After five days in a bivy sack at 10,000 feet in southwest Wyoming’s mountains, after numerous encounters with rut-spun bulls, after running out of water, after blisters and searing lungs, I finally arrowed a Wyoming Range bull with a crossbow. Here’s how my hunt unfolded.
The self-guided hunt actually had two parts. In the first, I prospected likely elk country with a few crossbow cousins: Kim Cahalan, Mark Sidelinger and Toby Shaw. But after camping for a couple of days on the highest ridges, and after enduring a cold, snowy night in our bivy sacks, we needed to return to base camp to dry out our gear and reprovision. See part one of my Wyoming elk hunt here.
The hike back down to what amounts to civilization out here was bittersweet. We needed more food and a good night’s sleep, but we were leaving the high country in the very height of the rut. I didn’t want to go, but I was comforted by the knowledge that I’d be back up here in a day or two.
Base camp was a collection of wall tents, a roaring fire kept ablaze all hours of the day and night and hot and hearty meals prepared by Jug. Every hunting camp needs a cook named Jug.
Here is our Jug. Jug Smith. He got this nickname as a boy in Whitebird, Idaho. “I was outdoors so much that I had a permanent tan,” he said. “My mom called me her ‘Little Brown Jug’ and Jug stuck.”
Early the next morning we were back on the trail, this time in the company of a squad of vertical bow hunters. We planned to hike to the highest ridge together, then split up for a few days to cover more ground, and hopefully talk to more bulls.
This was the last time I saw my hunting companions. They headed west. I turned south with Jim Sloane and his brother-in-law, Tim Allen. Both are Michiganders. Sloane had an elk tag and a compound bow. Allen brought his camera. He was along for the hiking and the view.
After chasing a particularly vocal and inconsiderate bull for several miles and at least 1,500 feet of elevation, Sloane was ready for his bed and a bowl of freeze-dried chili. In that order.
The next day of hunting was interrupted by a search for water. We had assumed by the topo maps that water would be easy to find in any drainage. But the Wyoming Range is built mainly of limestone, and any available water disappeared underground. We had to hike well out of our way to find water in lower meadows.
After that, we filled our bellies and our water bladders any time we found water.
Late in the second day, we found a side-hill elk sanctuary that promised plenty of action the next day. I added a rock to a trailside cairn to mark where we’d tuck into the forest before sunlight the following morning.
The plan was perfect. I was picking my way down to what I anticipated was a prime ambush spot when I spotted a bull raking a pine tree across a meadow. The wind was right, and if I could cut the distance in half, I would have an easy shot with my TenPoint crossbow. I put Sloan on one end of the meadow. If the bull went his way, he’d have a good shot with his crossbow.
I worked my way slowly into range. The bull started to drift away, but a couple of cow calls caught his attention. He turned my direction, looking for the source of the calls. And then he came toward me on a string. I rested my bow on sticks, switched off the safety, and waited for the bull to step into the shooting lane. He did, and I let go an arrow when he cut the distance to 38 yards. I heard the solid hit, the bull turned himself inside out, and then I heard a sweet sound to any bowhunter: uncontrolled crashing downhill. On the other end of the meadow, I found my arrow, bloody from broadhead to nock.
Sloan, Allen and I waited several minutes, then started blood-trailing. As we followed the trail downhill, the evidence of a very solid hit grew in frequency and size. This blood smear was about four feet off the ground and indicated a pass-through hit.
We found the bull, piled up and dead, about 150 yards straight downhill from where he was hit, at 10,117 feet above sea level, the highest-elevation elk I’ve ever killed. The first item of business was notching my Wyoming elk tag.
Then the cameras came out and we captured the moment just as the rising sun hit the east-facing ridge across the valley from us.
In the midst of the photo session, we heard bugles approaching our sidehill location. Sloan and Allen took my calls and headed out to intercept the bull. I stayed behind and took apart my bull.
I split the meat into three game bags, and hauled the front half and backstraps the five miles down to base camp while my hunting partners sorted out the bugling bull.
Their side-hill odyssey didn’t pan out, and later in the afternoon they helped me to base camp with the rest of the bull. Back at camp shortly before midnight, we relaxed sore muscles, unpacked our trail-weary packs and gorged on backstrap. Then I dug out the bull’s ivories, took down my crossbow and packed for my long drive back to Montana.
Record Quest host Andrew McKean hits pay dirt on his Wyoming backcountry elk hunt. See the photos and story here.