The DIY Hunter

Hunting in snow storm in Uinta mountains.

Elk have been a nemesis for me for many years now. I'm not sure what is going on. I have been working my rear off to find them year after year... Since I killed my spike elk in 2014 I have only seen a couple of elk. Yes, you heard correct while hunting multiple seasons per year and also hunting with my boys for the past seven years I have only seen a couple of elk total.

In 2020 I hunted a total of nine days for elk and never saw a single elk. This year I personally hunted 10 days for elk. I had the three-season combo tag again this year in my pocket and figured this was the year for me to fill the freezer... I was wrong.

I was super excited that the DWR extended the general archery elk season this year. The Archery elk hunt this year ended five days after it usually closed here in Utah. The season actually ended on the 22nd of September... the furthest into September ever.

Archery Hunting

My QuikSpin vanes on my series 22 arrow shafts archery elk hunting in Uinta mountains.

My QuikSpin vanes on my Series 22 (original heavy version) arrow shafts archery elk hunting in Uinta mountains.

Waking up to snow whil archery elk hunting in Uinta mountains.

Waking up to snow while archery elk hunting in Uinta mountains.

My favorite hunting treat - Swedish Fish.

My favorite hunting treat - Swedish Fish.

Hoyt bow archery elk hunting in Uinta mountains.

One of many, many wallows I found in the Uinta mountains while archery elk hunting.

One of many, many wallows I found in the Uinta mountains while archery elk hunting.

Wearing blaze orage while archery elk hunting in Uinta mountains.

Wearing blaze orange while archery elk hunting in Uinta mountains because the season overlapped with the rifle youth elk hunt.

For archery season headed to the North Slope of the Uinta mountains. I then packed in three miles and set up camp. For the following three days I hiked in another three miles in different directions hunting for elk. I found a lot of fresh sign and heard and saw a couple of hunters but could never find an elk. 

One day hunting my way slowly back to camp I found a spike elk that had been shot in the hindquarters with an arrow from what looked to be about a week prior.

Extremely fresh elk bed in the snow.

Extremely fresh elk bed in the snow while we were rifle hunting.

I found a lot of cool wallows in the area but none of them really looked to have been recently used. I really only believe I heard one valid elk call during the 4 days I archery hunted, it was a bugle in response to my cow calls as I was hiking in with my camp.

I did enjoy the peace of being on the mountain by myself for a few days and I was really pumped that my knee held out with me putting in six-plus miles on them a couple of the days. Both of my knees are in bad shape with them having seven surgeries to date. My right knee has really been bothering me this year and a trip to my knee surgeon was not very comforting... "you're basically bone on bone and the only surgery that is going to help you is a replacement."

I really enjoyed getting out on the mountain exploring new areas but Archery season didn't go so well... at least at finding any elk. Hopefully rifle and muzzleloader seasons would go better.

Rifle season rolled around a few weeks later and two of my boys opted to join me in the Uintas for four days of sub-freezing temps in a tent. We had a lot of fun together putting in six-plus miles every day looking for elk. We were ever so close on many occasions as we found really fresh beds and tracks in the fresh snow. On one day Kaden spotted three cow elk and if one had been a bull Kaden was set up just in time to shoot it before they ran back into the thick pines. 

At the Jeep JK in the Uinta mountains.

Our Browning X-Bolt rifles in the Uinta mountains.

Our three short action X-Bolt rifles, two 300 WSM rifles and one 6.5 PRC.

Alps Outdoors hunting packs.

This rifle hunt was some of the coldest hunting I have ever experienced. We stayed warm and camped at the trailhead in my little four-man Browning tent. I had a blast spending time with my boys. I only wish Landen would have joined us for the hunt. And my knees held out again putting a lot of miles each day on them.

Next up was rifle deer season and then it was my turn again for elk, this time with my Paramount 45 cal muzzleloader.

My plan for the muzzleloader elk hunt was for me to head back to the Uinta mountains and hunt solo again lower down the mountain than where I had previously hunted. I was planning to sleep in the front seats of my Jeep and explore different areas to hunt. As the hunt approached my Jeep started leaking antifreeze from somewhere on the back of the engine. I purchased a borescope camera and traced it to what I believe was an intake manifold gasket leak. I was right a couple of weeks later when I got in into Precision Auto in Morgan to have it fixed.

