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Alaskan Solitude – Black Bear Hunt

Southeast Alaska is known for  black bear hunting. Her towering forests, and lush shorelines provide plenty of cover and food for big bears. As with most parts of Alaska, it takes some work and time to get there. One of my favorite things about southeast Alaska is that solitude is easy to come by. May 13th found the four of us (Dad, Ben, Ken and I), making the trip. We would travel by foot, car, boat and plane to get there. We landed on a commercial flight in Ketchikan, then boarded the Inter-Island Ferry and nestled in for the 3 hour voyage to Hollis. We chowed on some good food from the diner on the boat, along with a healthy helping of anticipation as we watched whales, sea lions, and fishermen out the ferry windows. We were blessed with a rare bluebird day.

We hit the island and traveled north via an old forest service Suburban. We’d be driving for a few hours and then embarking on a skiff to an isolated camp site, and hunt the beaches for big black bruins! The weather quickly turned Alaskan as we sped across the chop of the inside passage. After a few short hours of prospecting camp sites, we selected a nice grassy beach several feet above the high tide line and got to setting camp and eventually out looking for bears.

We motored through the bays for the next couple of days without finding very many stalk-able or shooter bears. Those that we made plays on fed into the trees. One evening we came back to camp and were making a very late lunch. Ken went for a stroll up the beach while Ben and I cooked supper. Soon I saw Ken come back around the corner of the bay waving his arms. We grabbed our guns and headed down. A lone boar was tipping rocks and eating crabs a few hundred yards away. Ken had seen him and quickly called us over. We also jumped another very young bear as we approached Ken. The tide was coming up and we needed to make our move. I joined Ken as we moved up the bay to get a better shot angle. The bear had gone behind a small rock outcropping, so we were able to move through the open bay as he crunched crabs behind the rock. As I saw him come out from behind the rock I dropped prone and motioned to Ken that the bear was coming back out. A few steps later, my .270 found it’s mark. The bear ran about 20 yards and piled up.

We approached the downed bear and admired his battle-scarred face and claws. I stood over the boar facing back from our shooting location and saw another bear. By then Ben and Dad had met up with us, so Ben and Ken took off after this bear. As they got into position to shoot, the bear re-entered the trees. It was starting to get dark, so I started processing my bear. Suddenly the other bear came back out into the grass along the tree edge. Ken shot and the bear turned, running straight towards them. Another quick shot dispatched the big boar and we’d taken 2 bears in about 15 minutes. One bullet struck the old boar right between the eyes.

Taking a day off from bear hunting typically isn’t part of the game plan. But we were able to meet up with a good friend, Bill Miller from Calder Mountain Lodge, to go fish for a few hours. The fishing was hot for Ling Cod and Yelloweye Rockfish (Alaskan Red Snapper). And I was able to pull in a single halibut. It provided us with a savory meal that night at camp and some of the best salt water fishing I’ve had in Alaska.

We were finally down to our last couple of days. Dad and Ben had yet to connect with a bear. We had a very large boar come out at dusk on our second to last day, unfortunately, he didn’t stay out feeding for long and Dad was unable to finish his stalk.

We finally located a bear, and the stalk was on. The bear was intent on rolling driftwood logs over and eating crabs and seaweed. He paid no attention as we slipped along the shore. We closed the distance to under 100 yards, and Ben put a perfect shot on the bear. He was face down eating grass as the bullet impacted him, he fell flat on his face and never twitched again. This bear was also missing a good chunk of his upper lip.

Sour weather was on the horizon. Getting stuck in a skiff in a nasty storm wasn’t something we wanted to mess with. Mother nature dictated our next move as we spent the next morning trimming and turning hides, packing camp, and motoring back to get the bears sealed and checked. We  headed south, stopping in Whale Pass for the night. The next day we made our way south to Hollis, back on the ferry to Ketchikan and the long trip home, bear meat, hides, and an incredible batch of memories in tow.

 

Scouting for September

By Ben Carter

I believe that hunting elk during the rut is the most fun and most exciting hunt when it comes to western big game. I played the application game with the Utah DWR until finally my name was drawn for a Utah elk hunt. I would be hunting elk in southern Utah in 2014. I had a pretty good idea that I was going to draw based on current trends so I also applied for a general muzzleloader deer tag for the same unit and same time. Luck was on my side and my brother and I both had deer tags as well. It was going to be an exciting year.

I was unfamiliar with the unit that I had drawn. This is not uncommon in Utah where you only get the chance to hunt limited entry elk every 15 years or more. I knew that if I was going to take full advantage I would need to put considerable time in scouting and learning the country. Lucky for me I had some insider knowledge. A good friend of mine, that actually referred me to the unit, accompanied me on my fist scouting trip in July to show me a few places on the unit and get me started in the right direction.

I mostly hunt DIY (do it yourself). Not to disparage anyone that hunts with a guide, but I feel a greater sense of accomplishment knowing I was able to be successful on a hunt on my own. I knew time in the field and on the mountain was going to be crucial to my success. I had just started a new job and had no time off to use, so my weekends were filled with long drives to southern Utah for a couple days of locating key elk habitat. Over July and August I covered most of the unit and was able to hike in and find nice bulls in several canyons. I hung a few cameras and was able to get some pictures of elk, but none of the bulls I was seeing were really what I was after. The big bulls I did see were on a couple large pieces of private property. These “once in every 15 year hunts” put a lot of pressure on hunters to kill trophy class animals. Some people feel cheated when they kill a bull that doesn’t make the record book, or worse eat tag soup.

