The DIY Hunter

Hunter Selfie

Like last year I have been just too busy in August and September to hunt elk with my bow. Things settle down a little for me in November so like last year I was chasing elk with a smoke pole. 

This year was full of lots of unexpected work that caused me to use up most of my vacation. That being the case I only had a couple of days that I could spare to take off to hunt. Given the distance and elevation of where I wanted to pack into I like to spend at least a couple days in there. It's over five miles into where I like to make camp and 2,300 vertical feet up.

6 point bull elk

With very mild temperatures and weather, I felt it best to wait to hunt the very last days of the hunt hoping that I would have a greater chance of elk moving out of the private ground above and into this public ground I would be hunting. 

With three days left in the hunt Dallen and I set off up the mountain. It was nice to have Dallen come to help me on this hunt. I was full of stories about archery elk hunting in this area back in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In 2007 I shot a little five-point bull way at the back of this public ground. Needless to say, I had a lot of stories to share with Dallen about the area and during the course of our hunt, I was able to show him a lot of my favorite spots to hunt for elk.

Hunter hiking

As we hiked in we watched a lot of mule deer but couldn't find any elk. Until the snow flys, the elk are usually way at the top and down in the upper canyons so I didn't think we would find any on the hike in but we enjoyed glassing the mule deer.

It was after dark as we crested the ridge I wanted to get past to set up camp. As we got to this ridge we saw a campfire a little further down the ridge. We weren't going to have the area to ourselves. Darn it. Oh well. We went another half mile around the canyon then setup the Alps Chaos tent and hit the sack dreaming of big bulls in the morning.

Early the next morning we took off with day packs headed out a ridge to glass. It didn't take us long before we glassed up a six-point bull around 700 yards away. We needed to head down one draw then pop up on a ridge and hopefully, the bull was still there for a 200 or so yard shot. And then there were the horses, yeap, horses, ten of them to be exact. Apparently the camp on the ridge was a camp of a bunch of horse hunters. As we moved down into the canyon going after the elk we could hear steel horseshoes clanking off rocks all over the place around the ridges of the canyon. No, no, no...

Nice mule deer buck

When we made it to where we hoped to get a shot the bull was gone. In the process of going down into this canyon, we also spotted another six-point bull in a different sub draw off this canyon. In both cases, the bulls were headed for the safety of the private ground fence line. We took off trying to get in front of them but we found that horses had already made it around to that side of the canyon. Oh well. I wished there wasn't all the noise from all the horses surrounding the canyon but this is how public land hunting goes sometimes. I may not agree with the style of hunting but everyone else has a right to be there just like I do. Now if I did have a horse to get me into this area to hunt I would leave my horse at camp and sneak down into the canyon on foot. They just are soooo noisy. You can hear them coming a mile away and I don't have as good of hearing as an elk has. Oh well. This is one of the reasons I like archery hunting. Bowhunters may ride horses to get into the backcountry but they generally don't ride them around hunting from the saddle.

So the rest of that day we hiked back to camp then moved camp over to another location. That evening we hunted right along the private land border but never saw any elk. I did snap a pretty nice pic of a Dusky Grouse that evening but that was about all we saw.

We were up early the next morning debating on whether to go back to the same area or hike a mile to the north and hunt that canyon. As it was just getting light we could see and hear the train of horses head up the mountain and to the north. Well, that answered that question. No need for us to go to the other canyon with a bunch of horses headed that way. We slipped down into the same canyon we were in the day before and glassed from a few different locations. Nothing. We had the place to ourselves this morning but there were also no elk in the area. At one point that morning a young bull moose came in thirty yards from us and I snapped a few pics of him.

Dusky Grouse

Again that evening we hiked around to some good vantage points and glassed but not an elk could be found. Oh well. Maybe next year. 

We hiked back up to camp and loaded up in the dark then off the mountain we flew. 

I guess there is always next year. I haven't been doing too well at filling my tags the last few years. I'm a little picky wanting a 150ish or better mule deer so I have passed on a few but when it comes to elk I shoot whatever I can find if I can find one as I love the meat. I'm hoping I can find more time to hunt next year and get a bull in the freezer.

Even though I ate tag soup I had so much fun being on the mountain. I generally like to hunt solo but find it really enjoyable to hunt with my kids. Dallen was a great help and I really enjoyed the time we were able to spend together on the mountain. Thank you for the help Dallen!

Small Bull Moose

Hiking at sunrise on opening morning.

MY three boys hiking in on opening morning.

Buck on a CWMU.

