By Phillip Peine
I love hunting elk. I have hunted them every year for the last 28 years, and every year, I get even more excited than the last. My non-hunting friends are always baffled by why I like to hunt so much, driving at all hours of the night across multiple states, getting up at the wee hours of the morning to hike for miles in the dark through wind, rain, and, snow every day for a week, living on instant oatmeal and granola bars, and if all goes well, packing hundreds of pounds of elk for miles on my back. It may sound crazy to some, but I absolutely love it and I am getting excited for next year just writing about it.
My Wyoming elk hunt started with much anticipation, waiting for draw results. Thank goodness Wyoming gets their draw for elk done quickly and early so I didn’t have to wait too long. I was elated to find out that with maximum points I had drawn a late season tag in northern Wyoming.
My summer was filled with research. I called everyone I could find who had hunted the area. I called the biologists and game wardens in the area. I read every article I could find on the area and spent hours on Google Earth and onXmaps getting as familiar as I could with the area from 800 miles away.
The hunt lasted for several weeks, so I chose to go early and leave myself the option of going back at the end if needed. Accompanying me on my first trip was my 25-year-old son, Weston, and my good friend, Richard Howard. We made the 12-hour drive with no problems and the hunt began.
Our daily routine consisted of getting up at 3:30 a.m. and driving for 30 minutes. We then unloaded the side-by-side, drove for an hour, and hiked to get to our glassing point before daylight. The temperature was usually in the teens and the Wyoming wind was always blowing, so the ride in the open cab was exhilarating.
Each day, we would glass and find good bulls. Our glassing point was at about 8,500 feet, the wind was usually blowing somewhere between 25 and 70 mph, and the temperature was around zero. The area was bordered by a large piece of private property, which only allowed us to approach from one direction, so once we would find a good bull, we would plan a stalk. However, with the wind direction and the limited approach angle, it was really difficult to get in on a good bull. We found five different bulls that were 350" or better, including one true monster. Once we found a bull, we would have to drop about 1,000 vertical feet and hike about three miles to get to it. We did this several times over the five days that we were there but could never get it to come together. The wind was the main problem, and there were other hunters in the area who would blow the elk out before we could get to them. It was an awesome five days and I enjoyed every minute, but we weren’t able to get the bull I was looking. On that trip, I learned that I needed to invest in a good wind meter and I needed to extend my effective shooting range in the wind as much as possible.
After coming home and working for a few weeks and going through a lot of ammunition practicing shooting in the wind, it was time to go back for the last five days of the hunt. I was accompanied by my good friends, Garrett Stucki, Paul Taylor, and Jared Taylor. The return trip wasn’t quite as smooth as the first trip.
We left my house at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, and after dealing with blown trailer tires and 300+ miles of icy roads and fog, we drove straight through. We pulled into the small town at 7 a.m. The weather had changed since my first trip, and the roads into the backcountry were drifted with 5-10 foot snowdrifts. In order to get into the country we wanted to hunt, we had to take tracked machines. I still had hopes of hunting that morning, so we tried to start the machines and let them warm up, but it had been 7-10 degrees below zero for the last few hours of the trip and the machines wouldn’t start. After some creative warming techniques involving a tarp and a heater, we finally got the machines to start and we were off.
The ride up the mountain was significantly different than it had been a few weeks before. The wind was blowing about 30 mph that morning, and the drifts were moving before our eyes. It was awesome! The tracked machines worked great, and we slowly made our way up the mountain over the drifted snow.
We had made it about eight miles in on the drifted two-track road when we came to a sheltered cut where we could get out of the wind and glass a large canyon. As we started glassing, I told Paul that on several occasions in the past I had seen big bulls bed on the open ridgetops on extremely cold, snowy days to soak up the sun and stay warm. Not long after that, Paul spotted a big bull lying on top of a ridge in the sun. The bull was a very nice 350" 6x7 that looked to be about 50" wide. He was a beautiful bull but didn’t have a lot of mass, so I was trying to decide if he was the bull I wanted when I spotted another bull in the brush behind him. The second bull was not as wide as the first but much heavier. When the bull came out of the brush and I saw his huge top end, my mind was made up instantly. He looked huge as he fed, unaware of our presence.
The shot was just under 400 yards, and all of that practice shooting in the wind paid off. The hand loaded 175 Barnes LRX bullets did their job well, and the bull was down quickly. I can’t thank Garrett, Paul, and Jared enough for their help taking care of the bull and getting him out. The pack out was steep and the snow was deep in the canyon, but on the bright side, the bull had picked one of the few spots on the mountain that was out of the wind!
I have often read about out-of-state hunters having problems with locals and guides. My experience was just the opposite. Everyone I met was friendly and helpful. I met two different guides who were guiding Commissioner tag holders who were great hunters, great guides, and straight up great people. I love Wyoming!
I would like to thank my son, Weston, for hiking many miles by my side and watching for the ever-present grizzly bears and my friend, Richard, for the many hours behind the spotting scope in the wind and freezing temperatures dressed like the camo Michelin man. Now if I can just get another big bull tag!