The second year of hunting a “new” part of Wyoming brings a certain sense of having to prove to one’s self that any success the previous year was not beginner’s luck. There is also the element of not wanting to repeat mistakes from the previous year as well. In many ways hunting this year was more stressful than last year now that there were “expectations”…
Once again Dee and Kay and Tony, our local contacts who hosted us last year were there to let us use their property as a launching point, as well as help arrange extra horses.
Even though we camped together, and ate meals together, we were essentially two teams. Dee had his three friends, Larry, Tony and Glenn in camp. The ”Martin Boys” consisted of my 70 year old father, 67 year old uncle Colby, my brother in law Mike, and I, both 38 years young. In a future column I will present the weeks hunt from the perspective of “Dee’s Boys”.
The “Martin Boys” hunting story
We left California on the 27th of September and overnighted the horses in Wells, Nevada. We arrived in our base of operations the evening of the 28th and got the gear packed for the ride into camp in the morning. Our friend Jimmy had already packed in the other members earlier that day.
The next morning we fit our tent, duffle and 2 bags of weed free hay pellets on two pack horses and arrived in camp, 10 miles from the ranch in the early afternoon. After setting up our tent, Jimmy and I “turned and burned” back to the trailhead with five pack horses to bring back enough feed to sustain the remuda for the duration of our hunting time in the mountains. During that 20-mile day, my new gelding, Bob, showed he had plenty of energy to climb the narrow rocky trails at over 9000 feet of elevation.
We returned to camp the very next day with feed after putting 30 mountain miles in 24 hours on my new mount. I decided I would hunt on foot the next morning to give him a chance to rest. We turned in early to prepare for a start before daylight on opening day.
During the night a full moon rose over our camp and the elk stayed up all night and partied. From midnight on, herd bulls and satellite bulls shouted insults back and forth. At 2:00 am we heard the horses spook and snort, and a cow elk bark as she found herself in our camp. It was a sleepless night to be sure.
In the pre-dawn darkness at 4:30 the elk were still in full vocal arrangement. We all agreed we needed to stay in camp longer than we planned to prevent bumping elk on our way to our hunting areas. I headed north with my brother in law Mike, as the eastern sky began to turn grey, while the full moon still hung bright in the upper part of the western sky. No headlight needed to see the ground, and a hoarse bugle to the north held my heading.
Mike whispered to me to take the first shot if the bull was to my liking. I quickly accepted. He might not be so quick to offer next time. We crested the rise to reveal a lone elk on the hillside 233 yards away. It took a number of minutes to make out antlers and even ten minutes after legal shooting light I was uncertain of his true trophy potential. As he turned up the hill presenting a broadside shot, I saw a generous length of his fourth tine and decided he was “good enuf” and rested my rifle over a rock and fired. The bull shuddered, but didn’t go down immediately. I fired another round, and he tipped over and tumbled down the hill. He came to rest in the trail, just a little over a half mile from camp.
As I walked up to my bull he grew in size as I got closer. I saw my first shot had been fatal, through the left shoulder and both lungs. I let out a sigh as I realized my elk season in Wyoming was done a little after 7:00 am on opening morning.
I radioed Jimmy to bring the pack horses and Mike and I proceeded to break down the bull in the gutless fashion. Having a veterinarian as a hunting partner is great when it comes time to break down a large animal. His knowledge of anatomy and experience in necropsy made a for the smoothest field work I’ve ever experienced post-kill on an animal. Mike even photographed many of the stages in preparation for a future article on gutless quartering. By 9:00 am we had the bull back to camp and hung in the trees.
After a brief rest we ventured out again at mid-day to take up the hunt I had interrupted with my kill so early. We skulked through a rocky area full of nooks and crannies an elk would love to bed in. As we crested a rise, we heard a shot to the southeast that sounded close and Mike readied to spot any elk that might have been spooked our direction. We worked our way in the direction of the shot and came upon my father and uncle Colby shortly after they had lost the blood trail of the bull Colby had shot. Thirty minutes after, Mike shouted down as we tried to pick up the bloodtrail once more that he had found the bull. Despite a pass through shot through both sides of the ribs on a back to front angle, Colby’s bull still travelled quite some distance before collapsing in a pile of rocks on a steep, rocky sidehill. My father went back for the pack horses while Mike marked a route to retrieve the bull. Colby and I took photos and began the knife work for the second time that day.
We had just finished with removing the last of the rib and neck meat when Dad and Mike returned with two pack horses in tow. We managed to get both loaded on the steep rocky hillside without incident. One with front shoulders and boned out meat, and the other horse with hindquarters and the head and antlers. The sun was just beginning to set as we got into camp that night.
The next day, Colby and I loaded our elk on four pack horses. As we readied to leave, Dee walked into camp and informed us he had a bull down. At that point we decided to make the quick ride out to the trailhead. With the cool weather getting cooler Dee’s bull would have ideal storage temps in camp. Since we had a deadline to leave at the end of the week, we wanted to get our bulls to the meat processor, who was in the middle of the hunting season rush. A quick stop in town for some more game bags, and we returned to camp the next morning after spending the night down at the trailhead.
During those two days, my father and brother-in-law covered a great deal of country on foot and on horseback. They had some memorable encounters with some cow elk and a spike, and found a sizeable black bear track.
On the final full day of hunting, I accompanied Mike, and Colby accompanied my father as we hunted a roughly 15 square mile area from opposite ends. With no bull sightings for either of us, we decided that the flurry of activity on opening morning was the result of the elk herds moving to a different part of the unit at that moment. We broke camp on Friday at noon and made our final ride down to the trailhead.