During the 2012 Western Hunting Expo, I decided to take a chance and apply for twenty-two of the limited entry tags available. With the odds of drawing an expo tag slim as they were I didn’t in my wildest dreams think I would draw any of them, but I took a long shot anyway and put in for every hunt that sparked my interest. A few weeks later my phone started buzzing in the middle of the night. I was receiving text after text letting me know I was the luckiest guy in the world. I jumped out of bed and ran to the computer to log on to the expo web site to check the results of the draw. I scrolled down the list of names of lucky individuals who beat the odds with anticipation, waiting to see my name. There were over 4000 applicants for Wasatch archery elk, and only 4 permits offered. There it was…. My name…. I drew a limited entry, Wasatch archery elk tag. Needless to say, I was unable to fall back to sleep the rest of the night. It wasn’t the San Juan, but it was still pretty awesome that I would have a second chance to hunt big bulls on the Wasatch unit with my bow!
I started scouting the second week of June. Fortunately the Wasatch unit is one I know well, and have hunted for years. Unfortunately, there were WAY too many tags issued for this particular unit. I knew if I was going to be successful I was going to have to put a lot of time into pre-season scouting and harvest my bull early in the season. There are a lot of elk on the Wasatch unit, but there are also a LOT of hunters. The archery deer, general archery elk, and limited entry archery elk hunts all open the same day. I debated whether to search for new areas that were more difficult to access in attempt to escape the crowds, or just stick with the areas I already knew well and focus on them. In the end, I decided to put all my eggs in one basket and focus on one particular area that I have hunted elk for years and seen a high concentration of bulls. My friend Ryan and I chose three water holes relatively close to each other and set trail cameras on each one. By the end of June I had lots of pictures of elk, mostly bulls, but nothing bigger than a five point.
The first week in July, I checked one of the cameras and was surprised to find a beautiful 6×7 had come in to the water hole. He was the first shooter I had seen. It was then that I really started to get excited! I figured he would finish out around 335. My goal was to harvest a bull with nice looking fronts that grossed over 330, and he was it! I started getting up at 4:30 in the morning three times a week to go up and spot for bulls. Good optics make a huge difference when it comes to locating and field judging animals. I use 10×42 Vortex Viper HD binoculars, and a Carl Zeiss 20x60x85 spotting scope. I love both. The Zeiss spotting scope has amazing clarity and gathers more light than any other scope I have looked through. The Vortex Viper HD binoculars gather lots of light, have amazing clarity, and feel awesome in your hands. They are light and compact. I would put the vortex binoculars up against anything on the market. Especially for the price!
From then on I spent about three mornings and three evenings a week going up on the mountain to spot. I was determined to locate all the bulls in the area. Fortunately for me, my wife and little boy enjoy going up in the evenings to ride the wheeler and look through the spotting scope as well. It takes a patient wife to put up with someone as addicted to hunting as I am! I was able to locate five bulls that I deemed “shooters”. The first was the 6×7 that I got on camera the first week in July. Then there was another 6×7, that wasn’t quite as pretty, but still a definite shooter. There were two typical 6 points that were between 330 and 340. One was a beautiful symmetrical bull with great fifths and awesome beams. The other was an older looking bull that was really pretty on his left side, but his right side had absolutely giant fronts and finished off really weak. Finally, I found the GIANT. He was an 8×9. He had a huge frame, and all of his fronts were over 20. His fifths were around 16. They were bladed and both had double cheaters. He also had a cheater on his right g4. The problem with this bull was that in all the time I spent spotting I only saw him twice, and had no idea where he was watering in the evenings. I made the decision early on that as much as I would love to have that bull on my wall, I would be a fool to pass up any 340 bull on this unit hoping to get a shot at him, especially with a bow. This was my second time having this tag, and the first time did not end how I wanted it to. In 2008, I drew the tag with 8 points and hunted hard for 21 days, only to shoot a 5 point on the last day. I knew how difficult it was going to be and I was bound and determined to harvest a respectable bull this time around.
I can’t stress enough the importance of scouting during the pre-season; however, it’s equally important to practice shooting your bow. I made a goal at the beginning of the summer that I would find time to shoot 20 arrows a day, even if I had to run home from work and do it on my lunch break. I wanted to be sure that when it came down to the shot that really mattered, muscle memory would take over and I would be able to make a good shot even if I was a little nervous. I shoot a 2010 Hoyt Maxxis 35, with Winner’s choice strings. My arrows are Easton FMJ 400’s, and they’re tipped with the Grim Reaper Razortip 1 3/8 inch broadheads. I am getting a 430 grain arrow to fly out of my bow at 290 fps, giving me 81.5 ft lbs of kinetic energy. It shoots fast and smooth, and is the perfect set up for hunting elk. Those arrows seem to penetrate better on elk than any other arrows I have shot. It takes a lot of preparation to be successful on any archery hunt. It’s important to have your bow tuned perfectly so that you have total confidence in its performance. I truly believe that I shoot better when I know my bow is set up perfect. It’s worth taking the extra time in the pro shop to make sure your bow is paper tuned and everything is right with your equipment.
