A Test of Mental Toughness
A long hunt in spectacular country
by Hyrum Facer, Utah, 2016
Utah! What a great place to live, hunt, and grow a family. It’s truly unlike any other place on Earth. Utah has it all, from the solitude of the highest peaks to the low desert floors of Moab. The best part of all is that it’s home to some of the biggest bull elk in world!
A Glimmer of Hope
In early spring, my buddy, Terry, and I decided once again to apply for the coveted San Juan elk tag. Terry and I are dedicated archers who love to hunt deep in the backcountry for elk. We had taken some very respectable bulls and were ready to challenge ourselves to harvest the biggest bulls we had yet to hunt.
On the night of May 27, I saw that some friends had received their draw results. Right then I stopped what I was doing and quickly opened my email. As in the past, as I frantically saw the email, I calmed myself down and tried to take my time and slowly scroll down. It was a result I hadn’t seen in a very long time - SUCCESSFUL!
Preparation and Dedication
Summer brought lots of excitement with all the moisture that the state was receiving and good times with people who had reached out to me to help me with learning the area. I thought I knew how big this area was, but I was in for a rude awakening. This hunt area spanned from Monticello clear to the Bears Ears. I felt like a speck just hiking and glassing the area.
This unit had it all, from high alpine settings up at 11,500 feet to oak brush and rolling hills on Elk Ridge. Spring quickly faded into summer scouting and soon it was time to make preparations to begin the hunt.
Opening Day Excitement
Before I knew it, August 20 was here. Terry and I got into a ton of elk on opening day. However, we also had lots of company. Hunters chasing cows, spikes, and bears in the same area had it more congested that we expected. We were lucky to run into some guides who helped us with further planning and preparation for the rest of the hunt.
At this point, I hadn’t run into any other hunters who had an “any bull” tag. We hunted hard the first weekend, but then had to head back home to work again.
We had planned to only hunt weekends in August. Then, if we didn’t kill, we’d hunt from September 1 through the end of the hunt (September 16). The next weekend came and went as another buddy and I hunted with lots of sightings of nice bulls; just nothing I wanted to go after.
Another week passed with much anticipation of leaving for 16 straight days of elk hunting. On the afternoon of September 1, I loaded my camp trailer and provisions and met Terry in Monticello at 11 p.m..
After spending many days hunting some really steep ground, Terry was really drained. He suggested that we sleep in the next day and take a break, and then break camp and move down to some different country. This other part of the unit is a big plateau with lots of oak brush, along with pines and aspens. It was significantly easier walking, although I did find some nasty canyons that dropped off the big plateau.
Terry and I knew that we had to give it our all on this hunt to make the most of this opportunity and harvest two bulls. The hardest test for me would be when Terry had to leave for a week in order to send off his son for a Church mission. I would be hunting alone for that week.
During this time of great excitement, we had our chances at some giant bulls. On the first evening in our new location, Terry told me that he’d do the calling. During this early time of year, when the bulls are just beginning to round up their cows, we knew that the bulls would come running into a bugle and more than cow calls.
On the first setup in the oak patch right out of camp, a bull was bugling. Terry set up 75 yards behind me, and with the wind perfect, he began to bugle. A bull responded right away. I had an arrow nocked and ready, and had ranged objects around me. A nice bull came running in to ten yards, but there was no shot! It was the best chance we had.
Success in the Journey
The next week, as I awaited Terry’s return, I got into lots of elk, but no shooters. The bulls I did want to go after never worked out. I was mentally drained and was having second thoughts about what I was doing way out here away from my family, and all alone. This was a pretty lonely time; I was having fun, but at the end of the day, it’s always fun to be with family and friends.
Terry returned that next Tuesday evening just in time for the evening hunt. I was never so happy to see him as I was that day. However, it rained heavily and the roads were slick. We tried a different area with no luck and no bugles, so we moved again.
As we parked and started walking down an old two-track, Terry let out a bugle and the drainage below us erupted. We immediately went into kill mode. There were bulls bugling all over; bulls below us and bulls that sounded like they were deep in the drainage.
We were making our way to the closest bugle when a bull bugled right behind me. I nocked an arrow and looked behind me and the branches of a pine were waving back and forth. I moved in while Terry hung back.
As I neared the bull, I had the wind in my favor and the rain had subsided. The bull was at 30 yards and I could see that he had a great back end.
I slid my slider sight to 30 yards, locked it in, and drew my bow. However, the bull must have seen me move as he was raking the pine, because he turned and started quartering away from me. I put my pin behind his shoulder and let my arrow fly. He quickly started on a dead run, but after only ten yards, he hit the dirt!
I told Terry the bull was down and he came walking up behind me all excited and giving me the thumbs up. We watched as the bull got up and walked another 20 yards and then hit the ground and expired. I couldn’t believe that I had just done it!
As I approached the bull, my arrow was still in him and had buried up to the fletchings. I pulled the arrow out and returned it home to its home in my quiver.
After looking over my bull in amazement, we posed him for pictures and then began the process of breaking him down. We boned him out and then packed him out, arriving back at camp well after dark.
Once we hung the boned-out meat in a big pine, we quickly went to bed and planned where to hunt the following morning for Terry’s bull. He ended up with some opportunities, but didn’t harvest an elk.
The San Juan is the most beautiful, rugged, elegant, diverse and pristine unit I’ve ever hunted. There are so many different kinds of terrain to hunt for these amazing animals. I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to hunt it with one of my best friends. I will remember those sunrises, landscapes, and dirt roads for the rest of my life.