Elk Dream Hunt
By Joshua Hunt
As an avid archery hunter, I had always dreamed of chasing screaming bulls up close with my bow. I had been applying for a Utah archery bull tag for 16 years, but after a bad horse accident during the 2017 hunting season that left me stranded on the mountain with two dislocated shoulders, I had a big decision to make. After getting surgery, I felt like I would never be able to pull my bow back again. I made the decision to apply for a late bull tag instead of the archery tag that I had hoped for. I was shocked when the draw results were revealed and I had drawn a limited-entry bull elk tag. It’s hard to find time for my own hunts as I’m a guide for North Rim Outfitters, so I was excited to draw this tag and hunt for myself.
September and October blew by as I was hunting deer with family and friends. I was fortunate to be part of many other successful hunts. I started to get excited as November was fast approaching. I knew the bulls were going to be leaving the cows and moving down into the winter range where they would be during my hunt. It was finally time to start scouring the rugged terrain, looking for that special bull I had always dreamed of. I had five days to scout before the hunt started, and I made a plan to cover as much area as I could.
I had a lot of help from family and friends as we looked through dozens of great bulls, trying to find a bull that met the high standards I had set for this hunt. I spent three of the days in one canyon in search of a big 6x7 bull that a few other hunters had seen earlier in October, but after a big snowstorm dropped over two feet of snow in the area, I was not sure if the big bull had dropped down low or if he had stayed up high with the pressure of the other hunts that had just ended. With no luck finding the big 6x7 and seeing very few elk in the area, I decided to pack up and go look at some bulls that my dad, uncle, and brother-in-law had been watching in another area.
The day before the hunt started, we were able to spot over 40 bulls. Just as it was almost too dark to see, my brother-in-law spotted a giant typical that I had hundreds of trail camera photos of over the last four years. He was a heavy 6x6 that was blind in one eye. He was wide and had a lot of tine length. I wanted to get a closer look at him on opening morning.
As luck would have it, we found “The Blind Guy” at first light not far from where we had left him the night before. He had joined several other bulls and was feeding up a rocky face into a thick patch of mahogany, which would make a chance for a shot nearly impossible. We moved up onto the point across from where he had gone into the thick trees. I waited until dark for the bull to step out. I was almost relieved when the blind bull didn’t feed out on opening night. Although he was one of the top bulls on my list, I was not ready to pull the trigger so early in the hunt.
A snowstorm moved in the second morning and we had nearly zero visibility. I drove my truck to a trailhead and waited for a break in the storm. After I realized it was not going to clear up anytime soon, I put on my backpack and hiked into the high country to check some trail cameras. I passed on many young bulls in the deep snow and timber before I got a phone call from my youngest brother, Ruger. The storm had cleared up just enough that he was able to spot a few bulls, one of which was another giant typical. I called by dad and had him meet me on the other side of the mountain. I climbed the summit and worked my way down the other side to the ATV trail. We got to the lookout point where Ruger had spotted the bulls. The bull had one of the largest frames of any bull we had looked at. He had the back forks I was looking for, but he was bedded behind a small juniper that was blocking the view of his brow tines.
Just then, my brother, Shay, called me asking, “Where are you? There is a 400 inch bull walking less than 100 yards from your truck.” I told him to keep a close eye on the bull and try to get some good video. There was not enough time to put a stalk on him before dark, so I decided to stay and get a better look at the big typical until it was too dark to see.
When we got back to camp that night, I couldn’t wait to see the bull that Shay had spotted. At the first glance of his Phone Skope video, I knew this was the 6x7 bull I was looking for prior to the season opening. He had a giant front end and a 7" kicker off his left side. This was my dream bull, the one I had waited 17 long years for.
On the third morning, I had my brother-in-law, Kade, meet me with his proven long-range Fierce 7mm. As we got close to the area where I had left my truck the day before, we parked and walked in the last couple hundred yards. We climbed to the top of a steep shale ridge for a better look. As Shay sat down with his scope, he quickly located the bull in a thick patch of burned timber over half a mile up the canyon. The hunt was on! As the sun was quickly rising, we hurried around the shale hillside to try to get into a shooting position before the bulls fed over the top of the opposite ridge to bed. I found a large, flat boulder to set the gun up on for a long shot. I dialed the gun in and was rock solid on the bull, just waiting for him to stop in an opening in the timber. I watched him through the scope as he quickly crested the ridge and disappeared over the top.
On the fourth morning, Kade and I stayed back and waited for Shay, my dad, and my uncle, Kurtis, to climb up to the ridge and put eyes on the bull before we would start our stalk. It took a while, but they finally caught movement of the massive set of antlers in a thick pocket of timber. Our only option was to set up across the canyon from the bulls and wait for the smart old bull to make a mistake. We slowly worked our way up a big lava slide where we had our best view of the thick pocket the bulls were in. Just as it felt like frostbite was setting in, the bulls started to move through the timber across the canyon from us. I located the big 6x7. He was working toward some small gaps in the pines where I might get a shot off. I quickly rested the rifle on my tripod and waited for Kade to get a range on the bull. He had me dial the scope to 550. The bull took a couple more steps and stopped in a small gap between the pines where I could see most of his vitals. I quickly squeezed off a shot before he could step out of the shooting lane. I reloaded and sent several more shots through the dead fall as the bull was slowly walking away. To my surprise, the bull bedded down after only taking a few more steps. Kade assured me that my first shot was good and I had just killed my dream bull.
After waiting a few minutes, we crossed the canyon and worked our way up to the dead bull. As I walked up to the giant, I couldn’t believe the size of the front end. I realized that we had misjudged his tine length. With all four eyeguards measuring over 22" and a 29" third, this bull was going to go well over the 400" mark that I had hoped for. There were a lot of high fives and smiles as everyone hiked up to admire the giant old bull. I was so excited to be able to share the whole experience with good friends and family. I could not have done it without their help. It was truly the hunt-of-a-lifetime.