June/July 2013 EHJ (Issue 137) - Shooting light still lingered an hour to the east as the six horses worked their way up the long ridge. Even in the pre-dawn blackness they made good time, mainly due to familiarity. We had ridden horses up this ridge in the dark well over a hundred times. I glanced through an opening in the timber to my right and could see a hint of light creeping over the divide.
Another thirty minutes to the saddle, I thought to myself, and then my mind began to wander.
My thoughts quickly raced to the image of the bull on my brother Rusty’s trail camera. Two days earlier, on opening morning, I had stillhunted my way into the head of one of our favorite canyons. At a strategic water crossing, I located his trail camera and quickly sat down to examine its contents. He had left it at the end of bow season nearly three weeks before, and I anticipated seeing some elk movement near the water, due to the dry weather.
The first image was from one day earlier, when a fairly large tom cougar had slunk across the stream. I was disheartened by the sight and promptly scanned the woods around me as the hair on my neck rose. Not expecting much, I scrolled back one more image and nearly dropped the camera. Crossing the creek right behind a cow was the largest bull I had ever seen in this country. I found myself looking at a main frame seven-point with great tine length and better-than-average mass.
"Rusty, you should see this bull on your camera from two days ago,” I whispered into my radio. "His right antler scores over 150 inches,” I said, as my mind quickly did the math.
"What does he look like? How much mass? What time of day was he there?”
Rusty shot me questions excitedly, obviously antsy when he couldn’t view the image himself. I conservatively estimated the bull at 330 inches. We decided that we had never seen him on our cameras before, nor had we picked up any of his shed antlers.
The excitement of this new bull led to two long days of focused hunting. We glassed, called, and stillhunted several pockets in the area, moving or seeing very few elk. It seemed desolate, where just days before, this big bull and several cows had been living. We logged over fifteen miles on foot, trying to locate him. Dry conditions and predator pressure had pushed most of the elk to lower elevations.
To make things worse, fifty days without rain was making it impossible to move through the woods without making noise. The tough conditions, lack of elk, and knowledge that the big bull couldn’t be too far away had brought us to where we were this morning – six guys climbing the long ridge on horseback, fifteen minutes from the saddle.
My thoughts drifted from that bull to the five guys riding in the dark around me. My father Ron was up front on his horse. Right behind Dad was our great family friend, Cliff Twidt. My younger brother Rusty was on the horse directly in front of me, and Cliff’s stepson Brady Spurway was right behind me. This group of guys, whom I consider my family, had been hunting this canyon for well over forty years. At age 42, it was my 31st year of hunting this canyon with these guys.
For a full account of Ryan's adventure, go to page 34 in the June/July 2013 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.