The Rocky Ascent: 22S Late Rifle Bull Elk
Updated: Jan 21
The late season elk hunts began like many others with a journey up north, days prior to set camp, scout, rendezvous with clients, and everything else related to preparing for a hunt. Camp set up began late in the night as a traffic accident on the Beeline Highway had resulted in a 4 hour delay of my arrival. Temps wear brisk with night time lows slipping into the 20s. I set camp to an adequate degree and settled in for several days of solo scouting. The rough country let go a few secrets as I was able to turn up a few solid bulls in the days leading up to the opener. The country felt dry and desolate like much of the state during 2020. It was as if all but the most stubborn of wildlife had vacated the area to bury themselves tight into the land covered by dense forests and the last few remaining sources of water. The animals of all kinds seem to have been siphoned off just as the sun had so effectively baked the moisture from the area in previous months. Despite the unsettling ground conditions I turned up a couple exceptional bulls for the unit and a few others.
Thanksgiving day prior to the hunt I finalized some last minute shopping and met up with my client in town. Lars and I headed to camp awaiting the arrival of his brother in law to go over the next day's plans. Sub freezing winds smashed into camp throughout the night and early morning as a winter storm dropped snow mere miles to the north.
We hammered along the rocky, narrow, and steep roads for some time as we approached our first stop on Friday, opening day. The wind whipped up the hillside sucking the warmth from our hands as we glassed. No elk in spot number one as the clouds dropped snow north of us. We moved to the next ridge to check another secluded pocket. As we parked I looked at the mountain across from us seeing a heavily broken 6x bull and four cows with a few cows traveling the north face. Half way in to the next glassing area I noticed another hunter sitting at our destination so we turned back respecting their space. Hiking into spot three, we pushed through the brush and out a couple miles to overlook a large roadless area where I had seen a good bull in prior days. To our dismay we glassed up two other groups of hunters hiked into adjacent ridges. We ignored the areas near the people and focused on the large drainage for the next several hours once more to see people hiking through and around the most elk preferred habitat. “I’ve never seen so many motivated people out here.” Opening day concluded without seeing any more elk.
Day two began with a new approach. We would hike in beyond all of the other hunters and view the area from the opposite side than was visible to them. We trudged out a ridge line in the dark heading for our secluded glassing spot. The hillsides offered us nothing but cold winds so we began working our way out to the furthest end of the ridge line. Climbing upon a rock pile I lifted my eyes to the shaded faces below and across from us. Two yellow bodies glowed in the early morning sun ¾ of a mile away. I set up my BTX and quickly noted the bull to Lars and Alex. A massive set of canyons filled the space between us and the bulls. After a short discussion we decided to make a play on the elk which would require us to backtrack up the ridge we were on then descend the less treacherous portion of the canyon. At this point we climbed up the end of an intermediate ridge and doubled back yet again to cross a second large drainage. Covering ground as fast as possible, even in the chilly air we were dripping with sweat and ditched all of our layers. One mountain now stood between us and the bulls.
The ascent up the final mountain was slower in pace as we needed to slow our heart and breathing rates as we approached the shoot position. The final hundred yards were methodically slow as we searched for a window through the Pinyon and Juniper trees. An opening filled mostly with a large patch of Banana Yuccas would provide our shooting lane. I could see the two bulls standing in the shadows across from us as Lars set up for the shot. Alex set up just behind us viewing the bulls through his spotter. Lars steadied his Weatherby 6.5 CM atop his tripod in a seated position. A pack serving as a brace. I set up just to the right and ranged the bulls. “The top one is bigger, that's the one we want to take.” I stated as Lars settled the gun on the correct bull. A tree covered the bulls head but his vitals were exposed and broadside. At 385 yards his shot tore across the canyon like thunder and the bull lurched forward. Still on his feet a quick follow up anchored him on the mountainside. The bull crashed through the scrub oak brush and slid down the rock-slide ridden face. A lone, dead and downed pine intercepted the bull, preventing him from falling clear to the bottom.
Lars looked at Alex and I in a state of disbelief. “I don’t think I have ever had that much adrenaline while shooting at an animal!” He still sounded shaken and out of breath. We exchanged handshakes and congratulations as we took in the moment. We had just made an epic play across extreme terrain only to wind up getting a better shooting advantage than we had anticipated. The Minnesota boys had proven their abilities to get around in truly difficult and risky terrain with ease. We laughed it off because we weren’t done yet. One more canyon was between us and the now dead bull. Back uphill we went as we cut into the bottom. Then we zig zagged up the opposite side and approached the bull. A quick adjustment to our route and we could see him wrapped up in the tree. The guys got to him and were in awe of how large of an animal a bull elk truly is. All three of us got to work taking pictures and then breaking down the elk. This was a tedious process on the steep and rocky hillside as we parted the elk out without being able to dislodge him.
I wrapped up caping the head and finished deboning the last of the meat as Alex and Lars shuffled the first load to the saddle above us. They returned minutes later and we loaded up the next three loads of gear and meat. An initial grueling climb took us to where the first load was stashed in the saddle. Dropping our bags, we took time to briefly rest and reorganize on flatter ground. The three of us made the accent to the nearest road. The guys headed back down for the second lighter remaining load and I hiked across to the next mountain range to get the Honda SxS. I rolled up to our meat stash and loaded it in the back. Only a few minutes later the guys were back with the final load. Bouncing down the rock infested road towards our camp we recounted the feat we had just accomplished. Lars leaned over to be heard above the engine noise and said “This has to be the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life.” He was ecstatic to have taken his first bull in such a rewarding, scenic, and rugged landscape.
Author: Dillon Currie