column By: Brad Fenson | May, 19
Last year, September 14 was opening day for fortunate holders of limited-entry elk licenses in Utah. Gary Hansen had been applying for nine years and felt lucky to have the coveted opportunity. He had drawn a limited-entry license in the past, but it took 18 years to secure. Waiting the required five years to apply again for any limited-entry draw in Utah, it took another eight years to get a mule deer tag, then nine more for another elk tag.
After heading into the wilderness of northern Utah, it didn’t take long to find elk. The unit is very good elk habitat; low country covered with cedars and maples, and very steep high country with pines and aspens. Gary and his son Brooks looked over 18 different bulls on opening morning, but none of them seemed worth pursuing given the age class they wanted. The father-and-son team stopped for lunch and a snooze and went out again for an evening hunt about 4 o’clock when things got interesting.
They were driving into a valley on an old logging road, winding their way through the maples, when a huge bull stood up from his bed just 300 yards from the truck. The hunters knew immediately this bull was the one. The bull’s antlers were extremely wide, and the points looked like swords extending from the main beams.
The hunters were as surprised to see elk from the truck as the elk were to see people. It didn’t take long for the bull and its cows to get nervous, and they took off down the valley about 800 yards. The elk knew something was up and started to climb about one mile straight up into the alpine. It took Gary and Brooks an hour and a half to hike 900 yards and get into shooting position.
The elk were across a canyon, and Gary lined up the bull with his favorite Browning .300 Winchester Magnum rifle. At the report of the shot, the bull hunched up and slowly headed for the thick pines. The sound of the bullet finding its mark left no doubt the bull was hit hard.
The hunters waited a half hour and watched the cows funnel out through the trees, but there was no bull. Climbing through a box canyon, the hunters were forced to go downhill, then back up to a rock ledge that put them close to the trees where they last saw the bull. When they reached the ridgetop, the bull was standing in the open. Gary made a shot at 115 yards to finish off the biggest bull he had ever hunted.
The elk was a huge reward after a challenging year and the commitment of running a farm. Gary had always wanted to kill a trophy-class elk and considered it his lifelong dream, now fulfilled by a big 6x6 with lots of mass.
The duo sat around the elk for at least half an hour in total disbelief. It was an extremely emotional event. Gary submitted the bull’s teeth, and when he got the data back it showed the bull was eight years old. The bull was a clean 6x6 with a 52-inch spread and scored 360.
Barbary Sheep Double
Matt Church and Grant Hewins were looking for an economical do-it-yourself (DIY), over-the-counter, public-land sheep hunt. Bighorn and Dall’s sheep proved to be too expensive or nearly impossible to draw, so the hunters decided to try Barbary sheep, or aoudad, and New Mexico provides that opportunity on an unlimited hunt. To make it even more attractive, there are no landowner trespass fees, and the hunt is completely DIY on public land.
The hunt was planned for late January, and the truck was packed with everything needed for an off-the-grid camp. The first day out, Matt and Grant ran into some locals who took them under their wing as experienced aoudad sheep hunters. The seasoned hunters provided tips on glassing spots and viewing the sheep from long distances, plus some ideas on how to stalk them carefully.
Early the next morning, the pair hiked to a vantage point and glassed sheep from about three miles away as they moved along cliffs and into a canyon. The two hunters put on their packs and stalked the group of sheep, gaining 1,200 feet in elevation while climbing up the canyon. The duo got within 900 yards and thought they might have a chance at the sheep. Unfortunately, the aoudad slipped over and around the corner of the canyon on a cliff above them. It was almost like the sheep had a sixth sense and knew when to move.
A discouraging surge of disappointment almost sent the hunters back to camp, but they opted to climb up to a bench a quarter mile farther and 200 feet in elevation above the herd. When they got to the bench, the sheep appeared on a canyon flat above, and the hunters knew this was their shooting opportunity. The sheep were in a spot where the animals were retrievable because there were benches below the cliff faces.
Matt and Grant got their rifle out and prepared for the shot. The young men were shooting a Browning Hell’s Canyon Speed 7mm Remington Magnum loaded with Berger 162-grain VLD handloads, and they planned to take turns if the sheep cooperated.
This hunt took place where the terrain was extremely unforgiving, and hikes could be quite dangerous if not taken slowly and methodically. The sheep were about 330 yards away and had no idea they were being watched. At the report of the rifle, the first aoudad tumbled, and since the sheep had no idea where the shot came from, the friends were able to shoot two – the first of the species for both of them – in the very last minutes of their hunting trip. The hunting companions said, “Public land and DIY hunting is part of who we are, and we were driven to overcome the difficulties of this particular hunt to ultimately find success.” To top things off, they not only shot two Barbary sheep, they captured video of the hunt for each other to share with friends and family back home.
The other factor in this success story was mental resiliency. Matt and Grant refused to quit after being disappointed in missing a mature ram two days earlier, and having the group of sheep give them the slip on a large cliff approximately 30 minutes before ultimately shooting the two aoudads.