By Michael Deming
The wapiti, which is a Shawnee name and means white rump deer, has been the state animal in Utah since 1971. It inhabits the majority of mountains ranges in Utah with a great population which is estimated to be nearing 70,000. This is a major feat considering that in 1898, the state was totally closed to elk hunting due to the overharvest of animals. This precious resource was restocked from the Yellowstone herd from 1912 to 1925 and has grown dramatically. In the 1970s and 1980s the population had grown to the point that animals were successfully relocated to the mountain ranges in southern Utah and is now home to some of the largest elk ever seen or harvested on a fair chase hunt. Some of these trophies grace the covers of outdoor publications each and every year.
One of the outfitters who have been able to consistently harvest trophy wapiti in the state of Utah, and who has successfully run J & J Outfitters for the last seventeen years, is the team of Jed and Jenni Wayment. They currently manage over 300,000 acres of pristine private land which holds numerous elk, deer and moose. They harvest world-class trophies of each, year in and year out, which is why they have earned the prestigious title of “Sportsman’s News Platinum Approved Outfitter”.
I won a hunt with J & J Outfitter three years ago on a drawing hosted by Garth Carter and the “Huntin Fool” which was my introduction to this great operation. I harvested one of my best mule deer ever with them that year and got a pretty good understanding of what a great hunting operation was really about. I saw numerous mature animals and finally on the last day took a great buck.
I knew that J & J was an outfitter that we wanted all of our 130,000 readers to know about. When you are looking to spend some of your hard-earned dollars on a guided hunt, you don’t want your success to be a chance. We already had experience with Jed and Jenni and when they called me last year with a last minute cancellation on a premium elk hunt to see if I knew anyone who might be interested, well I didn’t have to think long. I had personally been putting in for elk in the state of Utah for ten years and hadn’t drawn a tag yet. I knew that I was the one who would have some explaining to do at home, but I figured that I would have the trip of a lifetime and it would be worth it. Boy was I ever right.
I met Jed in late September for our central Utah elk hunt. We had two additional guides/spotters along to help. Tyler and Jake would be spotting and helping out while Jed guided me and my cameraman, James Stehman, for the first couple of days and then Jed would have to leave for another hunt. We were optimistic that we would only take a few days to get the job done. Since my best elk ever was only a 318” bull that I had taken with a bow on public land, I was pretty sure I would be holding out for a big boy.
The first evening out was exciting and unexpected to say the least. I mean, “come on” I’ve been elk hunting my entire life and it usually takes at least a few days to locate the elk and then get them figured out and then get onto the bull you wanted. We’re five minutes into our evening hunt and I’ve got a cow and calf thirty yards in front of me and I can hear at least ten bulls bugling up the canyon and to top it all off, it is only three in the afternoon. Needless to say, my heart was thumping almost out of my chest.
We weaseled our way up the canyon almost a mile and around numerous elk to get into position for our evening hunt. We would be watching a wallow and water hole almost 300 yards away in the middle of an opening which was surrounded by the north facing timber slope. We were serenaded all afternoon by bulls running through the timber chasing hot cows. It made life pretty easy to sit behind the spotting scope looking for that shooter bull. Jed and I discussed the quality of animals and when he told me that we should probably hold out the first couple of days for a 370 class bull, my jaw hit the ground. I really just wanted to top my biggest bull ever and I would like to hit the 340 class if possible.
I was looking in every direction as the daylight began to fade and elk seemed to appear out of every fold in the earth. We could see well over a hundred elk down through the valley and numerous bulls. As the last little bit of light faded, my trusty guide Jed spotted a bruiser that would make that 370 mark we were shooting for, but we wouldn’t have enough light to make it down there for a shot tonight.
I had experienced a hunt of a lifetime in only one evening and I hadn’t even fired a shot. I had seen more activity in five hours of elk hunting with J & J than I had in the majority of my adult life and I was even a little disappointed when Jed told me over dinner that they were really rutting hard the week before. Strict management by outfitters like J & J and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources make these types of hunts possible. Going to sleep that night proved much harder than I expected.
The alarm sounded pretty early and I was raring to go and experience another day of Utah elk hunting and hopefully put my tag on a Utah giant. As Jed and I started up the logging road on foot with my cameraman in tow, we were once again surrounded by bugling bulls looking for the last hot cows of the season. Although we saw over three hundred elk for the morning, we never found the big 370 bull or another one like it and it was the same for the evening’s hunt.
One of the spotters found another really good bull and wanted us to take a look at it on day three. Jed would have to leave on this day and we tried very hard to make it happen that morning, but the big bull that Tyler had spotted just didn’t want to cooperate for our camera and stayed in the trees. We shook hands with Jed and wished everyone luck with the remainder of the week.
That evening hunt, looking for the bull Tyler had spotted, proved to be very fruitful. Just as daylight was fading, we spotted the bull that Tyler had been talking about and he was a stud. We figured that he would make that 340 mark that I was shooting for, but wasn’t much bigger. I had seen bulls getting broken tines every day that we were hunting and to find a great bull like this with all six points intact was all I needed. We rushed into position as the last of our light faded away, but we were only able to get about seven hundred yards away, so we pulled the plug on the evening hunt just as a solid 360 class bull came out of the trees. I consistently practice out to eight hundred yards with my custom Christensen 300 ultramag and felt that I could make the shot, but we didn’t take the chance. We still knew that we had a couple of days left and since we didn’t disturb these guys, we hoped that they would be there in the morning.
The morning of day four had us back in the same spot and as we crested the hill, we saw the huge six by six as he was chasing off the 340 class stud. He had gathered almost thirty cows over the night and we had eyes everywhere. We closed the gap as well as we could, but ran out of cover at 550 yards on a very steep hill. We all watched the controversy unfold on the mountain as these two mature bulls jockeyed for dominance of the herd. The larger bull had suffered a broken tine from the night before, but he had earned my respect and I wanted him regardless of the broken tine. Jake and I discussed the possibilities of getting closer, but I assured him that if the bull would stop, I was sure that I could make the shot. Five minutes later as the mighty wapiti stopped broadside at 546 yards, I gently squeezed the trigger and on report the big bull hunched up as Jake yelled “HIT ‘EM AGAIN”. I worked the bolt at a rapid pace and squeezed another round off before he was able to take a step. “He’s hit again” Jake yelled. Since he was still on his feet and now moving, I put one final shot in the bull, but he was collapsing as I squeezed the trigger and I was able to completely shoot off his G-1 on his left side.
I was elated and couldn’t wait to lay my hands on my biggest bull ever. After the long walk down to the bull, I was able to see a great mature bull and definitely my best elk ever. Had he not broken a tine and dummy me shooting off another one, he would have conservatively made the 352” mark. And best of all, James was able to get it all on tape.
I owe Jed and Jenni a great deal of thanks for providing me with a hunt of a lifetime and you can have your hunt of a lifetime with them also. Whether you want to take trophy elk, mule deer, or moose; J & J is the outfitter to call and I will guarantee that you will get your hunt of a lifetime. For booking info go to www.jandjoutfitters.com or call 435-336-4146.