Opening Weekend: Elk Hunting in Wyoming
Article contributed by WJ Liffick.
Elk season in Wyoming is a much-anticipated time. The air blows crisp and the leaves turn golden in north central Wyoming. Many hunters spend all year scouting and waiting for opening weekend.
My friend and I were ready. We had the tags and knew where to hunt. The previous day was spent finalizing details, as well as sighting in the Remington 700 .270 that we would be using. It was an old gun with many hunting seasons under its belt. It had a fixed magnification Redfield scope mounted on it and an old walnut stock.
The day started early at 3:30 in the morning. We drove out to the public land and started our hike into the canyon. The cool morning air chilled us, but as we continued to hike up the mountain our core temperature began to rise and before we knew it we were sweating.
When hunting in public land, one’s chances of a successful hunt go up exponentially the earlier you get to your spot and the farther in you can get. We hiked straight up the mountains for 6 or 7 miles until we finally found a good spot to sit.
It was on a mountain side dotted with dead trees that overlooked a vast green meadow. It was perfect vantage point. We settled down and waited for sunrise. As the sun peeked over the mountain and bathed us in its warm light, our excitement grew. We waited and waited, but the morning proved unfruitful in the aspect of taking an elk. As we hiked out, we realized that just being able to be out in the wild and enjoy a sunrise only made us more excited for the evening hunt.
That evening we set our sights lower down the mountain. There was no wind and the mountains were quiet. The only sounds we heard were our own footsteps as we walked through the trees and rocks. We hiked in several miles and set up right on the edge of a draw and started glassing.
As the evening wore on, there was no sign of any wildlife. It seemed as if the mountain had swallowed up all of the animals that usually populated its slopes. We decided to go back along the trail we had followed in and head out just before sundown so that we could go back and get some good sleep before the next day’s hunt.
We crested the ridge and headed down into an old creek bed filled with aspen trees. Just as we got to the bottom of the valley my buddy saw them; at the top of the other ridge was a herd of elk. We both stopped, frozen in our tracks, we hoped that we were not spotted.
The herd consisted of three bull elk and about thirteen cows. We carefully and slowly made our way back up the ridge we had just descended and broke our line of sight with the herd. We hurried up the ridge and cut around just as we got to the top. We had circled back up behind and above the herd about 200 yards away. My buddy got on the gun and set himself up, while I glassed the herd trying to pick out the largest bull.
Something didn’t look right. The bull we originally saw was much larger than the two I was currently looking at, two adolescent spikes. We contemplated filling our bull elk tag with one of these two bulls but decided to wait and give it some time.
The herd was peacefully grazing and oblivious to our presence. Finally the herd started to move back up the mountain, and then there he was: the herd bull. The 4X5 bull had been out of sight, off to the side the whole time.
My friend readied to take the shot. “BOOM!” The shot rang out, piercing the quiet evening air. The herd bull lurched, after a perfect shot right behind the shoulder.
Now the work began. Once all of the pictures and excitement was over we broke out the knives and proceeded to field dress and skin this elk. The sheer size of an elk is surprising once up close and personal, they are massive animals.
The sun was just going down and darkness, as well as the cold, were beginning to take hold. After we to skinned and quartered the elk we carried out both hindquarters as well as most of the shoulders the first pack out trip. We decided to leave the rest of the elk until morning and continued back to the cabin to rest up. It had been an amazing hunt. We had just dropped a nice bull elk on the first weekend of elk season.
The take-away for the trip was three fold. First, I learned that the most important piece of gear is your footwear. The old saying that if you take care of your feet they will take care of you spoke loudly to me on this trip. We easily covered thirty plus miles through mountainous terrain, and without good footwear, we would have never been able to harvest an elk. A good pair of waterproof boots and nice comfortable socks will save you a good amount of pain and discomfort on the mountain.
Secondly, I realized how important it is to have a good set of knives and packs to get the meat out of the backcountry. Because we had a good set of butchering knives and external frame packs, we were able to efficiently cut up the meat and pack it out. This equipment saved us hours of work and helped up preserve as much meat as possible. Invest in a good knife and make sure to bring a bone saw and knife sharpener as well. Having good equipment goes a long way when you are in the middle of nowhere.
Finally, and most importantly, hunting on public land is challenging, but can also be some of the most rewarding hunting you can do. Sure, you have to get up earlier, hike farther and work harder, but ultimately you can end up with some of the best hunting experiences possible. Hunting public land elk in Wyoming has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my hunting career, difficult but more than worth it.
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Recipe: Elk Steak Sandwiches
- 4 Elk backstrap steaks cut about 1/2in thick
- 2 Avocados
- 1 loaf of hearty bread (We used home baked soda bread but any kind of good bread like a sourdough or ciabatta will work well just make sure to slice it thick enough)
- 1 onion
- 1 lime
- First heat up a skillet on medium heat.
- While the skillet is heating, salt and pepper your steaks. I put some generic steak seasoning on the elk as well.
- Once the skillet is hot drop a good size chunk of butter in and let it melt.
- Once the butter is melted put in the steak.
- Flip the elk every minute until it is rare or medium rare (about 4 to 6 minutes).
- Right before pulling the steaks out throw some more butter in the skillet and on top of the steak to get a nice crust going.
- Remove the steaks and place one steak on a thick slice of bread. Top with sliced onion, avocado, and lime juice.
About the Author
Like most others William grew to love the outdoors at a young age hunting and fishing with his Dad in South Texas. Growing up in Texas he was blessed with many opportunities to hunt and fish. He quickly turned that passion into a job in High School when he started guiding Whitetail and waterfowl hunts in central and south Texas. While attending college at Texas A&M University he acquired a passion for fly fishing and continued guiding hunts in his spare time. Since then he has traveled all over the U.S. hunting and fly fishing. His appreciation and love for the outdoors only grows after each hunting expedition or fishing trip.