Special Elk Hunt of a Lifetime
Recently, I had the privilege of going on a bull elk hunt in Wyoming courtesy of Hunt of a Lifetime, an organization that grants hunting and fishing wishes to children with life-threatening injuries or diseases. I thought you all might enjoy getting in on the action with me, so here are my journal entries from my 2006 hunt. I hope they excite you as much as the experience did me!
6 p.m.---It's opening day of the Wyoming elk hunting season here in Unit 123. My guides watched seven good bulls at last light yesterday evening, but they failed to show up on the sagebrush flats during the morning like we'd hoped. I'm starting to get a bit worried because this is some of the best elk hunting territory in the world and I haven't even seen an elk yet. Of course, this is hunting, and not shopping.
I'm sitting in one of the guide's trucks with my parents, one of my guide's sons-in-law, Jeff, and Dave Maas, managing editor of North American Hunter magazine. We're waiting out a strong thunderstorm that's rolling across the prairie.
6:20 p.m.---The rain has passed and a bull has just been spotted! Matt, the landowner, and Jeremy, a guide, also known as "Bear," are zeroed in on him through their spotting scopes. The big bull is feeding in the pines, gradually making his way down from a bedding area to feed out on the sagebrush flats. We don't want to get too close and spook him, so Matt has dropped us off within stalking distance of the bull. After sneaking about 600 yards through the pines, another one of my guides, Steve Beilgard, decides we're close enough to try calling in the bull.
Matt and his friend Justin have dropped back about 30 yards to cow call while Steve, Bear and I are getting in position for a shot. The guides are cow calling, but there's no bull yet, and I'm watching anxiously as the sun sinks lower and lower into the horizon. Still no bull.
I've now detected movement in between two tall bushes. After bringing up my binoculars, I can see that it's a bull! Steve ranges the bull at 314 yards, but as I get a closer look at him, I see that he's only a raghorn---a young, immature bull. The young bull perks his ears up as he listens to the guides' cow calls. He's obviously interested, but he knows the bigger bull is somewhere close by in the timber, ready to give a whipping to any bull that bugles in his territory. Wisely, he continues eating along with another bull of equal size that has just appeared.
The sun has now set. I'm not going to get a bull tonight.
9 a.m.---There are elk everywhere this morning! We're parked on the top of a ridge and glassing the surrounding flats, and approximately 2 to 3 miles to the southwest we can see a large herd of elk grazing on the flats. There are definitely some big bulls in this herd! We've decided to move toward them and after about 30 minutes of cross-country driving, we can now see them more clearly---and if they were on our side of the fence, my story would be over now. Unfortunately, the elk are standing on the side of the fence that we can't hunt, so we're going to have no such luck.
After watching the elk bed down and seeing some real monster bulls, the weather has now turned, and fog and rain have rolled in. There goes my afternoon hunt. We'll now have to wait until tomorrow morning to start hunting again.
2:30 p.m.---I missed a truly giant bull at 9 o'clock this morning (the scope mount came loose on my .270 Win., so I would have been lucky to have hit the broadside of a barn). After my miss, we switched spots (not to mention guns) and are now near a spot where Matt and I watched nine bulls disappear to bed down earlier this morning. Dave Maas and "North American Hunter-TV" cameraman Ernie Lanthier had to catch a plane out of Gillette early this afternoon, so they were only able to film our morning hunt.
When you mix very chilly temperatures and 45-mph winds with warm clothing and a heated Suburban you get a toasty concoction that I fondly call a "nap"---and nap is just what we're doing while one guide glasses for elk at all times. With the early mornings and late evenings we've had lately, we all need sleep right now and even the guides are snoring. Bear says he doesn't snore, but we all know he does. No elk.
5:30 p.m.---The guides have driven us close to where we saw that big bull on opening night; maybe we'll get a better vantage point tonight. I'm sitting in Justin's truck right now, glassing and praying that I'll spot a bull soon.
6:15 p.m.---We've got elk! We're driving to where we can put a stalk on the bull, and when we get there we see that the big bull isn't even 10 yards from where he'd been on opening night! The bull is broadside at 279 yards, and I'm trying to control my excitement. It's tough, but I finally compose myself and squeeze the trigger of Jeff's .30-06 and send a 150-grain bullet through both lungs of the bull. Looking up from the scope, I can see the bull buck and lunge forward before running down into a ravine. Immediately after I shot, I had four sets of hands patting me on the back!
After driving the Suburban up to where we'd last seen the bull, we came to the mouth of a ravine. Matt points the bull out, and he's only 20 yards inside the ravine and his antlers are tangled in a young pine tree. The bull's breathing hard, and I'm in awe of his size. Matt says the bull is dying but that I need to shoot him again. Just as I chamber another shell in my gun, the bull starts to rise to his feet, but the exertion is too much for him and he's fallen back down. I fire the gun and send a bullet through the bull's shoulders and he gives one final kick and now lays motionless.
As my breathing slows, I hear doors slamming and my parents are now coming down the ravine---my dad, as usual, is filming the whole thing and my mom is grinning from ear-to-ear. She's never been on a big game hunt before, but she's had a blast on this trip.
My guides are positioning the bull for pictures now and at 900 pounds, moving this bull is no easy task. They estimate the bull to be 4 to 6 years old, and he carries a fine 6x6 rack.
After the "photo shoot" and field-dressing, it takes six men to drag this bull up the ravine and into the bed of Steve's truck. But with a lot of effort, it's now done. We're now driving back to the ranch, and I'm watching the Western sun set behind the Rochelle Hills of northeastern Wyoming. This has truly been a hunt of a lifetime.
I'd like to thank the Hunt of a Lifetime organization (866-345-4455) and its founder/president, Tina Pattison, for making all the arrangements to get my family and me out to northeastern Wyoming for this hunt. I'd also like to say an especially big thank you to my guides, Matt, Bear and Justin and also to Steve Beilgard and his wife Rilda, for all the meals and friendship and guiding while we were out there. And thanks to Jeff for letting me use his .30-06 when my scope mounts failed.
Thanks to the NAHC's Ernie Lanthier and Dave Maas for filming my hunt for an upcoming episode of "North American Hunter-TV" and for all the good times we had joking around in camp and in the field---that was a blast! And a very special thanks to my friends on the Realtree Web site forums for raising the money to get my mom out there with us on my hunt, and thanks to Savage Arms for donating my .270 Win.
And last but certainly not least, thank you God for walking with me throughout my life and throughout my recent open heart surgery. None of this would have been possible without you.
DAKOTA CASE'S CASE
NAHC Member Dakota Case was born in 1990 with a rare heart defect called Truncus Arteriosus, which left him with a hole in his heart and only one artery instead of two at the time of his birth. A week after his birth, doctors patched the hole in his heart and grafted in a donor pulmonary artery, which was then replaced during a second open-heart surgery when he was 6 years old. In April 2006, before going on this elk hunt, Dakota underwent a third open-heart surgery at Children's Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.