A Hunter’s First Over The Counter Elk Season

Published 2020-11-15

By: Brand Ambassador, Lindsey Davis

This fall, I got my first over the counter bull elk tag here in Utah. After five years of mule deer hunting and one season of cow elk under my belt, I finally felt ready to join the tribe of folks who live for Septembers, and sonorous, rutting bulls.

Elk are massive and hard to take down. They are known for being incredibly tough animals, sometimes absorbing shots without flinching, and if wounded and spooked, capable of running miles away and far out of recovery range. If you are successful in harvesting, it can take multiple days to pack them out on foot, with one hind quarter weighing around 80 pounds. It is for these reasons that I’ve viewed elk hunting as something to do with others – a shared experience, and a group effort.

I was thrilled to foray out with friends and set up a camp in the Uinta mountains. I went in hoping to experience the woods come alive with bugling elk, assist the more experienced hunters in the group, and learn from the process.

Right out of the gate, there were encounters, and every morning we heard elk. What I didn’t know, is that the bugle of each bull has a personality. We began to identify them as, ‘the whistling bull,’ and ‘the raspy bull,’ hearing the same individuals day after day moving through the canyon. They’d call out, we’d locate them and the other bulls in the area sounding off, and occasionally throw our own bugles into the mix as well. It was exhilarating to pursue their music.

One afternoon when we were hiking down after following a bugling bull for 4 hours, we intersected a group of about 20 elk. First, we saw a spike feeding about 20 yards away, and then a wave of cows followed. They moved through the downed timber and stone unencumbered, almost like water moving over the forest floor. The wind was just so that they didn’t know we were there, and I begged my body to be perfectly still so as to not spoil the experience. The cows fed through us, some as close as 8 feet from me. As if the experience wasn’t rich enough, suddenly the herd bull bugled behind me, about 25 feet from where we were like the cows fed through. I could feel him breathing and snorting. The hair on the back of my neck stood, and I couldn’t believe that they still didn’t know we were there.

That bull ended up catching my wind — out of the corner of my eye, I saw his two-tone body turn on a dime the second he hit my scent cone. We never saw his rack, and he remains a great mystery of the mountains.

Everyone came back to camp thinking they had the best story to tell, only to realize we were all having an incredible time pursuing these animals. We called bulls in over the course of hours, saw them rake, and found wallows we didn’t know were there.

While no tags were punched, I learned these are the kinds of experiences that fuel every aspect of an elk hunter’s drive. Even though the terrain is terrible, steep, and elk are unforgiving, the process of inserting ourselves into these amazing animal’s lives in the call and response, and becoming a part of it is enchanting.

Bull elk season came to a close. As winter set in, I managed to find migrating elk and fill my cow tag on a cold snowy morning in the Wasatch mountains. With a season full of stories and a freezer full of elk meat, I find myself dreaming of next fall, transfixed, and beginning to understand how a hunter’s life can revolve around these amazing animals.