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The Idaho Elk Journey: "Living in the Mountains" (part 2 with pictures)

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Continued from: http://www.njwoodsandwater.com/topic/2277-the-idaho-elk-journey-preparing-for-the-trip/




So I arrived back home late last night. I thought coming home would feel good, but after seeing Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming in a short period of time, it wasn't fun at all to arrive back in NJ.



Day 1 of the trip takes us back to Thursday the 19th of September, when my brother, Andy, and I left very early in the morning to board our flight at Newark. After a layover in Dallas, we arrived in Salt Lake City Utah around mid day. We hopped in our rental car and made our way up into Idaho to meet Dan. After seeing some of the mountains, I began to wonder just what I had gotten myself into. lol I joked about sending our gear back and turning around. 


After meeting Dan to get all the gear we had shipped, Andy and I were supposed to go to the trail head and spike camp there, waiting for first light to head in to base camp with our stuff, but he thought it would be better if we crashed at his house for the night since darkness was quickly approaching and the road in was not the easiest of roads especially for a rented Dodge Avenger.


So we stayed with Dan and his lovely family in his gorgeous home and ate a hearty dinner and breakfast before making our way to the trail head.



Day 2 finds Andy and I at the trail head gathering up all of our gear for the 3+ mile hike into camp. While we both had two packs and heavy loads,  Andy had well over 120#. The only way Andy could get in his pack was to lay it on the ground, get in and then have me help pull him to his feet. But eventually we had ALL our gear on our backs and were making our way up the trail.


It took us about 4 hours to climb up and down those three miles, from a starting point of around 5,000 ft in elevation to a high point of 8014ft and then finally arriving at base camp snuggled in there around 7,200 feet.


We had seen our first ever pronghorns though, and also heard a bull moose calling for love. And the scenery was gorgeous, so even though legs were burning, we were having the time of our lives.


When we finally made it into camp, we setup our hammocks and re-organized some of our gear. As we were finishing up and getting ready to try an afternoon hunt, we happened to look out across one of the drainages and spotted a herd of 9 cows and 1 bull feeding in a meadow about 1 mile away and up around 8700 feet.


We thought about going after them but light was fading and even that short trek would take us way too long, especially on weary legs from the grueling hike in.


Instead, we decided to glass the herd and the rest of the meadows we could see. That's when we discovered another herd about 1.5 miles away and up around 9,300 feet. This herd was close to 40 elk and had one monster bull and a couple satellite bulls all trying to get in close enough to steal cows. 


Finally right on time at 8pm, Dan arrived, carrying Jon and Tom and their mounds upon mounds of gear. Pillows? Combs? and laptops!? Oh MY!!!! I don't think we took any pictures, but imagine a polaris ranger covered up like this:

Jon and Toms stuff.JPG



After explaining the elk sightings, we cooked some dinner, enjoyed a campfire, jokes and finally all went to bed.




DAY 3 I awoke to realize just how comfy my hammock was that first night. Down to freezing temps I was snug as a bug and actually overslept. But Andy and I both woke up in time to see the guys were glassing the herds from the night before. They had both shifted on the mountains to new locations as they headed for daytime timber. You could faintly hear as the herd bulls from each group tried to reign in their cows.


After some discussion, we had plans set for afternoon hunts. Dan, Tom and Jon were going to head up after the larger group and Andy and I were going to head up to try and intercept the smaller group if we could. Andy and I were set to bivouack up there.


Then the plan changed a bit and Dan decided to join us.


Since Dan was not prepared to bivouack out that night, we actually split from him after glassing a great draw that looked like it could be where the one group had come from. He decided to hunt that and Andy and I continued on.


Andy and I finally got to a flat on the backside of the mountain and setup our makeshift camp. The only way to hammock camp that night would have been to put ourselves on top of tremendous elk sign, so we backed off to the edge of a cliff and went "to the ground" which isn't nearly as comfy, but can be done. After setting up camp, we headed off to finally hunt for the first time!


