Before driving up to Craig on Friday night, I was hesitant to go. Previous elk hunts hadn’t been all that successful, and they’d been cold and exhausting. But regardless, we drove the five hours up to Craig, and checked into our hotel at around 10 p.m.
The next day, we woke up at 5:30 a.m., ate breakfast, and headed out with the other guys going on the hunt. Once we got onto the ranch our guide, Caleb, met us and we set out to find some elk.
Just as the sun was rising, we spotted a small herd of 10 or 12 elk. Once we looked closer, we saw they were all bulls, but all of us had cow tags. So, we continued to look around for several hours. We saw probably hundreds of deer and a few pronghorn before we convened to discuss lunch plans. Just as we were about to leave, Doc spotted a herd of 35 or 40 elk to the east. We figured they’d meander over to us, so we went to set up and we waited for them.
An about an hour later, the elk had barely moved. Caleb headed over to push them out, but still nothing happened. Just as we decided to walk back out to the road, the other guys drove past us really fast and yelled, “Get in!”
Once we got in the truck, we took off to where the elk were headed. Because of our vantage point, we hadn’t seen that the elk had been spooked and were headed south. After a quick pursuit, we found the elk again. They were headed over this little crest, so we went to where we could see the other side of it. Unfortunately, they went in a different direction than we predicted, so we lost them for the moment. After backtracking and finding them again, we set up and got ready for all three of us to get a shot. After hearing three shots and seeing no elk, Caleb drove by and took us to where the elk had run.
Caleb told us that both Marshall and Zack had taken shots, and that they were tracking down their elk. We drove cautiously across a few draws, keeping an eye out for the elk, but to no avail. Finally, Caleb took us up this hill he called “Rollercoaster Ridge”, because of the series of steep dips. As we were coming up the second crest of the ridge, Caleb shouted, “There they are,” and threw the truck in reverse. We flew down the mountain backwards for a few seconds, and he stopped and had us get out. We hiked out to the side of the hill where we could see the herd of the elk, and my Dad stopped to range them – 420 yards. I didn’t think I could manage that shot, so we decided to get closer.
Luckily, the elk were winded from being chased for so far, and we had plenty of cover to get closer. Caleb led the way as we nearly sprinted down the draw, keeping an eye on the line of elk. Finally, we came out on this flat rock that had an excellent view of the herd. My Dad ranged the elk again, and reported that it was about a 180-yard shot. I could handle that.
Caleb said, “Lie down right there and I’ll stop them with a call when you’re ready.”
So I got down on the rock and set my rifle so I could see the lead cow. Caleb called faster than I had anticipated, so I readied myself and took the shot.
Earlier, my Dad told me they’d watch the elk while I reloaded. But the cow I shot ran behind this small hill, and other elk were coming out the opposite side. We were all searching desperately for a cow with any hint of blood on its side, but all of the elk coming out from behind the hill appeared calm. My dad ran down to the hill to get a look at the other side, while I waited to see if I needed to take another shot. He waved back at us, signaling that he had found the cow, and that we were all good. Caleb left to bring the truck around the other side of the ridge, and my Dad and I cautiously approached the downed elk.
After going back and seeing the other guys had their elk, we stopped to appreciate the sun setting over the mountains. It was definitely one of the more exciting hunts I had been on, because of the chase across the ranch. I also learned that I enjoyed the camaraderie of hunting with others more than I had thought I would. Overall, it was a really great hunt, and a great way to start out the year.
Thank you to Bord Ranch for donating the tags, and to Brian Soliday for doing such a wonderful job of setting up the hunt.