This hunt occurred in October 2011. I’ve been able to reflect on it for several years. It still brings a smile to my face. I visited with Carson today as he and his dad, Sid, are loading up the truck to head to Central Idaho to chase deer. I thought the story is too good to not share. Hopefully it reminds all of us why we do what we do this time of year. – R. Cade Powell
Bucket List Bull
Ever have one of those conversations you can recall verbatim years later? I’ll paraphrase one I had last December. My good friend Carson had just called, “Cade, my dad (Sid) just turned 61 and he’s never killed a bull elk. He was just diagnosed with cancer that they can’t treat with chemo and radiation. No pressure, but you have to find him a 6pt. in Wyoming next season. ”
With thoughts of my buddy’s dad fighting for his life, and the pressure of finding a 6pt. bull elk seemed like the least important thing in the world.
Carson kept after me, especially when the January application came around. Carson had maximum preference points for elk and was content to wait until he could draw a premiere unit. He had bought his dad a point the year before with the hope of bringing him over in 2 or 3 more years to shoot his first bull elk. With cancer now in the picture, he knew his dad might not have 2 or 3 more years so we started looking at all the units and drawing odds. If Carson applied as a party with his dad, their points would be averaged. Carson would lose out on his opportunity at one of Wyoming’s best elk tags, but he would have the opportunity to share in a hunt with his dad. It was a no-brainer. The opportunity with his dad far outweighed any desire for a whopper Wyoming bull. Knowing they had 3 points I began putting together a game plan. After narrowing it down to a handful of units that I was comfortable with, we had to look at the bigger picture. We weren’t sure how Sid’s health would be and if he would be up to a rigorous mountainous hunt. We finally decided on a desert hunt that transitioned into the foothills and mountains. They drew the tags and we began the long summer waiting for Oct 1, hoping and praying that Sid’s health would be good for the hunt.
Luckily, Sid’s health stayed good and Carson and Sid loaded up the truck and camper trailer and headed to Wyoming on September 29th. They set up camp and scouted that evening and all day Friday. ZERO elk. I arrived Friday evening and had an hour to glass before dark. ZERO elk. Saturday morning (the opener) we hiked to the tallest vantage point around and glassed hard for several hours. ZERO elk. By noon we wanted to look at a little more of the unit. The elk are pretty scattered in this unit and the 80 degree temperatures certainly weren’t helping us find elk. We drove to a new location and were getting ready to go for a hike through some pine and aspen pockets when I got a text from my good buddy, Hart Jordan. He informed me that his younger brother, Nathan (33), had just lost his 5 month battle with Leukemia. I went for a walk by myself while Sid and Carson crossed the creek and still hunted the pockets for several hours before getting on a big knob to glass for the last hour and half of light. The sun had set and they were just about to leave when Carson finally glassed 6 cows – 2 miles away. I didn’t do much glassing but got to call Hart and visit with him from the top of the mountain.
Sunday we drove into town 50 miles away and went to church. That evening we drove back out and got on a rim to glass for the evening. We passed several atv’s and vehicles of hunters who about broke their necks doing double-takes at this truck full of white shirts and ties………. That evening, right at dark we glassed a lone cow elk at the edge of a big canyon and figured it would be as good of a place as any to start in the morning.
We hiked up the ridge to a better vantage and began glassing as the sun came up. After an hour and half Carson finally said, “there’s some elk!” The second I got turned his direction I could see a bull and a couple cows drop into the big canyon. We literally had less than one minute to view these elk as they crossed one ridge-top into another draw over 1.5 miles away. After they were out of sight we walked down the ridge to Sid, and formulated a game plan. We slowly worked up a long ridge to a big rock pile where we could glass into the canyon they had disappeared into. Sure enough, they were bedded in the sparse trees at the head of the canyon 1,200 yards away. We glassed the bull and 4 cows for 30 minutes and tried to analyze the best way to approach. We had 2 possible scenarios and one just felt better than the other so we decided to make our move. We had to get fairly creative to stay out of sight as we closed the distance. We finally dropped into a side canyon that fed into the bigger canyon.
We were about 50 yards from the bottom of the big canyon and had to move 100 yards across a sage opening to get to a small river surrounded by willows. We would be visible too part of the herd of elk perched 800 yards above us. We slowly belly crawled the 100 yards to the cover along the river edge undetected, then took our boots off and waded the river. We sat by the river’s edge, ate lunch and took a breather. The elk were now uphill and behind a ridge. We slowly hiked up the ridge and stopped to catch our breath. About 150 yards from the top a young mulie buck bounded out of his bed under a lone pine above us and over the ridge – I was fearful he was going to take the elk with him! Carson hurried to the top of our ridge and looked over – the elk were still bedded 380 yards across the canyon. We had some rock piles to hide behind, as Sid sat down and got a comfortable rest on his pack. After a quick breather, he decided to end his 49 year quest for a bull elk. 4 quick shots – 3 in the boiler – later from his ol’ Remington .270 he’d bought and used as a 15 year old boy. Finally his bull was down. Needless to say, it was an emotional moment for all of us. The stalk had taken just over 6 hours. I’m not sure how hard the hike was for Sid, but he never quit smiling the whole time.
The next morning we were in the same big canyon 3 or 4 miles west of where we found Sid’s bull. We were glassing hard when I got a text from my wife, Brooke, telling me her grandfather had passed away late the night before. I was going to head back to camp and head home but had a little service and called Brooke. She told me to stay so I could go to Nathan’s service the next day, rather than come home and have to leave again. So we sat on the hill and continued to glass – and ponder. An hour later, Carson caught a glimpse of 2 bulls for 5 seconds as they crossed a little opening over a mile away. He didn’t think they were big, but we had to go look. After 1 1/2 hours of glassing the small canyon they disappeared into, we finally found them and stalked within 100 yards. Both were raghorns. We backed out and continued hunting down our big canyon. Later that afternoon we still hadn’t seen another elk. Carson was weighing all his options: shoot a raghorn; come back in 2 weeks when the weather has brought some more elk down to the desert; or hunt hard for another day and a half and try to find a better bull. He knew Sid couldn’t come back later in October. If he shot one of the raghorns, they could load up and head for Idaho. Sid could sneak back to work on Thursday and Friday and free up 2 more personal days to hunt Idaho deer. Carson elected to go back and shoot a raghorn – with his dad by his side. We made the stalk back to the same canyon and found the bulls up and feeding. After a few minutes his bull fed out of the junipers 70 yards underneath our rock perch. He was looking the other way when Carson’s 300 WSM knocked him off his feet.
Sid’s health is still good as is his attitude. After we packed Carson’s bull out of the nasty canyon and across the big sage flat to the road, he volunteered to walk down the road 1 1/4 miles to the rig and bring it back to where Carson and I were waiting.
Sid has been a public land, do-it-yourself hunter his whole life. His kids all pooled together to buy this elk tag for him. This was the first non-resident tag he’s ever applied for. While dreams of monster bucks and bulls have always filled his mind, Sid has always been about the tradition, camaraderie, and including family in all his excursions. In this evolving hunting world of egos, score, and big money hunts, this was truly a breath of fresh air to hunt with Carson and Sid that week. This experience has given me many opportunities to reflect on why I hunt. Although his bull won’t make any record books, I’ve come to fully comprehend that it’s not the size of the elk that makes the size of the man. Thanks Sid! You’re 400” in my ‘book’.