As August was coming to an end and September was just getting started the bulls started getting more vocal. Some of the coolest encounters I have ever had in the woods happened during this time. Had it been my season I could have killed multiple 6 points, but just being close was an experience in itself. I took a week break off to go help a friend on a rifle elk hunt in a different part of the state, and then it would be time for my hunt. My hunt was set to open on a Wednesday. I got down there Sunday night before it opened to have a couple days to locate a shooter bull for the opener.

It rained pretty heavy Sunday night and when I woke up Monday morning the air was thick with humidity. It was well before dawn as I had an hour and a half hike in front of me to get into where I knew where some elk were and check my trail-camera. The moisture made the woods quiet, and I climbed the mountain in silence with only the wind in the aspens making any noise. This peacefulness was not what I had hoped for. It was September 22nd, the peak of the rut! There should have been bulls going crazy.


It was just getting light as I crested a knob about 2 thirds of the way in. I was right on time. Usually from this knob you can get a good view of the canyon and I had seen animals most times I had been there. Today it was covered with a misty fog. I didn’t even stop, I dove into the trees. My first stop was a deer kill that I had found 2 weeks earlier. I had photographed this deer early in the summer, but then found him dead during the archery hunt. It was the nicest deer I had seen in all my scouting and I was pretty bummed to find him dead. I was going to check the kill again and see if it was still there. The kill was empty except for one front leg. Coyotes or bears had drug the rest off. I then continued up the slope to an area where 2 large clearings meet. This was where I had hung my camera. It was now about 7 am and plenty light to see. Still no bugles. When I got to my camera and checked my pictures, there was one nice bull on there and quite a few small bulls. I was a little discouraged and decided to break the silence with a bugle. I bugled into the fog and a bull answered me from below. It sounded like a young bull. I decided to check a bedding area where I had seen bulls and sign before. There was still lots of sign but no elk. Discouraged I started my decent and heading back to the knob.

I was side-hilling across a large foggy clearing when I caught some movement in the tree line about 80 yards in front of me. I had been cow calling and wasn’t moving quietly, so it surprised me that an animal would be there. I was completely exposed except for the blanket of fog, but I decided to move closer. I got about 30 yards from the tree line and I could see fuzzy brown shapes moving through the aspens near me. Elk, and they were bulls. Five bulls in total and they were moving my way. I froze and did my best tree impression. They got closer. The bulls didn’t even notice me, they were feeding and got comfortable. They started sparing and a few times it got pretty heated. My range finder could barely pierce the fog, but they were only 30 yards away. Most were 4 and 5 points, but one was a small six, probably the bull the bugled back to me earlier that morning.

It was so cool being so close and them being oblivious to my position. After about 15 minutes the wind picked up and the fog started to clear. I remained motionless, but they soon spotted me and spooked down the hill. The visibility at 30 yards really didn’t change much even with the fog gone. However, the sense of security it gave them must have gone and they became aware of me. I side-hilled back to the way I had come up and caught a glimpse of them going out a clearing above me, they had circled me across two giant rock slides and climbed 200 yards above me in the time it took me to get over to the ridge. The last bull I saw was actually a bigger bull that they must have picked up on the way. Still not a giant, but a nice bull. I decided I was going to check out a different area on the unit that would hopefully have more rutting activity.

I made it to the new camp site about 2 in the afternoon started setting up camp. My spirits were already better as I could hear bulls bugling on the hill above me. I finished with camp and I could still here a bull bugling and he sounded pretty close. I thought that if he was going to bugle in the middle of the day I would sneak in on him and see what he was.

I started moving in on that bull about an hour later. He would bugle every 10 to 15 minutes and I slowly worked in. Eventually I spotted some fur through the trees at about 80 yards. I started glassing very carefully and started to make out the herd. Eventually I spotted the bull. He was a 6×7 with great tops. I was excited because had it been open season I could have easily harvested him from where I was hiding. I watched him and his cows for a while and decided to see how they would respond to calls. I cow called a couple times and boom he was out of there. He took is cows and left. I was very surprised how call shy he was. I would make a note of this.

I went back to camp, ate a quick bite, and got ready to go and watch a property boundary that I was planning to hunt to see what kind of evening activity there was. I got into position and waited to see if any elk were using this as a corridor as I had heard they have in the past. After a little while the hills lit up with bugles. However most were below me. Closer to the 7 point I had snuck in on earlier. There were a few bulls on the private land, but most were on the public. I waited until dark and then went back to camp. I still wanted to see if there was any activity there in the morning.


Tuesday morning came and I was in the meadow on the property boundary again. Tomorrow the hunt started and this would be my last day to scout. Again nothing close to me, but I could hear bulls below in the trees. I waited a little while and checked the cameras I had positioned the night before. Nothing but pictures of me setting them up. I started back to camp but thought I would check on a bull that I could hear bugling. This was in a draw farther north and I hadn’t seen much activity in there. I moved in and could hear elk going through the oaks in front of me. I had a 5 point bull come into about 10 yards and never know I was there. It was hard to be quiet and my going was slow, but suddenly a bull bugled close by and started pushing some cows my way. A nice bull that I estimated around 330 340 came by and I watched them for a while. I tried calling on him as I left and it didn’t seem to have any affect. These animals must have been called pretty heavy during the early rifle hunt.

