By Steve Lamb
-- August 2006 was slow in arriving, and the September archery elk season was just handful of days away. Haunted by the mental images of the elk herd I stumbled across while bow hunting for mule deer in the fall of 2005, I could think of nothing else.
The Wyoming public hunting area was difficult to access. I’d purchased several maps, and could see that retrieving an animal of any size would be very difficult, if not impossible without using old two-track roads that had only been used by cattle and the occasional horseman.
I then started to knock on the doors of ranchers who lived in close proximity to my area. One rancher was angry with the Game & Fish Dept. and was quite uncooperative. He stated, "There are no elk up there!" Another rancher said I could gain access to the public land, but would have to pay nearly the cost of a guided caribou hunt. I was crushed but determined to find a legal way to hunt this hidden oasis.
I contacted the survey technician at the local BLM office and met him for lunch. He located the township and area of this seemingly forbidden valley. I left my custom maps with him to chart on at his leisure, and he soon called back with his task completed and good news to boot. The valley was not out of reach! A corner of state land crossed a public road. It was now up to me, or should I say, my GPS!
I made a solo scouting trip to pick my way into the public land and located USGS (United States Geological Service) markers to orient myself to the highlighted maps.
During this expedition, I stopped suddenly in my tracks. Listening closer and then focusing my attention across the steep draw, I saw two satellite bulls sparring. Then a deep bugle in the tangle of dense trees 50 yards in front of me sounded.
The smell of elk became obvious. Anticipating the route of the herd, I set up in an opening and waited about ½ hour. They did not show. Excited to actually see the elk, I slipped back down the valley.
About 20 minutes later, I panicked to find that I had lost or misplaced my GPS. Zigzagging back and forth and up and down for an hour until I made it all the way back to above the opening, I finally found my GPS thanks to the orange flagging strip I’d tied to the lanyard eye. Whew! Then hearing a bugle, I peaked over the little ridge and saw the herd bedded in the opening. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Over 50 elk were resting in the tall grass along with the absolutely largest monarch I’ve ever seen in the wild!
The next day, I brought my hunting draw partner, Morgan, to see the herd on his first-ever elk hunt. Armed with a camcorder, we finally found the herd about 10 a.m.. They entered an opening one at a time, and towards the end, the giant monarch came into view. We stood watching him with the light rain drizzling over us and taped the massive bull and harem for about a half hour.
I was haunted for the next five days waiting anxiously for Sept. 1 to arrive. I was unnerved thinking about the possibility of having the next potential Wyoming state record on the ground by 9 a.m. The existing archery archery record for Wyoming at the time was 386 5/8.
Sept. 1 finally arrived, and, after days of insomnia, unbelievably I overslept and then couldn’t even fit into my old hunting boots! Hastily, I slipped into my oil-soaked steel-toe work boots. At 5:30 a.m., Morgan and I sneaked past the herd to get ahead of them to set up for my anticipated ambush.
Twelve yards from the trail that entered the meadow, I sprayed elk urine on a sapling. At 6 a.m. I tucked myself into the base of a small tree and huddled near the ground. Fighting the cool breeze and the urge to take a nap, I listened for the sounds of the approaching herd. I really had a hard time staying awake especially when the sun warmed me. I noticed a coyote sniffing the sapling I had sprayed and thought to myself, "I didn’t come here to harvest a coyote."
Then it happened, the herd spooked and the ground rumbled as cows and calves appeared all around me in the opening. If I was not so close to the base a tree, I would have been trampled.
I knocked an arrow tipped with a 100-grain broadhead and drew back on my bow just as the bull with long eye guards raced toward me. With his head laid back, all I could see of his antlers were the front tines. He skidded to a stop just 16 yards away to test the air from the scented tree and turned broadside. My arrow slammed into the bull with a tremendous crack. Dirt and vegetation exploded as he ran down the steep bank out of sight,.
Morgan soon joined me. He’d watched the whole thing from a position well above me and assured me that the monster bull hadn’t gone far. We followed the blood trail into the drainage to and found the bull on a steep hillside just 70 yards distant. We stood in amazement of the mass and length of the tines and knew that this was the one we had taped five days earlier.
Reality set in for the task at hand. Packing the elk out took four more hours of arduous work.
Finally we arrived at the truck! Every year I say that I will not do this pack frame work again, however this is the third year I’ve done it this way. At the end of a day of heavy, miserable packing and hiking out over very rough terrain, we thought our feet would be unrecognizable. Finally, at 11 pm. we were loaded into the truck with all of the meat, the head andrack, and the cape. The drive that would normally take 30 minutes now took over an hour because I could not maintain a speed over 45 mph…I’ve never been so tired in my life!
This bull officially scored 403 1/8 SCI non-typical, 394 2/8 P&Y, B&C. With massive split fronts, 22- and 23-inch thirds, it is the largest non-typical elk recorded with archery equipment in Wyoming.
My homework paid off and brought reality to my theory of a new possible state record, passing with an A+, and for extra credit bonus of a freezer full of dinner to last a year!