lots of country, and had plenty of opportunity to fill tags.  If you are considering a first time Western hunt for a youngster or mobility limited individual, I think antelope hunting provides an alternative to a traditional “Stand” hunt.   However if you want to “walk one down” , like my father that is always an option as well!

We all three took our antelope to Steve Fetzner, of Cora Wyoming to be made into European mounts.  I will share those results when they arrive.

We took the meat to Hog Island Meat Co.’s mobile facility in Pinedale.  After hanging for a few days, Bill had it in Cryovac packages the next Saturday, ready for our trip home.

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2013 California Turkey

Spent the morning trying to lure in 12 longbeards who wouldn’t leave a hen 80 yds away! . So then we packed up and drove to the next county and set up for a late morning hunt. My buddy, Kirk called in a tom and missed him. We packed up and were coming off the hill when turkeys gobbled below us.

We set up the blind and immediately had 4 jakes come by under the crown of the road, gobbling the whole way. No Shot. They continued up the hill out of view, but we heard a deeper gobble following them.

Then big Daddy came up the road like he owned the place, strutting the whole way. Kirk shot, but the arrow hit the blind at the bottom of the window. It spooked the tom off the road, down the hill, and he re-appeared in the decoys strutting at 15 yards. One arrow just above the beard didn’t put him down, but one follow up trough the back hit vitals.

Official measurements to come Tuesday..

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California Bowmen Hunters Biennial Awards

In the end of January,  bowhunters from around California gather to honor the animals entered in CBH Big Game Records program the two years prior. This years event was held in Santa Ana. I attended two years ago and really enjoyed meeting my fellow measurers and bowhunters, as well as taking my family to Disneyland.

This year I received notice that my 2010 Tule elk had won an award as one of the top three recorded between 2010 and 2012. At the last minute I was unable to travel to the event to receive my award.

My 2010 Tule Elk that was the second highest scoring Tule Elk in California in 2010 and 2011.

In this month’s CBH SAA newsletter, I found a great article written by Craig Fritz outlining the awards on page 6. I was particularly intrigued by a couple of the awards presented. It turned out my 2010 Tule elk was the second largest recorded in the two year period with a final score of 236-7/8″ .  The committee actually panel scored the antlers during the previous meeting two years prior.   In addition, the antlers of a blacktail buck I measured as part of the panel at 149-7/8, took the #1 award in California, and also was the #1 in Pope and Young awards for the same recording period.

Two new State records were crowned as well.  Bret Scott’s Desert Sheep at 178-4/8, and Ron Laughlin’s Non-typical Turkey at 28-6/16.

If you join California Bowmen Hunters, you can receive this monthly newsletter as well. Inside you will see all the upcoming shoots and archery leagues throughout the state of California.  You also will help in preserving our bowhunting traditions and privileges through the legislative process.

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2012 A Zone Wrap up

So I had chalked up Azone last weekend as another Weekend of honeydo’s. Worked until 1:00 pm and then went to the Mexican restaurant for a midday Margarita and burrito. As I take my first sip of my “no salt, on the rocks” concoction my phone rings. it’s my bowhunting buddy inviting me on a last minute hunt in Sonoma County. So I get the Burrito to go and hustle home to grab my bow and my bedroll. I’m crunching along in the Madrone leaves that night by 5:30. No game spotted except the remnants of a turkey spread over a half acre.

We are up and drinking coffee before first light and still hunted our way along a long ridge. I have a deadline. I need to leave by 8:00 am to make it to the Mud Run that benefits my kid’s school. At 7:50 I spot a buck 250 yards away down in a hole. I drop to my belly, crawl back off the skyline and try and around down the steepest part of the ridge. No luck…I slip and slide and make enough racket to wake the dead.

So I hiked out of the hole with the vision of this buck in my mind. One that I am sure escaped my daughter and I two years ago one knob over. One that our buddy Kirk (Not AS) bumped earlier this bow season. I can still see his swollen neck and antlers outside his ears almost floppy at halfmast as he tested the wind. His DARK DARK hide standing out against the pale wild oats. He was big, He is my White Whale. Call me Ahab. I have 10 months to brew….he will be mine…he will….

As I drove out the dirt road to the highway it was as if every game animal wanted to taunt me…

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Hunt Report: 2012 Wyoming Elk Hunt

A fire in the woodstove on a 10 degree F morning makes it easier to leave your sleeping bag in elk camp.

The second year of hunting a “new” part of Wyoming brings a certain sense of having to prove to one’s self that any success the previous year was not beginner’s luck. There is also the element of not wanting to repeat mistakes from the previous year as well. In many ways hunting this year was more stressful than last year now that there were “expectations”…

Once again Dee and Kay and Tony, our local contacts who hosted us last year were there to let us use their property as a launching point, as well as help arrange extra horses.

Even though we camped together, and ate meals together, we were essentially two teams. Dee had his three friends, Larry, Tony and Glenn in camp. The ”Martin Boys” consisted of my 70 year old father, 67 year old uncle Colby, my brother in law Mike, and I, both 38 years young. In a future column I will present the weeks hunt from the perspective of “Dee’s Boys”.

The “Martin Boys” hunting story

We left California on the 27th of September and overnighted the horses in Wells, Nevada. We arrived in our base of operations the evening of the 28th and got the gear packed for the ride into camp in the morning. Our friend Jimmy had already packed in the other members earlier that day.

