I guess you could say this hunt started when I was 14, thankfully my dad started putting me in for LE elk as soon as I was eligible, he starting applying me for the Paunsagaunt elk, which at the time was the best chance to draw a tag with little to no points, after my points started building I changed units and started applying for the more sought after tags; the San Juan, the Pahvant, Mt Dutton, and Panguitch.
Letís fast forward 18 years, when it came time to apply again in 2016 I had a lot of options in front of me, it kind of started to feel good like I was getting the upper hand and knew I was going to draw a tag soon, after a life long friend drew an archery elk tag on Mt Dutton in 2015, I knew I didnít want that tag. He was successful with a great 340 6x8 on the second to last day, but packing that thing out of the devils hole, it about killed us all, there is country on that mountain that would make a horse cry. Or maybe Iím just a big wimp. So that eliminated one option, then Utah decides to change their black powder ruling on scopes, which I will be the first to admit I was opposed of it, but of course when it passed I was going to take full advantage of it. I still wasnít sure where I was going to apply my points this year but after looking over all my option several times, and confirming them with hunting buddies, I waited until the last day of the application period and for whatever reason I put in for Southwest Desert Muzzle Loader.
Now according the previous year stats, I was guaranteed that tag with 17 points but it just so happens they cut bull tags on that unit this year (which is a good thing) then with the new ruling with scopes on black powders, I thought I would be booted out another year, but Iíll be damned the first time in 18 years I opened up that letter there it was plain as day. Dear Mr. Floyd Winder thank you for applying for the 2016 limited entry bull elk your results areÖÖÖ SUCCESSFUL.
So it begins. After the excitement and phone calls to family and friends my weekends were spent scouting, checking water sources, getting familiar with roads, putting the miles on the truck and my boots, for those of you that donít know, the west desert its a big unit I spent my whole summer out there and maybe only covered 30 percent of it, I wasnít to worried about trying to locate a bull, my hunt was in the rut, well at least I was hoping it would be, I just needed to know where the cows were going to be and where the water is, and of course by the time my hunt rolled around most of those water sources were dry. In the midst of all this I decide Iím going to up grade my muzzle loader, so I buy the Remington 700 UML, and top it with a Leopold 3x9x40 great set up. I figured if Iím going to draw my once in a lifetime limited entry tag Iím going to rack up the debt while doing it.
Iíve done my homework, Iíve scouted, studied maps, got a good load for my gun, Iíve got everything loaded up, Iíve recruited 3 of the best friends a guy could ask for and we head out for 12 day hunt, we left 3 days before the opener got camp set up. We were discussing vantage points to put the spotting scopes to work, I told my friends that I had some concerns one being the trees, there so thick that you can not glass into them, we had elk 200 yards below us, on one of our glassing session in the trees just screaming their heads off and we could not see them threw the blanket of green juniper and pinion tops, and that happened more than once, that was really frustrating, then the pine nuts, Iíve never seen so many pine nuts like I did out their, which creates another problem the elk wouldnít leave the trees, they had a pine nut buffet right in their bedroom, just about every bull we seen he was feeding on pine nuts, and the last concern I had was starting to come true, and that was to find a bull that wasnít all busted up, we have been out there for 3 days we havenít turned up a ďgo get himĒ bull yet nothing over 330 and if we did see one that got my attention he was busted up, some of the bulls maybe had one or two tines busted, but then others were just destroyed. I guess thatís what I get for having a rut hunt.
Each night we would get back to camp and swap stories on what we had seen, and as weíre talking about the days events we would here these bulls bugle about Ĺ mile from camp, this happened every night, my friend thought there might be a water source over there somewhere and I told him heís wrong, ďIíve been all over threw here and the only water is a spring about 4 miles to the north or a cattle trough 3 miles out in the sage flatsĒ there is no water right on the tree line, we bantered back and fourth for a bit about that, well the next day I put some long miles on the rhino checking some other water sources a little further away from camp, I got back to camp kind of early that evening and I thought Iím going to walk over to were we here the elk every night and see if I can find what it is that they are coming to, I start to cut a few elk tracks, then I cut more and more, and theyíre trailing to and from this area, so I just kept walking and thatís when I took my first big bite of crow, I walked right on to a pond dike that you wouldnít even know it was there until you stepped on it, it was just inside the tree line, and it was full of water and that pond was just covered with elk sign. Needles to say I was pretty excited about finding it, but on the other hand I owed my friend an apology. I got back to camp with the exciting news, but it was short lived with mockery of my own words of the day before.
