By John Straw
I have lived and hunted on the west coast of Oregon all my life, and to say I was a duck out of water in the mountains of Wyoming is an understatement. I recently retired and had always dreamed about a high-country wilderness hunt in the mountains of Wyoming. I booked a horseback hunt with Tre and Olivia Heiner of Washakie Outfitters. Tre contacted me several times prior to the hunt on my preparedness for this experience, which consisted of bringing my personal gear, getting into the best possible physical condition I could, and being proficient with my rifle. These requests would make my hunt more enjoyable and successful.
I met Tre at the trailhead, he packed my gear on the packhorses, and we rode to camp. Upon arriving at camp, I met the rest of Tre’s team, which consisted of two additional guides, camp cook, camp wrangler, 24 horses, and Pedro, the camp pup. I asked Tre why there were so many horses at camp. He smiled and replied that it was so we would have fresh horses every day. Looking back now, it was probably the first indication to Tre that he had a real greenhorn on his hands.
The camp was set up in a valley by a creek with access to several valleys. There were five new wall tents in the camp all with wood stoves and plenty of wood. There was a tent for hunters, a tent for guides, a tent for the camp crew, and a huge tent for the cook. The horses even had a tent for saddles/blankets and other gear with a wood stove to keep it dry. After putting my gear away and eating a huge meal, we all went out to the campfire to get to know each other.
The next morning came early. Coffee and breakfast were already prepared, and lunches were made and bagged for packs. The horses had been saddled and were ready to go. We rode a few hours to the next valley, and as we crested the ridge, Tre spotted a bachelor group of bulls, all five and six pointers. However, they were not the caliber of bulls this outfitter would harvest. We spotted 21 bulls from that ridge by 10 a.m. and also spotted a group of bighorn rams lying in the sun on top of the mountain. What a morning!
We ate lunch, and Tre decided to take another way back towards camp. After riding a couple more hours and spotting several more bulls, Tre spotted a huge 7x6 lying in the timber about a mile away and said that’s what we were looking for. He told me to take a look and asked me what I thought. I looked at this bull with his spotting scope, and my expression and excitement said it all. This elk was huge! Tre said we would go in for him the next morning.
We left camp early the next morning and went up a ridge above the bull. We tied off the horses behind a rock wall and started the stalk down into the canyon above the elk. Tre spotted the elk at 400 yards out and worked us in to a little over 300 yards. The bull was feeding up towards us, so I had to wait for a clear broadside shot. The bull turned and exposed his shoulder. Tre said, “Take him if you want him,” and the bull was harvested. After I stopped shaking and Tre thought I could make it the 300 yards to the downed bull, we made our way over to the animal. The bull was a huge, mature 7x6 with character.
After we checked the bull out and I calmed down, Tre headed back up the hill half a mile to get the horses and gear we had left on top of the ridge. It started snowing, and Tre showed back up with our horses and gear. The other two guides with packhorses showed up out of the timber at the bottom of the canyon, and the elk was field dressed, caped, and put into meat bags. The packhorses were loaded, and we started making our way to the canyon bottom to head back to camp. When we rode back into camp, it had snowed another six inches. What a hunt!
This outfitter’s knowledge of elk and this wilderness area made this hunt successful. His hard work with his other guides and camp staff was second to none. His horses were strong and well trained, and even a greenhorn like myself felt safe and comfortable. The only part of this hunt that was missing was my significant other, my daughter, my son, and my grandson to experience the outstanding high-country wilderness adventure.
Thank you to Washakie Outfitters and the state of Wyoming for making this dream hunt come true.