I grew up in the shadows of mountains in central Utah. For as long as I can remember I dreamed of hunting big bulls in my backyard. Every year I’d find myself up my local canyon listening to the rutting bulls as they bugled and chased the cows. These mountains are as much my home as the town is down below. They will always hold a special place in my heart and a thousand memories in the mind.
It’s Better to be Lucky than Good
This year’s hunting season was a bit different for me. I was shocked when I looked at my bank statement in May. I was sitting at the table going over some bills and pulled up my bank statement. Immediately I noticed my balance was off, when I clicked on it I saw a charge from the Utah DWR for $280 dollars. I instantly knew I had drawn my 2020 Limited Entry muzzleloader bull elk tag. I knew when I applied a had an okay chance to draw but I figured I was at least two or three more years away from drawing.
Summer Scouting in my Backyard
That summer I spent almost every night I could up the canyon. The nice thing about hunting in my backyard is I live only about a half-hour from where I wanted to hunt. As the summer drew on from mid-May to mid-August I began gathering a hit list of the bulls on the unit. I had formed a neat little list of my top 3 bulls. Needless to say, I didn’t know what laid ahead of me and the nightmare about to happen.
In Utah, the archery elk hunters start in mid-August when it’s still 90+ degrees out. Those guys didn’t really have me as worried due to the fact I knew the elk would still be fairly quiet. Unless you sit on water, killing a bull can be highly unlikely, sometimes you can get a bull to pattern or find a bull bedded and make a play. In Utah, rifle hunters are given the chance to hunt the start of the rut, and in some years they can get the whole thing. My worst nightmare came true when 3 of my hitlist bulls were killed within the first hour and half of the opening day of the rifle hunt. As we sat and watched the list get blown up we knew we were almost starting from scratch.
Opening Day Arrives
Now fast-forwarding to my hunt. Lucky for me this year the peak rut had begun right when my hunt dates were starting. Bulls were literally screaming their heads off at night and throughout the day. Sunday night before opening day my buddy whose little brother also had the same tag glassed up a 5×7 that we had found during the summer. He was a quality bull and I was definitely interested in him. However, he had broken about 10 inches off his royal and I elected to pass on him. Later in the hunt, my hunting buddies little brother ended up killing him 2 days after I chased him.
Opening morning found us glassing up a big 6×7 bull. However, he was about 1000 yards over in another canyon. After looking him over we decided to make a run at him. We played cat and mouse with him from about 7 a.m. till about 1:30 in the afternoon. Later we watched him and another 7×7 get after it, fight and chase each other in the pines.
I decided to take a shot as he passed through a clearing with him pushing his cows. Unfortunately, I shot over his back, a clean miss. If you want a surge of adrenaline get in between two big bulls who are bugling and then start to fight each other. Just listening to them bugle and their antlers crack made my neck hair stand up. It was a long walk back to camp. On the walk back we decided to try a new area the next day.
A New Areas and New Bulls
The next day while we were walking into the new area. We glassed another bull across a drainage and we went in after him. Soon after we found him working his way up a hill with no cows. I had my buddy range him, he told me it was saying 275 yards. That was an extremely long stretch for my muzzleloader. My first shot hit right behind him, but he didn’t know where it had come from. My second shot hit in front of him and blew gravel in his face. After that, he decided that he was sick of all noise. He booked it into the next canyon never to be seen again. As we sat discussing what happened, we heard another bull bugle on top of the ridge above us. We decided that we’d better go investigate.
As we walked up onto the top of the ridge, my buddy who was walking in front me, dropped to his knees and told me to get down and get ready. He pointed ahead of me towards the opposite ridge. We watched as a bull moved his cows over to feed. Once he got there he began raking an aspen tree. All I could see was his antlers destroying the tree. While he was raking the tree I caught a glimpse of a cheater and knew he was worth shooting. Suddenly everything stopped, no raking, no bugling, no cow calls. We watched him walk over to his cows and then disappear into the undergrowth.
We sat there confused for what seemed like an eternity. Suddenly my buddy grabbed me and said “shoot him he’s standing right there.” As I looked over to where he was pointing, the bull was standing there 45 yards away from me. I quickly swung and put my muzzleloader right on him. Moments later the shot echoed down the ridge and the bull took off into the brush. I don’t remember much other than hearing a faint thwack and him crashing into the trees below.
A Bull in my Backyard?
We sat there and waited in silence, my buddy finally looked at me said “well we better go and see what happened”. Once we walked up to where the bull had been, he looked over at me and said “there’s a bull laying right there.” I couldn’t believe it, I had just killed a big 7×7 with matching cheaters! Right here in my backyard, I had finally fulfilled my dream!
I had hit him beautifully right through both lungs. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. It had been so quiet and then it all went so fast it felt like a blur. I thought back over the year and realized I had spent 200 days and over 400 hours in my backyard scouting this tag and I had just ended it in literally minutes. This unit is not known for its massive elk but there was and is potential for trophy bulls. We had found a few bigger bulls, but I am beyond happy with him. Never did I think I’d kill a big 7 and with matching cheaters. You throw in a couple of hundred pounds of the best meat there is and that I got it done in my backyard unit and this hunt will be hard to beat.
Just Do it
Yeah, yeah I know that’s the Nike slogan! This hunt is something I won’t forget. Tags like this are can be once in a lifetime tags unless you get lucky and it’s something I didn’t take for granted. I spent hours researching and exploring, riding horses, and setting trail cams. It all came together in less than a minute. My 400 hrs 200 days were rewarded in a matter of seconds. I can’t help but thank everyone who either called me or texted me with tips on bulls. Or the people who helped with tips on getting ready for the hunt. In addition, all the friends and family wishing me good luck during the hunt. What an experience it was and it’s something I won’t forget.
Last but not least, I didn’t know if I would draw this tag this year. I only had about a 27% chance of drawing. if you’re looking to hunt the west or if you are thinking of cashing your points, just in do it. I can’t count how much time I had spent talking to buddies, asking if I was applying for the right hunt. Don’t second guess yourself, you can’t hunt the unit if you don’t take the risk! Once you draw make it count, tags like this don’t come every year! Enjoy the time you have in the woods. There are no do-overs, make every second count!
Special thanks to my buddy Jordan that was able to get this hunt on film. If you’ve got a spare 30 minutes you can watch the video. Or you can skip to around the 17-minute mark to watch the shot on my bull and me walking up on him.