I went back to camp and ate lunch. This time I was going to come in from above on the bulls I had heard bugling this morning and the night before. I dropped into the timber and was moving silently. I was making my way down the draw when the brush in front of me stood up. There was a rag-horn bull about 5 feet from me. I was just through a dead pine and I couldn’t see me. The wind was blowing up the canyon and right into my face. He couldn’t smell me either. He got a little nervous and walked a few yards away but we stood there for a while. I eventually got impatient and just started moving again and he spooked a little. I could hear bulls bugling below me and I pressed on. I jumped a spike and he ran down the draw. I hoped he wouldn’t spook out the other elk so I climbed up on top of the ridge and kept going down the mountain. The spike apparently had the same plan and popped up in front of me again. I had no option to just push him so he ran off again and I hoped the other elk wouldn’t listen to some dumb lone spike. I saw some more movement and figured it was the spike but then I saw big tines moving through the aspens. It was a nice 6 point and he was about 100 yards down the ridge from me. I watched him until he crossed the ridge and I followed across to see what was on the other side. I could see a smaller 6 point up the hill from me some. I could still hear bulls below and was worried everything was going to spook out now that I was completely surrounded by elk. The smaller six was headed right to me so I dropped back into the bottom of the draw and decided to try and slip back out the way I had came.

He beat me to it. And I had to wait him out. I called at him once and he started raking trees. I called again and he spooked. He circled me and headed north. I knew that if I stayed down there I would blow all the elk out. I headed out the way I had come.

There were still bulls that I hadn’t seen in there and I thought that maybe I could come in from the south and get a look at them. I got back to my wheeler and did a big circle around the mountain. I started hiking in from the south and I was right in the elk again. I could hear horns clashing and elk running. I moved stealthily though the oaks and suddenly I saw some tines sticking up above the brush. I moved my position a little and got a better look. It was the 6 point I had seen cross below me earlier. I watched and photographed him for a while. I couldn’t get past his heard to go see what was beyond. Also it was getting dark fast. I decided to move out and not spook them out. Tomorrow was the hunt and I knew I had a bunch of undisturbed bulls in the area to hunt.


My brother and father arrived late that night I told them about my scouting and I told them my game plan to go after the 7 point from the north early in the morning. I knew no other hunters were going after these bulls.

We woke up well before light to watch the traffic and see if we would need to adjust our plan for other hunters. There was some traffic on the roads but they all drove past the area I was wanting to go in on. Perfect, I thought. The elk were pretty close to camp so we waited until it was a little light in order to not spook them out without being able to see them. I picked a bugle that sounded like the 7 points and started moving in with my dad and brother close behind. It was a little hard to move 3 guys silently in, but based on my experience with these animals we weren’t going to be able to call them in.

We closed the distance to under 100 yards, but the elk had gotten on the other side of some small aspens. The trees were so thick there was no way to get through them silently. We could hear another bull just up the slope from us and I decided to move in on them to see what he was. We crossed the bottom of the shallow canyon and started up the other side and into the oaks. Flash! I saw elk.

I dropped to my knees so I could glass under the oak canopy. I could see quite a few elk flashing through the trees. I could see they were moving pretty fast. The elk were moving, and they were moving our way. I ran 30 yards up the draw to about the edge of the oaks and got ready. Suddenly the whole clearing in front me was full of elk. A bunch of cows came running in and a couple of smaller satellite bulls. Then with a screaming bugle the herd bull entered. He dwarfed the smaller bulls and rushed in to push them off.

I could see his mains were decent and his tops looked good. I decided that if he gave me a shot I would take it. The herd was running around about 80 yards from me but there were so many elk I couldn’t get a clear lane at the bull. He disappeared and I thought we had lost him but then he came running back out into the middle of the clearing. The herd cleared and he paused to look back. BANG! The sound filled the clearing and the gray smoke of my muzzle loader shot out in front of me. He humped up and his herd ran off into the trees up the draw. I knew he was hit and hit hard. He took a wobbly step, then another and disappeared behind some trees down towards the bottom of the draw.

I quickly started to reload as my brother and dad came to my side. I got my weapon ready and headed into the meadow. From the way he was moving I thought we would be down.

I got around the trees, and I could see a horn sticking up above the grass. He was down! Man that was a good feeling. I moved over cautiously to make sure he was finished. That was the end. There was some relief and congratulating. My bull was down. He had only gone 10 yards. I had hit him perfect and my hunt was over. I only actually hunted about 30 minutes, but what a great experience. I can’t wait until next year. It was great being able to share it with my father and brother who are both as passionate about hunting as I am. Truly one of the best moments of my life.

Spot and Stalk Gila Coues

2014 started off with a bang for me. Well, more of a whack. The whack of a broad head into the side of a Coues Whitetail. This was my first time hunting Coues Deer. I have only hunted whitetail deer a few times (being from Utah) and everything I had heard is that they are even more elusive. That proved to be true. My tag was for the first 2 weeks of January, archery only. Since this story is on Hunt Addicts, obviously this was DIY public land. My father and I had drawn tags for southern New Mexico. The 12 hour drive was, I would find out, a good warm up for this cold weather hunt. Being from the west I am more accustomed to spot and stalk hunting. The thick cover and elusiveness of the Coues lent more to a sit and wait strategy. New Year’s Eve we got into town and met our friends who we would be staying and hunting with. In the morning we would be heading into the Gila National Forest.

