By Bill Emigh ~
Serendipitous!! This is the word I’d use to describe my recent cow elk hunt in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, as a guest of the Wyoming Disabled Hunters (WDH).
My adventure started on a Friday morning in northeast North Carolina when my friend, Jonathan, and I embarked on an epic road trip to beautiful Wyoming. He drove straight through to Cheyenne only stopping for fuel, food, site-seeing and power naps. Our country is truly amazing and to see it from the passenger seat of a vehicle was euphoric to say the least.
We arrived Sunday afternoon at the Comfort Inn in Worland, WY, and met up with my guide, Russ Lundvall, his wife Ashlee (co-chairwoman of the WDH), and their amazing little girl. After the introductions, we got a run down of the schedule and then it was time to sight in our rifles.
Those folks in Wyoming take their shooting seriously and their ranges are top notch. Since my accident I’ve not had to shoot long distances, so it took some adapting of my shooting rig on my trackchair before I felt comfortable making a 200-300 yard shot. My buddy Jonathan was like a kid on his birthday at the shooting range. Ringing the bell consistently at 800 yards… wow! I was truly impressed.
The hunt was held at the Nature Conservancy in Ten Sleep, WY. There are 9200 acres of protected land there that is only open for cow elk hunts. The first few days of the hunt season there were reserved for the hunters from WDH.
We arrived in plenty of time to reach the ground blind that was set up a week earlier. As the sun began to rise, the Big Horn Mountains came to life. A buck antelope came within 30 yards of us. Then I heard the most heart pounding sound… elk bulging! To hear dozen of bull elk coming your way made every nerve in my body start to twinge. As it would be, the elk went a different way and the ground blind was no longer feasible. It was time to move.
The elk, about 250-300 of them, started to graze in a meadow a few hundred yards to our right, but they were down in a canyon. We needed to get within shooting range. Sneaking up on them proved difficult in my trackchair. Every time I ran over a rock I would’ve bet that everything within 10 miles heard it.
I’d had enough! It was time to hunt like a mountain man, so out of the trackchair and on the ground I went. The look of surprise and bewilderment on Russ’s face was priceless. Before he could
finish a sentence, I said, “Time to crawl, it’ll be faster and quieter.” That is how I spent most of my hunt… crawling or moving on my knees whenever I could or needed too.
We were able to get within 300 yards of the elk herd, but as luck would have it, not a single cow was alone. Never had a safe or ethical shot. We decided to pass on a few small calves because it was the first day and the elk were there. I’d get my chance for sure.
As we watched the elk, waiting for that split moment to provide a shot, the bulls bugled a few times and like a flash, the lead cow just doubled back and the herd disappeared into a canyon. Wondering what went wrong… did they see us, smell us, what??
We waited and then I saw it. At first I thought it was a small elk or mule deer. Just a flash of brown crossing the ridge, perhaps it was a mountain lion. It was! This wouldn’t be the last time a mountain lion showed its presence during my days of hunting.
After lunch we made a trip back to base camp and I got the honor of meeting Bobby Brubaker. Mr. Bobby donated his ranch in Ten Sleep to the WDH for elk hunting. He has a man watch the herd and report to Mike, the ranch foreman, and Charlie from the WDH. These folks go all out and do everything possible to make your hunt successful. Whether it’s elk, mule deer or antelope, they go the extra mile!
On our way back to the nature preserve we met up with Josh, the onsite manager. He confirmed the presence of mountain lions and gave us a thorough layout of the land. After, we headed to our afternoon setup.
As we approached the meadow, Russ and Jonathan decided to scout ahead while I waited in the truck. About 25 minutes passed when Russ snuck back to the truck to tell me a herd of elk was coming up behind us.
I was able to slide out of his truck and crawl to the back bumper. The elk were ranging in at about 200 yards and steadily moving in our direction. I tried to brace on the bumper but it was too high. I tried to lay prone but then I was too low. It seemed like an eternity passed while we tried to get me set up for a shot.
In the meantime, the elk had passed, so I had to crawl to the front of the truck. Then Russ decided to get on all fours and have me lay the rifle stock over his waist. This meant shooting from my knees. I’d never practiced shooting from that position, but I’d done it before my accident so we decided to give it a go.
As I scanned the herd, I arose from my butt to my knees and took aim at a mature cow elk. With crosshairs locked in, I began to squeeze the trigger just as my right leg cramped and gave out. It pulled me off target and my shot went high and wide. I may have hit a tree but the elk disappeared with a thunderous stampede. Russ and Jonathan diligently searched for any sign that I hit her. None was found but a lesson was learned.
