San Juan Elk Ridge in Southern Utah is an incredibly hard area to draw an elk tag. After 12 years I decided it was time to try my luck elsewhere and I applied for a Wasatch Mountains tag in my backyard. My sister and brother-in-law both took excellent bulls from the unit over the past 3 years. The previous year my brother drew the tag. He had an opportunity at an amazing bull on the last day of the hunt. The bull was broadside at roughly 80 yards. He cleaned the gun the night before and didn’t let the barrel completely dry before loading the powder. As he squeezed the trigger on the bull, POOF with the shot going about 15 yards. He ended up not filling his tag
I knew I was going to draw the tag where the previous year max points were 9 and I had 12. I was still relieved to get the notification saying I was successful for Wasatch Muzzleloader Elk and general dee. The hunts overlapped so I would have an elk and deer tag at the same time. I grew up hunting these mountains and had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to be opening morning. However, I still wanted to get out and scout the area to find “my bull”. Unfortunately, it was an intense year with work, and it was difficult to get out. Before I knew it, September was upon us.
I arranged with work to have the next two weeks off. My wife and kids were with the in-laws. My dad, brother, and two sisters were thrilled to be part of an awesome hunt. I had the next two weeks to be in the mountains chasing elk and deer with family.
I spoke with my brother. He said if he were to do it all over again, he would have one of his good buddies, who lives in the mountains, take him where he’s been seeing the big bulls. I was all about getting additional help and finding a monster bull. He showed me a video of a 7×8 that he had seen several times in this area. Ironically it was the same place I was planning on being opening morning.
Opening morning we met at my brother’s house and my sisters showed up with face paint all decked out. It was about an hour before light and we started up the trail with our head lamps on. It was a clear, cold morning. The stars were out, and you could see your breath with every step. As we were hiking you could hear the bulls screaming all around us. It would send goose bumps up and down my neck each time I heard a scream. The rut was on! We setup in the canyon where the 7×8 had been hanging out and started to cow call. It was still getting light, but we wanted to see what we could get coming in and bugling around us. We had a smaller bull come in and we quickly knew it wasn’t him. We slipped off the edge to look down the canyon and there he was looking up the canyon toward us. He was about 500 yards away at the time. We quickly dropped to the ground. My brother’s buddy recommended I scale the canyon a little to the direction the bull was working. I quietly made my way to where I needed to be while everyone else stayed back. I spotted an elk and pulled up the scope on my muzzleloader to see what it was. I could see the elk smashing his antlers around in the scrub oak. His body was in a clear spot where I could make a shot at 225. I pulled the trigger and saw him jump a bit. He walked a little in the scrub oak and then laid down. My adrenaline was pumping, and 13 years of excitement came to end about 10 minutes into my hunt. The rest of the group came over to where I was and said to me “that isn’t the bull we are after”. My heart sank, I shot the wrong bull. We sat on the hillside and talked for a bit. We could glass where the bull was laying. He was a 6-point bull, but a smaller bull. I quickly became discourage and disappointed. On the hillside that morning with an incredible view I can honestly say I had a tear rolling down my face. I was disappointed in myself for not taking the time to make sure he was a monster bull. I let my emotions and adrenaline get the best of me. I should of pulled out my binoculars instead of relying on a low-powered muzzleloader scope. However, I wanted to respect the animal I had just taken. We hiked over and took some pictures. It was one of the only times where all my siblings were together on a hunt, that was cool. We quartered the bull up and hauled him down the mountain. Unfortunately, we were back home for lunch.
The deer hunt opened two days later. My brother wanted to go back to the same area for deer. I told him no way, knowing my luck we will see a monster bull. I gave in. We grabbed our muzzleloaders and set off to the same place. We started up the trail at light and heard a bull screaming in the pines. My brother wanted to go right toward it and see if we could see him. Of course, I wanted nothing to do with it. The pain was still too recent. I think he wanted to keep pouring salt on the wound to make him feel better about his elk hunt. But again, he talked me into it. We got over to the Aspen trees and he pulled out his cow call. The elk started filing out of the pines on the hill side at 145 yards. 12 cows came out and a monster bull was last. He was pushing his cows around and screaming. He stood broadside and looked at us for about 2 minutes. I will forever have his image in my head of him tilting his head back, super long tines about touching his rear-end, and his breath as he screamed. That could have been my bull if I had only been a little more patient. We estimated the bull to score around 380. During the rest of the deer hunt we saw a few smaller 4 points, but I really couldn’t get motivated to hunt deer. I wanted that elk!
I’m grateful for the learning experience, elk summer sausage, steaks, and burger. My dream of harvesting a monster bull elk is still alive and strong. My brother and I are putting in for elk all over the Western States. So far, the elk are winning.