The DIY Hunter

In 2009 I was back archery hunting for elk. One of my greatest passions is archery elk hunting. The past couple of years I have backpacked in five to six miles and spent almost a week just enjoying being on the mountain by myself with none of the worries of work and the projects at the house.

This year was going to be a little different. My oldest son Dallen was now twelve and he had a rifle deer and elk tag. I was excited to help him have the best experience possible. So I changed my archery hunting location to a location that only required maximum hiking distances of two to three miles. This way I could scout for him while I was archery hunting and the hikes would be more manageable for a twelve-year-old. Dallen would be hunting a couple of weeks after the archery season and I hoped that I would have the elk figured out before it was his turn.

Dallen resting at mid-day

Dallen was excited to be hunting this year and he accompanied me on two of my archery trips. He was a trooper and put in three good hikes however we never got into any elk. We did find areas where the elk had been, we just couldn't find the right place at the right time. I spent another four days hunting there and always seemed to be one day behind where the elk were at. I would hike one direction and the elk would be bugling in the other and so forth. I did learn a bunch about the area and had an enjoyable time just getting away.

The day before the opener of the rifle elk season Dallen and I headed up to the trailhead to spend the night. He loves to sleep out in a tent with his old man and we had an enjoyable time that evening. The next morning around 4:30am we were up and getting ready. Just about the time we started to hike the trucks started pouring into the trail head's little parking area. As we headed up the trail in the dark I'm pretty sure that Dallen was just a little too excited and quickly got sick to his stomach and I mean sick. Within three-quarters of a mile, he just couldn't hike anymore and was very upset because he ever so wanted to get a bull. I quickly realized that we should change or plans and try for a herd that works a large quaking aspen section of the mountain. This herd had done an excellent job of eluding me during the archery season but, Dallen's upset stomach turned into a blessing today.

Browning A-Bolt 243 WSSM rifle resting on pack while elk hunting.

243 WSSM rifle sitting on pack as we take a break near where we last heard the bull on opening day.

We eased our way into the edge of the quakeys just as it was getting light. Dallen was hurting really bad and very upset that he was. That quickly changed, as soon as it was light enough to shoot, I cow called and boom a bull bugled within 150 yards of us deeper in the quakes. I proceeded to call back and forth with this bull for the next 20 minutes. Unfortunately, every time I got the bull bugling his current lady friends would start calling. It was obvious his current ladies didn't want to share. I was really hoping that a satellite bull was in tow and would come over to check us out but, it wasn't to be. One thing for sure was the instant that bull bugled back at us Dallen was cured. I bet Dallen now belongs to a long list of hunters that have been cured by the sound of a bull elk bugling back in the early light of opening day.

We spent the rest of the day circling around the mountain trying to find where the bull's lady friends had lead him away captive too but, had no luck in finding their secret hiding spot.

Dallen first elk 243 WSSM

After the opening weekend we switched areas and headed to a little lower altitude and hunted the lower edges of the quakeys mixed with oak brush. We found elk sign the first two times but couldn't locate any elk. On the third morning we finally crossed paths with a herd of about eight cows and a spike. There wasn't very much time for us to setup as the elk were on the move and there was only a small window in the oak brush before they got into the thick brush and went around the ridge. He quickly got setup on his shooting sticks and I grabbed a Primos Hyper-Lip Single cow call. I mewed, the spike stopped, Dallen dropped the hammer, and the spike took a couple steps and fell over. I didn't even have time to pull up my binoculars to see the shot. It was pretty darn cool. I was very impressed with his ability to acquire the target and take a good shot without having to be coached or him asking me if he should shoot. He knew when it was the right time to drop the hammer all on is own just like a pro. It was the coolest sharing this moment with my son. We both actually shed a tear or two of joy and a great big hug for dad. I can't think of a better way to get to know and bond with your kids than taking them hunting.

When we spotted the elk we knew they were well within the range of the rifle and my son's abilities. After the shot a quick check with the range finder verified this, 205 yards. With this rifle and load it has about a 350 yard max-point-blank range on a seven inch target. He was using my 243 WSSM in a Browning A-Bolt Stainless Laminate Hunter rifle with a Bushnell Elite 3200 3-10x Short Action scope. It's a sweet lightweight rifle setup that is ideal for carrying all day long. Dallen really enjoys the rifle and thinks it's his now. Hmm... Not yet son.

For the past several years Dallen and I have taken a prairie dog and rock chuck hunting trip. I think those shooting experiences really sharpened his skills and paid off well. I would also have to credit the hunting videos he has watched and heard me preach on when it is and isn't the right time to take the shot.

Here are some of the more technical details:

  • 205 Yards
  • 243 WSSM
  • A-Bolt Stainless Laminate Hunter with 22" barrel
  • Bushnell Elite 3200 3-10x SA Scope
  • 80g Barnes Tipped Triple Shock
  • 3360 fps  (same load same day shot 3475 fps from my A-Bolt Stainless Laminate Varmint with a 24" barrel). You can view this handload on my 243 WSSM and the 243 Win. page.
  • Center punched both shoulders

243 WSSM Entrance Hole on Dallen's First Elk

243 WSSM, 80g Tipped Triple Shock Entrance Hole & Russ Kommer Custom Knife


243 WSSM Exit Hole on Dallen's First Elk

243 WSSM, 80g Tipped Triple Shock Exit Hole

Yes, you read correctly and it isn't a typo, an 80 grain bullet passed through a bull elk's shoulders at 205 yards. The bullet hit the elk exactly where I had told Dallen to place it. I have taken several cow elk with Barnes Triple Shock bullets and a couple of Mule deer. I have learned that they penetrate through anything even with the small bore .243 variety. I have found that the Triple Shock bullet performance on an animal has been best achieved by hitting the deer or elk in the muscle and bone of the shoulder. I also believe the Tipped Triple Shock expands better than the non-tipped on game.  If you zip a Triple Shock through the rib cage I have not heard any audible indication that the animal has been hit. Where a more traditional bullet gives a load audible whop, pretty much anywhere you hit the animal. In the past, the Triple Shock has left me wondering if I missed, especially when the elk is also showing no signs of being hit. This has happened when I have placed the bullet in the traditional behind the shoulder through the rib cage area. With a Triple Shock the only time I have heard a good thump has been with bone-crushing shoulder shots. So I hold for shoulder even though I lose a little meat, I like knowing I made a hit audibly and I like seeing critters fall over quickly.

We hauled this elk out with my lightweight packable deer and elk cart. I have been working on the cart for a couple of years now and it did very well for its first elk. Also on this hunt, I used for the first time a new knife that Russ Kommer made for me. Wow, what a nice knife. I had expressed a couple of things I wanted in a knife and Russ did an excellent job with it.

Here are some notes on my Russ Kommer semi-skinner knife.

  • This was the first time I used only one knife from start to finish.
  • I boned the elk out one hour faster than normal...and I wasn't trying to go fast.
  • I sat the knife down at one point and then needed it and made the comment "Now where's my knife." My son quickly says "Right there Dad, good thing it's bright orange instead of camo..."  Exactly why I wanted a brightly colored knife.
  • This was the first time I went from start to finish without sharpening my knife.
  • The knife cleans very quickly compared to the folders I normally use.
  • The sizing was perfect even for getting out the tenderloin without puncturing the rumen.

I really like the knife. If there was one thing I would like added would be a reflective handle material like you see on running shoes and safety vests. The reason: when I am exhausted boning an elk out in the dark I often lay my knife down and spend the next five minutes trying to find it. On occasion, I have repeated this finding process numerous times per animal. The reflective material would make it even easier to find the knife in the dark.