December/January 2013 EHJ (Issue 134) - My daughter, Kaycee, is as competitive as they come. The fall elk hunt would be no different. Kaycee had drawn a limited-entry youth bull elk permit. She was 13 years old, and this would be her first elk hunt. She was excited to hunt during the rut in September. Though, I don’t know who was more excited, Kaycee, me, or her grandfather, who was taking time off work to come hunting with us, plus traveling from Idaho to Utah so he could be there when his granddaughter got her first bull elk.
Opening morning found our hunting party sitting around a spring. This was a great area that had several wallows being used by elk. The area we were hunting was on public land. Typically in this area, when the bull elk hear a call, they do not respond back readily. Most bulls come in silently to determine where the call came from. We started out with a cow call, and would chirp occasionally to let any bull elk know there may be cows in the area. Within a short time, we could hear what we believed to be at least three separate bull elk coming closer to our location. The anticipation was killing my daughter and my seven-year-old son. They could hardly contain themselves as the sounds got closer. I whispered to them that this was what hunting was about and to remember how much fun this experience was.
My son saw the first set of antlers! It was a spike bull, which had snuck within 40 yards! That spike watched us for several minutes. I watched as my daughter looked at the spike through her scope, then without shooting, put the rifle down, and claimed that the bull was not big enough. I felt good about that decision, since it was opening morning of the hunt and we had heard other possible bulls making their way toward our hiding spot as well. We settled in to wait for other elk to show up, when the silence was interrupted by other hunters that apparently knew about this spring location as well. As these hunters walked into the spring, the sounds we heard earlier vanished into the deeper woods.
We traipsed up the hillside to look at some meadows higher on the mountain. We saw a small raghorn bull running quickly through the meadow; it did not give my daughter a chance to even get her rifle up before it disappeared in the pines. We decided to go to a high ridge and peer over into the next drainage. Just before the ridge top, a covey of blue grouse exploded all around us! We waited a minute for my blood pressure to come down after that sneak attack! When we topped out on the ridge above the meadow, there was a four-point elk standing 30 yards away looking at us! He also vanished as if we had seen a mirage. We hunted the rest of the day and did not see any more elk.
The next two days brought lots of miles of hiking, glassing and trying to find the elusive wapiti, but to no avail. I explained to my daughter that on these units that were open to the public, she might have to shoot the first bull she saw from there on out. Kaycee was quiet for a longtime. Then she looked at me, and with no hesitation stated that she was not going home with any bull under 350. I gulped and immediately knew where that statement had come from. A few weeks before the hunt opened, I, being a well-meaning father and hunting mentor, thought that by bringing home a few hunting videos, I could show my daughter to look for things like antlers concealed in the trees, an elk’s ear, body movement, etc.
This was to give her that extra mastery as a hunter, so she could identify her target and hopefully be successful in taking a bull. This theory backfired somewhat, as I thought back over the videos and remembered the video authors talking about all those monster bulls taken! I once again told my daughter that maybe her goal was set too high and I did not want to see her disappointed. I further explained that to see any size class bulls in these open bull units was very good, and that if we saw another branch antlered bull, she should consider taking it. My daughter mentally digested this information, and then flatly stated that the bulls we had saw so far in the hunt did not meet her standards of what she was looking for, and once again reminded me, those bulls were not big enough, dad.
Day five of the hunt came. This would be the last day my father could stay for the hunt. We switched to a different area, but still focused on public ground in the open bull unit. We hunted with the wind blowing toward us and worked our way down the mountain slope.
For a full account of Kaycee's adventure, go to page 30 in the December/January 2013 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.