First-ever Elk 

Standing in our blaze orange hunting gear, my son Dallas could see 200 yards in all directions. We were positioned right in the middle of a big rolling meadow when the shrill of an elk bugle broke the silence of the early October morning. Neither of us heard the bugle well enough to know whether or not it was an elk or a fellow hunter. We listened, made a few cow calls, but all was silent.


utah spike elk hunt, hard frost cold morning meadow
                                           Cold October morning


Only 30 minutes ago we had scraped a heavy frost off the seat of our 4-wheeler, as we readied the ATV for the trek up the mountain. But now that it was light enough to hunt, we needed to decide how to hunt the big canyon that stretched before us. Knowing that we either had an elk bugling close by or that another hunter was in the vicinity, I proposed that we sit tight and wait to see if any elk appeared. However, the cold of the morning 4-wheeler ride had chilled Dallas to the bone, so he suggested we keep moving in hopes of warming up a bit…and of running into some elk. Honestly, that idea sounded pretty good to me and my numb toes!

The sun had been up for the past half hour and its warmth was a welcome relief to the evident cold that left the ground covered with a heavy frost. It was kind of hard to believe that we hadn’t seen a single animal to this point; I expected that we’d at least have seen a deer. And the only other interesting sound that we’d heard, besides the “elk” bugle, was a single distant gun shot.


6 point elk mature herd bull elk hunt
                                             Nice mature herd bull


6 point bull mature herd bull, bugle
                 Disappearing into the trees


Suddenly it happened, we just topped a ridge and there below us at 400 yards was a herd of elk moving in single file up the draw. Dallas quickly dropped to the ground to get a steady rest for his rifle and I threw up my binoculars to get a good look. One of the first elk I saw was a decent 6 point bull. Surprisingly, another mature bull was among the herd. But the 5 point bull elk currently visible through my glasses, needed to be a spike in order to meet our tag restriction. The elk funneled past one-by-one. Since it was likely that a small bull would trail the group, we anticipated the moment when the last of the herd would finally appear. Simultaneously both Dallas and I saw the final elk, it was a spike! None of the elk appeared to be in much of a hurry, however most of the herd, including the spike, had a knack for keeping concealed just enough that a clear shot wasn’t possible. My heart sank as the last of the 25 elk disappeared, Dallas would not bag his first-ever elk in this draw.

Not a moment later we were on a steady march out-and-around, up-and-over the ridge. Our hope was to intercept the elk further up the mountain. Ten or so minutes later we crested the ridge that gave way to a patchy aspen covered plateau. We’d only covered about 40 yards when Dallas spotted several elk steadily moving through the trees 100 yards away. Seconds later the unseen herd bull let out a loud bugle. He and the rest of the elk were approximately another 75 yards ahead.

Again we scurried out-and-around in an attempt to ambush the elk up ahead. Our plan worked! We popped out of the trees just in time to see both of the mature bulls and several cow elk easing across the sage covered opening at 275 yards. It didn’t take long and we spotted the lone spike bull! However, the young bull wasn’t quite as close or quite as visible as he meandered through the aspens another 30 yards up through the timber. With my reed call already in my mouth, I let out several cow calls that instantly got the attention of the elk. As the spike bull stopped amidst the trees at just over 300 yards, Dallas was able to get a clear view of his vitals. The blast of the .340 Weatherby caused the camcorder in my hand to momentarily jump, but I was back on the bull in time to see him hunch. But before Dallas could get off another shot, the bull took a couple of steps and vanished.


spike elk hunt Dallas Neath
                        Just made a perfect shot


Dallas had apparently made a good shot because the ground was covered in blood right where the elk had minutes ago coughed up a large amount of blood. Now that we stood at the point of impact, the tracks of the departing elk were clearly visible in the early morning frost. We were extremely anxious to follow the tracks, but knew better than to pursue the bull without giving him a couple of hours…prematurely jumping the bull could spell disaster.


spike elk hunt waiting before retrieving
                    Waiting (or sleeping?) out the bull...


We plopped down right there on the cold frozen ground and the waiting game began. Ten minutes into our wait we heard a 4-wheeler pass nearby. The closeness of the ATV was music to our ears…I decided to hike down the mountain to go get our 4-wheeler. Dallas waited…the warm sun beating down caused him to doze off…another 45 minutes passed. Dallas awoke to the sound of heavy breathing. “Dad must be close…and hiking hard”, Dallas thought. As he looked up he noticed that I wasn’t anywhere around. The heavy breathing was coming from just inside the thick cover 30 yards away. Still shaking the cobwebs from his head, Dallas sat there trying to sort out what was happening. Then everything went quiet. A minute later, a loud thunderous crash of breaking limbs caused Dallas to jump out of his skin! He was now fixated on the timber directly behind him. A low rhythmic grunt could be heard. Dallas, whose thoughts were still foggy, thought that a predator of some sort might be stalking him. Then just as quickly is it had all started, everything went quiet. Another ten minutes passed and Dallas heard the hum of our 4-wheeler and five minutes later I came walking up. Dallas told me the story of what had transpired 15 minutes ago and we deduced that it must have been the final “crash” of his elk. However, we still had our doubts…we surmised that if his elk was still alive an hour after being shot, then it was possible that he wasn’t dead yet. So…we sat right there for two more hours.


Dallas Neath first-ever spike elk, hunting elk utah
                                                     First-ever spike bull


Around 11:30 am, the waiting game had gone on long enough…we decided to go after the bull. Even though the sunlight had made its way through the partially leaved tree branches and melted most of the frost, the elk tracks still appeared fresh in the soft soil. I decided to follow the tracks, but Dallas headed off at a 45 degree angle directly toward the spot where two hours ago he had heard the thunderous “crash”. Just as Dallas hit the edge of the thick timber, where pine trees now mixed with the aspens, he let out a holler, “here he is!” Apparently the bull had entered into the timber on the trail I was following, but had circled around about 100 feet through the extremely dense timber and died 30 yards from where Dallas had been sitting. Interestingly, we never found one drop of blood past the initial point of impact, due to the fact that the bull bled internally. Fortunately for us, Dallas heard the bull “crash” because I’m positive that we never would have found his first-ever bull elk.


Dallas Neath spike bull elk Greg Neath back to camp with bull elk
                                          Back to camp with our bull!


utah elk hunt full moon last evening
                                       A nice end to a perfect hunt