What is it about the outdoors that appeals to you?
When I'm outdoors, I feel the like I am truly free. I don't have to worry about my job or anything back home. I also feel like I am able to reconnect with the earth on a level that I'm not able to while in the city.
When did you first start hunting/fishing?
My first hunting trip was with my dad at the tender age of four. He shot a pretty good four point buck in Idaho and took me along for the hunt. I don't remember much about the hunt but we have an old family video of my dad and grandpa packing the deer out. The best part of the video is my grandpa chewing ass on my dad for not going up the 'right' draw and shooting the deer in an area that was hard to pack a deer out of.
What is one of your most memorable outdoor moments?
2016 Utah Strawberry Ridge CWMU Elk Hunt
Outfitter: Western Skies Outfitters
Operator: Brett Fielding
Dates: 5-9 October
Rifle: Weatherby Vanguard 300 Wby
Optics: Swarovski 20-60x80 ATS Spotting Scope, Vortex HS-LR 4x16x40 Rifle Scope, Vortex Viper 10x42HD Binoculars
This year I was lucky enough to draw a coveted Utah CWMU elk tag on Strawberry Ridge (15 miles east of Woodruff, UT) after 16 years of waiting. Not only was I the lucky recipient of a tag but my sister-in-law drew a mule deer tag as well. I knew when I applied for the hunt this year that I was going to be the high point applicant for the unit, which would guarantee me a tag.
The property is composed of 20,000 plus acres ranging from aspen forest to sagebrush flats and elevation ranging from 6,500 to 8,000 feet. Elk are the main focus of the operation but deer, moose, and antelope are also available.
My elk hunt this year actually started last year when I was able to accompany my dad on his last hunt ever. On the first night of my dad’s hunt last year Brett, who married into our family, told us to sit in a blind overlooking a cattle water trough. He didn’t disappoint. We headed to the blind at 3:30 p.m. and within 15 minutes a good 5x6 walked in and spent 10 minutes around the trough. My dad wanted to shoot the bull right away but I wanted the hunt to last longer than a few minutes so I told him to wait. The bull eventually walked off. Later, a small 6x6 and a small 5x5 came into range but neither was good enough to shoot and we headed back to camp.
My dad suffered from muscular dystrophy and over the course of the night the cold air caused his leg muscles to contract and knot making him violently ill. He only slept a couple hours the first night because of the pain. I felt horrible. He could have taken a great bull but I was selfish and wanted the hunt to last more than just a few minutes.
The next morning he didn’t know if he would be able to hunt but he put on a smile and we went and looked for some bulls. Right away we found a small 5x5 and he wanted to shoot it to end the hunt but luckily Brett stepped in and told us to give it one more night before we left. He promised us an elk.
We went back to camp, got some lunch, took a nap and waited for the night hunt.
That night we walked into a cluster of trees after some bulls that we had heard bugling that morning. For two solid hours we somehow kept ourselves on the edge of the herd as we stalked the elk through the trees. The elk moved south for a while then back to north when a rival bull started to challenge the herd bull that we were after. The roar of the bugle was so close and loud in the dense timber that we could hear bull’s snort at the end of his scream.
Finally, the herd we were chasing walked out of the timber and into a clearing on a side hill but a couple of deer walked in between us and elk. We didn’t dare move for 10 minutes as the doe and her fawns kept a close eye on us. If they broke toward the herd of elk, our hunt was over. We were all grateful when they trotted off the opposite way.
After more than twenty years of hunting with my dad we went into ‘team mode’. He knew that I was a few feet behind him like I had been since I was old enough to follow him into the forest. Twenty years of hunting side-by-side throughout North America built a bond where each of us knew what the other was thinking when the hunt was on.
We silently walked out of the trees keeping a couple of lone pine trees between us and the elk. My dad slipped his left shoulder out from under his pack, then his right, and I was there to grab the pack without losing a step. While Brett was trying to finalize a plan of attack on the bull, he glanced our way and whispered that the herd bull we were chasing was a big 5x6. While Brett was telling us the size of the bull and how to ambush the big 5x6, another 6x6 broke out of the trees 60 yards behind us, hell bent of catching the big 5x6.
The bull bearing down on us from behind was quickly disregarded, and as Brett stepped around the side of the pines to line up a shot, my dad quietly took a step to the opposite side of the tree and took the bull with an off-hand shot at 150 yards. The old bull humped and Dad put another one round into him ending the hunt. Much to our surprise, the old bull was the same one that we had passed up the night before drinking out of the water trough!
Fast forward a year and Wednesday morning I found myself alone, standing around a group of hunters I didn’t know, talking about what and where we were going to hunt on ‘Strawberry’. Emotionally, it was harder for me than I thought it would be because this was the first big game hunt of my entire life that my dad was not a part of. One by one, the other hunters laid claim to where they were going to hunt and asked me where I was off to. I kind of shrugged and Brett stepped in and told the group that he was going to show me around.
