2010 DIY Back Country Elk

I began preparing for this hunt a couple of days in advance, but this time it was going to be a little different. My wife, Meagon, was going along for the first time in I don’t know how many years. This would be her first time tagging along on a backcountry elk hunt. Since we would be hunting an OTC unit in Idaho, not expecting it to be easy I tried planning something that wasn’t going to be too difficult. Prior commitments and hunts had prevented me from doing any pre-season scouting and it had been a year since I had been in the area we were headed. I have spent well over 120 days in this country, however, so I know it well and know the areas that do hold elk. I wanted to show Meagon some good scenery and, if we were lucky, maybe a few animals. The original plan was to hike around 8 miles the day before season and stay on the hill. With the forecast calling for rain we opted to stay in the camper and do a small hike the evening before season to see if we could spot a bull.

The night before season we loaded our gear and headed up the hill to a spot where we could see a lot of country. My father, Steve, Meagon, and I reached the spot around 4:00 P.M. and about five minutes later we spotted three bears milling around in a small opening. Around an hour later I spotted some elk feeding out into an opening more than a mile and a half away. I quickly put the spotting scope on them and determined them to be cows, 4 of them. I knew there had to be a bull close by so I kept returning to them expecting him to step out at any time. Finally, a half hour later, there he was. I put the scope on 50 power and instantly knew he was a great, mature bull for this area. I could tell he was a 5X6 bull, but with a tremendous frame. He looked wide, and heavy, and he had a left main beam that was as long of a beam as I had ever seen. The problem was that he was in a very difficult spot, but my wife seemed up to the challenge – except for the 2 ½ hour hike in the dark.

Mark's dad, Steve, heading up the mountain

3:00 A.M. came early and we were out of the pickup and headed up the hill by 4:00. It was warm at 50 degrees, but it had begun raining in the middle of the night and was still going steady. Thank goodness for rain gear. At first light we were still over a mile away from where we had seen the the bull and probably 1500 feet in elevation below him. Not wanting the wind to end our hunt, we opted to swing up canyon, gain some elevation, and come in parallel on him. We tried doing some calling as we got closer, but with no response. This is wolf country and there was some fresh sign in there which can be a good reason for the elk to be tight lipped.

After crossing a very brushy rock slide we eased our way up into the bench where we had last seen the bull the night before. As I approached the spot where we watched them feeding the night before I let out a quiet location bugle. A bull responded back with a quiet bugle of his own. He soundedlike he was around the hill and above us about 300 yards. We moved forward around 100 yards and stopped under a large cedar tree. I gave a few soft cow calls and he responded with some quiet chuckles this time. About 2 minutes later I heard Meagon say, “Here he comes”, “Get ready”. She was behind me and could see around a large tree that blocked my view.

The bull walked out in my lane and stopped at roughly 80 yards staring in our direction. I put the scope on the bull and sized him up. He did not look like the bull we watched the night before. Meagon and I were whispering back and forth wondering if this was the same bull. I gave a few soft cow calls and he finally turned his head to show off those long main beams. I told her I was going to take him and placed the cross hairs on his shoulder.

At the crack of the rifle the bull lunged forward and turned a 180 to go back to where he came from. He went another 10 yards before collapsing and tumbling down the hill. I looked over at my Dad who was already hiking up the hill to the downed bull. I turned to look at my wife with excitement to see she was overwhelmed with mixed emotions. My father approached the bull first and all I heard is if you would have given this bull another year and he would have grown fifths he would have been a tremendous bull. Well, it turns out he is a tremendous bull with a main 5×5 frame that grosses 331”. He has an inside spread of 44”, and 56” and 50” main beams. He is a mature bull who had just lived through a very easy winter and probably grew the best set of antlers in his life. It is just his genetics. The true trophy is the people who were with me and the fact that it all went down just like it was supposed to.

Mark and Meagon with Mark's monster, backcountry bull

Now it was time for a six mile trek back to the truck. We loaded up what we could carry and headed off of the steep hill. About 5 hours later we arrived at the truck. The next day was a beautiful day and I took my time and enjoyed the scenery and made my way back up to the elk to pack the rest out.

Heading back for the last load

My wife was a trooper and whether or not it made her day to come along, it sure made mine. After it was all over she said she was OK with the hike, and she loved the heat of the moment, but could have done without watching this magnificent creature die. She said next time she would definitely come along, but would just have to not watch the end result. All this from a girl who has tagged a few of her own, it had just been a while. I too feel a few mixed emotions after taking such a great animal; it is a good thing and a way to pay the utmost respect to them. This one definitely goes down in my book as the best hunt so far.