A Wasatch Bull Worth 18 Years (Video Footage)

 

It has been a long time coming. Each year you try your hardest to adopt the mantra, “this is my year” while recognizing the odds are stacked against you. My dad believed it was his year for 18 years. It began in his mid-forties. To think of my dad at that age means to think of myself at 16 years old. That seems like a lifetime ago. During the past 18 years we have attempted to draw bull elk tags on the Monroe,  Book Cliffs, and San Juan units of Utah. Draw results only brought disappointment and a 12 month refresh. At times we questioned whether my dad would ever hunt big bulls in Utah by way of the draw? Each year he privately cursed the DWR. He joked that soon he was just going to run his own program. Given my dad is straight as an arrow his threats were hilariously empty.

 

Over time we learned and studied Utah’s limited entry elk units. With 16 years and 16 points under his belt our focus had shifted to the Wasatch. We accepted that other units across the state might produce bigger bulls; however, we also liked the idea of hunting in our own back yard. In a lot of ways this was a once in a lifetime hunt. We settled in on a unit that would allow us to logically put in the time scouting. We felt putting in the time outweighed the benefits of a better more distant unit.

 

After 16 years and with an affinity to all forms of hunting, my dad concluded he was willing to wait for a premium Wasatch tag. In Utah the premium tag allows you to hunt all 4 seasons. (archery, early rifle, muzzleloader, and late rifle) He didn’t draw that 16th year. In his 17th year the odds look favorable for landing a guaranteed tag. “Surely we’d be hunting this year Dad!” Again, year 17 resulted in disappointment and a 12 month refresh.

 

In his 18th year, credit cards began to get hit with pending charges. This happens several days before draw results are officially posted. To those that draw their dream tag this day is likened unto Christmas. For the rest of us it’s likened unto hell. To have your card hit represents the first clues to the year’s draw results. It looked as though another year of hell was unfolding before our eyes.  His card had zero pending charges. Can you picture it? A bunch of men and women sitting around refreshing online bank statements just waiting and begging to be charged? It’s the one time a year that I pray someone will take my money. Please, please take my money! It didn’t seem that Utah was going to take his money. After 2 days the reality of another 12 month refresh set in. 

 

All seemed lost. It was as if someone was sitting at the DWR office giggling the words “let’s jack with this guy.” It seemed to be in the last hour that my mother discovered my dad’s credit card was finally hit. The charge was indeed pending. We were going to hunt big bulls on the Wasatch in 2015! He had drawn a premium tag and his hunt would start with the upcoming archery season. How would we break the news to him? My mom printed the statement, purchased a gift card at Cabela’s, and delivered both to my dad as he attended a church function that evening. To you loved ones of a hunter… take notes! 

 

We started funneling through past video footage and past years’ trail camera pictures in an effort to take inventory. We tried to determine which bulls likely made it and which bulls were rumored to have been harvested? We weren’t going to wait for 2015’s new antler growth to start developing an early hit list. Legendary bulls from the Northwest corner of the unit to the Southeast corner of the unit began racing through our minds. We knew where we wanted to start and we patiently prepared.

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With 4 gaited horses, 12 trail cameras, four-wheelers, and several waypoints we set out for what would be many weekends and weeknights of scouting. Although fit as a whistle, my dad was experiencing severe back pain from the previous year. It flared at its worst while horse packing in on a mule deer hunt in 2014. Tough as an ox he joined us on many of our scouting trips but not all of them. I often worried that we’d mess up his back before we even got started.

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Over time our hit list grew 4 deep in addition to some alternate bulls we determined we’d take a long look at later in the hunt. We never banked on any of them sticking around so we continued to do the time. My longtime friend Evan Ault was putting in long hours as well. Help poured in from several people and we were grateful to have more eyes in the field. Bulls were turning up, horn growth was unprecedented, and this hunt was shaping up to be one for the books.

 

Going into the last week before the hunt we felt we had taken great inventory of our key hunting areas. We were confident in the bulls we were seeing although a couple key bulls on our list hadn’t shown themselves in some time. We concluded that if things didn’t shake out in our favor it wouldn’t have been for lack of effort. Things were looking up.
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The archery hunt came and went. We made attempts to bow hunt these bulls but I would say our attempts were halfhearted at best. For us it was hard to get motivated knowing we had the time and weapon selection of a premium tag. Don’t get me wrong, bow hunting is exhilarating and challenging. Bow hunting is something we love. The idea of killing a bruiser with a bow was top on the list; however, with family and work commitments we were allocating our time to the rifle season. We bow hunted weekends. 