Opening day finally came, and one of my friends took his spotting scope up on the ridge overlooking two of the canyons we had been watching, while Ryan and I slowly worked our way down into the canyon. When we got close to being in position we contacted our buddy on the radio to find out if he had seen any bulls. He had already located 5 bulls, and one of them was the GIANT! We were close. We dropped down into some heavy timber hoping to catch him sneaking into his bedding area. When we started to hear the familiar crunching of footsteps on the dry ground my heart beat started to speed up like a freight train. Four mule deer began working their way up the trail toward us when the lead doe stuck her nose straight in the air and started snorting. She had caught wind of our scent and began alerting everything in the canyon of our whereabouts. We attempted to sneak further down the canyon, but the ground was so dry and crunchy that we decided to back out. We didn’t want to blow any big bulls that might be in there out of the area. On our way back to the wheeler we stopped by one of the water holes to check my trail camera. I had been getting pictures of elk consistently about every 4th day all summer long, and nothing had triggered its motion sensor for 3 nights in a row. It was a good sign. If the bulls continued to do what they had done all summer long, we knew they would be hitting the water hole that night or the next. We already had a treestand set up in a quaky overlooking the water hole, so we hiked out and went back to camp.
Around 5:00pm we all left camp and split up. My brother headed for his deer stand, and my friends headed to a different canyon to look for spike elk. I headed straight for my water hole and climbed into the treestand. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it was HOT! I baked in the sun for a couple hours until it finally started cooling off around 7:30. At 8:00pm I heard some loud crunching coming from the oak brush to the north of my stand. I saw a flicker of white antler, and adrenaline instantly surged through me. I pulled up my binoculars, and saw a 5 point bull coming down the hill. With my bow in my left hand, I used my right to reach into my cargo pocket and grab my video camera. I pressed the record button just as the bull stepped into the clearing at 32 yards. For five minutes I watched and filmed the bull. At this point I was just excited that something had come in to my stand. Every few minutes he stuck his nose in the air, and then looked over his shoulder the direction he had come from. Finally I heard that beautiful familiar crunch… the sound that makes your heart stop for a second… and knew another elk coming down the hill. I looked back up to my left and saw another bull coming down the same path the 5 point had used. As he entered the clearing, following the exact tracks the other bull had taken, I realized this was one of my shooter bulls. Not just any bull, he was the same 6×7 that had started all the excitement that first week in July!
I could not believe it… I was actually going to get a chance at one of the best bulls I had seen all summer. It took all the self control I had to wait for the right moment to draw my bow. He came charging into the water hole and stuck his head behind some willow trees only 23 yards away. The only problem was that there were a few branches covering his vitals. It was a perfect opportunity to slip the camera back into my pocket and get my release on the string. Instead of following the smaller bull out the top of the water hole, the larger bull turned straight toward me and walked 12 yards from me before turning back and stepping into a seep 16 yards away. He lowered his head and started to drink. I could not believe it… It could not be any more perfect than this. I had him perfectly broadside 16 yards in front of me and his head was down. I was so close I could hear the sound of the water slurping into his mouth. Slowly I drew my bow. I took a deep breath and exhaled quietly as I took aim. The bull took a step forward with his right leg opening his vitals even more than they already were. As my pin settled into the sweet spot, my thumb closed over the trigger mechanism on my release and I started pulling through. The arrow left my string and zipped through the bulls vitals. It passed clean through and stuck in the mud on the other side of the wallow. The bull lifted his head sharply and looked around. He took one step and the blood started pumping out. Instantly I knew I had center punched both lungs. He ran almost directly underneath me and stopped ten yards to the right of my stand. Before I could get my video camera out of my pocket he crashed to the ground. It was all over… the weeks of preparation had paid off, and I had been able to harvest one of the most beautiful bulls I had seen all summer. If I wasn’t shaking hard enough before the shot, I certainly was shaking after the shot! It was all I could do to get out of the stand without dropping my bow! It was a perfect ending to a perfect hunt. After a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck, I finally accomplished my life-long goal of harvesting a big bull elk with my bow!
Story by: Jake Thorson