It all started 17 years ago when I first started putting in for a limited entry Utah elk tag. It was in July that I received the letter from the Utah Fish and Game that stated I had successfully drawn the Fish Lake rifle, limited entry elk tag. I have to admit, after 17 years of putting in, I often wondered if I would ever draw a tag. I guess persistence really does eventually pay off.
Kelly, my good friend who had drawn the same tag with his muzzle loader, was my hunting partner this year. He and I had hunted our butts off for eight solid days. Well, it was Friday, day number 9 and it was the last day of our hunt. Kelly had his heart set on a bull he'd be trying to get all week. I had my heart set on hunting a different area. So we split up for the first time in our whole hunt and this time I was going in alone.
We were up at 4:30 am, like every other day. Where I was going, was 14 miles back in by vehicle in some of the nastiest, roughest terrain. We're talking 4-wheel drive only. It had taken me 3 hours to get in there two days before. So I packed enough gear and enough food and water for a couple of days, that way if something happened I could stay on the mountain for as long as I needed to and wait for help. I know, probably not the smartest idea for a quadriplegic to do on his own. But I was bound and determined to get an elk. That last thing I said to Kelly as we were parting ways was that I wasn’t coming out without an elk. I didn’t care how small it was.
I got into my spot right as the sun was coming up, got my camera and rifle set up and started to cow call. When I was in there a couple of days before the bulls were screaming all around us. It was insane. I started to call and nothing called back. I called for hours with little response. The storm was starting to roll in and it started hailing. It was cold and getting nasty. I started to question whether I made the right decision to hunt this area alone. I called on and off for 5 hours and slowly the bulls started to make some noise.
Finally about noon I could hear two bulls bugling back. I kept calling and I could hear them getting closer. Pretty soon I realized I was right in the middle of them. The one behind was getting so loud I was freaking out. I had my camera filming the direction the other bull was coming. So I slowly turned my camera around and as I did the bull behind me was standing at the edge of the trees and to my left. I could see his body but not his head. So I aimed the camera in his direction but couldn't tell where I was filming. My heart was pounding. I quit calling and held my breath. He slowly started walking out of the trees. He was literally 30 yards to my left and behind me. I could now see his rack and decided I would take him if I had a shot. He was still too far behind me to turn around, so I waited. Finally he slowly walked far enough to my left and into the clearing with his head pointing away from me. I quietly pulled my rifle up and squeezed the trigger. BOOM! The shot rang out and echoed across the canyon. He turned and just stood there and then started walking back towards the trees. I was freaking because now I'm thinking I missed. I racked another round and shot again. Nothing. He just stood there. So I racked another one and shot again. This is all like 40 yards away. He finally started to slowly walk towards the trees again and then started stumbling and piled up against a pine tree. He was down! BOOM baby! The smack down went down! The first shot was a perfect lung shot. It just took him a minute to expire.
I had never called an elk in before. It was the most exciting thing I'd ever witnessed. Unfortunately my camera was pointed into the trees and I didn't get any of it filmed. I learned so much from this hunt. So many times I wanted to quit because it was so hard on me physically. I averaged 50 miles a day in my RZR getting pounded on by the rough terrain. There were days I didn't get out of my 4-wheel drive for 20 hours straight and was averaging only 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night. It was brutal and mentally exhausting. But I dug deep and pushed through it all and persevered and never gave up. All though there were times that I wanted to.
Now that he was down I had to figure out how I was going to get him out. I decided I would drive back out the 14 miles and go to where I thought Kelly would be hunting and see if I could get him on the radio. It was so remote that there was no cell coverage. As I got about 11 miles out I ran into an old friend Blake Armstrong and a few of his buddies and told them what I had done. They gladly and willingly followed me back in and gutted, quartered and loaded up my elk for me. I was so grateful for their generosity and help.
When I got back to the truck later that night, I learned that Kelly got the bull that he was after and had an amazing adventure as well.
I was very blessed this hunt on so many levels. It will go down as one of the greatest adventures and experiences of my life and I couldn't have done it without the hard work and support of my friends.
Thank you Kelly Edwards for always taking me and always being my best hunting partner. Thank you Steve and Lori Eyre for helping us and letting us crash at your place night after night. Thank you Matt Edwards and Jake Olsen for being my bird dogs and all you did. Thank you Blake Armstrong for originally telling me about this place and then for all your hard work getting my elk out. You and your buddies ROCK! Thank you Scott Tycksen and King's Camo for always keeping me in the best gear. But most of all I thank God for this amazing experience and the freezer full of elk. He and I talked a lot on this trip. I prayed multiple times a day up in those thick woods. Not only did I pray for success but so many times I prayed for strength and endurance. There were days that I didn't think I had any more in me to give.
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