Some bucks we saw across the canyon on a CWMU.

Me and the boys having fun hunting.

Me and the boys having fun hunting.

Dallen's 2016 mule deer.

Dallen's 2016 mule deer.

Landen's first mule deer.

Landen's first mule deer.

Two days after coming off the mountain from elk hunting with the boys we were headed back out. This time for mule deer. Opening morning we decided to drive up in the dark and do a day hike down one of my favorite canyons. As it was just getting light, we set out down the canyon. Within minutes we found a bunch of deer and a couple bucks but they were right on the corner of a CWMU so I had to tell the boys to just ignore the deer and lets get down around the corner to see what else we could find. As we were passing by these deer we walked right up on a couple of other hunters setup watching the deer. I tried some small talk with them and they didn't say a word back. Awkward silence.. Ok then. Guess they weren't too happy we were parading past them. I didn't want to hang around so we headed past them and down the canyon.

Surprisingly once we got further down into the canyon we found other hunters had hiked way down into the middle of the canyon in the dark. So much for seeing any deer in that big canyon, with them already in there. We watched the canyon for a few hours and only found one deer. Usually there are a bunch of deer in that canyon but you can't go down into the middle of it in the dark, you just scare everything out while you can't see it. Oh well, the joys of public land hunting in Northern Utah. There are a lot of people crammed into very little public land options. We did find a few more deer way out in the distance but all on the private CWMU. 

Around midday after watching the guys in the bottom of the canyon hike all around down in there and not kick up a single deer we headed back out. 

With the young boys in school on Monday we decided to make wait till Thursday night and pack into some other public land to hunt through Saturday night. 

Thursday night we loaded up or gear and headed up the mountain. We glassed for deer along the way in the sage brush draws but just like the weekend before we could only find deer on the other side of the fences. Public land traffic bumps the deer to where they aren't messed with. That is does.

After dark we made it in a couple miles to where I wanted to make camp we setup our Browning four man Greystone tent for the night.

The next morning we were up early and out glassing for deer. It was nice to actually find more deer than hunters and we were finding plenty of deer. After a while we setup on a point to glass in a spot where the deer were funneling through. By mid morning we had spotted right at sixty two does but no bucks. Dallen decided to walk around the corner a little to be able to look down a canyon better. It was just then that he startled Landen, KB and myself by firing his rifle across the canyon. It didn't sound like he connected on whatever he was shooting at. Dallen was just 30 yards or so from us and I was able to find were he was shooting. It looked like a decent buck and I ranged it at 330 yards and yelled over to him the range while also working with Landen to setup for a shot. Now with the reange Dallen's second shot made a solid hit but it appeared to be a gut shot as the deer was now very sick looking and not wanting to move.

While the buck was still standing Landen was able to get a shot off and I could hear it hit. I later found that Landen hit it in the front leg just below the shoulder. Then Dallen sent another 200 Gr ELD-X through the heart followed by a fifty-yard death run down the hill.

Dallen ended up hitting the buck twice a little far back and his final shot through the boiler room. We teased him about getting excited and not using his range finder before flinging lead. We nicknamed this buck "First Try" with a rough, deep Batman voice. Dallen had a range finder and a diagram of yardages for his Nikon BDC reticle laminated to the side of his rifle scope. He just needed to take a few seconds to get the range. Buck fever will get you excited and excited he sure got. Dallen now had a critter taken with his new X-Bolt 300 WSM. He was really itching to shoot something with it this year.

The buck turned out to be a nice little 4x5. Landen was happy for Dallen but at the same time a little sad he hadn't got a buck or elk yet. Understandable, very understandable.

We boned out the deer and Dallen hauled it back to camp. At camp we refuel for the evening hunt and Dallen headed off the mountain with his buck as it started to rain. 

KB, Landen and myself did setup that evening and glassed that evening spotting a bunch more does. Where are all the bucks? 

Back in the tent that night the little boys and I chowed down on Chicken and Dumpling Mountain House dinners. It was raining quite heavy on the tent and in the dark and rain Dallen made it back to camp and crawled into the tent with us. 

Dallen was a trooper hauling his deer a couple miles off the mountain by himself back to the Montero. He then drove home 20 miles, came back and hiked a couple miles back up the mountain in heavy rain in the dark back up to help his little brother get a buck. It was around 10pm with me and the two young boys snug in our sleeping bags listening to the rain when Dallen made it back. I was a very impressed, proud father that Dallen came back to help his little brother with it being so wet and dark. Thank you Dallen.