Muzzleloader elk hunting.

I took this selfie on the 11.3 mile hike looking for elk with my Paramount muzzleloader. This hike destroyed my knee.

Anyhow, with the leaking antifreeze, I wasn't comfortable driving it the long distance to the Uintas to hunt so I decided to hunt more locally. At four in the morning, I made the half-hour drive to the trailhead of the local public land and off I went into the darkness of morning hiking up the mountain. I had one heck of a hike. Looking at OnX Maps I hiked 11.3 miles as the crow flys this day. I was in some great areas for elk but I didn't see any elk, cut any tracks or hear a single elk. One thing I did find out from this hunt was 11.3 miles was way too much for my right knee. It did this knee in bad. Month's later my right knee is still in pain and not functioning well. I'm going to try and lose some weight to try and help it but I may need to break down and get it replaced.

And so my elk finding slump continues. Maybe 2022 will be better. 

Here are some of the critters we saw while hunting.

Canada Jay eating from my hand while elk hunting in the Uinta mountains.

We had the Canada Jays eating from our hands but we couldn't find any elk.

Canada Jays flying around us while elk hunting in the Uinta mountains.

Good mule deer buck in the Uinta mountains.

Dallen spotted this good mule deer buck one day while we were hunting in the Uinta Mountains.

Raven in the Uinta mountains.

Bald Eagle Uinta mountains..

Bull moose in the Uinta mountains.

Selfie elk hunting in the Uinta mountains.

Selie in the tent elk hunting in the Uinta mountains.

Selfie of me and the boys elk hunting in the Uinta mountains.

Warming up in the sun in Uinta mountains.

The boys out warming up in the sun after sitting in this meadow since first light.

diyhntr Jeep JK Uinta mountains.

Hunting in a meadow in the Uinta mountains.

Sitting on the edge of a meadow with X-Bolt rifle in the Uinta mountains.

Hiking in snow storm in a meadow in the Uinta mountains.

Hiking in snow storm in a meadow in the Uinta mountains.

Snowy beard in the Uinta mountains.

Wilderness boundary sign in the Uinta mountains.

A spike elk the had been shot in the hind quarters and lost in the Uinta mountains.

The broken arrow on a spike elk that had been shot in the hind quarters and lost in the Uinta mountains.

A spike elk that had been shot by another hunter in the hindquarters a week or so prior to me finding it during the archery season, also the only elk I saw in the four days I was archery elk hunting.

Mule Deer Browning Cellular Trail Camera

Watching Mule Deer remotely from a Browning Cellular Trail Camera.

Mule Deer Browning Cellular Trail Camera

The four-point in the back was taken by a mountain lion a few days after this photo was taken.

My number 1 buck on Browning Trail Camera

This was my number one buck I targeted during the muzzleloader hunt in September..

This year I drew a general muzzleloader deer tag and my three boys all drew general rifle tags here in Utah. I was excited to get out with my new CVA Paramount muzzleloader this year. This muzzleloader is a muzzleloading long-range rifle. Well, I least I feel very comfortable taking a 500 yard shot with it if the conditions are right. 

To help with finding me a deer to go after with my muzzleloader I employed my trail cameras. I found three four-point bucks in the area over the summer and leading up until the first of September and then they disappeared about the time they shed their velvet.

One buck I am sure was killed by a lion on around July 20th from studying my cellular trail camera that he was coming into with two buddies. The three bucks were regulars to the camera until a couple of mountain lions showed up and hung around for four days. Four days after the mountain lions left only two bucks returned for the rest of summer.

My favorite buck was a 3x4 that was coming out of private land and into public land to drink at a spring every fifth day or so and then only half of the time it came was during daylight hours. I hiked in to watch this spring three times during the muzzleloader hunt but he never showed up while I was there.

Deer hunting with my CVA Paramount muzzleloader

Deer hunting with my CVA Paramount muzzleloader.

The night before the opener of the rifle hunt my three boys and I hiked into our favorite rifle deer location to hunt the opener. It's a good four-mile hike and my boys were up to the task. Opening morning and we rolled out of our tent in a great location. We had plenty of deer around us and a few small bucks but my young boys have been spoiled and they each wanted to get a four-point buck. Unfortunately by mid-day, we hadn't seen a four-point buck and the DWR made us pack back out because of a fire. That sucked. We were a mile past the horse camps, on foot...

