By Jeff Warren, January 2014
What a great adventure I had in 2013 with Justin Jarrett and his well-seasoned and enjoyable staff in one of Wyoming’s high and wild places. It all started last winter when the Huntin’ Fool consultants decided that we should start exploring the possibilities of a Wyoming general elk tag hunt. Luck was on my side, and I hit pay dirt when the draw results came out. I had warned Justin of Wapiti Ridge Outfitters that I may draw a tag, so he wasn’t surprised when I called him.
My hunt was to start on October 1st, so I had to cut my Colorado archery elk hunt short in order to meet Justin’s crew for supper in Cody, Wyoming on September 29th. After meeting everyone I knew this trip would be one for the books. These guys weren’t afraid to have fun.
The morning of September 30th was spent getting 26 head of horses ready for the 15-mile trip into Justin’s comfortable wilderness tent camp. The scenery was second to none, and rugged is an understatement. When hunting in Wyoming’s wilderness areas your outfitter needs to be first a horseman and second a hunter, just my opinion. This country will bite and bite hard, so good stock is a must. I know my way around a horse and have been around plenty of them in my life. The horses I rode that week were the best I had ever straddled — bar none!
I am a bit spoiled when it comes to elk because I have guided many hunters to big bulls during my years of guiding. I was hoping for a crack at an oversized bull, but my expectations were realistic. I figured that if I could harvest a legitimate 340" class bull I would be fortunate. Keith Nelson drew the short straw, and he would be my guide for the next 5 days. Keith and his horses are seasoned in the backcountry, and I was honored when he let me ride his favorite roping horse, “Mercede.” I found out later that I was the first client ever allowed on her back. She was rock solid, and I instantly trusted her.
We hunted a couple of different drainages on day one and saw a lot of elk with some mature bulls. We, or should I say I, picked the bulls apart and decided to pass and let them grow for another year. I knew Keith was ready to choke me, and I reassured him that I didn’t need to kill a bull to have a successful trip. He just looked at me with that “you’re an idiot” smirk on his face.
After day one I asked Justin if there was a part of the area that he had always wanted to explore for elk with a client but hadn’t and his reply was yes. I looked toward Keith and he simply said, “I’m in.” Justin told Keith where an old trail started to access this area, and the plan was made.
The next day started with a 10-mile trip up country. I saw my first Grizzly in the wild grazing on fresh green grass in a recent burn, and I was amazed at his size. We took the horses up some treacherous drainages, and by midday we were into elk. Things got too tough for the horses, so we loaded our backpacks and headed for a distant ridge. We could faintly hear a bugle or two on occasion, and that kept us going. When we finally topped the ridge the scene before us was chaos. There had to be 20 different bulls screaming, tearing up trees, chasing cows, and fighting. I could tell that these elk had been rutting on this bench for 2 or 3 weeks because the place was torn to pieces.
Keith and I slowly worked our way through the herd while Keith cow called just enough to keep them calm. Keith is a bowhunter by heart, and he has the skills. We saw virtually all of the bulls that were bugling, but there was a gravelly-voiced bull that I really wanted to see. He was back in the timber and would not show himself, so I passed on a bull that really tempted me, hoping for a look at the only one we hadn’t seen. Thirty minutes went by and three mature bulls got a bit too close to our mystery bull. The gravelly-voiced old timer charged out of the stand of pines, running the bulls off. When you see big you know it, and I simply turned to Keith and said, “I’m killing him.” Keith cow called, and the old bull stopped broadside and bugled. Before he even finished the bugle I sent the 180 grain bullet. The bull collapsed in his tracks, and so did I!
This bull had it all — tine length, inside spread, and long beams. Ground shrinkage was no factor; this bull grew as we approached him. I never dreamed that I would take a legitimate 375" gross Wyoming bull in a general tag area, but it had just happened.
On a side note, we got charged by a Grizzly the next day going back in to pack my bull out. Ears pinned and jaws popping, the boar covered 80 yards in a flash. It was a serious charge as he was defending a food source that we knew nothing about. The experience left Keith, wrangler JR Vezain, and me plenty spooked. The old boar threw on the brakes at 20 yards, popped his jaws, turned, and sprinted back to his meal. The horses didn’t twist in half, thank goodness. I’m glad we were mounted and not on foot. I don’t ever need to experience that again!
There were three other Huntin’ Fool members in camp who harvested great bulls. Brian Woods harvested a 370" 6x8, Todd Smith harvested a 350" 6x6, and Pete Zimmerman took a 320" 6x6 the day after I left. Another hunter, Mike Stammer, took his first ever 6x6 bull on day two of his hunt. Not bad for 5 days in a Wyoming general elk area!