I grew up in a family with old western traditions. My father took me and my older brother out in the mountains to do what he loved most, and that was just about anything outdoors. I never liked being left out “just because I was a girl”. If dad said we were hunting, I was there! If we were hiking in the hills, I was there! I always tagged along, hugging along his side. With his passion for archery (he even owned an archery shop in the 1980s), my siblings and I learned how to shoot our bows and rifles early on.
Although my father did more trophy mule deer hunting in his younger years, he was very conservative in his later years, hunting not for trophies but primarily to fill the freezer. It was all about the hunt, family, memories and healthy meat. The heart and liver was and still is a special celebration in our family, a tradition I pass on to my own children. I am amazed how many hunters I meet that don’t save the heart and liver.
Although hunting and outdoors was my father’s passion, we did move around often to different states and larger cities as a result of his employment. We never did much enjoy living in the city, and dad would always move us back to southern Utah when we had the financial means.
We started spike elk hunting in the southern Utah units when I was a young teenager, and that is when I got the bug for hunting these beautiful and majestic animals. I fondly recall my first hunt, waking up early in our chilly tents, freezing cold and wearing oversized hand-me-down men’s camo and orange that simply didn’t fit. We headed out of our icy tent, packing some granola bars, canned lunch and our gear, then off on our ATVs off to glass or hike. Those mornings were awful for me as a small girl due to my inability to tolerate my cold hands and feet! I would hike along bundled up just following dad and my older brother to our spot thinking “I am too cold to even care if I see an elk right now. I’ll see him later, when I warm up!” I vividly recall as the sun came up hearing the mature bull elk bugle all over that canyon. I saw an aspen tree hundreds of yards out swaying back and forth from an elk rubbing. I’ll never forget how my heart filled with excitement. I was thinking this is sooo cool!
We shared a camp with a few other groups, and in the evenings we would all converse with each other, sharing hunting stories from the day. After almost a week of hunting and running into elk, my brother and dad went on a hunt one night by themselves while I stayed back with my aunt and uncle. That night they radioed in and said they got an elk! I was kicking myself for not going along, and going crazy at camp waiting for them to come back! Pretty soon I heard four-wheelers coming and I was shocked to see how large the bull was. Head on one four-wheeler and the body on another. They hung him up to cool down for the night. I’ll never forget seeing my first elk up close.
Over the years my family and I have maintained our passion for the outdoors, however getting married and having kids certainly slowed down my opportunities for a large bull elk hunt. Unfortunately my father passed at a young age due to a heart condition, never getting a chance to experience a bull elk hunt with us all as adults. Even with life getting in the way I never stopped dreaming of the next time I could get out and get a bull for myself.
After Years of hunting successes and failures, in 2018 I was invited to experience a bull elk hunt with Bucks and Bulls Outfitters in northern Utah. I had just wrapped up an unsuccessful and frustrating month long archery mule deer hunt, and I was looking forward to a lower pressure unit with a rifle. Did I mention I almost exclusively hunt solo? On this elk hunt I was going to have company, a welcome change!
I was hunting on what locals refer to as the Kennecott property, a portion of the Oquirrh Mountain Range west of Salt Lake City, once home to some of the biggest bulls in Utah as it was private property not subject to hunting pressure. With the advent of CWMU units by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (private/public partnerships), the unit became open to a limited number of hunters over the past few decades. Unfortunately due to hunting pressure on the unit, the bull population has been depleted of some of the trophies once present, however new management and outfitters have been put in place as of 2015 and things are improving rapidly, with some amazing animals returning.
I arrived on the hunting unit on a Saturday in the early afternoon, and we wasted no time unpacking and getting out to glass for bulls. Right before we headed out, I chatted with some other hunters and guides who shared that it would be a hard hunt with a lot hiking only to find bulls with damaged antlers from a hard rut. I told them I was fine with some broken points, all I wanted was a mature bull!
While out glassing that evening we were noticing elk coming out of the canyons to the grass flats. I was surprised to see so many elk and there were are a lot of decent bulls. To both of our surprise, a very nice 6 point bull came out into a clearing with some cows. My guide, having experienced the difficulty of finding a nice bull, was immediately thinking of a plan to go after it. My intuition was telling me “No no no! Too soon! I want to keep hunting, I want to see more!” and I asked him if we could check out a few more areas before sunset.
He reluctantly agreed and we drove around to more areas to glass. We saw young bulls everywhere we went, however the realization of what a nice bull that first 6 point was set in and I agreed we should come up with a plan to bag him. By then it was too late and our sights were set on the next morning.
As we got back to camp I was given a little bit of grief in jest for not shooting such nice bull. Apparently they hadn’t seen this bull anywhere and previous clients were having a tough time finding a good bull after hunting for days! I had a feeling we would see this bull again in the morning. He was coming down from up top that night, my instincts said he would still be hanging out low in the AM.
The next morning, while coming in, we were seeing elk everywhere! Cows, spikes and small bulls. We even saw a nice mature bull, but he was very broken up! It was a magnificent sight, viewing the herds and hearing them bugle, bringing back the memories and excitement of my younger years with my late father.
We kept on moving and spotted another bull, but it wasn’t him. We continued up over a hill and spotted another bull. My guide quickly set up his spotting scope and then said “ that’s our bull!”
With a grin, knowing my intuition was right and he was in an even better spot to shoot him, my guide and me stalked in from our 400 yard location to cut the shot down to a more manageable 300 yards.
With my handed down old Browning lever action .308, a gun that I hadn’t shot a big game animal with for 14 years due to a heavy emphasis on archery, I nervously laid down on our packs to get a nice rest for my shot. I had to adjust by putting another coat under my gun for more elevation and trying to get comfortable in all my layers of clothing.
Trying to control my nervous heavy breathing and waiting for him to turn broadside my guide told me “ ok now” and I took my shot. Hearing the unmistakable sound of a hit was a great feeling!
After giving him some time to expire we finally walked up to him and I couldn’t believe how big and beautiful he was! Elk truly are majestic animals. My first bull! My first elk! I was overwhelmed with emotions! Putting my hands around his antlers was a crazy feeling. This big beautiful elk ranged for years and fought with these antlers. I was so grateful. The only thing that would have made it better is if I had my family with me. Especially my dad who is no longer here. He would have been so happy to see me with a beautiful bull elk.
The guide and I spent the next hour quartering out the bull. I had always cleaned a deer of its entrails and drug the entire body out, so going with a bone-in quartering method without opening the abdomen was a unique and educational experience. We loaded our quartered bags up, put as much meat as I could carry on a frame pack and made three trips to our side by side to get everything loaded up. From there we headed back to camp to hang my elk. That evening we were able to score the bull out at a 292. I was so proud and happy in that moment, calling and sharing photos with friend and family alike.
I returned home a few days later with the bounty of the hunt. The elk took a week to run through our local butcher, but the first steak dinner was worth the wait, the entire family thoroughly enjoyed the meal. I thought I was hooked on this before, but I think the addiction is just getting started!