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Jan/Feb 2011 EBJ (Issue 63) - Taking in the magnificent Wyoming sunset, I was a little puzzled and worried about the lack of bull elk I was seeing from my favorite spotting knob. In years past I was able to sit on this knob and glass dozens of bulls, but not tonight.
Just before dark I caught movement by a pond in the bottom of the valley. At first glimpse, I thought it was a black bear; however, as my Swarovski binoculars came into focus, I counted seven wolves getting a drink from the pond. It is becoming a common theme across the West. The wolves move in, while the elk vacate their favorite valleys.
The next several weeks brought many more sightings of the wolf pack, as well as a few bulls. I was able to locate three bachelor herds of bulls that contained several nice looking bulls, but I just couldn’t find the caliber of bull I was hoping to hunt when the season opened.
My friend and I had been extremely lucky in the draws this year. We had many hunts planned, which was going to limit the amount of time we had to chase elk in our home state. Our plan was to locate a couple of great bulls and hope for a shot during the first week of the season. The problem was the lack of great bulls our scouting efforts were turning up. We located several 300-class bulls, but could not find many in the next age class.
Two weeks prior to opening day I was once again sitting on the spotting knob when I saw a bull standing in the timber across the canyon. The bull’s hide was dingy white in color, which made him easy to see, even while standing in the dark timber. My heart skipped a beat as I brought the bull into focus in my binoculars. He had extremely long main beams with six long points on each antler. I knew he was one of the biggest bulls I had ever seen on this mountain. I nicknamed him the Ghost Bull, due to his light coat.
I spent the next several days trying to relocate him with no luck. I was seeing several other great bulls, which made the anticipation of opening day seem unbearable. Two days before opening day I caught a glimpse of him as he walked through an open meadow across the canyon from me. He was impressive. He was only a couple hundred yards from where I had first seen him, but the wind in this portion of the canyon was unpredictable, which was going to make hunting him difficult. The same morning I spotted a bachelor herd of 12 bulls on a flat above the canyon. Three of these bulls were pretty big.
On opening morning I was hiking through the darkness hoping to get in front of the 12 bulls I knew were still feeding on the flat. I hadn’t seen the Ghost Bull again and didn’t want to go blindly into the canyon and push him out of the area.
To my dismay, there were other hunters in the area that dropped into the canyon. One walked across the open hillside above the flat, which sent the bulls diving for the heavy timber in the head of the canyons below. I didn’t see an elk on opening morning; boy was I bummed.
That evening found me on the spotting knob just hoping to see any bull. It wasn’t long before I started to see a few bulls through open pockets in the timber. Just before dark I spotted the Ghost Bull bedded in a small meadow. Lucky for me I knew this small finger canyon very well, because I had spent quite a bit of time in it bear hunting the previous spring. I knew if he stayed where he was, I would be able to slip in on him in the morning with the wind in my face. Man was I excited.
The next morning I was on the spotting knob before sunrise. It was a crisp morning and I huddled on the knob trying to stay warm. In the early morning light I was able to spot a small bull where the Ghost Bull had been the night before. I quickly hustled to the other side of the knob so I could glass where the Ghost Bull spent the summer. No luck. I went back to see if any other bulls had materialized near the small bull I glassed earlier, and to my amazement, there were six other bulls feeding with the small bull! As soon as I put my binoculars on them, I knew one was the Ghost Bull.
I quickly grabbed my gear and started the descent down the steep canyon wall. I knew the bulls were feeding above a small creek, which would help cover the sounds of my approach. I lost sight of thems for a while as I hurdled over downed timber. I finally found the large game trail I knew dropped into the canyon as the bulls came back into sight.
When I was 100 yards from the canyon floor, I was surprised to see a nice six-point bull heading into the heavy, timbered bedding area in front of me. My plan was to beat the group of bulls to this bedding area and wait for them to come in for a shot. The bull passed by me at 70 yards and disappeared into the timber. A few seconds later I was standing on the trail the bull had just used.
I hadn’t traveled far when I caught movement in the timber to my right. Feeding 40 yards away were two more six-points that I estimated in the 300 class. I let them feed by and into their bedding area. I moved to my right a little more so I could see over a small rise that was blocking my view and was stunned to see the bodies of two more bulls uphill from me. I wasn’t able to see the headgear on these bulls as they passed and I feared I had missed the Ghost Bull by mere seconds.
I stood next to a small pine tree pondering what I should do next when I caught a glimpse of antlers heading right at me. They looked huge as they disappeared from sight into a small ravine in front of me. I quickly dropped to my knees as I grabbed an arrow from my quiver. I got into position, preparing for the shot I hoped would soon present itself. It seemed like hours had passed, but was probably only a few minutes. I began to wonder if the bull had somehow gotten past me, because he was only 40 yards away when I first saw him. I scanned the hillside but saw nothing. I even stood up and peered into the ravine. I thought to myself that he HAS to be right here somewhere.
Suddenly, the sight of antler tips approaching brought me back to reality. I quickly dropped down and prepared for the shot. The bull appeared 25 yards in front of me, feeding in my direction. I glimpsed at his antlers, knowing he was huge, and thought about what was going on with the third point on one of his antlers. Then I decided I had better just focus on where I wanted my arrow to go. I knew he wasn’t the Ghost Bull, but he would be a beautiful consolation prize.
When his head went behind a clump of grass at 20 yards I drew my bow, holding the sight pin tight to his massive shoulder. The arrow struck right where I aimed and the bull ran uphill before stopping to look back. He then slowly walked into the bedding area and out of sight. I sat quietly hoping to hear the bull go down with no luck, so I backed out of the area and hiked up the steep canyon to my truck.
I made a quick trip to town while he expired and rounded up some ground support. A little while later, five friends and I were standing at the location where I shot the bull. I could clearly see a blood trail heading uphill from where the arrow struck and we followed it for about 100 yards. Isaac then exclaimed, “There he is!”
It was clear by the torn up earth that the bull had died on his feet. He then tumbled down the steep hillside, wedging himself against a large pine tree.
The bull was a huge 6x7, with a split beam that measured a whopping 36 inches long. I honestly had no clue how big this bull actually was until Ron stated that he thought he would gross over 370. I didn’t think he was that big, but we green scored him the next day at 376 gross.
We knew that if we moved him he would tumble to the bottom of the canyon, so we attached some rope to him and tied him to a tree. We struggled to maneuver him into position for some good photos - even with six of us it was very difficult.
Breaking the bull down on the steep hillside was next to impossible but we managed to finish the task. It was then that the realization set in of climbing straight up the unforgiving canyon wall to get back to the trucks. I couldn’t believe that Isaac packed the head and cape by himself. I had one hindquarter and thought I was going to have a heart attack.
I need to thank my friends Isaac and Kyle Augedahl, Ron Niziolek, Brad Miles and Kevin Neff for all their helping in packing my bull out of the nasty steep canyon. I’d probably still be packing him out if it wasn’t for all of you.