There were a few inches of crusty snow that made sneaking difficult. We hunted down a few ridges, and saw some deer sign in the snow. After a couples stands with the grunt tube and rattling antlers we jumped a couple does. They were only 50 yards away, but their tiny bodies made them look much further away. With a flash of white they disappeared into the thick brush. I wanted to go look off the hill where they ran to get the “lay of the land.” I was quickly turned back. The brush was so thick I could barely push through it. When I did make it to the where I would normally be able to see down a ridge, I was only met with more brush.

Still hunting our way back, we jumped a legal buck. However, the bushes in the way and his quick retreat made a shot not possible. We made it back to the vehicles and went to a different drainage. As we were climbing the ridge we jumped a nice mule deer. Our friend Wayne had a mule deer tag and missed a tough up-hill shot. We made a couple more stands to no avail and headed home for the night.

The next day we hunted a little lower, out of the snow. The basin we were in afforded slightly more visibility, but still not a ton. From one side, however, you could glass the other side about 350 yards away. I set up in one part of the basin and my father set up in a different one. He had action in the middle of the day as a nice buck was pushing a doe in front of him. He nearly had a shot, but it didn’t quite work out. The rest of the day was uneventful. I was surprised about how only 150 yards away he could be in deer while I was not. That activity prompted us to hunt the same place the next day. We set up in the same places as before as the sun came up on the junipers. The earth is completely blanketed by them down there.

A little later in the morning my friend Adam and I moved about 100 yards from our initial location where we could get a little different view. It wasn’t very long and I spotted a doe being pushed by a buck close to our original location. They covered the distance to the far side of the basin almost instantly. Another buck appeared and will milling around at the edge of the basin where the doe had gone. I decided I wanted to go after them. We quietly hurried in their direction and snuck up the hill to where we had seen them last. A nice 8 point buck jumped and started away from us. I stopped him with a grunt. The buck was locked on us about 35 yards away directly though a large Juniper. Everything is directly though a large juniper in southern New Mexico. Our standoff seemed to last a long time, but really was only a few moments. I knew he was getting ready to run. I shifted 2 steps to my right to try and sneak and arrow under a large branch, but the buck wasn’t waiting around. He started up the ridge at a brisk pace. Not so quickly that he acted truly spooked. I followed him and busted him one last time before they disappeared of the south facing side and into the super thick growth. We reunited and talked about the stalk. I said I was going to go sit on that doe’s trail. Thinking maybe a buck would follow it at some point in the day.

After about an hour a buck appeared on the far side of the basin and started tracking the doe. I could tell he was going to come right to me. When he went behind a tree at about 200 yards, I moved to an ambush position under, you guessed it, a large juniper. I had a clear view of the path the doe had taken and I quickly ranged a few trees to know my shots. I didn’t want to overestimate the range on the small-bodied deer. The buck materialized directly below me. It caught me by surprise because he had left the trail I had thought he would travel. I remained still and drew as he passed a clump of grass. At 10 yards I let the arrow fly and it found its mark. He never knew I was there. I had got both lungs and he only went about 20 yards. I signaled the “fist pump of success” to Adam and he returned the gesture. It was settling in that I had actually sealed the deal on one of the gray ghosts.


BenCoues1

BenCoues3

Return to the Sage: Wyoming Antelope

Getting so close a few weeks ago and coming home empty handed changed our plans for the rifle opener. Initially we were planning on scouting for 2 days, and rifle hunting the rest of the week. But after tasting the challenge that spot and stalk archery hunting provided, we modified our plans and headed over 4 days earlier, hoping to get the job done with archery tackle. We’d then have a day or two to pick up our rifles if needed.

Wyoming Desert Sunrise
In this sage country, cover is very scarce. Our tactic consisted of driving and hiking into canyons and draws, looking for bucks that were in stalk-able locations. We each had multiple stalks every day — some better than others. It wasn’t an issue of getting within range, but being close enough, and letting an arrow fly are much different things in the bowhunting world.

Buck through the brush

Dad came and met us after a couple of days, and a good friend, Jewkes, also showed up the Saturday before the rifle hunt opened. We spent a lot of time driving, walking, and glassing bucks to stalk.  Cole showed up Sunday afternoon. He would only be rifle hunting, but came out a couple of days early to get familiar with the unit and look at some bucks.

Jewkes came about 3 inches shy of killing a buck on Sunday, but the buck had moved a few steps farther than he had though and he shot just under its belly. The young buck dashed off and quickly learned to keep his distance from Jewkes-sized predators.

Running Pronghorn Buck

Monday morning we headed out to check on a few of the bigger bucks we’d seen. We were hoping to find them in their usual haunts, so we could be there at first light on opening morning. But we couldn’t locate any of them. We checked a half dozen different areas, and none of our bigger bucks were to be found. Disheartened we decided to head to another part of the unit that we had visited just once over the past 4 days.