The next morning we were up extra early because it was Saturday and we knew we would have a lot more orange on the mountain and that we did. We initially setup where Dallen took his buck but after a half hour we spotted a small buck way across the canyon and we decided to take off after him.

As we crossed the canyon and popped up over a rise where we could see the deer passing from across the canyon. As we did a 18 inch variety of buck came around and stopped broadside just over 200 yards away. I'm not sure what happened. We had Landen on the shooting sticks, it all looked good but we were rushing to help him get positioned and ready. Whatever the case he missed and the buck moved into some brush. As we were waiting for the buck to clear the brush two hunters walked around the bend right in between us and where we were shooting. Ahh! We had to get up and chase after the buck. The two hunter hadn't seen nor knew we were there but after they saw us they changed course and we were able to chase after the buck without having to worry about them chasing it also.

As we crested some brush the buck got out at around 150 yards away. I tried to get Landen on the buck but he just couldn't find it in the scope. Things that come with experience. One of the reasons I like to take the kids prairie dog hunting to learn to shoot under a little pressure.

So off to the races we went again trying to make it to the next draw on this side of the canyon in hopes that we could see the buck in that draw. Nope, too late so on to the next. We were getting a workout. In the next draw we could see the group of deer a thousand or so yards ahead of us. We slowed it down and started crossing through the bottom of the draw when a couple deer jumped up out of the tall sage brush above us. I glassed them up and the last one was a spike. Landen said he wanted to get him so we setup on the sticks again. The buck was broadside right at 200 yards and miss. Landen put another shell in and as the buck paused now going straight away he quickly fired and bam, down goes the buck. What a shot. Not the most optimal angle but it proved to be very effective. I like how Landen loaded and took the shot all on his own. But we have since talked about waiting for a better broadside shot in the future.

Just after he dropped the little buck a larger two-point came around the hill just above the downed buck. Then just after we walked up to the buck I four point comes around and stops in the spot where Landen had shot from. Oh well, Landen and Dad were excited for the buck he was able to harvest. As it turned out the buck had some little forks. We kidded about using the antlers as utensils like a spork and the name of "Sporky" was giving to Landen's first buck.

In the chase for the buck Dallen had been kind enough help KB along.

After we had the deer boned out we headed back to camp. It was a small buck and the meat only weighed 40 pounds and then the head was at least five pounds.

Back at camp we broke down the tent and loaded everything up for the trip off the mountain. 

As I look back at this hunt it will be one that was really special to me. Having all three boys with me, both of them getting bucks, Landen getting his first deer, sleeping in the tent in the rain. The whole experience was just awesome. 

I can't wait to take the boys out again next year after deer. They have been talking a lot about packing in the extra couple miles next year to be in a better position to get larger bucks. I can't wait. 

Lucky horseshoe.

Landen's lucky horseshoe.

Landen notching his first tag.

Landen notching his first tag.

My boys walking up to Dallen's buck.

My boys walking up to Dallen's buck.

The buck that showed up right after Landen shot his first deer.

The buck that showed up right after Landen shot his first deer.

Boning out Landen's deer.

Boning out Landen's deer.

Looking back at camp from across the canyon.

Looking back at camp from across the canyon.

My favorite hunting knife, a Russ Kommer custom small skinner.

My favorite hunting knife, a Russ Kommer custom small skinner.

Trail running shoes are the best for hunting.

I love hunting in trail running shoes. I rarely put boots on anymore unless there is snow or really bad weather.

80 Gr. TTSX Bullet

What's left of the 80 Gr. TTSX bullet that was shot at 3,550 fps out of a 243 WSSM.

80 Gr. TTSX Bullet

Comparing the recovered 80 Gr. TTSX to an unfired one.

Hunting with my boys.

Had a great time hiking around the mountain with these three boys looking for elk. We know they are in this thick stuff from my Browning Trail Cams but we weren't been able to cross paths this weekend.

Landen looking for elk.

Landen looking down our favorite canyon for elk.

Hunting the thick country for elk.

Two young tough hunting buds! Sorry your Dad failed to get you on an elk for your first big game hunt Landen. I tried, I tried...

Sun setting on elk season.

Sun setting the last evening of the hunt.

Elk rubs.

Landen finding elk rubs.

Coming just off my exciting muzzleloader mule deer hunt I was looking forward at taking Landen on his first big game hunt.

Landen will be starting his hunting career out with my Browning A-Bolt Stainless Hunter in 243 WSSM. In this rifle I have 80 Gr Tipped Triple Shock bullet going 3,550 FPS. These bullets are awesome on deer and elk out to around 300 yards. This bullet going this fast just crushes through bone and penetrates like no other.