Opening day. As myself and one friend hike towards the pond the other two headed out to try to glass up an elk, and possibly a deer, the one friends wife was going to come out, she had a general season muzzy deer tag. We got to the pond and of course by shooting light the elk were all back into the trees, I knew we had just missed them, they would bugle and rake trees, and fight, I told my friend letís go after them, I knew in the back of mind was a mistake because of how thick the trees got, so we tagged them for about ĺ of a mile we were with in 50 yards a few times but never did see them, I told my friend letís back out, they will come back tonight. We got back to camp had lunch and talked with the crew about what had happened, we talked that it was possible for an elk to hit water mid day I told them the elk kept moving towards the hill and they werenít going to come all the way back to the water mid day, I think they just wanted me out of camp so they could raid my homemade goodies that my girlfriend had sent with me . So just to shut them up about 11:00 we headed back to the water, because of wind and sight distance we had moved our set up 4 times, finally I felt like this was going to be as good as it gets, we were set up about 130 yards from the water I couldnít actually see it, but I had 3 shooting lanes before the elk would get to it. It wasnít until 6 oíclock that evening we heard the first bugle moving down the ridge towards us I just looked at my friend all big eyed like oh #####, this might actually work. I told him as we sat there that we need to be ready to move. So when that first bugle sounded off we stuff our packs back together collapsed our chairs and threw them under a tree, and just stood there as the first bull worked his way towards us.
We could here this bull walking threw the trees but I never seen him until the 3rd shooting lane, and the bull probably was a shooter, but he was in rough shape, on his right side heís 1st and 2nd were busted then his main beam was busted off right behind heís 2nd, on his left side, his 3rd was busted off then he was busted clean off behind his 4th, I kind of felt bad for the feller. He makes his way to the water we can hear him splashing around, here comes another bugle down the ridge, I was able to catch glimpses of heís antlers threw the trees, as he walked by but still wasnít able to get a good look, I finally was able to piece the second bull together through the trees, he was a clean 6x6 just an absolute beautiful bull had really good fronts, but got weak on heís back end, probably a 310 inch bull, but gads he was pretty, dark horned, with ivory tips and not a chip missing, I thought well I found a back up bull, I had that bull in my cross hairs 3 different times at 50 yards that night and just couldnít bring myself to touching the trigger, he just wasnít quite there yet. Watching these two bulls react to each other was an interesting show, the old busted up bull would not let the young pretty bull come to the water. Here comes another bugle down the drainage this time not up on the ridge like the previous two. I got a real good look at this bull as he passes by at 25 yards, another 6x6, he had long main beams and was wide, but just short tine length I bet he didnít have a tine over 10-12 inches long, okay I thought, we have another back up bull Iím guessing this one was 325 maybe 330, now there are 3 bulls putting on a show at the water things were going to start to get crazy.
