My younger brother, Caleb, and I had been watching the two groups of deer for probably a half hour.
We had seen the first group just as the conditions turned from cold to blizzard-like, and in the falling snow we couldn’t tell if the animal that had just poked its head over the hill was a doe or a cow elk.
A closer look was required.
Turns out it was indeed a doe, one of a dozen or so that was part of a harem being attended to by a very large 4x4 buck.
To escape the icy wind, we hunkered behind a fallen juniper tree and watched the deer go about their business.
We were excited about the size of the buck until the second group of deer showed up.
They appeared out of nowhere and were led by one of the largest bucks I’ve ever laid eyes on.
He was a perfect 5x5, an anomaly as most mature mule deer bucks are 4x4, and was very close to 30 inches wide.
Needless to say, had we been deer hunting our hunt would have been over.
We were elk hunting, however, and the deer were simply an interesting sidebar, and something to enjoy while we waited for the storm to pass.
The night before, we had seen a large herd of elk moving into the area.
Caleb had spotted them just before dark, and we had made the decision to wait for the next day to pursue them.
The blizzard had cut visibility to less than 200 yards, and I was starting to wish we had gone after the elk the previous night.
We were hunting in open country, and the ability to see was paramount to success.
Just when I thought the day might be a wash, the storm lifted, the snow and fog cleared, the sun came out, and suddenly we could see for miles.
Behind us, in a canyon we had spent the morning glassing before we had seen the doe, I spotted a single spike elk feeding its way up the hillside.
Using a ridgeline in front of us as cover, we closed the distance as quickly as we could.
Cresting the ridge, we could now see that there were two spikes feeding up the hill.
I ranged the furthest bull at 400 yards, and we decided we wanted to close the distance a little more.
Using a small juniper for cover, we cut the distance to about 375 yards and ran out of cover.
One of the spikes was in a stand of junipers and the other was on the open hillside.
We prepared for the shot, and I told Caleb to shoot the bull that was in the junipers when it stepped out, and I would shoot the other one after he had shot.
Caleb’s rifle CRACKED, and the bull I was going to shoot ran forward a little ways before stopping and trying to figure out where the sound came from.
My rifle fired almost on instinct, and the bull dropped where he was, and started to roll down the steep hillside, finally coming to a stop after tumbling for fifty yards.
Caleb’s shot was a bit far back, and we had quite the adventure tracking him down, 45 minutes later Caleb was able to put him down for good with an excellent cross-canyon shot.
My bull ended up being 3x2 with a unique drop-tine club on one side.
Thanks to the help of my dad and older brother Ben, we were able to get both bulls back to the truck just before dark.
While the hunt itself was certainly a success, the memories that will probably last the longest are those of spending time with family.
Elk camp typically conjures up images of cold, snow, rain and the requisite tents, tarps and various accoutrements to keep the elements out.
All in all a miserable camping experience that for some unknown reason we look forward to every year.
Things were different for the Morris family this year. Dad had bought a fifth-wheeler this summer, and things were a lot more comfortable than in seasons past.
The fifth-wheeler did mean that we had to camp 10 miles from where we typically hunt, but the extra drive time was worth the warmth and ease of camp set-up and removal.
We were staying at the Ritz of hunting camps, and a few extra miles were hardly a concern.
Good food, good company, a few epic games of hearts, and a whole lot of laughter rounded out the experience.
The truth is, what makes elk hunting a success are the people you spend it with; two bulls in camp were just the icing on the cake.