Dallen was itching to shoot something with his new X-Bolt Gray Laminate Long Range Hunter in 300 WSM. In the two or so weeks we had this rifle before the season we tried some HSM 185 GR Bergers that just shot horrible groups. I ordered some 200 Gr Hornady ELD-X bullets and loaded them up and Holy Cow. My first three completely different powder charges all shot right at 1/2 inch or better. (check out the groups shown below) Holy Cow!!! I have never seen anything shoot this good with the very first loads I ever tried. Holy Cow!!! Did I say that already? Anyhow Dallen was liking his new rifle and so was Dad. 

300 WSM 200 Gr. ELD-X 3 Shot Groups.

Dallen's new X-Bolt 300 WSM and Hornady 200 Gr ELD-X bullets. 0.376, 0.565, 0.550 inch 100 yard groups. Shot off sand bags in breezy conditions. I'm amazed! I just used Hornady's recommended COAL and three different powder charges of IMR 4350. L-R shooting at second row of targets - 59 Gr then adjusted scope up and to right and let rifle cool while I shot another rifle, then 61 Gr and last 63 Gr shot right after the 61 Gr group with no cool down in between. Holy Crap! 200 ELD-X bullets rock!!! See: 300 WSM Handloads

The night before the opener all of us boys headed up the mountain and set up my Browning Greystone four-man tent to spend the night. That night we discussed the nice six-point bull that we captured a bunch of images and video of on my Browning trail cameras, he was our #1. We also discussed a goofy little 7x4 bull as the bull the boys hoped to find as their number two bull on the hit list.

Early the next morning we were up and hiking up the mountain. Dallen being a veteran hunter with a view season under his belt chose to hunt by himself for the morning looking out over an oak brush filled canyon.

KB, Landen and I headed up to where several of my trail cameras are located to hunt for the morning. Things were really quiet all morning until just after 10 when we had a calf, cow and bull come over a ridge and into the canyon we were watching. They were only around 200 yards away however they were in some quaking aspens and not clearly visible to take a clear shot. They appeared to be headed towards a clearing that Landen was setup on shooting sticks all ready to take the bull. Then something happened and the bull made a cough like sound and they all turned around and headed right back where they came from. What the heck just happened? They couldn't smell us... then a couple of minutes after they left I found the answer — a black bear. Stinking bears! Right where we had just watched the elk I watched a black bear follow the path the elk had taken over the ridge and out of the canyon.

Dallen didn't see anything that morning so he came up to hang out with us for the afternoon and evening. Unfortunately, we didn't find any elk that evening. Before we left we pulled the SD cards from my cameras to see what had been in the area. 

That next week Dallen went up on the mountain by himself and hunted for a couple of days. I was proud of him going on his first hunt by himself and sleeping in a tent all by himself. Dallen returned from the mountain with stories of an elk sneaking in silently and spooking. And stories of a bull that answered his cow call just before dark. He was pretty excited but again no elk again.

The following weekend the four of us boys were out again looking for some elk. The little boys were troopers hiking up and down the mountain. We learned on this trip that a little five point was out in the open the day before Dallen went hunting during the week. If Dallen had been there the day before he could have easily seen this bull with several cows. This is also the bull that evaded Landen on the opener thanks to the help of the black bear.

The last couple days of the hunt the boys had school off so I took off work and headed back up with them in hopes of finding a bull, especially for Landen. This trip we decided to hunt and area that gets more hunting pressure but also has a lot more elk. I tend to shy away from this location just to stay away from other hunters. 

The first night we hiked way over and down into the canyon. That evening we did see a cow elk way out across the canyon on a CWMU. We set up in more of a thick bow hunting area and called hoping to get a bull to sneak in. At one point we were pretty sure a bull came in behind us as it sounded like antlers hitting the maple trees but we never saw what it was. I also called in a hunter right to where we wanted the elk to show up but again no elk.

On the last day we did a lot more hiking around exploring but just weren't in the right place at the right time. We later found out that a five-point was shot in the spot we had been the night before. 

Sorry, your Dad failed you on getting an elk your first year Landen. I still had a lot of fun spending time with all three of my boys on the mountain. I wish I had more time to spend with them doing things like this.

Just one day to rest and the opener of deer season. I'll get you on a buck Landen, don't worry, we'll find you a buck.

See: 2016 Utah Rifle Deer Season — Landen's First Buck