Sad having to pack back out because of a fire.

Sad faces as we prepare to pack right back off the mountain because of a fire.

fire closure.

Wildfire in the dark.

A view of part of the fire as we packed out on opening day in the dark.

With the property closed, we decided to try our luck on the Wasatch Front mountains. The deer herd has been in horrible shape on this mountain for several years now so I haven't hunted it at all for about four years. A combination of no good winter range, archers hunting the bucks during the rut, mountain lions everywhere (my trail cameras show lots of lions), R&K outfitters on the nearby CWMU killing everything they can find and highway 89 slaughtering deer has just really bummed me out about that mountain. There aren't the bucks up there like there used to be ten years ago.

Opening morning buck.

A buck the boys passed on opening morning.

A buck I watched during the muzzleloader hunt.

I watched this buck while I was set up watching for the big 3x4 buck during the muzzleloader hunt.

Small bucks Kaden passed on.

Some small bucks Kaden passed on... maybe should have shot one of them.

On the first trip out on the Wasatch Dallen found a good buck way down the mountain. We hiked down and around to get to the buck as fast as we possibly could. As we closed the distance from 1,200 yards down to 454 yards we watched the buck bed under the edge of a pine tree. The buck was bedded offering a decent shot if Dallen could thread it into his chest. Setting up with some shooting sticks and a pack under his shoulder Dallen made a near-perfect shot with his X-Bolt in 300 WSM and the buck never moved.

Spotting Dallens buck feeding

Dallens buck bedded

Dallens buck down

Right after Dallen shot his 2020 buck.

Spotting Dallen's 2020 buck (top photo) up until just after he takes the shot (bottom photo).

After getting to the buck we found that its left antler had nearly been shot off a few days prior. We made a splint on the antler to make sure we didn't break it completely off while we were working on it. As we were taking photos of his notched tag on the antlers we kept noticing some odd cut marks on the right antler. It took us a while to figure this out but the cut marks line up perfectly with two blades of a three-bladed broadhead.  How crazy is that? He was shot in the right antler with an arrow and the left antler with a rifle. 

Dallen 2020 buck

Broadhead cut through antler

Notice the broadhead slices through the antler. One blade sliced above the tag notches and another blade sliced between the two tag notches shown in this photo.

Bullet hole in left antler

And a bullet hole through the left antler with a corresponding hole through the top of his ear that you can see in the background.

After getting Dallen's buck packed off the mountains with our favorite Alpsoutdoorz Extreme packs(#ad) I made a couple more trips back in with all of my boys. We had some awesome hikes but never found any other four-point bucks for Kaden and Landen. We had a great time I just wished we could have made it back into our favorite location. Next year, next year.

With Dallen getting this buck in 2020 my two young boys always reminded me of is how lucky Dallen is. Dallen has a way of finding four-point bucks. The buck he took this year is now the 8th four point he has taken in his young life. Come to think of it, I have only taken seven in my ancient life. He has been pretty lucky but also works hard to find them. 

300 WSM Browning X-Bolt Hells Canyon Speed.

Brothers hunting.

Brothers hunting.

Hunting Selfie.

Kaden hunting.

Hunting with my three boys.

Smith Creek Lakes with my Jeep JK.

Exploring the Smith Creek Lakes in my JK with my new Hankook MT2 tires.

Bucket Heater European Skull Mount

Using a bucket heater (#ad) to do a European skull mount.

For many years I have been doing the maceration method to clean my deer and elk skulls for European skull mounts. Here is a detailed blog entry on my old DIY European Skull Mounting Process that you should read as it has details on the plaques that I make to put them on the wall. I have liked this method because it doesn't damage the skull like boiling them does. Boiling skulls warps the bone, tipping the nose upward and I have yet to see a boiled skull that didn't have the delicate nose bones destroyed. The methods I use don't warp the skull and keep all of the delicate nose bones perfectly intact.

Here's what you will need. 

  1. Access to running water with a hose
  2. Five-gallon bucket for deer a larger container for elk (I use an old cooler)
  3. Access to power.
  4. 1000W Bucket Heater (#ad)
  5. Power washer (#ad) (optional but helpful)

Here's my process of cleaning the flesh off the skull.