Glassing for Bucks

I’d like to say that we put on a difficult stalk, but that wasn’t the case. As we were arriving in the other area and had barely driven onto a strip of public land, we spotted 8 bucks feeding from the truck.  We managed to get the truck pulled off the road without spooking them too much, and Jewkes made a short and effective stalk to within range.

I was sizing the bucks up, trying to pick the largest one. They all looked to be about 2.5 year old bucks — none significantly bigger than the others. They all lined up in a row and looked our way as they had caught our movement. The third from the left, however, did have a pretty hook and was a bit more appealing to my eye. I was looking through the camera eyepiece whispering “Third one from the left…third one from the left.”

The arrow flew, the herd jumped and scattered, and the third buck from the left ran off untouched. The second buck from the left, however, had taken an arrow to the spine and dropped on the spot. The shot was a little high, but the buck was down and expired quickly. It was done. We had a pronghorn buck down — spot and stalk style with archery tackle. We were all on cloud nine as we took a few moments to let it all sink in, snap some photos, and then headed back to camp. Tag 1 of 5 was notched. Rifle season started in the morning.


Jewkes' Archery AntelopeJewkes' Archery Buck Closeup

With pronghorn, an inch makes a big difference. In this sense, antelope hunting differs quite a bit from most other hunts as we looked over dozens of different bucks every day, trying to judge an inch here, and an inch there.  The majority of the bucks we would see were around 13 inches tall or smaller with small to average prongs and not much mass.  As the day wears on and the desert warms, heat waves make discerning inches at distances over 300 yards nearly impossible, even with good optics. We made the decision to split up opening morning. Cole and Jewkes went one way, while Ben, Dad and I took the other truck down into the canyons where we had seen several good bucks on multiple occasions, hoping that they would be back for the rifle opener.

Pronhorn Buck on Skyline

They weren’t. We drove through the usual haunts of several different bucks, only to find them empty. We did find several 14+ inch bucks early in the morning, one in particular had sweeping horns, but we decided that only 10 minutes into the rifle season, he could live a little longer.

We covered a lot of ground, and finally found a solid buck that warranted a stalk, but he was a mile away and two draws over. We consulted the GPS (thanks to GPS Hunting Maps) and found a road that would bring us close. After a bumpy drive and a stalk of a few hundred yards, we eased our way over the edge of the ridge. The herd had moved several hundred yards west and had us pegged. I rushed to find the buck, rested over a large sagebrush, checked the range, and took the shot. I hit low and the buck trailed his fast moving girlfriends across the draw and up the canyon. I had an incorrect range, and must have picked up some brush somewhere between myself and the buck and missed low because of it.

We made our way back out of the canyons and onto a big flat that always holds good amounts of antelope — they lived there because they could see for long distance so getting close to them was tough. We found several herds, and Ben and I were able to stalk up a draw, passing several bucks on the way, but ultimately not getting the bucks we were after.

Ben Watching Buck through Scope

We returned to camp to find Cole had killed the first buck he saw that morning. His luck paid off big time as his buck was big and had character. We exchanged high fives and stories of the morning, grabbed some lunch, and headed out to find some more bucks.

Cole's Big Character Buck

Trek Tent Camp

We found another nice buck, who managed to elude us and were driving back past camp, when we spotted a herd on backside of the ridge above camp, close to where I had one of my closest archery stalks several days prior. This looked to be the same buck and I decided I’d make a stalk. Ben took Dad south to try and find another buck, while Jewkes followed me with the camera as we made our way back to camp and up the draw. Hoping we could sneak around the ridge and find the herd within range.

I left Jewkes when I thought we were close and he stayed back with the camera, as there was very little cover. I had to use the topography of the gradual ridge to make my way towards the herd. I crawled forward and saw a doe, she was moving up the hill so I backed off, looped uphill and crawled forward again. The buck was standing next to a doe at about 200 yards, and for a long time either she was in front of him or he was in front of her so no shot was offered. I studied the buck, trying to decide whether I wanted to fill my tag. The doe cleared and he turned his head to look up the draw, his ivory tips glinted in the sunlight and he made up my mind. I grabbed my pack (which I had set behind me) and laid on my back as I pulled it across my chest to use as a rest. The buck caught my movement and looked my way. He stared me down, as I lay flat on my back in some very short grass. After what felt like an hour (more like a minute) he turned and fed. His lead doe was getting nervous and turned, looking to go around the ridge from me where I wouldn’t be able to see them. The buck was following but turned back. I abruptly sat up and shot. His does raced uphill, quartering towards me as they hurried to the top of the ridge. The buck turned downhill at first, then whirled back and I shot again, but the first shot had found its mark.

Brad's Pronghorn Buck

Brad's Buck side view

Brad's Wyoming Buck


Dad and Ben were coming back past camp, so we called and they came up to take a few more photos. They then headed back south of camp to look for a couple more good bucks. Ben found a buck that evening that had a pretty curl, great mass, and good prongs. He put on a very long stalk to within 70 yards in tall sage brush, capping it off with a short shot and tagged out. His buck is 13″ but will likely score the best of all the bucks due to his mass and strong cutters.

Ben's massive hooked pronghorn buck

We capped the night off with some rice and fresh backstraps, enjoying good company, tired companions, and reliving memories of the day. The next morning Dad, Ben and I headed out to try to find a buck for Dad. We drove down onto a large flat where we had gone the morning prior. The bucks make their way across this flat as they move from water each morning. We spotted the sweeping 14″ from the morning before and Dad decided he wouldn’t pass on him twice. With a short stalk his tag was punched and we had tagged 5 bucks in 36 hours.