We took a short drive to an area called the ‘Buck Pasture’ and started to glass. We quickly found a good 6x6 but he had weak fronts and we decided to pass him up. While Brett was looking at another group of elk and I was glassing the opposite direction I heard a distinct whisper, “Tyler,” in the familiar voice of my dad. I turned half expecting him to be standing there but I only saw Brett looking at a group of elk. At that moment I knew that my dad was with me on the hunt.
The rest of the morning was a bust for elk but we did find a nice deer for my sister-in-law who drew one of the state deer tags. At the end of the morning hunt Brett told me he wanted to hunt the same patch of trees that we were successful in last year.
On the way back to camp we stopped in and asked the local sheep herder, Zorro, if he had seen any elk. The quick stop ended up being a 45 minute conversation of Zorro’s broken English and Brett’s broken Spanish. Zorro told us where a good 6x6 was but the highlight of the conversation was homemade tortillas fresh off Zorro’s sheep camp stove.
We headed back to camp, ate a couple of cheese burgers, took a nap then geared up to leave in the early afternoon.
At 2:30 p.m. we left camp on foot and started our quiet descent through the aspen forest. Brett was dealing with a bad case of gout in his right foot so we took it very slow. He was worried about my health because of a pacemaker that I had implanted late last year and I was worried that I would have to pack him out because of his gout.
After a couple of hours methodically sneaking through the trees toward a raspy bugle, we stumbled upon a couple of cow elk. We inched closer to them in hopes of seeing their bull only to find that we had snuck into the heart of the herd.
We couldn’t see the bull but he would bugle every couple of minutes and we knew he was close. We spotted a 5x5 eating near a few cows about 50 yards to our left when the bull that was constantly bugling decided to head straight toward us. He too, was a 5x5 but for some reason was one of the most vocal elk that I’ve ever encountered. He was constantly bugling and worked himself to within 60 yards when a bigger 6x6 bull came into view. The 6x6 was not quite what we were looking for but he was looking for a fight. He pushed the vocal 5x5 our way. I thought that they were going to run right into us. Brett said, “Get ready,” but the 5x5 broke to our left at 35 yards.
At this point it was starting to get late and we were still a long way from camp so we backed out quietly and tried to circle the herd we had just ran into. Only a few minutes later we ran into another smaller herd with a decent 5x5 and nine cows. Brett got a little excited which got me a little excited, but we decided to pass on this bull and start our trek back to camp.
At this point the constant barrage of competing bugles was all around us. We silently circled north and headed back to camp. After 30 minutes of creeping through the forest and a couple of bugles coming from the west we broke into a familiar clearing and saw a bunch of elk in the open on the ridge opposite of us. While we were glassing this herd we heard a close bugle directly behind us.
Brett turned and quickly said, “Shooter bull, get ready.”
We both knelt down and dropped our packs as we waited for the big 6x6 to clear a few scrub trees. He pinned us down at 75 yards for a moment but once the bull on the hill behind us bugled, he turned and started to rake some buck brush with his horns. He then headed into the trees that we just came out of and we knew that he was going to pick up our scent. Once he hit the trees and picked up our scent, he started on a quick walk down hill. Brett told me to shoot him when he walked through a small opening in the trees.
A few seconds later the bull was a hundred yards away walking through the opening and I hit him in the left front shoulder. The bull instantly recoiled from the shock of bullet and headed down the hill at a trot on three legs. I missed the second shot but put an insurance round into him and he was down but not out. With darkness quickly descending the last thing we wanted was to leave the bull overnight. I walked down the hill to finish him off but he jumped up and headed out.
I was sick. I thought that I had just lost the bull of my dreams.
Lucky for me, he only went a hundred yards before he piled up again and I anchored him with a final shot. By this time Brett had grabbed our bags and walked down to meet me at the bull. We laughed, high-fived, and even hugged. At this point Brett told me that place where I stood and shot my elk was only 20 yards from where my dad shot his elk last year. My dad shot his elk facing north and I shot mine facing south. The flood of emotions was too much. I was glad that it was dark so Brett couldn’t see me shed a tear in memory of the last hunt we shared with my dad.
I love to hunt elk up close in the timber.
Why do you think hunting/fishing is important in today's modern age?
Hunting and fishing allows us to reconnect with the earth. Man kind has been hunting for sustenance for millions of years and for the short time that we're out in the wild, we allow our natural predatory instincts to come to the surface and help us harvest game for the dinner table.
What is something you would like to share with non-hunters out there?
A lot of non-hunters view hunting as unethical and cruel. I believe that it is unethical and cruel to allow animals to be raised in a small pen their whole life.
Any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
Thanks for putting this all together and trying to reach a different demographic than most outdoor writers.