By Eric Christensen
The story starts well before daylight, getting all the gear ready, double checking to ensure nothing has been forgotten. Then you climb into your Yamaha Viking and head down a two-track road into the darkness. Soon you get out of the ATV and listen. Your eyes start to pick up details of the landscape as the morning sun is continuing on its never ending circle. Then you hear one of the most impressive sounds Mother Nature has created. The elk rut is starting to kick off and bulls are screaming, notifying each other of their location.
Don Tubbs had never harvested a mature 6-point elk in over 20 years of elk hunting. He won an elk hunt with J & J Outfitters in northern Utah through our Pro Membership Sweepstakes in 2015. Don’s wife entered him in as a gift and one month later he received a call from Mike Deming, telling him he had won a $10,000 elk hunt with our team. Mike informed Don that J & J Outfitter’s hunt some of the best properties and units in Utah. This would be a special hunt, with piles of elk and some gorgeous scenery. This hunt was chosen to giveaway because of the amount of elk and J & J Outfitter’s knowledge of the property, making it one of the best hunts in the state.
We met Don for lunch on his drive down from Malad, Idaho. We drove to camp and got ready to do some scouting and hopefully tuck a giant bull into bed for the morning hunt. Camp felt like a true elk hunt, with a large wall tent for cooking and socializing. A few more dome tents surrounding the large wall tent, overlooking a large canyon filled with red and orange fall colors. Before heading out to look for rutting bulls, two large, bull moose were seen on an adjacent ridge, feeding by a stock pond. We captured some video of the two beasts and then drove to our elk destination.
We drove to a lookout point that would give us 360 degrees of glassable country. Less than the time it took to get out of the Viking and set up our spotting scopes, 20 cows and a small 6-point could be seen feeding their way up an oak draw. A few smaller bulls were spotted working their way through some thick oak brush searching for cows. The longer the evening went on, the more elk started to show. Two mature bulls emerged from an oak colored drainage on the far side of the basin. They were just far enough away that we decided to close the distance for closer inspection.
The two bulls were on the opposite side of the property and we had to take the Viking down and around a large basin to get close enough to look the bulls over. On our way across the basin, more elk were spotted. A 300-class bull had seven cows that he was tending to, as he bugled at two small satellite bulls. We filmed the bull for a few minutes and then drove over to check out the bulls that peeked our curiosity.
Soon we crested a ridge and parked the Viking in a small flat. We hiked up a small ridge and glassed up the bulls, who were busy bugling and finding feed to graze on. These were two shooters for the morning hunt, without a doubt. It was awesome to see the excitement and anticipation on our Pro Membership Sweepstakes winner, Don Tubbs’ face, as he watched the two bulls. Hunting rutting elk, with a rifle in September, is what any elk hunter dreams about. It was going to be a long night and an early morning.
The next morning, we drove to the look-off point to see where the elk had moved to during the night. A bull was going off and screaming every 30 seconds right below the look-off, but the cover was too thick to see into. We kept glassing, waiting for the closer bull to break cover. Several small rag horns and sub 300-class 6-points dotted the fall colored ridges. The closer bull finally emerged with 12 cows. He had good mass, but was just a touch short on tine length. Don opted to let this bull walk to keep looking for a larger bull. After some time at the look-off point, we decided to go further up the mountain to see some new ground.
With the bugling ending shorter than we wanted, we decided to become the elk and started calling to encourage some responses. We were on top of a beautiful looking basin that was primarily filled with Quake Aspen trees, with a beaver pond at the bottom, surrounded by pine tree ridges. We heard a bull respond to our bugle only a few hundred yards into the trees. We worked the bull to try and bring him into a small opening to determine if he was worthy of pursuing. A series of cow calls and bugles were not enough to drag him closer for a glance. He would respond immediately to our calls, but would not come closer, meaning only one thing – He was a heard bull and had cows he was protecting.
We dove off of the ridge in an attempt to get the bull to defend his girls by coming in close to chase us off. The bull would keep his distance at about 150 yards. We kept working our way closer, but the wise bull pushed his cows in the opposite direction. All of our bag of tricks were pulled out, including raking trees, grunting and even tossing large rocks down the hill to mimic a heard of elk. The bull would not commit to us, so we decided to pull out and head back to camp to devise a plan of attack for the evening.
Just after lunch, I headed out to scout and see if there was any mid-day activity happening. Almost immediately from our glassing knob, I spotted a pretty 320-plus bull, working a ridge with two cows. I jumped in the Viking and motored back to camp to get Don. He quickly gathered his hunting gear and we drove off after the bull. We stopped above the drainage I had last seen the elk. I could hear a bugle further down the drainage, but I could not see any elk. Don and I kept glassing and waiting. Another group of elk was spotted feeding at the bottom of a shaded quakie-covered ridge.
Suddenly, the bull came screaming out of the bottom and we could see he was a 7×7, so we quickly devised a game plan to head after him. We drove to the closest ridge that we could and headed down after the bull. Soon we made our way to a large lone pine tree that we would use as our marker to the location of the feeding elk. We crept over the ridge and hid behind a small patch of oak brush. Ten minutes had passed and we feared the elk had been blown out. A cow finally showed from the very bottom of the drainage and then the elk started to pop up all over.
Our bull was spotted a hundred yards away from the cows, feeding on some tall grass. We moved our position to get a shot. It seemed like the bull could sense our intention and slowly fed up the opposite hill and then laid down. He shielded himself behind the only set of tree’s we couldn’t get a shot into. We decided to wait him out, as we knew he would have to get up to check on his large harem of cows soon. But too our disappointment, a storm was rolling in from the south, which made all the cows also bed up. With a black wall of rain coming our way, we decided to make something happen. We bugled aggressively to peek the bedded bull’s interest, in hopes he would get on his feet to offer a shot.
Our plan was starting to work as the cows were starting to get up and move across the hill, away from the bedded bull. Shortly after the cows stood up, the bull rose up and moved towards his fleeing cows. Already set up and ready for the bull to clear for a shot, we bugled to get the bull to stop and look our direction. Don let his 7mm Mag rip and he hit the bull with a lethal shot. The bull ran twenty yards and stopped again in the open. Don quickly made another 300 yard shot and again hit his mark. The bull stumbled and fought his injuries for a few seconds. He soon staggered down the hill and collapsed.
The success of our hunt filled the air with hi-fives and man-hugs. It never gets old seeing another Sportsman fulfill a lifelong dream and harvest his first trophy big game animal. Don Tubbs was brought back to his youth; you could see how excited he was as we approached his trophy elk. This hunt is a perfect example of why I love what our Pro Membership Sweepstakes offers to the everyday Sportsman – A true chance for a hunt of a lifetime.
J & J Outfitters is one of the primary outfitters we purchase hunts from for our Pro Membership Sweepstakes because they are truly one of the best outfitters in the business, hands down. They have been in business for nearly 25 years and consistently provide a high level of customer service on some of the best properties in the west. 2016 will offer some more great hunts with J&J through our Pro Membership Sweepstakes, which consists of a prime rut mule deer hunt and another elk hunt on this ranch where Don Tubbs made his lifelong dream come true. To become a Pro Member and get your chance to win this same trip of a lifetime, visit www.promembershipsweepstakes.com . If you want to just book your own hunt with J & J, contact them through our website and don’t forget that all Pro Members get 5% off on their hunts booked with Platinum Approved Outfitters.