The DIY Hunter

Dallen backpacking in the day before the elk hunting opener

Dallen backpacking in the day before the elk hunting opener.

For 2010 Dallen had a rifle elk tag and a rifle deer tag. I drew a limited draw mule deer and elk tag. With the tags I had I could hunt mule deer in a good portion of northern Utah during the general elk season. With the tags that we had, my plan was to go for elk on the weekends with Dallen and then focus on deer during the week while he is in school.

Dallen hunted with my Browning A-Bolt Stainless Laminate Hunter in 243 WSSM. He is shooting my 80g Tipped Triple Shock Handload that did very well on his bull elk and cow elk that he took last year in 2009. I was hunting for the first time with my new X-Bolt Stainless Stalker in 270 WSM. I was shooting a 140g Nosler Accubond handload that I had worked up that shoots 3300 fps from the 23 inch barrel length on my Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker rifle.

This was my first time hunting for a bull elk with a rifle. I usually archery elk hunt. But the fate of the Utah hunting draw, gave me the buck/bull combo tag this year and I had big plans of taking full advantage of having this early deer tag and try to get a nice mature buck.

For the opening weekend we decided to backpack in and hunt within a mile of a recent burn area in the Unita mountains. As we were backpacking in the day before the opener at about two miles in I decided to take a left fork in the trail because everyone and their dog was taking the right fork. This may have been a mistake.

Elk hunt bivy and shelter

This is the shelter we set up for our elk hunt over the opening weekend.

One of the reasons I like archery hunting is that there is little pressure and I rarely see any other hunters. I also never want to get in a situation where multiple hunters from different parties are shooting at the same elk. So given the two forks in the trail I chose to go away from the people and as we found out later, away from the elk.

We hiked in about 5 miles the day before the opener and we set up my usual tent/bivy like enclosure and spent the night. I had Dallen try my new camo bivy and found that although it keeps water out it also is horrible at keeping moisture in as we found out this night and the next and a couple of other nights I used it during this hunting season. Anyway the next day we woke early and started slowly working our way to different meadows that we had marked on the GPS. As it got shooting light Armageddon started about a mile from us in the direction of the right fork in the trail. For the next hour, we heard shot after shot come from that direction. All that morning as we slowly worked our way around we cut two groups of fresh elk tracks leaving the area where all the shooting was coming from but we never met up with any elk.

Elk poop, the closet we got to finding any elk on the opening weekend

The closest we got to finding any elk on the opening weekend. :(

When we made it back to camp that afternoon we found that one of the groups of elk went 30 feet from our camp. Dallen found a broke limb that had some elk hair on it and he measured the distance of the tracks at 30 of his feet from our camp.

That afternoon we broke camp and moved about another mile in off-trail to an area we felt might still be holding some elk. What a difficult and long task that was. Going from deadfall to very tight lodgepole pines to boulder fields to marshes... all with heavy packs on was not an easy task. Dallen is a trooper!

We hunted a little that evening and the next morning but the best we could do was find fresh elk droppings and tracks. Dallen was a trooper but pretty sad that with all of his efforts he didn't see any elk. I'm sure we would have seen something if we just had of chosen the right fork in the trail but I know we would have also been in very close proximity to many other hunters... something I prefer to stay away from.

Monday found Dallen back in school and I was preparing to head to one of my favorite deer areas. I packed into some rugged high county public land on Tuesday and spent the night in my camo bivy. I hunted the next day and worked my way out a different drainage of the mountain. On this trip I found a minimum of nine two point bucks and one three point buck but nothing over eighteen inches wide. But what I really found, something I have never seen in this rugged steep area was elk. I was awaken on two occasion with cow elk mewing in the middle of the night. I watched a five point bull a little further in than I dared try to haul out on my back and I bugled back and forth with what I figure was a very nice bull but I could never get a look at him. As I worked my way up and out of the canyons I made note of some cows that I heard mewing up in some steep terrain above me.

While working my way out of the canyon a coyote came over a saddle at just the right, or wrong time depending on how you look at it. A 140g AccuBond going 3300 fps from my X-Bolt Stainless Stalker pretty much turned him inside out at 160 yards.

This particular public land that I was hunting is bordered by private ground on the lower end of the mountain and public on the top so to hunt it is a little backwards. You drive to the top of the mountain then hike out the ridges and then down into the canyons. If you shoot something the work really begins because it is pretty much all uphill getting out, with much of the terrain really only accessible by human foot. So in other words you have to be crazy to hunt in these areas... yes, I know I more than qualify as crazy.

This coyote was turned inside out with a 140g Nosler Accubond from my X-Bolt 270 WSM

This coyote was turned inside out at 160 yards with a 140g Nosler Accubond from my X-Bolt 270 WSM.

Wednesday night I got a warm shower, repacked for a day trip in the morning and got a few hours sleep. Thursday morning before light I was slipping back into the area I had heard the cow elk mewing that day before. I felt confident that as high up the mountain as these particular elk were the day before that I could haul one out if I could find one in that area. Due to the fact that I only heard a bull in this particular group of elk make a small grunt/chirp and given their location, I figured that the bull was a smaller bull that had pulled some cows away and wanted to stay his distance from the larger bulls.