 

I had to travel for work the week before the rifle opener. We had determined we’d rest my dad’s back as well then hit it hard the Friday before the hunt. As I traveled, Evan took one last trip into the back country. It was Tuesday. I received a text that he’d located a stud bull not previously seen. He uploaded the video to dropbox and from Seattle I sat in my hotel room drooling. This new bull’s backs couldn’t be ignored! This bull would be added to the list!

 

I couldn’t get back from Seattle soon enough. Thursday night we prepped and Friday morning we were up bright and early. We determined we would glass Friday morning, set up camp in the afternoon, and glass again that evening. We located the bull with the backs first thing Friday morning. He hadn’t moved far from his location earlier in the week. Fact is he was now moving a little bit slower. Earlier in the week he was a ruttin’ bull on a mission. 3 days later it was if he was hurt, beat down, and worn out. We figured he’d got in a fight with the wrong bull. I’d sure love to see that bull! That morning our bull fed along an opening as he walked gingerly to his bed. At this point we pegged him as a bull my dad would whack if an opportunity presented itself.

 

That afternoon we took one last look at our trail cameras in the area. There wasn’t anything notable or new coming into the cameras until we realized we had actually seen that bull in 3 previous trail cam pictures. You see the Saturday before Evan spotted this bull on the hoof, we went in and discovered 3 pictures of him on one of our trail cameras. We looked over the pictures that Saturday and said, “he’d be a bruiser if he didn’t have nubby fronts.” We didn’t put any more thought into the bull until we connected the puzzle pieces on Friday afternoon. It was the same bull. For the first time we began to question whether or not this bull should be on our hit list. We were concerned with his fronts, I was concerned with his fronts. The rest of the afternoon we evaluated the footage and the 3 trail camera pictures. Evan added this bull up to be 365” but maintained you’d never pass a bull with “backs like that.” I was less sure. My dad was just happy to be up hunting big bulls. I will never forget the smiles and the excitement expressed by my dad! 

 

That night me, Evan, and my brother in law Trevor Sharp got back to glassing. My father stayed back to cook dinner and relax his back. As we glassed we immediately located our bull with the backs. He hadn’t moved more than 100 yards. He was feeding and we were able to capture a significant amount of footage. We headed back to camp still debating whether his fronts warranted an opening morning bull. On the way back we located a bull that was also on our top 4 list. We hadn’t located this second bull in over 3 weeks so to say we were excited was an understatement.  We were able to put 2 of our Top 4 to bed the night before the opener. As we rode back to camp the wind swirled the scent of dutch oven ribs, biscuits, potatoes, vegetables, and cobbler down the canyon towards us. We were soon to partake of most spectacular elk camp dinner ever served on no tell em’ ridge!

 

That night I didn’t sleep. I’d love to blame it on the jitters but it’s mainly because I am a weirdo. My mind tends to play tricks on me when sleeping in the back country. Without further detail I will just tell you I am a pansy despite hundreds of nights in the field. To forget my ear plugs is a sure fire way to a crappy night’s sleep. I have issues. That being said, the alarms finally sounded.

 

You know the feeling right? The butterflies of opening morning took over as we prepped our gear for the hunt. It was on! Trevor and I hiked to our pre-established vantage point. Evan and my dad got into position. Visibility slowly improved. Elk began to present themselves in the coolest ways. Soon Evan and my dad were on one of our reserve bulls. Do not shoot a reserve bull! Before trigger itch kicked in, Trevor glassed up the bull with the backs bedded at the edge of some aspens. It was determined Evan and my dad would move into position and get a closer look. The bull was still moving slow with each calculated step. He fed much of the morning within the same 100 yard radius. We captured a ton of additional footage. Within 30 minutes Evan and my dad were in position despite some intense back pain. They were staring at this old monarch bull at approximately 375 yards. The final conclusion was obvious, you’d be crazy to pass this bull. “Get ready, he’s shooting.”  We braced for impact but impact never came. What’s taking them so long? Are they having second thoughts? Again, they announced that he would soon fire. We braced yet again for impact. From our vantage point the sound of gun powder combusting was delayed. Looking through my glass at that distance things began with the bull hunched as he tried to gather his footing. “He shot, he shot.” The sound of a distant boom soon arrived. “He’s hit, he’s hit.” A epic tumble ensued and it was lights out. 

