Eastmans' MRS (Members Research Section), that's where we need to look to find out where the best elk hunting areas are,' I said to my hunting partners, Jeff and Randy. That's all it took for us to decide on which Nevada areas to try for drawing trophy elk tags. We have all been trying to draw for many years. We were working on a family member's house when we got the news - Jeff and I finally drew bull elk tags for our home state of Nevada! We couldn't believe it! Once we had calmed down, we knew this was going to be the hunt of a lifetime. We had to put together a plan to make it happen.
I decided to do something I wasn't sure would work, but I thought, “What the heck, it can't hurt to try.' I e-mailed the Eastmans to invite them on our hunt. Considering the area we had drawn and that there were two tags to fill, I thought it was worth a try. A few days later I received an e-mail from Guy and my jaw hit the floor. He wanted to come to Nevada with us and film our hunt! For the second time regarding this hunt I couldn't believe my luck. Guy, Jeff and I stayed in contact from then on. We gave Guy updates on our scouting trips and made arrangements to accommodate Guy and Nate, the camera man, to stay with us in camp. We were very excited to have them along.
We began by scheduling our scouting trips. I called Nevada Fish and Game to get more information about the area and where we could scout. Those guys were great. Every place they told us to go, we saw elk. They also pointed out hard to hunt areas and easy access hunt areas. Jeff contacted some friends who also gave us tips about places that had produced plenty of bulls. Our only concern was our first scouting trip was in September, so we were worried the elk might move by the time our early December hunt rolled around. We put on the miles and looked everywhere we could, getting to know as much country as possible.
When we got home from our last scouting trip, we made plans for our two-week hunt, starting December 2nd. We loaded the campers, made arrangements for where to stay and tied up loose ends at home.
The day finally came to begin our hunt. We set up camp two days before opening, leaving time for a bit more scouting. Jeff's brother Jamie was also along. My friend Randy Walker would arrive the day before opening to help us. Our last day of scouting paid off hugely, we found 20 bulls in the area we planned to hunt for the first few days of the season.
We expected a full moon and cold weather for the first couple days, but had no idea opening morning it would be -20 as we sat on a rocky ridge. The moisture from our breath froze instantly to our binoculars. We had to keep scraping frost off the eye pieces. We couldn't wait for the sun to warm things up, but it seemed to stay just as cold. We saw two small bulls sparring and some deer, but nothing else showed up that morning. Later that day we saw a few bulls, but nothing we were willing to take. We stayed until dark and headed back to camp. We had big hopes of what tomorrow would bring.
The next morning warmed up to about -12, and some other hunters showed up. We stuck it out until about midday and decided to move to a different lookout and glass another canyon. The second day produced plenty of bulls in the 330 class or smaller, including one we found difficult to pass up.
On the fourth day we moved to a different area. In the first area, there were too many hunters and guides who didn't seem to care we were at our glassing areas first, before light. I guess they thought we had a good spot, and sat only yards from us. We left to find elk elsewhere. That was the best decision we made. Jeff and I drew straws to see who was going to shoot first and Jeff won.
It was Tuesday morning, the fourth day of our hunt. We had decided to hunt another area Trent and I had pre-scouted. Trent, Jamie (my brother), Randy, and Nate all loaded up in the truck and headed out. The temperature that morning was a relatively balmy -5.
When first light came, we began glassing. With three high quality spotting scopes, we thoroughly covered a huge area. Nate spotted a bull. After about 45 minutes, the light on the hillside began to work to our advantage. The bull turned his head just right, and Nate surmised that he had nice fifths and impressive mass. The bull fed for about 40 minutes and then beaded down in the morning sun. We decided it was worth taking a closer look. Nate, Trent, and I lightened up our packs and began to hike up the mountain.
It quickly became harder than it looked. We hiked steadily for about three and a half hours and finally got to the spot where we hoped to get a better look. As is often the case in this country, the bull was bedded down behind a mahogany bush. He was over 700 yards away. After checking the wind, we decided to leave Trent behind at this point. Nate and I dropped back down into the canyon hoping to cut back up and get above the bull. Getting across a couple of rock slides quietly was more difficult than we had anticipated Thick brush and dry grass where even tougher to navigate stealthily. Our 700-yard stalk turned into another full-on hike of about an hour and a half.
