I hunted in the White River National Forest near the Flat Tops Wilderness during the second rifle season. I had licenses for bull and cow elk, buck deer and black bear. The season started out warm and very dry which made it noisy to get around on the crackly aspen and oak leaves. According to some outfitter friends the packout during the first season was about 50% of normal (and the second season proved no better). The region depends on significant snows in the high country to spur migration and the first such event didn't happen until midway into the second season. Hunters were hoping for snow. My first day was uneventful as I climbed the mountain and down through dark timber, retracing routes I hunt every year. I spooked an elk and a couple deer while still hunting but didn't actually see a game animal all day. I had decided to break up my hunt (and the physical wear on my body) by renting a horse every other day or so. The next morning I rode down through aspen groves, up onto a big ridge of spruce-fir and down again into a valley where I could sit and glass several square miles of country. It was here that last year I spotted seven bulls in different groups, and was hoping to get lucky again. Sure enough, I spotted a bull, then another, on a distant mountain. At 1.3 miles away I couldn't see antlers or count points but they were bulls by their size and color. One was feeding, the other just standing sentinel in Gambel oak that was taller than they were. On the steep rocky slope it would be tough to get close without their detecting me first. I worked a plan to ride about 2.5 miles around the back of the round mountain where the bulls were, hitch my horse in a saddle below the top, then slowly move down to where I'd seen the elk. The going was rough where I had to lead the horse through a quarter mile of heavy oak brush. From the saddle on the mountain I couldn't see the elk but knew that stealth and patience would be key in moving down the hill. It wasn't long before I stopped at a spot about 100-200 yards above where I'd seen the bulls. It was noon, and I sat in the hot sun glassing the area and snapping a few pictures. Here's a view back to where I'd glassed the bulls, on the right follow the finger of oaks up to where they meet the aspens. I figured the elk had bedded down and that I might have to wait 'til the end of the day before the animals would show themselves. Unfortunately, there's a streak of impatience in me that doesn't always serve me well. Thinking another spot 25 feet across the hill might give me a better vantage, I moved. A muffled grunt and a thump below me suggested I'd made a mistake. I decided to stick it out anyway, suffering the hot sun and miserly sipping the last of my water. I never did see those bulls again. By 6 p.m. the light began to change and I spotted elk at about 600 yards, angling their way up the hill toward me. I only got glimpses through the tall oaks but could tell there was a bull among two or three cows. I couldn't count points (a legal bull must have 4 points to a side) but could tell it was branch antlered and not a spike. Elk are big animals and can appear to leisurely saunter along yet cover a lot of ground very fast. Suddenly a cow moved across on a game trail right below. I wanted the bull. There was a narrow window through the oaks and I had to stand up to get a shot. That's when all hell broke loose and the elk began running, first a cow, and another, then the bull. Bang! I thought I shot high so I re-chambered and waited for the bull. Cow elk scrambled up hill to my right about 30 feet, and a calf darn near ran into me. I didn't consider shooting one because I couldn't risk losing a wounded bull. The scene quieted and I eased my way down the slope. The bull was down and took his last breath as I arrived, then he rolled down the slope to pile up against the oaks. The shot was a little high, shattering the scapula on the way in and slicing through down the heart on the way out. The shot from my Winchester 54 was at 42 yards, and the bull traveled 56 yards after getting hit. I used a .30-06, 200 gr. Nosler Partition handload. The 4x4 bull was my 24th elk in 28 years of hunting the area. It was a real chore getting the animal field dressed in the dark by headlamp. Alone, there was no way for me to move the animal on that slope, he was just too heavy to budge. It was 9 p.m. by the time I got the job done and back to the horse for a dark and moonless ride four miles back to camp. The next day I rode back to skin, cut up and bag the meat for packout by mules later in the day. Thankfully, the meat had cooled completely overnight. I'm lucky to have an outfitter set up near my base camp that packs my meat out every year. I had worked for this outfitter back in the 80's & 90's and they've always been good to me. The wranglers showed up just as I had the meat ready to go and four hours later it was hanging in a meat cooler down in town. Snow was in the forecast and I hoped to fill another license. With a foot of snow in camp at 8600', the deer were moving down but from the tracks, elk numbers remained slim for the several days I continued hunting. I did hear of more animals coming off the Flat Tops and staging in the timber a few miles from camp but I didn't see another elk. I encountered several groups of does but not a buck among them. In 2010, a large black bear ate part of my elk before I got it packed out so I was on the hunt for this guy as payback. I've had several elk chewed on by bears over the years. They apparently den during part of the day and then seek out downed game and gut piles. I had a good idea where the den was and worked my way into the dark timber looking. I found fresh tracks an hour or two old and followed for some time. I worked a predator call from time to time but saw no predators other than ermine and a pine marten. I expect the bear will be waiting for me next year. In the end it was a great hunt with lots of wildlife and great scenery in the high country I love. And, it doesn't hurt to have a freezer full of elk steaks. I'll be back next year. Hummer Wanna kill these ads? We can help!