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Some hunters stop and take it all in an act of reference for the animal they just killed. Some hunters react with emotion reminiscent of winning the super bowl. We joke that my dad was giggling like a little school boy. Love me or hate me but we’d just won the super bowl! From our vantage it was all high fives and irreverent outbursts. To me it was and is a celebration. It’s a celebration of time, energy, dedication, and hard work. Sometimes it’s a celebration of luck. At all times it is a celebration of the animal we’ve been blessed to harvest!

 

Trevor and I made our way over to the bull. Initial reports from my dad and Evan was that the bull had zero ground shrinkage. Walking up to the bull confirmed those initial reports. On the ground this bull was still a bull you’d be crazy to pass on any day on the Wasatch. He is an absolute brute rarely matched characteristics. More high fives and irreverent outbursts issued. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. From the moment my dad’s 300 win mag discharged to moment we rolled into camp 12 hours had passed. We could not have done it without a team of 5. Later that afternoon Steve Ault rode in on horseback 15 miles to help retrieve us and get all that meat out of the back country. We had run out of water and to say he was a welcome sight was an understatement. I offered him a kiss. He declined. In the end, the day was perfect. The help was perfect. The look on my dad’s face was perfect. The bull was perfect.

 

One of the greatest parts of elk hunting 2015 is this perfect story is only half way over. I also drew a Wasatch limited entry elk tag with 10 points. My hunt began November 7th so stay tuned for the last half of the story and season.  
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Hell-uva-hunt and a Determined Hunter

My adventure started with a phone call from Hell-uva-hunt in Douglas, Wyoming. I had been chosen to hunt antelope with 11 other physically challenged hunters in the first part of October. Little did I know that this hunt would change my life.

Anticipation grew as the time drew near for me to leave Idaho Falls to drive to Douglas, Wyoming for my hunt to begin. Being on dialysis there is a lot of logistics that need to be taken into consideration in order for a hunt like this to take place. I need to have dialysis 3 days a week to keep my blood clean. The closest my clinic could find a dialysis center was in Fort Collins, Colorado. This was a bit out of our way according to our travel plans. Doing a little research on my own I found a clinic in Rock Springs, Wyoming which was exactly ½ way to our destination from Idaho Falls. Plans were made to do some dialysis on our way there and on our way back home making it possible for me to travel.

Monday morning came early as I went into my home dialysis center at 6 am to receive treatment for 6 hours before embarking on our adventure. Upon completion of my treatment my wife Gina and I jumped in the car with our sleeping bags, guns and goodies to start our travels East. 4 ½ hours later we pulled into Rock Springs and got settled into our hotel room (thank you Dr. Mike and Mary Davidson). Waking up bright and early I went to the hospital to receive my 2nd treatment for the week. I sat for another 6 hours before hitting the road again to make our last 5 hour drive arriving in Douglas at 8 pm. We got settled into the dormitory which would be our home for the next three days.

We met a few people that night before but the strain of having dialysis 2 days in a row took its toll on me and I had to call it a night. Upon waking the next morning we had some breakfast of Fruit Loops and a glass of juice before officially checking in and getting our welcome packet and meal tickets for the week. After having a great lunch of elk burgers and hotdogs, provided by the sheriff’s department of Douglas, we headed to the rifle range to sight in our guns and meet our guides for the week.

I set up to the far left of everyone else to see which gun I wanted to use.  Immediately we were introduced to Gary Overture from Cody, Wyoming and Wayne Clark from Denver, Colorado who would be our guides for the upcoming hunt. We soon found out that Gary and Wayne had been volunteer guides for the past 30 years and soon found out why they would volunteer for so many years. Hell-uva-hunt is an amazing organization and the love and acceptance felt is out of this world. Many of the volunteers were past hunters wanting to create that special atmosphere that they had felt when they had the opportunity to hunt. There were 12 hunters and about 60 volunteers making this hunt a success. In fact, my guide Gary had his 2 sons Brett and Bart participating and his grandson Beau making 3 generations of volunteers.

I set up and fired my wife’s .243 and hit a little low and to the right. Adjustments were made and three more shots were put in the target. I then pulled out my 7mm Rem Mag and punched the paper 4 more times making sure it was lined up. Minor adjustments were made and then the guns were put away until the next morning. I decided I was going to take the .243 Savage and made necessary preparations to use this gun the next morning. They then moved us down the road to the trap club to shoot some skeet.

