September/October 2013 EBJ (Issue 79) - Elk hunting’s easy! Well, that’s what I tell my fellow bowhunters anyway. Usually they get a little irritated. But I’m only half-kidding. Compared to spot and stalk trophy mule deer, yes, elk hunting is easy. You can’t call mule deer; believe me, I’ve tried. But with enough practice (about 10 years worth) you can call trophy elk. I ate ten tags in a row before I finally arrowed my first bull elk…but it was still kind of easy.
In 2012, after ten years of applying for the Beaver, Utah limited-entry tag, I finally drew. It was probably the worst year I could have drawn since I’d just purchased a major fixer-upper house that spring. I had absolutely no time to scout the area, and spent the entire summer swinging a hammer instead. But I wasn’t about to give up the tag I’d been waiting ten years for. Fortunately, my brother, Brent, had drawn a premium tag for the same unit in 2011. He’s crazy about elk, an absolute fiend, and spent 30 days nonstop hunting over the entire unit. I spent a week calling for him that year and the knowledge I gained from his hunt would prove invaluable for my own.
Surprisingly, my other brother, Russell, drew the same tag after only two years. The plan was to hunt together for a week in late August, and if we couldn’t get the job done, we’d return in September and hunt the last week too.
Elk hunting’s easy! At least that’s what I kept telling myself the first couple days as we hiked all over the high-altitude part of the unit without a single response from the elusive bulls.
On the third day, Russ and I split up; I went high and he went low. A light rain started that night as I hiked alone into some high alpine peaks. As soon as I got there, the downpour started. I couldn’t pitch my tent fast enough as lightning crashed all around me. It was more than a little unnerving.
The next morning I crawled out of my damp sleeping bag and began hiking and calling. It was all for naught. There wasn’t any fresh sign in the whole area. As I was packing up my tent to leave, I heard what sounded like a half-hearted bugle way back down the mountain near a small saddle so I decided to investigate the area on my way out.
As I left I found some big, fresh tracks and droppings headed over the saddle and down the mountain. Since I was headed that way anyway, I decided to follow. I made several cow calls along the way, but got no response. Eventually, I lost the tracks in some rocky terrain and gave up my futile chase. A couple minutes later, there was an explosion of elk below me as the whole herd blew out of the area. This confirmed my suspicion: the elk were in the area, but not vocal yet.
I met up with Russ a short time later and we decided to try another area. That afternoon I borrowed the lone ATV to go retrieve my knife I’d left on a tree stump back down the road. I made it about a mile down the roughest, rockiest trail ever when the ATV tire suddenly jolted off a small boulder, causing the machine to veer hard right and climb the steep bank. In about one second the ATV flipped over. Realizing I was about to be crushed underneath, I did a mid-air swan dive onto the rocky opposite bank while the ATV landed upside down behind me. I was bruised from head to toe, but relieved that I wasn’t dead. One of my ribs took the worst of it and for the rest of the week I couldn’t cough, sneeze, or even sit up in bed without excruciating pain. But, I wasn’t leaving the mountain, not without an elk.
For a full account of Nate's adventure, go to page 18 in the September/October 2013 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.