Crossbows for backcountry elk? Sure. In southwest Wyoming, not only are crossbows legal to use during the archery season, but the bulls are in the height of the rut. Now if I can only get to them. I’ll need the stamina to chew my way to 10,000 feet, lightweight gear and determination to bivy for several nights at altitude. Then there’s the skill to call a high-country bull into bow range.
On this trip I hunted the Bridger-Teton National Forest out of Afton, Wyoming, in the heart of southwest Wyoming’s Star Valley. How vital are elk to the identity of this region? Check out the arch over Afton’s Main Street.
Southwest Wyoming features classic elk country, with lodgepole pine stands that rise to high ridges and remote basins. There are no wolves here, and few roads mean that hunters who climb high typically have their pick of bulls.
A classic backcountry home. The summer residents of the high-country basins where I hunt elk are sheepherders. The name over the door says it all. This tin trailer must be mighty welcome after a week of trailing mutton through lonely boulder fields and alpine meadows.
Here I meet up with a couple of buddies at base camp. There’s time to fine-tune gear and figure out how best to strap a horizontal bow on a backpack (click here for more on how to carry a crossbow). Here, Mark Sidelinger, left, and Toby Shaw work on various crossbow positions.
On this hunt I’m shooting TenPoint’s Carbon Fusion CLS. The carbon riser shaves pounds from the bow, and the Rangemaster Pro scope features elevation marks that correspond to various downrange distances. I taped a map of his reticle to the bow’s stock, so I can recall reference points at a glance.
After packs are filled and fitted, it’s time to head to the trailhead. Personnel include Shaw, along with Sidelinger and his spouse, Kim Cahalan. Before we head up the trail, waypoints are posted on GPS’s and we acquaint ourselves with the steep terrain on Shaw’s topo map.
Finally, we’re on the trail. Notice the various ways of toting the crossbows. Cahalan opts for the quiver-over carry while Sidelinger chooses the flat-back approach.
It’s beautiful country, and generous weather. But it’s work, too. We will chew up nearly 2,500 feet in about four miles to where we plan to spend the next few days at treeline.
After several thigh-burning hours, we finally reach the alpine meadow where we’ll spend the next two evenings. Everyone is glad to have arrived, and we’re ready to hunt bugling bulls.
But first we have to find them. From high promontories, we turn our optics and our ears to the lower benches, hoping to either spot or hear a rutting bull.
We hear a few distant bugles, but decide to see if we can spark some action closer to our location. Here, Toby unwinds a bugle.
And I fill in with cow calls.
Beautiful autumn weather, stunning backcountry, a new crossbow and the promise of rutting bulls. What could be better?
Well, the action could be a little bit better. After two days of hard hunting, we haven’t gotten a single bull to unlock and come in to a call. Maybe it’s time to work into other basins and prospect to find a callable bull. Check back on later this week to see how my hunt turns out.

Andrew McKean, Record Quest host and OL’s Hunting Editor, heads up the mountain after bugling bulls. His weapon of choice? A crossbow.