Having not shot skeet for over 20 years, I was a little nervous to get out there and show them what I could do. My balance wasn’t the best. I grabbed a 12 gauge double barrel and took my position. “Pull” and the target took flight but the gun wouldn’t fire. We then changed guns and I tried it again, still no fire when I pulled the trigger. “Da## Savage guns,” I cursed my guide and new found friend Gary. He then went and grabbed a Beretta Over/Under and put it in my hands again. “Pull” and the bird went flying into the air. “Bang” and the target blew apart. I guess I can still shoot after all. After shooting 25 times from 5 different stations, I ended up hitting 18 targets while needing to sit between each shot. After taking my last shot I went to the shade to relax a little. Well the 2 days of dialysis caught up with me and I almost passed out in front of everyone. Making my way inside I had to lay on the table and put my feet above my head to keep from passing out. After laying there for 20 minutes or so I excused myself and went back to the dorms to relax for the rest of the day.

Later that night we met up with our guides for some dinner and an awards ceremony for the volunteers and sponsors. After getting to know our guides a little more, plans were made for the next morning to start our hunt. Later that night I decided to use the 7mm Rem Mag the next morning.

We met the next morning to have breakfast of eggs and ham and then hit the road as we had to drive 60 miles to make it to our hunting destination. On the drive up we told stories and jokes as we approached the ranch. As we arrived at the gate it was shooting light so we began to look for my antelope. 15 yards inside the gate we saw a nice antelope at 7:05 am. We looked him over and being an idiot I decided to pass and look for another antelope. This antelope stood broadside at 50 yards and we later joked that Wayne told me it was too close. As we drove away Gary said, “that will probably be the closest one you see all day long.” As we looked for more antelope it became apparent that he would be right.

We returned back to see if I could find him again and he had disappeared into the night. We drove around looking and analyzing different antelope. After about an hour we found another antelope worth giving chase. As we parked above a water hole we watched him chase a doe for a few minutes. She then made her way down to get a drink and the buck soon followed. As he bent his head down to take a drink I took aim and he dropped with one shot. Excitement filled the cab of the pick-up truck and we made our way down to the fallen game. Wayne jumped out while Gary looked for a rope to get him out of the mud. Gina took it upon herself to walk on top of the mud and pull the antelope onto dry land. She bugged Gary the rest of the day saying that he was too afraid to get his boots muddy.

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We then drove back to the trap range and took an official measurement followed by pictures with my guides by my side. Once again this activity wore my body out and I had to go back to the dorms for an afternoon nap. We then returned back to the trap range for lunch of sloppy Joe sandwiches and salads. Our guides then took us on a trip up to see a natural arch carved out into the mountain side. It was very beautiful. Upon returning we got ready for dinner and went to a benefit auction put on at the local Moose Lodge. There was a spotlight that my wife was interested in. She gave me a price limit and when the item came up for auction it quickly made it to our price limit and then passed. Lucky for us there was another spotlight available. By the time it became available people had been drinking quite a bit and so the price immediately went higher than our budget would allow. A lady at our table was bidding on the spot light but unbeknownst to her a man at our table was also bidding. By the time of the bidding was done she lost, but when they delivered the spotlight to the winner at our table she was disappointed. The man immediately gave her the spotlight which in turn she handed directly to me. Talk about some giving people.

Since all 12 hunters harvested their antelope by noon the first day, breakfast wasn’t until 8 o’clock the next morning. With the breakfast of eggs, pancakes and bacon we started on another great day. By this time we had got to know all of the other hunters. They came from all across the country. New York to Oregon and Minnesota to Texas. Great friendships were made and great times were had by all.

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That night an awards banquet was provided and a plaque with our picture of our antelope and guides were presented to each hunter. Special prizes were given to those who shot the first antelope in the morning, the closest antelope, the furthest antelope away and the largest antelope. The first antelope shot in the morning was by Bill from North Carolina. He shot his envelope at 7:15. The furthest antelope away was shot by 15-year-old Hunter Jacob, at 250 yards. The closest shot was by Jared from Oregon, who happened to be up quadriplegic. His shot was at 50 yards. And surprise of all surprises my antelope was the largest with 13 inch horns. The prize for all four categories was a free shoulder mount provided by a local taxidermist. Following the banquet we had to leave immediately and drive the five hours back to Rock Springs, Wyoming so I could get up at eight in the morning and have another dialysis treatment.

Following my dialysis treatment, we got back into the car and drove the remaining five hours back to Idaho Falls, Idaho.

It was a great trip and I look forward to the day when I can volunteer and give someone else the opportunity to have one Hell-Uva-Hunt.

Author: Lewis Harper, JDHeiner Contributor and Avid Outdoorsman

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