Before we could reach the tree line, we had a young 5x5 pop up over the top of the mountain and start heading right at us. I spotted him first, so we were able to freeze like statues, but we were caught in the wide open. He stared at us for a couple minutes, wondering where these two new small pine trees came from. Eventually he lost interest and continued to walk at us. He started off about 300 yards away and was about 500' higher in elevation. Finally he hit a depression on his way down and disappeared long enough for Andy and I to hustle towards the cover of some pines.



After we setup, I began cow calling and within a few seconds, he was on a string coming to us. He hit about 70 yards away and locked up looking for the cows he heard.


In all the excitement, I broke rule #2 of calling.....It was too open behind us and around us, he expected to see a cow. Andy was further up into the timber and watched him come by a little closer, but still just out of bow range. The good news was, he never spooked, just got nervous. We had the wind the entire time, he just never saw the cow he was expecting to see.


After that encounter, we decided to slowly still hunt up to a better location. We reached a better spot and called for a bit. We could hear bulls on the other side of the mountain though, so Andy decided to go up and over. I was content with the spot I was in, and I was still feeling the effects of all our hiking, so going up over the top of this 9300 foot mountain was not in my legs or plans.


My soreness paid off! A big bull came out across the drainage and started screaming. I started cow calling and screaming back at him. I could see he had two cows with him as well. Eventually an even bigger bull came out above him and lip bawled him right off that mountain side. He took his cows and headed down. I still thought it was way too far for an elk to cover before dark, but I was wrong.


As I was standing in some pines on the edge of a small park that was the top mouth of a drainage, I began hearing cow mews. I thought I might be going crazy, because there's a bird that sounds a lot like cows too. So I stood there, bow leaned against the pine, not expecting any more activity....When suddenly a bugle screamed through the timber right on top of me. I peaked out and there was that really big 5x5.


He was walking towards me at what I later ranged to be about 52 yards. He started to turn into the timber, so I cow called hoping to get him to come right to me. BIG MISTAKE! What I didn't see was the cow off to the other side of the timber about 80 yards away. I had no cover on that side, so when she pinpointed my cow call, she pinpointed me! She stared at me for a short time and decided I was not a cow and not a pine tree, so she started briskly moving away. She must have taken the bull with her because that was the last I saw him too.


First hunt though and we've already had bow range encounters.



Andy also had a close encounter on the other side of the mountain when he called a bull in close, but couldn't lay eyes on him due to how thick it was. They talked back and forth until dark probably within 30-40 yards, but never saw each other.


We finally met back up and hiked back down to our bivy setup. It was a WINDY night, but we stayed pretty comfy in our setup. Though there was one scare that turned out to be funny in the middle of the night. Dan had spotted a big mountain lion right behind Andy and I on our way in, so I guess I went to sleep with visions of mountain lions dancing in my head. The bivy spot we selected looked very "liony" too. So sometime around 3am, I must have rolled over and grabbed Andys arm. When he pulled away, I grabbed tighter and pulled back and then we both started struggling and fighting what I thought to be a mountain lion leg....We both woke up freaking out, but once we realized, we laughed for about an hour before we finally fell back asleep. We also heard a bull screaming in the meadow about 100 yards away from us in the night, that was probably around 1am.




Day 4


The morning of Day 4 found Andy and I up further into the timber for our morning hunt as we dogged a bull that kept bugling. Sounded like he was trying to gather up some cows, and it sounded like the big bull I had seen the night before. It was a steep hike and it was certainly a struggle to keep up with him, we kept with him though, until finally at one point, we could hear he was close, but the wind swirled and we never heard from him again. That was around 11am.


We went further up so we could glass some other spots, and also regain radio reception with base camp.


When we finally did regain radio, we learned that Dan, Jon and Tom had driven the UTV up to the flat where we were bivouacked so they could join in on the fun.


We were already running low on water, so we took this opportunity to take our water bladders back down the mountain and refill.


For the afternoon hunt, Tom and Dan went over to the spot I had sat the night before and Jon, Andy and I went up and over the mountain.


Tom and Dan could hear the elk again, but across the canyon this time.


Jon, Andy and I spotted elk moving up the mountain across from us, so after some debate, we sidehilled around and tried to cut them off, but the wind wasn't quite right, so we never saw or heard from them again.


We all got back to camp as the rains were arriving.


