Start 'Em Young
By Chad Powell
This hunt actually started to materialize 10 years ago when I was talking to a friend about hunting. At the time, I was only hunting whitetails in the Midwest but expressed my interest of someday going out west to hunt other species. That’s when Reed suggested I subscribe to Huntin’ Fool. I took his advice, and after reading my first issue, I began purchasing preference points in several states.
Fast forward 10 years and it was time to take a break from hunting the Midwest and venture further out. With Wyoming being one of the first states where I’d applied for elk and sitting on 10 points, I chose a unit and the verdict was successful! I had intentions of going on a guided hunt, but after calling several outfitters, I learned I should have done this research before the draw as they were already booked.
Time for Plan B. I ordered a map of my unit and requested a list of members who had previously hunted this unit. After several conversations with other Huntin’ Fool members and notes on my map, I decided a summer scouting trip would be worthwhile. My dad, my 9-year-old son, Oliver, and I went out fishing and scouting for five days in July, and this trip really got me excited for the hunt as we saw good numbers of elk and some nice bulls in velvet. Oliver expressed interest in going on this hunt with me, so on the last day, we did an 11-mile hike so I could see how he would hold up. He was a trooper, and even with our packs on, he kept up just fine. I started taking him on long fishing and hunting trips when he was three years old, and he’s always done well and never complained. In his napping years, he would lie down in the bottom of the boat or on the ground in the blind so I could keep doing my thing. I had no reservations bringing him on our first elk hunt, and it was official when Mom agreed he could miss school and go.
The rest of the summer was spent researching and ordering items to complete our gear list and aerial scouting on Google Earth. The tag I had allowed me to hunt the archery season the last two weeks of September and then I could go back with a rifle the middle of October. I wanted to get the most I could out of this tag, so I would go during archery season for nine days and back for the rifle season if need be. I had a buddy recruited to accompany Oliver and me for archery season, and ironically, it would be Reed Whiting who was the one who got me to subscribe to Huntin’ Fool.
The three of us arrived in my unit a day before I could hunt. We were optimistic as we backpacked in and glassed up a few nice bulls that evening. Opening day was slow with a little bugling and a few elk sightings. The week would continue this way with most mornings having more action than evenings. We were hiking seven to nine miles a day, covering a lot of ground, trying to make something happen with little success.
On the fifth morning, we were chasing a bugling bull back to his bed but seemed to be losing ground on him when another bull bugled really close. We made a move on him and tried to get up a small incline that lead to a bench we were aiming at setting up on, but the bull was closing the distance quicker than we thought. As we almost reached the top, the bull came off the bench and spotted us 30 yards in front of him. He was gone before I could get drawn back, and we were all pretty bummed. Oliver looked really deflated, so Reed and I explained to him that elk hunting can be frustrating, like hunting anything else, but we needed to keep working hard and stay positive. I felt like that could have been our only chance the way this hunt was shaking out. I tried to stay focused and kept thinking one more chance was all we needed.
On the seventh evening, we hiked into a new area that offered a little different scenery. As we started the hike of our pre-planned four-mile evening loop, I was in awe of this beautiful area. The price of the tag was worth the admission just to have access to the thousands of acres of National Forest we were allowed to roam. As we got to the top of the canyon, Reed let out a call and we thought we heard a bugle opposite the direction we were headed. We turned and gave that direction our attention, and Reed threw out another bugle. The bull fired right back. Now knowing his location, we dumped into the canyon with excitement. As we worked our way towards him, he kept bugling without us calling. As we were getting closer, the bugles were getting louder. This elk was fired up!
I thought I saw something through the timber at about 100 yards, so we stopped, and sure enough, it was him. Reed and Oliver dropped back to call, if needed, and I went ahead another 10 yards and got ready. After a soft cow call from Reed, he was on his way. Wow, they can cover ground fast! He stopped at 30 yards and ripped off a bugle. All I could think about was not messing this chance up because we had worked so hard for another opportunity. He hit an opening at 20 yards, and I somehow was able to stay calm and put a good shot on him. We were all so excited to see that happen, and even though my name was on the tag, it was definitely our bull, not mine.
There is no doubt that this was the adventure I was looking for. Once again, Oliver amazed me, hiking over 50 miles with camp in our packs some days and never a complaint. I am more proud of that than tagging an elk. He’s been looking through my magazines and asking where we will try to draw a tag next year. I have to thank Reed for introducing me to Huntin’ Fool and for all his hard work on this hunt. This was our third awesome trip together!