Del and Atley both drew out for deer tags for the Utah Muzzle Loader hunt this year, and Atley had a cow elk tag! It's our families' favorite hunt and the one that we always try to make time for. My brother Jeff had a limited entry deer tag for a unit just to the south of where we usually hunt so my Dad, Weston and him were down there hunting before we could get away. Jeff's hunt was a success and they shot a nice buck before we arrived. Dad didn't want to move camp so we spent the first day with our trailer set up outside of our unit, making drives north into the south end of our unit and not where we usually hunt. Really beautiful place to camp!
The first evening we drove some roads that none of us had ever been on, seeing lots of deer but only one little buck. Del and Atley both said they didn't want to shoot a "baby" (Del's word), but with us not knowing the area it felt like we were just wandering around looking for a needle in a haystack. The next morning headed into an area that I had been only once before with high hopes. The area seemed more likely to hold to pronghorn antelope than deer and elk, but I knew that we'd gain some elevation and get into some great looking country. Just when the topography starting getting interesting we spotted a couple of elk. Atley was asleep in the back seat! A "Fire Drill" doesn't accurately describe trying to get out and set up before the elk ran off. Atley did manage to get a shot, but in his sleepy haze he decided to try for a 100 yard head shot. Probably not advisable, but at least it was a clean miss. Fully awake now, we only saw a few does, some pronghorn and a coyote for the rest of the morning. Atley was able to somewhat redeem himself on a grouse though.
Frustrated with the lack of buck deer and any encouraging leads, we picked up camp to move it to one of our regular spots. The move took all afternoon, but we were happy to get one of our favorite spots. Once camp was situated we headed out towards a spot that we had seen some bucks on the archery elk hunt (you can read about that hunt HERE). Del hated the rough road we decided to take for our evening hunt, complaining about it right before she spotted a deer off to her side and then spotted a buck with it. She told Atley to jump out and I told her to do the same, "It's on your side!" The deer looked like they were going to start working their way up the hill, so I had Atley walk up the road to see if he could get a shot. Right after that the buck gave Del a shot and she took it. 74 yards, open sights, head shot, buck down! Atley was a little bummed that he didn't get a shot, but he was also happy for his mom.
Tagged out, Del took the opportunity to sleep in the next morning and enjoy being in camp with Caden. My Dad took the opportunity to ride with us and try to help Atley get another opportunity. We didn't see too many deer, but we did get to see some mountain goats which was a first for me!
Dad and Atley were making fun of me for geeking out about the goats and for blowing an elk bugle every spot we stopped. So the next spot we stopped I made sure to grab my elk calls. Right away a bull responded, really close by. Atley and I worked our was towards it making sure to check the wind as we went. Somehow we wound up between that bull and another with the perfect wind. A little more calling and then we spotted a cow within range working it's way through the timber. Atley made sure to aim for the body this time and took the uphill shot. We reloaded and kept calling hoping to keep her and the herd close by. Grandpa joined us after hearing the shot and I was hopeful he'd get a chance to fill his cow tag too. The wind decided to swirl and the elk uphill of us took off so we moved up to the spot where the cow had last stood to look for blood. Atley felt the emotional roller coaster that is hunting when we didn't find any blood.
The lowest of lows hit him hard as we recounted what had happened trying to figure out what our next move should be. He thought that he'd missed and we should give up. I was pretty confident that his shot had hit the cow, which made the situation with no blood to go on feel even worse because of the potential of a wounded animal that may not be recoverable. After giving her some time, we followed tracks scouring the ground for any sign of blood. The herd had been using this hillside as a bedding area, maybe for weeks, which meant the ground was covered in elk tracks making it very difficult to know which ones could be hers. My Dad had stayed where Atley had made his shot to ensure we didn't lose our starting point and it put him in a good spot if those downhill elk decided to join the party. The bull below him bugled and I returned the favor while still looking for Atley's cow and we heard some rustling not far from us. Atley snuck forward and spotted his cow unable to get up but still alert. He put another shot into her to end it quickly and Atley had his first elk!
Hope you're as lucky,