Just back from a week away in the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, hunting elk, with a few US mates as a belated treat for my 50th birthday last year. After meeting up in Salt Lake City, we arrived at our hunting lodge Tuesday afternoon and made sure the rifles were all zeroed in after the journey. We then met the other hunters who would be going out over the next week over dinner and, more importantly, we were introduced to our guides for the hunt – A mixture of age, experience and beards and mostly drawn from the local Mormon community which allowed for some interesting conversation to flow!! Early to bed and alcohol free(!!) as we were up next day at 4.00am to get up in the hills.
Day 1 saw an absolutely beautiful and vast array of stars in the sky before dawn and a slightly less beautiful me, getting into a vintage Jeep Grand Cherokee (It still had a tape deck for Heaven’s sake!) for the ride to the hunting grounds – Our journey started on metalled road but we soon left that behind for dirt roads, serious elevation and the kind of scenery you only get in Cowboy movies – The vista was beautiful, but the air was thinner than gossamer – We were at 9,000 feet and it knocked me for six – Simple thing like tying laces became exercises in deep breathing and walking was somewhat laboured and very slow going. The day went with us hitting the ridges for sunrise at around 6.30am when the elk would show themselves either going to feed, drink or seek shelter from the 90 degree heat that was going to materialise later in the day. We’d spend the morning glassing them through a spotting scope or binoculars to see what was in the valleys and canyons. I’ve not got the best eye sight in the world, but my guide Robert could spot a pimple on an elephant’s behind at 1,000 yards. Knowing where they were or at least where they were going, we’d try to intercept them on their way and would look for a 5 or 6 pointer bull with a harem of cows and a couple of opportunistic satellite bulls lurking in the distance.
The sun would be up, but it would remain quite cool until around 10.00am when the thermostat would turn right up to roasting. By 11.30, the heat was unbearable and so we’d head back to the lodge to rest and rehydrate until later in the afternoon when we’d repeat the procedure in reverse, once a little cooler until dark.
Day 2 saw a very shootable buck walk literally right into our path, but at almost 400 yards which was a little beyond my comfort zone, particularly as the thin air threw all the ballistics charts out of the window – The need to elevate a shot was completely nulled by the elevation! Tried to get nearer but he wasn’t stopping and big elk steps being followed by me and my stumpy legs was only ever going to have one winner!!
Days 3 and 4 we saw nothing – Except for cougars, buffalo, mule deer, cottontails, snakes, beaver and a recurring moose that kept hanging about! The country was beautiful, like a bizarre clash of the Scottish highlands, with sage brush standing in for the heather and a spaghetti western. We stayed lower than the treeline all the time and I was impressed by the Aspen trees lush hardiness in such a hard environment – Apparently they have one central root via which the rest of the trees are all interconnected. Throughout this landscape, there are cattle the whole way round the mountains – They farm them to 6 months here and then send them off to be fattened up with all manner of GM rubbish on the lowlands.
Day 5 – Go hard or go home. Looked like I was going home….
The morning was a complete bust with nothing moving anywhere, so we tried a new spot in the afternoon at the highest point of the hill. The guide did a few calls, with no answer, but we kept at it. Around an hour before dusk, a call was answered – He called back and it replied, sounding closer. One more call and through the clearing came a big old beast, well ahead of his cows, with horns high and chest all puffed out – This boy was intent on stamping out competition . He registered 235 yards on the range finder so I took my time and I took my shot - The bullet hit and I saw fur and claret fly at the same time. We got over to where he was as soon as possible to be greeted by an almighty blood trail – The Weatherby 300 rifle I had borrowed from my buddy had definitely done what I asked of it. We followed the trail for ten yards and there was my bull elk, stone dead with a heart shot. We gralloched him on the hill (well, I held the torch and acted like a nurse for the guide passing him knives and holding bits open) and with daylight fading we managed to get a Polaris to where we were to pick him up. Back at base, he was skinned and in the chiller within two hours, ready for the butcher (Just working out how to get some of the meat to the UK now – If anyone knows an easy way, please let me know). It was the last night and I had final bragging rights – Of the 12 hunters there, only 4 of us tagged out – So I found a lovely bottle of gin that I’d bought earlier at the State controlled liquor store and discovered the wonderful effects of booze at high altitude – Taxi!!
All in all, a very enjoyable trip. I’m just waiting for the crate to arrive from the taxidermist!