Dad's sweeping antelope buckDad's Buck Closeup

I’ve long believed that antelope hunting is a great first hunt — but ultimately, it just makes a great hunt whether you’re new to the sport, or a seasoned veteran. The North American Pronghorn truly is a unique and amazing animal, hunting them in the sage deserts of Wyoming is hard to beat.


Morning Glassing for Antelope

Wyoming Horned Toad

Utah Archery Elk Hunt – Manti Unit

I’ve often heard hunters speak of the highs of hunting, as well as the lows. I think sometimes the magnitude of this emotional transition is forgotten after a tag is notched.

Part 1:

A good friend of mine had a similar tag late last year and came home empty-handed. His biggest regret wasn’t necessarily coming home empty handed, but rather, letting himself cave to the pressure of passing on lesser bulls that he would have been very happy to hang his tag on. I didn’t want that to happen to me. I purposely didn’t set a “score” for the bull I wanted to kill — I said if I liked him, I would take him. I had trained my mind for just that occasion. I planned on passing a bull or two, because I knew I would have my chance at multiple smaller satellite type bulls.

Anticipation had me laying awake at night dreaming of large racked bulls tilting their headgear to maneuver between trees as they responded to calls and moved ever closer. I must have played it over a thousand times in my head. As the bulls head moved from my view behind a tree, I would draw and wait for his vitals to clear. I would stop him with a quick chirp and send my arrow on its way. I couldn’t wait!

Scouting trips had me drooling over big bulls. I wanted to hunt bugling bulls so I postponed the majority of my vacation days from work to hunt the last 2 weeks. My brother, and good hunting partner Ben, accompanied me and we arrived with high hopes. Our first day out resulted in no bugles and no elk. But as the sun rose on day 2 elk were found. A bull we named “Main Beams” showed himself and the hunt was on…



Stay tuned for part 2.

 

You Can’t Cheat the Mountain, Pilgrim.

By Steve Huhtala

 

At 11,800 feet there wasn’t a whole lot of air to gulpdown. The only sign of trees were a couple thousand feet below us, with the exception of a few tree stumps from millions of years ago. Petrified tree parts littered the near vertical slopes around us and the stumps of an ancient forest still protruded from the earth here.

This was one of those moments you live for. We were about to look over the side of a saddle where I had watched 27 rams walking across four years before near where I had just shot my own ram. I always wondered what lay over this mountain pass since that amazing day.

My partner Doc, his son Brad and I slowly gazed around the corner of a huge rock cornice.
Oh my! It was sheep heaven! Four rams lay four hundred yards level across, six more were scattered below them, including the beautiful dark ram with heavy horns that led us to this spot.
And off to their right and below, lay three rams including Doc’s favorite, a heavy based long horn sheep that carried his mass out well. But, they were here for a reason. We called this place “Highway to Hell”. There was no vegetation here, only conglomerate rock tilted on edge at 70 degrees Spires of rock looked like chimneys between chutes and cliffs. Forbidding country. It was 3 P.M. and we had been climbing and glassing since 5 A.M.

This was by far the toughest piece of real estate we’d seen yet. Doc asked, “What do you think Hoot?”

I said, “I don’t know if we can get to that ram even if you do kill him, much less get him back out of here.”

“Well.” Doc replied, “I really like him….A lot!” He added. Doc reminded me of my bold statement to shoot the ram he wanted first, then we would worry about getting him out. Maybe I was being too cautious. So, we made the decision to send Brad above to scope out a route to the ram. Brad is a lean sheep-hunter-built type young man, so it wasn’t long before he was back with the good word.

“If he falls off the cliff into the chute we can go below to get to him. If he dies in his bed, we’ll have to get to him from above. But, it’s doable.”
Doc quizzed me once more. “Will you be mad if I shoot him Hoot? You said if we find the one I want we’ll figure out a way to get him back to camp.”
I replied, “It’s your tag and your ram. We’ll make it work.”

We discussed the ballistics of the situation. 325 yards, 45 degree decline…” upslope wind and the bedded ram quartering towards us.” I’m going to aim at the bottom of his curl.” Doc whispered.

“Yeah, sounds good” I nodded in agreement.  Adjusting his gun and pack, Doc made like a German Shorthair getting his bed just right. When he finished settling his rifle, we all waited and watched. I had a ringside seat through my spotting scope. I couldn’t help but think after eight years this old ram that filled my spotting scope was breathin’ his last breath. Doc was about to let the air out of him. What a magnificent animal, what fabulous country. Kaboom! I saw the impact of the bullet hit the ram where the neck, shoulder, and brisket all converge. A perfect hit! The bruiser exploded to his feet, took three steps and disappeared from view behind a rock. The next sound was the sheep crashing off the cliff into the chute below us.

“You nailed him Doc, you nailed him! He’s down. Great shot!” The other dozen rams scattered in all directions. Where sheep can go, defies physics. Running wide open across avalanche chutes and over cliffs can only be appreciated in person. They are absolutely amazing animals.