As it got light I glassed different deer and kept working my way around the mountain, then I spotted the elk. There were around ten cows and calves a spike and a small five point out feeding in a basin. I slipped down to some cliffs across from them and setup my backpack as a rest to shoot from.  My Bushnell Elite 1500 range finder said 459 yards but I was shooting downhill at a fairly steep angle so I looked over my reticle holdover chart that I generated using Nikon's SpotOn software and I held for a 400 yard shot with my Nikon 4-16x42 BDC rifle scope.

My Nikon 4-16x42SF BDC scope on my X-Bolt 270 WSM and my 2010 5x5 bull elk

My Nikon Monarch 4-16x42SF BDC scope on my X-Bolt Stainless Stalker in 270 WSM and my 2010 5x5 bull elk.

Me with my 2010 5x5 bull elk taken with my 270 WSM X-Bolt Stainless Stalker and 140g Nosler Accubond handload bullets

My 2010 5x5 bull elk taken with my 270 WSM X-Bolt Stainless Stalker and 140g Nosler Accubond handload bullets.

I knew from my cow elk experience in 2009 with the 140g Accubond, that on an elk I did not want to directly hit the shoulder bones as the bullet is not quite as solid as you might think at muzzle velocities of 3300 fps and higher. I held right behind the shoulder and let him have it. It was a solid hit and he was very sick. The rest of the elk started to filter out of the canyon but he just took a few steps forward and stopped so I let him have another right behind the shoulder for another solid hit but again he remained standing. Elk can be very tough critters. He now turned and was quartering towards me and I held a little higher on him and sent one through him at the base of his neck and the top of his shoulders and down he went.

Shot placement right behind the shoulders with 140g Nosler AccuBond handloads fired from my X-Bolt 270 WSM

Shot placement of the first two shots right behind the shoulders with 140g Nosler AccuBond handloads fired from my X-Bolt 270 WSM and a 459 yard shooting distance. Although this elk took a couple of shots to bring down he was very sick after the first shot and wasn't going anywhere.

Recovered 270 WSM 140g Nosler AccuBond resting against hide of my bull elk

Recovered 270 WSM 140g Nosler AccuBond resting against hide of my bull elk. This bullet has a 3300 fps muzzle velocity from my X-Bolt and this recovered bullet weighs 97 grains after traveling 459 yards through the air and the chest cavity of my bull elk. The other bullets did not not make it to the other side of the elk.

Now the work was about to begin. I made a few phone calls and my brother was more than willing to hike in and help haul out the elk. Thank you, Weston! A phone call with my boss (Roger) and to my surprise he had the news posted on Browning's Facebook page probably before I had even taken a knife to the elk.

I took several pictures of the elk and funny enough fiddled around trying to get my camera level on my backpack to take pictures of me and the elk together, all the while there was a tripod attached to my spotting scope sitting in the side of my pack. :)

After boning out the elk I made a trip with about a third of the meat and most of my gear up to the shaded side of a saddle. I was just headed back down to make another trip when my brother met up with me bringing his Cabelas Alaskan external frame pack and my HideAway Expeditions meat hauling frame pack. Together we went back down and hauled the rest of the meat and gear back up to the saddle. From there we decided to just go for it in one trip so we loaded up the packs and also carried a full bag of meat in our hands to make the trip back up to the trail. One of my toughest trips but well worth it.

My 2010 Bull Elk European Skull Mounted With a Skull Hooker Bracket

My 2010 bull elk European skull mounted on the wall next to my 30" mule deer from 2007. (2007 Mule Deer Hunt — My First 30 Inch Buck) The skull is hanging from a Skull Hooker bracket thanks to a friend at work who lent me one to try out. The brackets offer great flexibilty to adjust the angle and direction of your European skull mount. They also offer a quick system for getting your mount on the wall. For the locations I place my mounts these brackets hang much too far from the wall than I like (about 10 inches). I would prefer a shorter bracket that kept the skull tighter to the wall like on my homemade European skull mount plaques.

See: DIY European Skull Mounting Process

The bull was not the biggest bull on the mountain and not the smallest. When it comes to elk our family needs the meat so spikes aren't out of the question when I'm hunting for elk, in fact my wife repeatedly tells me to only shoot spikes. Ah, yeah sure thing Honey.

Again this hunt was my first time to rifle elk hunt for bull elk as I usually prefer hunting elk with my bow and arrow. But the luck of the draw gave me a good opportunity to get a nice mule deer during the rifle elk season. With seeing only small bucks and this elk distraction I only had a week left to get back focused on getting a mature mule deer.

Back to hunting for Mule Deer and trying to find a mature buck on general public land: 2010 Mule Deer Hunt — Last Day Busted G2 Buck with X-Bolt 270 WSM

Weston hauling out elk meat with his Cabelas Alaskan frame pack

My brother Weston hauling out elk meat with his Cabelas Alaskan Outfitter frame pack and a homemade canvas meat bag packed with meat in his hands.

Hauling the elk up to the sadle with my HideAway Expeditions frame pack

Hauling the elk up to the saddle with my HideAway Expeditions frame pack. The elk skull all skinned out to reduce weight and ready for me to European Skull Mount when I get home.

Packing out my 5x5 bull elk up some boulder fields

Packing out my 5x5 bull elk through some small cliffs and boulder fields.