Not for wimps!
By Greg Ryder
When my hunting buddy, Bud Roe, and I decided to apply for the limited draw for bull elk, after accumulating the necessary preference points, we were on target for the trip-0f-a-lifetime. We figured out very early on that we needed to get in shape for riding horses, shooting distance at the range, and losing unnecessary weight.
We were using the services of Tre Heiner of Washakie Outfitters in Thayne, Wyoming for his guides and tent camps. We met Tre at the trailhead the day before our hunt was to begin and loaded our gear for the trek to base camp, consisting of four canvas wall tents with cots and mattresses, wood stoves, and plenty of cut firewood. There was another tent devoted to horse tack and temporary corrals for the 18 head of horses and mules. The entire camp had electric fencing to keep out the bears. Additionally, each person in camp had a firearm close at hand as well as bear spray in the event that things went wrong.
On opening day of our hunt, waking up at 4 a.m., we met with our guides in the cook tent for a well-prepared breakfast. We then made our lunches for the day to be packed in our saddlebags. The wrangler saddled the horses and mules, getting everything ready for the trip.
After breakfast, we mounted our horses and started up and down the horse trails in the dark, hoping to make it to vantage points by daylight to glass for a trophy elk. Shortly, we glassed an elk that no one in their right mind would pass on. The horses were used to get us as close as possible to the elk without spooking the animal. We needed to get to an overlook to hopefully intercept the elk crossing through the drainage. Tre and I made it to the ridgetop just in time to see the elk crossing out in front of us. We had seconds to get the rifle ready and scope covers off to consider the shot at 450 yards. I took a hurried shot, missing the elk just before it disappeared into the dark forest cover. I was upset with myself for missing the shot, but I kept the rifle trained on the general area, hoping the elk would reappear. Tre had gone to the area where I had shot at the elk to confirm the miss. We figured it had disappeared and had gone over the top into the adjacent drainage.
After taking time for lunch, we went over the top of the mountain to glass for the elusive elk. We continued glassing late into the day and had glassed over 20 different bulls, but none were measuring up to the elk I had missed earlier. Close to last light, we started back to base camp, coming off the top down a ridge. That elusive elk was standing on a finger ridge close to the top of the mountain. We were 619 yards from the elk. I was lying prone in the snow, using my backpack for a rest, and took a shot, hitting the elk and disabling his front shoulder/leg. The elk made it into the dark forest where I made out his body through an opening. I made a second shot, hearing the thud of the bullet crashing into the elk’s body. We never saw him after the second shot as it was now getting dark. We assumed the second shot had put the elk down. We planned to get back to the elk with the pack mules in the morning when we had good light. We finally made it back to base camp around 9:30 and had a quick dinner and then got into our sleeping bags for the night.
After a sleepless night, loading firewood into the wood stove all night long, we went back to the mountain finger ridge to revisit the last sighting and shot. It was very cold that morning. We rode our horses and pack animals through windblown snows above the finger and started down the snowy, slippery slopes only to find that the elk was still very much alive and evading our quest to dispatch him. Finally, after trailing the elk for over half a mile through the dark forested timber, a final follow-up shot brought down this magnificent elk. This bull was not one to be brought down easily. He has not been officially scored yet, but he will score 350" or better.
Getting all the horses and pack mules over to the kill site, traveling over blow downs throughout the wilderness area, was no easy task. We caped out the elk, quartering it and taking the back straps and tenderloins. We loaded everything into the panniers and were ready for the trip back to base camp. During the horse ride back to camp, I kept thinking that I really was lucky to have harvested this trophy and positively needed to practice shooting my rifle at distances past 600 yards. Shooting from a bench at the range is entirely different from shooting off the top of your backpack. You need to practice shooting from the prone position for sure.
My hunting buddy, Bud Roe, headed out on his quest for a trophy bull the next morning. It was an 18-mile horse ride into another drainage. Although I was not along on his journey, he ended up taking a huge 6x6, making our trip very successful. Bud, I’m sure, could add his own story of his adventure.
I am now 68 years old, and Bud is 64 years young. Anyone electing to do this hunt should be in the best of shape and very capable of shooting out past 600 yards. The beauty of this wilderness experience and the competent services of this outfitter make for a trip-of-a-lifetime. This hunt is not for wimps!