  1. Skin the head and remove the eyes and lower jaw bone
  2. Fill the 5-gallon bucket with water and have the bucket tipped slightly so overflow water will run over one side
  3. Place the 1000W Bucket Heater (#ad) in the bucket
  4. Place the skull in the bucket
  5. Get a hose to trickle water into the bucket
  6. Continually check the water level and "cook" it for up to three* days. 
  7. Pull out the skull and use needle nose pliers, running water and a knife to clean off the bulk of the flesh.
  8. Use a power washer to blast off the remaining flesh and flush out the brain cavity. DO NOT SPRAY DIRECTLY ON THE DELICATE BONES INSIDE THE NOSE. Safety goggles and a mask help keep possible gunk off your face and eyes if it backsplashes on you. 

* Not all 1000W Watt bucket heaters are the same. After using my first bucket heater for three years it died and I purchased another bucket heater. My second heater runs hotter and can finish a deer in less than a day. The speed in how fast your skull is ready will also depend on the outside temperature and how fast you trickle water into the bucket. Make sure you have water trickling into the bucket at all times to keep the water from getting too hot and potentially damaging your skull. Also, make sure to check the status of the flesh falling off periodically. On some skulls, I will slow down the cooking process by trickling more water when I am unable to check on the progress for a longer period of time... like overnight. I generally like to start my skull "cooking" on a Friday and then I can keep an eye on it over the weekend. If you lift the skull out of the bucket and the flesh on top of the skull is falling off it's likely finished cooking, move to steps 7 and 8 to clean off the flesh.

Bucket Heater European Skull Mount

This is the Bucket Heater (#ad) I use to do European skull mounts.

What the bucket heater does is it slow cooks the skull. It has a thermostat the keeps the water temperature around 150° and towards boiling but it does not heat it to the point of boiling. This method is nice because if you get your skull in shortly after harvesting your buck the process will not create any unpleasant smells. I like that there is no bacteria involved that stinks and could get on you. 

While the skull is cooking for three days you will want to monitor that the water stays trickling into the bucket. If you are doing this when the temperatures are well below freezing at night you will need to adjust the flow accordingly and monitor that the skull stays submerged. Try to keep the water just dripping into the bucket as not to lower the temperature of the water too much.

After three days in the bucket, all of my deer skulls have cleaned off very easily. Elk have taken three to five days because I have to use a larger container and can't get the water as warm.

Here are a couple of other steps I like to take after cleaning the flesh off.

Removing any leftover grease.
After the flesh is all off I will clean the bucket out, fill it with fresh water, place the Bucket Heater (#ad) and skull back in it. I will have the hose trickle water in the bucket and I will add some soap to the water in the bucket. I will leave the skull in the bucket with the soap for a few hours. This step helps remove any access oils that may still be in the bone. The Bucket Heater (#ad) has been removing oils all along but this just helps to be extra sure that you have removed any oil in the skull. The reason I like the bucket slightly tipped (step #2 above) is so that oils that float to the top drip over the edge of the bucket for the 3 days of cooking the skull.

Bleaching the skull white.
To get the skull bright white I will use 40 or 50 volume creme developer (#ad). Right after taking the skull out of the bucket of water I carefully use a paintbrush and brush it all over the skull but not on the antlers. I will then let that sit overnight. After it has sat overnight I will clean out the bucket and place the Bucket Heater (#ad) and skull with the developer on it in the bucket. I will then fill the bucket up with fresh water up as high as I can until it almost touches the antlers. The top of the skull will not be submerged but most of the skull will be. I then use the Bucket Heater (#ad) to heat the water for an hour. I do not trickle water into the bucket during this step because it will raise the water level over the antlers and get bleach on them. The heat of the water mixed with the bleach of the developer in the water bleaches the skull white really fast. I will also periodically brush warm water from the bucket over the top of the skull that isn't submerged working to keep that part of the skull wet as well.

Mounting on the wall.
I like to make my own plaques for mounting them on the wall. That process can be found in this article: DIY European Skull Mounting Process.

Bucket Heater bleaching DIY European Mule Deer Skull Mount

Using the bucket heater to finish the bleaching process.

DIY European Mule Deer Skull Mounts

2019 Euro Mounts using the bucket heater method. Here are the articles on these 2019 mule deer hunts.