How it all went down
Author / ZACK BOUGHTON, SG CONTENT DIRECTOR
It’s mid-October and the highway is covered in ice and wind-blown snow that’s packed on the asphalt. We’re driving south to Idaho, and it feels like a late-season rip instead of the mid-October trip I envisioned in my head.
I’m tailing Colby Adamek’s Tacoma as we finally hit the dirt road. We’ll be linking up with friends Andrew Whitney and Jared Miller shortly. They have been in Idaho for days, and Andrew has a mule deer in tow. The current plan is to meet at the trailhead, sort out gear for the next 4-5 days, and start the long haul into a remote backcountry basin. We have three elk tags and a deer tag in the group, so hopes are high that we will locate something worthwhile.
After an hour or so, our packs are loaded almost to the max. Food, water, camp, and plenty of layers to keep us warm take up most of the space. A light snow is falling, the tail end of an early season snowstorm. Two hours later, we ascend the first canyon and make the call to camp for the night before crossing over the top of the basin above us.
The morning starts with fog and limited visibility. It’s the day before the season opens, so we’re not in a huge hurry. A large fire keeps us warm as we wait for better visibility before pushing on. By late morning, the fog lifts and a great weather window allows us to push up over the snow-covered mountain. When we get to the top, there’s a foot of snow. Now, our thoughts are heavy with the reality that the animals may have been pushed out of our target basin.
Even so, we are committed to the mission and move to the next basin, then up onto a long ridge that bisects two other basins. As soon as we crest the ridge, the guys spot a group of elk below us with a nice six point bull in the mix. It’s a long way in, but he’s a solid 300-inch bull. It’s a tough call, and one we’re glad we have a night to think on. As light starts to fade, we slip down the ridge about a half-mile from the group and set up our tents amidst the snow-covered pines.
Morning comes quick and we are up and moving as temps dipped into the mid-teens overnight. Everyone is brimming with excitement — even though the thought of packing a bull out of here is a bit overwhelming. We’ll deal with the pain when we get there. As we hit the first opening, it takes all of about five seconds to relocate the target bull. The guys quickly decide that Jared will be the shooter. His enthusiasm is contagious, and he is by far the most excited to get a crack at this bull.
Before we know it, we are quickly sliding down the mountain, hoping to close the distance as much as possible. Opening morning can mean competition, and we know we have to act quickly if we want this bull. After about 20 minutes, we’re inside 800 yards. With limited options for shooting lanes, we settle on a nice spot where Jared can set up at 727 yards. It is no doubt a long shot, but Jared has spent as much time behind a rifle as anyone we know.
As an avid competition shooter and long range pro, he typically puts 2,000-3,000 rounds down range each year. Even with that confidence, a shot like this is no gimme. Extreme focus and adherence to the shooting process is key. Jared quickly ranges his target and gets the up-to-date ballistics off his Kestrel. As he settles in behind the rifle, the bull slowly feeds, alternating broadside angles and slowly gaining elevation between bites. A few seconds later, a sharp crack and ‘thwomp’ echoes through the valley. One perfect shot from the 300 Norma finds its mark. The bull staggers and crashes down the mountain. A combination of adrenaline and cold has us celebrating and shivering as we know the real work will soon be at hand.
As we walk up on the downed bull, it's apparent that something isn’t quite right. Only six points stick above the snow. The bull's right side is gone, busted off in the long slide down the mountain. As we follow the track up the mountain, we see a tine sticking above the powder. Jared goes for a quick shed hunt and reunites the antler with its owner, a 300-plus bull with good mass. With four guys, the elk is quickly broken down and divided into our packs.
With everyone toting a quarter, we decide to hike down and out of the canyon, making a big half-circle before heading out to the truck approximately 12 miles away. We know it’s going to be a long day. We also know it’s mostly on a trail and downhill. With that combo, hopes are high that we can make it back before dark.
Six and a half hours later, Colby and Andrew hit the rig, drenched in sweat and ready for a cold beer. Jared and I are still up the trail. Jared’s pack is by far the heaviest, pushing 100 pounds. An hour later, we're all at the truck, sipping a cold one and salivating over the thought of a juicy burger at the local diner. We load up and head out. Mission complete!