The next morning we fit our tent, duffle and 2 bags of weed free hay pellets on two pack horses and arrived in camp, 10 miles from the ranch in the early afternoon. After setting up our tent, Jimmy and I “turned and burned” back to the trailhead with five pack horses to bring back enough feed to sustain the remuda for the duration of our hunting time in the mountains. During that 20-mile day, my new gelding, Bob, showed he had plenty of energy to climb the narrow rocky trails at over 9000 feet of elevation.

We returned to camp the very next day with feed after putting 30 mountain miles in 24 hours on my new mount. I decided I would hunt on foot the next morning to give him a chance to rest. We turned in early to prepare for a start before daylight on opening day.

The full moon on the night before opening day. Photo by Mike Karle

During the night a full moon rose over our camp and the elk stayed up all night and partied. From midnight on, herd bulls and satellite bulls shouted insults back and forth. At 2:00 am we heard the horses spook and snort, and a cow elk bark as she found herself in our camp. It was a sleepless night to be sure.

In the pre-dawn darkness at 4:30 the elk were still in full vocal arrangement. We all agreed we needed to stay in camp longer than we planned to prevent bumping elk on our way to our hunting areas. I headed north with my brother in law Mike, as the eastern sky began to turn grey, while the full moon still hung bright in the upper part of the western sky. No headlight needed to see the ground, and a hoarse bugle to the north held my heading.

Mike whispered to me to take the first shot if the bull was to my liking. I quickly accepted. He might not be so quick to offer next time. We crested the rise to reveal a lone elk on the hillside 233 yards away. It took a number of minutes to make out antlers and even ten minutes after legal shooting light I was uncertain of his true trophy potential. As he turned up the hill presenting a broadside shot, I saw a generous length of his fourth tine and decided he was “good enuf” and rested my rifle over a rock and fired. The bull shuddered, but didn’t go down immediately. I fired another round, and he tipped over and tumbled down the hill. He came to rest in the trail, just a little over a half mile from camp.

What I saw after the “BOOM”. Time 7:02 am Photo by Mike Karle.

As I walked up to my bull he grew in size as I got closer. I saw my first shot had been fatal, through the left shoulder and both lungs. I let out a sigh as I realized my elk season in Wyoming was done a little after 7:00 am on opening morning.

It was exciting to have a bull down on opening morning. Photo by Mike Karle.

I radioed Jimmy to bring the pack horses and Mike and I proceeded to break down the bull in the gutless fashion. Having a veterinarian as a hunting partner is great when it comes time to break down a large animal. His knowledge of anatomy and experience in necropsy made a for the smoothest field work I’ve ever experienced post-kill on an animal. Mike even photographed many of the stages in preparation for a future article on gutless quartering. By 9:00 am we had the bull back to camp and hung in the trees.

Mike Karle helping me quarter and bag my 2012 Wyoming bull. photo by Jimmy Ligori.

Loaded up and headed for camp. Photo by Mike Karle

After a brief rest we ventured out again at mid-day to take up the hunt I had interrupted with my kill so early. We skulked through a rocky area full of nooks and crannies an elk would love to bed in. As we crested a rise, we heard a shot to the southeast that sounded close and Mike readied to spot any elk that might have been spooked our direction. We worked our way in the direction of the shot and came upon my father and uncle Colby shortly after they had lost the blood trail of the bull Colby had shot. Thirty minutes after, Mike shouted down as we tried to pick up the bloodtrail once more that he had found the bull. Despite a pass through shot through both sides of the ribs on a back to front angle, Colby’s bull still travelled quite some distance before collapsing in a pile of rocks on a steep, rocky sidehill. My father went back for the pack horses while Mike marked a route to retrieve the bull. Colby and I took photos and began the knife work for the second time that day.

Colby and his battle scarred bull. Despite excellent bullet placement the bull still traveled quite a ways before expiring in a less perfect spot than my bull earlier that morning.

We had just finished with removing the last of the rib and neck meat when Dad and Mike returned with two pack horses in tow. We managed to get both loaded on the steep rocky hillside without incident. One with front shoulders and boned out meat, and the other horse with hindquarters and the head and antlers. The sun was just beginning to set as we got into camp that night.

As the Afternoon shadows grew long, the pack horses were a welcome sight with a bull down in rough country.

The next day, Colby and I loaded our elk on four pack horses. As we readied to leave, Dee walked into camp and informed us he had a bull down. At that point we decided to make the quick ride out to the trailhead. With the cool weather getting cooler Dee’s bull would have ideal storage temps in camp. Since we had a deadline to leave at the end of the week, we wanted to get our bulls to the meat processor, who was in the middle of the hunting season rush. A quick stop in town for some more game bags, and we returned to camp the next morning after spending the night down at the trailhead.

Colby leads the way to the trailhead packing out meat.

During those two days, my father and brother-in-law covered a great deal of country on foot and on horseback. They had some memorable encounters with some cow elk and a spike, and found a sizeable black bear track.

My father’s hand next to a bear track in Wyoming. Photo by Mike Karle

On the final full day of hunting, I accompanied Mike, and Colby accompanied my father as we hunted a roughly 15 square mile area from opposite ends. With no bull sightings for either of us, we decided that the flurry of activity on opening morning was the result of the elk herds moving to a different part of the unit at that moment. We broke camp on Friday at noon and made our final ride down to the trailhead.

Headed for home. Photo by Mike Karle

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