When we got up to where we thought we needed to be, we used the rangefinder to range back to where we left Trent. It was about 850 yards. We started across the mountain toward the bull. As we crested the last knob and looked down, we were surprised to see the bull right in front of us. Nate and I looked at each other and backed up as quickly and quietly as possible. We ascended a bit more and dropped our packs. I grabbed my rifle and shooting sticks, Nate grabbed his camera. We traversed the knob on our hands and knees, until we could get behind a pine tree above the elk. I was getting excited. The bull was right below us, at less than 70 yards. He had one short eye guard, but was carrying a very nice six point rack. He was definitely what I wanted, so Nate got positioned above me to film.
I sat down and waited for the bull to stand up and offer a quality shot. It turned into a long wait. Nate and I were dehydrated from the hike. We were even a little light-headed because of the altitude. We had ascended from 6,200 feet to nearly 10,000 feet in elevation. As I sat there and watched the bull move his head back and forth, I couldn't believe that after 14 years of applying I might finally get a chance to fill my bull elk tag. After an hour and a half, the bull must have picked up our scent, because he jumped up. I squeezed the trigger. The bull just stood there. Nate told me to put another one in him. I squeezed again and he still stood. One more shot and he fell over into the trees where he had been bedded for over five hours. I looked up excitedly at Nate; I could not wait to go look at my bull. I waved to Trent to come up. As we where taking photos, Jamie and Randy started up the mountain with their frame packs.
It was a long, tough pack out, but we finally got the bull down to our truck and returned to camp at about 8:30 p.m. We ate a quick meal, rehydrated, and went straight to sleep. We had another bull tag to try and fill tomorrow.
On day six, it was my turn. We located a group of 15 bulls feeding near the top of the mountain. Among them was a 6x7 that looked to be 360 plus. That charged us up. We made a plan and started our hike at about 8 a.m. About 9 1/2 hours later and 3,200 vertical feet, we were on top of the elk. The 6x7 was gone, and we found only small, immature bulls. We were worn out and disappointed. Still, we decided to walk around the ridge to see if anything else was around. Guy spotted a great six point feeding in a small meadow. The bull was over 600 yards away and light was fading fast. We quickly moved to within 400 yards. I rested my gun on my pack, and was squeezing the trigger when the bull moved his head, blocking his vitals with his horns. I waited for him to move his head back. When he did, I asked if Nate was on him with the camera. He was. I squeezed the trigger, but the bull again moved his head into the same place and I had to back off. That happened three times before I was able to put my first bullet through both lungs. My second shot dropped the bull. Wow, my first Nevada bull! My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking, but he was down and I was very proud. We made our way over to the bull and found him rolled over on top of his antlers. That kept him from rolling down the mountain. We tied a rope to his antlers and rolled him over so we could take pictures and get him caped and quartered. Jamie and Guy took turns holding the rope while Jeff and I caped and quartered. Nate deboned the quarters. We loaded him onto our frame packs and started down the mountain. Seven and 1/2 hours later, in the snow, exhausted and barely able to walk, we made it to the truck. We loaded him and a few minutes later we all were asleep, except Jeff, who drove us back to camp.
This hunt was without a doubt the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life, physically and emotionally. I was worn out for days afterward, but it was worth every hour up and down that mountain. I have huge respect for my friends Jeff and Jamie for going through the roughest hunt we've ever had and doing it for me. There is no way I could thank them enough. Guys, when the time comes, call me and I'll be there for you when you draw elk tags.
I want to thank Randy for being there for us, all of his hard work and especially the stories he told that made us laugh. I wish you could have been there when I took my bull.
Thanks to my wife Carin and my daughter Raegan. Carin is the most understanding person when it comes to my passion for hunting, she and Raegan are my life and I love them both.
Thanks to the Eastmans for being there to film my hunt of a lifetime. Guy and Nate are a couple of great guys and outstanding sportsmen. I have great respect for both of them and I hope we can do it again.
I also lost my uncle, Sid Doan, on our opening day and I want to dedicate this hunt to him. I thought often about him for strength while packing my elk down the mountain. I love you and miss you. You will always be there with me when I'm hunting.
About Jeff Gaudern
Jeff, 35, and his understanding wife Erika have a 4 1/2 year old son (Justin), and a 15 year old daughter (Jessie). Jeff dedicates this hunt to his dad who is home in a wheelchair and unable to be with him to enjoy what he taught Jeff and his brother, to love and enjoy the outdoors.