June/July 2012 EHJ (Issue 131) - My hunting buddy, Matt Horner, and I were sitting in the freezing rain glassing the oak brush and chokecherry covered hillsides for bears. It was the end of September and Matt had a rifle bear tag. As we scanned, we noticed some elk on the opposite ridge about 800 yards away. Like it was a dream, out stepped one of the largest bulls I had ever seen in the wild. From a distance, you could see his antlers with the naked eye. He had incredibly long points and a spread that looked like a field goal post. We watched in amazement as this old warrior of the mountain defended his cows from other would be bachelors.
It always has amazed me how a single bull could keep a herd of cows in line and still have the energy to chase off other bulls. Needless to say, our evening of bear hunting was cut short as we admired this magnificent creature. On our way out of the canyon that night, all we could think about was that bull we called Mr. Big and how we would be able to get a shot at hunting him. Later that evening, we got online to see what would be our best and quickest way we would be able to get a tag to try and hunt this monarch. As we looked through the leftover license list, we noticed that there were some first season either-sex leftover licenses for our unit. We immediately purchased them and now the three-week waiting game began.
After trying to keep my excitement under control and productivity level at work up for three weeks, the morning finally arrived. As Matt, his dad, Mike, and I stepped out of the truck to walk into the canyon where we had seen the bull, I ran through every possible scenario in my head. As daylight broke, we started seeing elk. A few groups of cows and small bulls were scattered on the sides of the canyon. All the bulls would have been shooters in the general draw unit we were in, but we had our sights set on a bull that was burned into our minds.
As the morning progressed, we heard several shots on the mesa tops around us; with each shot, I hoped it wasn’t our bull at the other end. We sat on the one side of the canyon and glassed for hours. There was a steady trickle of elk coming through the canyon to seek water and shelter from the mid-day sun. As we started to think about getting some lunch, I noticed a group of bulls heading into the opposite side of the canyon. Putting my stomach on hold, I thought I would give this group a quick look over before we headed back. After about five minutes, I decided to pass and then heard two shots about a mile down the canyon. Once again, I hoped it wasn’t our bull as they scattered through the canyon side. As we watched the steady line of elk come out of the spruce, we saw several nice bulls including two 6x6 bulls that were around the 290- to 300-inch mark.
After watching quite a few cows and small bulls come out of the spruce across from us, the numbers started to fade. Following the last elk body out of the spruce, I could see a quick flash of antler. As the elk stepped into the clearing I could see that unmistakably wide rack with enormous swords. Matt and I simultaneously whispered, "There he is!”
For a full account of Justin's adventure, go to page 14 in the June/July 2012 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.