As these bulls were putting on a show I looked at my friend and said ďthese arenít rag horn bulls, if these 320ish 330ish bulls are satellite bulls Iíve got to see what that herd bull isĒ just then here comes another bugle followed by one right after him, so here comes 2 more bugles one on the ridge and one in the drainage and they are coming down together, as the bugles get closers I can feel the hair on my neck stand up, I looked at my friend and said ďall hell is about to break looseĒ I never did see the bull on the ridge until later, I noticed a cow coming right at us she went right where bull #3 went, 25 yards in front of us, she was followed buy 6 more cows, to add to the already intense situation shooting light is fading, I can here the bull glunking before I see him, the bull finally shows himself in my first shooting lane, ďheís got good fronts!Ē I said, the bull enters the second shooting lane, ďheís got a good back end!Ē the bull passes through the third lane, ďheís got good main beamsĒ ďheís a shooter!Ē the bull was pushing heís cows to water, I told me friend ďletís moveĒ Iím trying to sneak my way through the trees, we find ourselves right in the middle of a rut tornado, we are completely surrounded by elk, and Iím losing light fast, I donít know where he came from, but that pretty young bull from earlier about ran right over us a mere 10 feet, the herd bull gets to the water all of a sudden I can hear antlers clashing together I just yell at my friend ďLETíS GO!Ē I ditched my pack, shooting sticks, even my friend for a second and took off on dead run towards that water, I was surrounded by elk, I was running right through elk, like kids run through pigeons at the park, I didnít care, I knew while these two bulls were fighting I could get right in on him, I find myself 30 yards away from these two bulls pushing each other back and forth, grunting and slobbering everywhere, now donít get me wrong I was excited as I could be to say the least, but ##### had literally hit the fan by now, and to make things even more intense, while these two bulls fought I could not distinguish which bull was better, trying to judge these two bulls up at last light, and be confident that when I touch the trigger it would be worth an 18 year wait, they finally called it quits, the one bull ran into the trees, the other went for the cows, thatís all the sign I needed that bull turned towards heís cows started glunking again I said ďthatís him!Ē by the time I got an angle on him he was 60 yards away my gun barked and spit fire out the barrel, and sent a 290 grain Barnes MZ into heís chest, he lurched forward, and got into the trees, I knew I hit him good, and with my friends confirmation ďyeah I could see blood mid body, right behind the shoulderĒ
Call in the cavalry. I went back to get my pack and radio to call the crew for recovery, I was still trembling and shaking by what I had just experienced, I thought even if he is not as good as a bull as I think, that was truly and experience of a lifetime, Iíve only heard stories like this and never had the opportunity to experience it. Everything that played out the way it did that night, will be etched in mind for ever, talk about an experience of a lifetime, unbelievable! So the gang arrives I relive the story to them, high fives and cheers, and we set to recover my bull, with our flashlight in hand we make our way over to the area and canít find blood, oh great! I thought to myself, but I knew I whacked him good so did my friend, I just happen to shine my light up into the trees, ďthere he is" I shouted. Still alive and looking right at us, he struggles to get to heís feet and limps off, we regroup we all seen the shot placement that time, we knew he was hit hard, we made the decision to back out and come back in the morning, and trust me I was not happy about that, but I knew it was the right thing to do. What a turn of events 45 minutes ago I was on the biggest natural high you can get, and now Iím in the low of lows, at this time itís hard to stay positive, I start questioning myself, did I force the situation? Did we make the right decision to back out? Did I rush the shot? Itís only the first day, why did I rush it? I just should of waited! All these thoughts going threw my head now, of course my group of friends are all trying to keep me positive, I guess thatís what friends are for.
Another sleepless night. The night before the opener was my first sleepless night, just in visioning big bulls out frolicking in the meadows and taking my time to pick out the one I want and shoot him and be back to camp before the sun comes up, isnít that what we all in vision happening? And now the first night of the hunt gets to be a sleepless one, just replaying the whole scenario over in my head, as I was lying there I could still hear bugles in the distance they would get muffled out by the howls of coyotes, then it would go silent for bit, then I would start to hear the elk again, it sounded like they didnít move very far from water. By 5 in the morning I was ready to go, we hung out in camp and waited for to lighten up just a little bit, then I headed in alone as the others stayed back just in case he needed another dose of medicine, after about 10 minutes of wondering around they joined me at the tree line and we spread out about 15 yards apart and went in we probably didnít go 20 yards from where we seen the bull laying the night before, and my friend on the far right side spotting him laying down under a tree, he whistled and I just froze gun in the ready position a brief moment of silence passes, then my friend yelled, ďhey! Where you at?Ē ďIím right here! Whereís the bull?Ē I responded. ďheís right here! you got him! Heís down!Ē oh man! cloud 9 here I come again! when I got over to him and untangled heís antlers from the juniper tree, there was no ground shrinkage on this bull, he was actually better than I thought. I told the guys at camp the night before that I thought he was 345 maybe 350.
He ended up being a 6x8, we figured heís missing 20-23 inches on heís right side, heís 3rd and 4th were busted and had 15 inches of extra on his left side, the taxidermist said he can fix the busted tines, and because he sat over night I lost the cape and a little bit of neck meat, all said and done it was truly a hunt of a life and an experience like no other, Iím glad I had the group of friends that I do to help make it possible. Thanks to my father as well, or I might be still sitting in the application pool