Another night in bivouack for Andy and I, this one much more miserable since myself, my clothes and my sleep system got wet.


The morning hunt found all but Dan asleep. Dan made his way to the same spot I had sat the first night again, but down into the canyon a little lower. When we woke up, we could hear the bulls answering Dan and I thought about hurrying over to the area to get behind Dan and call them through him, but wasn't sure how he'd feel about it, so we stayed put.


This is when Dan had another one of our bow range opportunities. The larger bull stood about 15 yards away and downhill like a treestand shot, but Dan needed two more steps. Suddenly the bull turned and left. I was glassing the bottom and actually watched them leave up and over the opposite valley so I realized Dan had been busted. And I'll tell you what, that bigger bull was really nice. I couldn't count points at that distance, but he had good length and mass. The other bull was just a raghorn.


Dan came back and we decided to break down spike camp and give this area a rest.


Jon and Andy were going to go up and around again, so we actually left them there to make the trip easier, but Dan, Tom and I decided we'd hunt down near base camp for the afternoon.


Wind was kicking again.


After a change in plans, it ended up just Tom and I hunting while Dan relaxed and fished near camp. Tom and I got dropped off and made our way in about 3/4 of a mile to the mouth of a drainage where we had heard a lot of bugles. We had discussed it in the morning and even though the prevailing wind for the day would be wrong, we figured we could wait for the thermals to give us what we needed. We ended up having to wait outside this drainage for a few hours before the thermals finally gave us the wind we needed. It was perfect though and the plan nearly came together. After watching some mule deer feed above us, we finally started getting bulls to answer our calling, but it was just too late. By the time they came out, they were still too high above us and we were running out of shooting light. Rather than risk ruining the spot, Tom and I backed out quickly.


We all spent the night in base camp.


Day 5


The next day we glassed elk again in the AM, figuring out a game plan for the PM.


Jon and Andy went up after the one giant bull on the far mountain and planned on spike camping down below. While Dan, Tom and I went up into a thick timber flat across from camp. Dan and I took turns calling in a few setups, but the wind was too swirly, so we eventually backed out.


We still had light left though, so Tom and I decided to hike out around to a cattle trough I spotted on the hike in. It had elk sign all around it and some nice rubs, so we went over there. I bugled and chuckled twice, and then Tom took over with cow calling behind me. Felt like a great setup.


Nothing happened before dark, but when we came back to camp, Dan said we had riled up two separate bulls right near camp. One was right up in the timber flat where we had hunted earlier and the other was directly behind camp.


We wouldn't have had the right wind for either of them, so it's no wonder we never had anything come in.





Jon was using Andy's satellite phone from their bivy camp, talking to his wife, when he learned of a winter storm warning for our area. Forecasts were calling for 6-12" of snow in elevations above 6000' starting around 6am. We had already been lightly snowed on while up in some of the higher points around 9000'. And base camp is above 7,000. So we were guaranteed a wintery mess if it didn't miss us.


When Dan, Tom and I learned of this, we realized we had to get Jon and Andy out of their bivy camp and back to base camp. Dan's UTV is not good in the snow without chains and the trail in and out is far too dangerous to risk.


So Dan picked Andy and Jon up after they broke down their camp and brought them back to base camp.


We'd spend the night here and see what morning brought.


If snow came, the hunt was over. We'd have to pack up and leave before the trail became impassible.



DAY 6: The hunt is over


Unfortunately another phone call in the morning and the start of heavy snow did push us off the mountain.


We broke camp and packed everything down. It wasn't a fun decision, but a necessary one.


So that was the end of our hunt.


We made it back to Dan's house and decided we'd go to Yellowstone the following day. We ended up seeing two grizzly bears, hundreds of bison, a lot of elk and old faithful. We also ate some delicious food, and it was fun, but still not like getting bow close to elk.


The next day we packed up everything that had to be shipped and relaxed.


I still really wish we could have hunted the last 5 days that we were planning on hunting. But you can't control the weather.



Here are just some of the pictures we took. I'll add a lot more as I can.


Andy glassing a large herd of elk.


Elk 2013 9.jpeg



Dan and Tom making their way towards the draw where all our bow close elk encounters happened.