It wasn’t long before all was quiet. The other rams made their way to drainage. Brad had caught the entire stalk on video. We hoped to capture the event on film, turn it into a DVD and make it available for sale and rent through my new business, Trophy Flix.
Brad is a natural behind the camera and looking back at the footage, he really captured the spirit of the hunt.

Our trio picked our way around the steep loose rock and into the chute where Doc’s ram lay dead, but barely clinging to the rocks. He was a fine ram. Good bases, mass, and a beautiful dark cape. And like most sheep hunts, it was a team effort. We had to keep the back slaps to a minimum, as it was already tough to keep our feet underneath us. It was a real challenge just to gut and cape the ram in this precarious spot.

But, the biggest challenge still lay before us. We had to get ourselves and the ram off the mountain and back to camp. Looking down the canyon Doc suggested we go down and out instead of up and around to get back to camp the way we came. I knew this country and what it can do to you. I was reluctant. Doc offered to hike down the near ridge to afford a better look at the drainage below. He soon radioed back,” It doesn’t look to bad.” Brad and I thought,” What the heck, we’ll see some new country.”, and joined Doc below. We did indeed see some new country including: waterfalls, a dozen cliffs, brush, boulders, downfall, seven miles of trail and three river crossings. We staggered into camp at 2:30 A.M. the next morning.

I reminded Doc of the words of wisdom given to Jeremiah Johnson by Bear Claw Chris Lapp,
“You can’t cheat the mountain pilgrim.” We had a good laugh and decided there is nothing that compares to a successful sheep hunt, but a nice easy antelope hunt sounded really good right then.

Wyoming Moose – Area 20 Success!

By Ben Carter

My adventure began the day I opened that envelope from the Wyoming Game and Fish. Unit 20 type 1 successful. My excitement was rehearsed because it was essentially a guaranteed draw. My 10 points would have been plenty now that my residency status had changed from resident to nonresident. I had been applying for Wyoming Moose since I was 14. Now, at age 26, I could finally use my points.

I knew the hunt unit very well, and I had a lot of history in the area. I killed my first elk in that unit. Still I spent the spring thaw pouring over maps and reading everything I could about the area. When summer arrived I spent every weekend making the 5-hour (each way) trip to the Snake River Canyon in western Wyoming. I wanted to know every inch of my unit. I drove every road and 2 track within my hunt unit boundaries. I narrowed down where I was going to focus my “on foot scouting.” I saw lots and lots of moose. But none of the bulls I was finding were what I was looking for.

The week before the bow season opened I spotted a bedded bull across a canyon. I watched him for over 2 hours and he never moved. All I could see is part of one paddle. I could tell it was a mature bull but I needed to see what he was packing. I decided to try and close the distance. The late summer heat had made the mountain plant growth dry and crunchy, and it made it impossible to move quietly. Even still I was determined.

I circled up to the head of the draw so I could come back into the wind and hopefully get a better look at the bull. As I was descending the opposite side hill I heard a shrill scream. Then a cow moose crashed out of the bushed in front of me. She shrieked at me a couple more times and then ran into the pines where the bull was bedded. I could hear him disappearing down the canyon…. Also disappearing were my hopes of catching another glimpse of him.

The following weekend brought the beginning of the bow season. I had 2 last days of scouting before the season opened. I went to a few spots where I had seen the biggest bulls in my previous scouting to try and decide where I was going to begin my hunt. My last day I decided to try and see if I could find that bull that had eluded me the week before. For all I knew he could have been a dink, but I couldn’t get him out of my mind.

It was a misty morning. The heavy rain during the previous night brought out the contrast on the mountains. I moved along the ridge-top glassing every wet stump on the mountain. I froze mid-step when I spotted a bedded bull up the canyon from me.

His coat was jet black from the rain. Even at about 700 yards away I could see his velvet-covered antlers silhouetted against the emerald background of the wet grass. He was defiantly the best bull I had seen all season. I estimated his width in the high forties with nice long paddles. The only thing that I was having a hard time making my mind up with was he only had single fronts. For a bull moose to score well they need to have forked fronts.

After some deliberation, I finally decided this was the bull for me. I snuck off the mountain with out letting him know I had been there. I was going to be there first thing the next morning, hopefully to find him in the same spot.

The next morning was wet and cold. It made the climb up the steep slopes hard and slow. My father was with me and we didn’t crest the ridge-top to where we could view the place I had last seen the bull as early as I would have liked. Even so, it didn’t take us too long before my dad spotted a moose moving through some aspens on the other side of the canyon. It was a cow, but I knew the bull wouldn’t be far behind. I left my dad and dropped down the canyon to hurry into position to where the cow was headed.

I worked my way up the muddy slope as quickly as I could. The brush was drenched and the going was very quiet. I made it to where I thought I needed to be on top of a little knoll. I didn’t see a thing, no tracks and no sign. So I dropped into some pines that I thought the bull would be in. I snuck through them without making a sound. I still didn’t hear or see anything. I came out into a clearing surrounded by aspens. Suddenly I had the feeling I was being watched. I turned around and looked in the wall of aspens directly behind me. There were a couple pines in the grove and their dark shapes looked very moose-like. I threw up my binocs on one tree that looked extra dark. Instead of needles it was covered in hair. It was the bull! He was about 60 yards away and was staring right at me. At least I think he was, I could only see his belly. I took 3 steps to my right to get a better view, and he started moving away. The trees were so thick that I didn’t have a shot. I tracked him for a few hundred yards, but there was no hope he had busted me. I gave up my pursuit, and as I was stopped under the shelter of a large pine contemplating my failure I heard a crashing in the bushes… out popped the cow, she was scared. She ran to within 20 yards of me and stopped. She started screaming, and then took off in the same direction the bull had gone.

