John Whipple, Silverline Films

The Perfect Wyoming Elk Hunt

Sometimes a hunt for the herd bull works out exactly as planned

I was certain the bull wasn't going to show. It was the very first morning of the Wyoming rifle season and we were only a few hours into the hunt. My guide Dennis Cease (Rough Country Outfitters) had spotted a group of elk only moments after we pulled off the highway and crossed the cattle gate into the ranch. We spent the next few hours hiking to get above the herd, which we expected to be run by a large bull, but by the time we were settled into shooting position with the elk somewhere in the timber below us, the big bull still hadn't appeared.

This seemed appropriate. Just when you are certain you have the elk figured out, they do the opposite of what you expect.

But Cease, a retired undercover agent who was accustomed to waiting for his prey to make a false step, wanted to stay put. The hope was that the bull would eventually push his harem out of the timber, up the ridge, and into rifle range. All morning the bull had bugled from the timber while we circled around the herd. Through binoculars we could see smaller bulls and cows, but we could never spot the bugler. Now he had gone quiet.

We were perched at the top of the ridge in a boulder outcropping with 30 mph winds gnawing away at us. The view from our hide was spectacular. The mountain rolled away from us into snow-white aspens and then down to a huge sage flat. This was cattle ranching country, not the high-altitude backcountry that you must fight all day in order to glass elk below you. We were only a few miles from the pickup but the hike had been just steep enough to remind us that we were, in fact, elk hunting.

wyoming elk hunt
Hiking to get above the elk on opening morning.John Whipple, Silverline Films

For the morning I was joined by videographer John Whipple and Jed Larkin of Under Armour. We all glassed through our binoculars and camera lenses hoping to catch a glimpse of antler in the quakies below. Cease insisted it was only a matter of time.

And sure enough, another bugle screamed up through the timber. The bull sounded closer. Soon cows started appearing below us. Then came two younger bulls feeding their way through the aspens. A few cows grazed in our direction closing the distance to only 50 yards. But the wind stayed true and blew straight in our faces. The elk never even looked up. Cease instructed us to stay tucked behind the rock face as more elk filtered into the open.

wyoming elk hunt
Cows feeding out into the open on the ridge below us.John Whipple, Silverline Films

Then Cease grabbed me by the shoulder and pointed to the left. “That’s the bull you want to shoot,” he said. The herd bull had slipped out of the timber and was standing broadside only a 130 yards away.

The bull was feeding calmly and I wanted to check to make sure the camera guy was on the right elk, but Cease had waited for long enough. “There he is, right there. Shoot that bull,” Cease whispered with rising urgency.

The first shot hit behind the shoulder and sent the bull trotting uphill, scattering cows around him. Soon the whole herd of 100-plus elk was pouring out of the timber and running over the ridge. Amid the chaos, we were able to spot the bull again and when the other elk cleared around him, a second shot dropped him in his tracks.

wyoming elk
The bull didn't go far, and we took time to snap photos while the other hunters in camp hiked their way up the ridge.John Whipple, Silverline Films

He was a solid 6x6 bull and the largest I’d ever killed. And, he was the biggest and oldest bull in the herd, which was just what we were after. Cease had us kneel around the elk while he said a quiet prayer of thanks for the hunt, the bull, and the companionship.

A couple other hunters from camp, Mike Schoby of Outdoor Sportsman Group and Adam Weatherby (of Weatherby), hiked up to meet us and help pack the animal out. I’ve been a part of some bad packing missions—long distances, late into the night, headlamps and spirits dwindling—and this was not one of them. We had the bull quartered and off the ridge in a just a couple enjoyable hours.

wyoming elk hunt
The rig: Weatherby Mark V in 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum. This is Weatherby's super fast, super flat-shooting round. It sends a 127-grain Barnes LRX bullet out of the muzzle at 3,531 fps, according to Weatherby. The benefit of all this speed? We sighted our rifles to hit 2 inches high at 100 yards, which meant we were 3 inches high at 200, dead on at 300, and 7 inches low at 400. And even though we were shooting relatively light bullets for elk, the load had no problem killing bulls quickly and cleanly. There were no exit wounds on the bull I killed, but there was massive internal damage to the heart and lungs. The three bulls that were hit well died within sight. One hunter made bad shots hitting his bull twice through the guts and still found it dead the next morning less than 200 yards from the hit site. You can read more about the 6.5-300 WBY Mag. here.John Whipple, Silverline Films

The best part about tagging out early was that I got to join along for other hunts during the week. Each hour of hiking, glassing, and waiting was reminder of just how lucky I was on that first morning.

wyoming elk hunt
Glassing a sage flat at sunrise.John Whipple, Silverline Films