Elk 2013 1.jpeg



Elk 2013 10.jpeg


Coming down from the top.

Elk 2013 11.jpeg



Spike Camp for Andy and I.


Elk 2013 13.jpeg


Elk 2013 16.jpeg


Elk 2013 14.jpeg


Tom and I making our way towards the mouth of a great drainage.


Elk 2013 17.jpeg


Jon and Andy headed up after the big herd bull!


Elk 2013 18.jpeg


Elk 2013 2.jpeg


Elk 2013 3.jpeg



Ominous clouds looming!

Elk 2013 19.jpeg



Elk 2013 20.jpeg

Snow is coming!

Elk 2013 22.jpeg


Snow is here.


Elk 2013 21.jpeg




Elk Crew 2013 L to R: Dan, Jon, Tom, Matt, Andy.

Elk 2013 15.jpeg

Edited by Matty
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Sunset on the Great Salt Lake (looking towards Antelope Island).

Elk trip 2013 1.jpeg


Driving towards the mountains.

Elk trip 2013 3.jpeg



Elk trip 2013 2.jpeg


Andy at 9300'

Elk trip 2013 5.jpeg


A very tired me.

Elk trip 2013 6.jpeg


Looking back towards where we had seen a bighorn ram.

Elk trip 2013 8.jpeg


Beautiful view.

Elk trip 2013 9.jpeg


Grizzly bear in Yellowstone

Elk trip 2013 4.jpeg


A Yellowstone Bison

Elk trip 2013 10.jpeg

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Great pics and tutorial Matty. It's all about the adventure, coming back with something is the bonus.

Memories for a lifetime.

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Thanks for sharing Matty.. I hear ya about coming back home to Jersey... I say the same thing.... 


You guys had a great trip that you'll always remember. Looks like some beautiful country...


 So when you going back? :)

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Thanks guys. I probably have a ton more pix to share, just have to get them organized.


It really was a great trip and I hope to try and do it again next year.

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WOW, what an awesome trip.  The pictures and story are great, thanks for sharing them with us.


It stinks about the weather and the loss of days but it still looks like you had a great time with some great friends.

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Wow man, what an incredible trip and pictures! Lot of great memories there to last a lifetime and I'm sure you're already planning your next trip out there! It's such amazing country and a beautiful getaway from NJ! Thanks for taking the time to write it all up dude, I felt like I was there with you guys! :up:

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 Wow Matty, that was an excellent read and a great adventure/hunt you guys had. Even though there was no kill, you guys have those memories as trophies that will last a life time. Thanks for sharing. I would love to do something like this before the lights go out. :up:  :up:

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Matty when I lived in Idaho for abit it is mind blowing to witness the endless wilderness .. A lot of guys don't understand how the elevation hammers you.. Definitely a unique trip.. Coming to this state is always hard to take..



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Awesome trip and pictures. Sounds like you guys had fun and that's what it's all about.

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Thank you for sharing!  Beautiful pictures and a great trip.  Sometimes it's pushing ourself to take the adventure and to live it, that make coming home with tag soup not so bad.  Incredible adventures are worth it.  You'll go back and you'll get one.

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Thanks all. Really was amazing to get out there and finally go on my dream hunt.  I'll do it again, I have to. Having the trip cut short left me so fired up to keep going. I can't get elk off my brain now.


I still have a lot of pictures and even a tiny bit of video to share, but I just haven't had a chance to add it yet and not all of it's in my possession. Unfortunately, most of the time I was so "in the moment" and in hunt mode, that I forgot to take video, but I have a short clip where you can hear a bull bugling back at Dan in the distance. (Can't see the bull, but can hear him)


I also have a little footage of a nice herd with a couple good bulls, but it's from a long ways away. Those were eventually the elk we got into, but the first night was the only time I actually took any video footage of them. The rest of the time I forgot.

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Congrats on doing the trip Matty, sounds like a great time. Now you've got a problem because you are going to want to go back every year. Do it now when you're young. Wish I started taking those trips earlier in life. Your writing made me feel like I was back in the Rockies, thanks. If you're like us, you've already started preparing for next years trip.

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