I spent the rest of the week looking for the bull. I covered the area and surrounding canyons every day for a week without catching a glimpse of him again. I had shots at several small bulls but my heart was set on him.

I wasn’t able to hunt the opening weekend of the rifle hunt, but the following weekend found me again in the same canyon with a rifle on my back. This time I was accompanied by my roommate Justin. We were on top of the mountain glassing the canyon I had seen the bull in previously. Moving up and down the ridge we saw 6 different moose in the 3 canyons we could see into. Justin spotted a large bull about a mile and half west of us. He was so far away that through my spotting scope I couldn’t make out any detail. All I could see was that he was a large bull. We watched him for a while when we spotted a couple hunters on the same ridge the bull was on. The moose moved out of view and we heard some shooting. The shots sounded like pistol shots to me but non-the-less I could feel my heart sinking into my belly. Deer rifle season was also open in the area, and I was hoping they were deer hunters.

It was getting late in the morning and we weren’t seeing any more animals out feeding. I was feeling very discouraged and was trying to decide if it was worth it to hunt our way back down, or just take the trail we had come up back down. I decided there was one little draw in that I had seen moose in that we could try on the way back.

We worked our way back down the ridge to the head of the draw. We peeked in, but there was nothing bedded in the tall grass where I had previously seen some moose. I told Justin that I wanted to go down a little more and maybe roll a rock into the brush just below the head of the draw. I found an ideal rock, and I told Justin to come hold my gun while I rolled it “down there” and pointed to the where I was going to send the rock. Justin says, “There is a bull” literally directly where I was pointing. He was only 150 yards down slope from us. He was looking at us, and I could see he was wide. I glassed him and he turned his head sideways. His big palms stretched back down his neck. I knew it was my bull. There was a cow bedded just beyond him.

I told Justin “I’m gonna take him!” At that moment the bull started going up the other side of the ridge, with the cow right behind him. The south-facing slope of the other side of the draw was essentially bare. He cleared the brush and I grunted at him like cow moose. They stopped and looked at us. At that instant I sent 130 grains of fiery death right through both lungs. He started to take a couple more steps and Justin told me to put another one in him. I knew he was a dead moose, so the second hit I put directly into his shoulder to stop him. He humped up and then his feet flipped over his head as he rolled once down the hill.

Then the real work began. We caped him out and quartered him. Then we went back to town and picked up the horses.

It truly was a rewarding experience to be able to harvest the bull I had been hunting all those days. I would have loved to take him with a bow, but I can’t complain how it ended.

First Muzzleloader Hunt

By Ben Carter

The 2008 Utah General season Muzzleloader hunt was a brand new experience to me. It was actually pretty new for our whole group. I didn’t even own a muzzleloader at the time.

I met up with my brother and our friend Thursday night. They had been hunting since Wednesday when the season had opened. We had scouted the area extensively during the bow season and had seen some nice bucks.

First light Friday morning found my brother and I set up in a tongue of trees that we had seen the deer using very frequently for cover while moving to a bedding area. Our friend was watching a different high-traffic area.

We were watching the basin below us as it illuminated into view, trying to find the animals that we knew would be there. Suddenly I froze. I whispered “there is something behind us.” My brother looked past me and saw the bucks. I dropped to the ground so he could shoot over me as the deer started to run. I could see 4 long tines silhouetted against the sky above us. “he is good, take him” I said. At that moment my face was full of smoke and my ears were ringing. The buck gave a hit-kick and took off down into the basin below us. There were a couple other bucks in the group so my brother reloaded and I ran up to see if they were still around. I found them 300 yard and moving away around the basin rim. I ran back to my brother so we would go find his deer. We jumped him again and finished him off down in the bottom of the basin. It was quite a grunt to pack him all the way up out of that basin and then back to camp.

Now I had a Gun. That night we saw some deer but nothing that we felt like pursuing. The next morning was Saturday, and we knew there would be more people. My brother and our friend went to where we had killed the buck the morning before, and I went to the other side of the mountain to watch two other basins where we had seen deer. As soon as I got on top I could see hunters coming from every direction. I turned back and headed to where I could radio my friend and brother and let them know that we had company. As I was moving under the rim of the basin I suddenly spotted 2 bucks staring at me through the trees. They were out of range for my weapon so I put some trees between us and tried to close the distance. I could tell they wanted to come into the trees that I was occupying and that was causing them to freeze up. I found an opening and I could see a buck looking into my location. All I could tell was that he was pretty wide and about 90 yards away. I lowered the hammer on him in flash of powder smoke and fire. Because my shooting window was so small I couldn’t tell if he was down or hit or anything. I climbed to the spot he had been and tried to guess the path he had taken around the shale face. I found him dead about 150 yards later.

What a thrill. I had made my first harvest with a muzzleloader. One shot, one kill. I radioed my brother and told him to come see if they could see where the other deer that were with him had gone over the top. They weren’t able to get on them, but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. I am forever hooked on “smoke poles” now. This year I have my own, and I am excited for another great hunt.