With a few hours left to hunt, we moved towards where the elk had ran earlier thinking after a few hours they would be moving again. We were right!
Splitting up, Russ and I went one way while Jonathan scouted another. The crawl from the truck to the rocky ledge was full of elk droppings, sharp stones and other things that left marks. I still have scars from my hunt and I’ve been home over a couple months. It’s all part of the adventure that I’m proud of.
We sat on this ledge over looking a pond until dusk. The entire time we were there you could hear the elk and knew at any minute they were gonna show themselves. Once again the elk fooled us and it was now time to load up and head to base camp.
As we rounded the bend, just 100 yards from where we had sat for the past hour, there they were! Hundreds of elk spread over the hillside and across the meadow, but legal shooting time had ended about five minutes earlier. That’s ok… we’ll be back in the morning!
Kyle Tharpe joined us on the second day of the hunt. He has been helping the WDH for a few years by guiding, getting access to the shooting range in Worland and providing a contact for butchering. Kyle greeted us and presented me with an elk’s tooth, which is a symbol of good luck.
As we neared the Conservancy the next morning, we saw the elk herd from the previous evening. They were everywhere! It was too early to shoot, so as we waited we got me set up to shoot out of the truck. This is legal for those with a disabled hunting permit as long as the engine is not running. I just advise you to ensure that all safety aspects are checked. Be careful of the mirror and make sure the barrel is outside the vehicle.
As the sun began to rise, the elk got spooked by another mountain lion and took off, so we made our way to the preserve where yesterday’s herd was. Hours pass by with no elk within 800 yards except a few impressive bulls that were off limits. We scouted more areas of the conservancy and planned for the next day’s hunt.
On the third day of hunting we decided to use the trackchair and go out on foot instead of a vehicle. I let my three guides go ahead and scout as I slowly made my way up the road towards them.
We got to the area where the elk were the previous morning and it was time to shed the trackchair and we all took to crawling. We saw no elk, so we sat and enjoyed the fellowship that the good Lord blessed us with. As the day progressed the weather turned. Sitting in the mountains watching the snow move in was unforgettable. It added to the excitement of the hunt.
After a quick lunch break, we scouted the preserve by going up the mountain to about 7500 feet
and glassed the whole area. We decided to split up and stay in contact via cell phones. We dropped Kyle off in the area where we had seen the elk the previous morning, and we booted Jonathan out near where I had missed on day one. Russ and I went to the far end and watched where the elk had appeared from the first morning.
After an hour we got a text from Jonathan, “I got elk!!” Russ and I headed towards him without the truck. When we arrived to the spot, no elk and no Jonathan. Russ headed off to scout the ridge. It wasn’t until he came back that we noticed Jonathan. He had been camouflaged so well that he was part of the scenery. He informed us on which way the elk went so off we went.
As Russ went on ahead, I worked my way through some noisy landscape. I closed to within 50 yards of him and got the signal to stop. He had eyes on two elk.
The elk were about 350-400 yards out. After setting up to shoot, Russ informed me that one was a spike but he couldn’t see the head of the other. Without a good view, we couldn’t be certain I could take a shot. By the time I could see that the one was a cow, both elk had moved. As I shifted to realign my shot, they disappeared into a thicket and went down into a ravine. That was the end of shooting light.
The final morning of hunting was just Russ and myself. Jonathan dropped me off in Ten Sleep and returned to Worland to pack up the van and check out of the hotel. Russ and I headed to the Brubraker Ranch for the morning hunt. We had decided that noon was the cut-off hour.
As we made our way to the blind we were met with breathtaking views as the sun made its appearance. We saw plenty of antelope and deer but no elk.
Even though I didn’t tag out, I can say I enjoyed my dream to hunt elk in Wyoming. There would be no meat in my freezer but I have memories that will feed my stories for the remainder of my life. I have new friends that shared my experience and these same friends are family. I am eagerly waiting until I can apply for next year’s hunt.
I cannot thank the great folks from WDH enough. My life is forever enriched because of their kindness and generosity. I am eternally grateful to Jonathan for not only driving me to engage in my dream to elk hunt but for his friendship and encouragement. My hunt wouldn’t have been possible without the volunteers like Russ, Ashlee, Kyle, Charlie and Pat that gave so much of their time to enhance someone’s chance of success, but more importantly, to be there as moral support and to provide familial love.
“Whether or not your hunt is culminated by tagging out or not, I encourage every hunter to enjoy the opportunity and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you. Every hunt should be considered a blessing and not taken lightly. I wish everyone safe and successful hunts. May God bless you all.” ~ Bill Emigh