I was invited by some lifelong Idaho residents to hunt elk with them last year with a bow. It's a high country backpack hunt where we park the trucks on the desert floor at 6200 feet and then hike up and camp and hunt all week between 8200 and 10,500 feet. I passed on many nice bulls within bow range last year due to the reality of packing them out, but we never called any 300+ bulls into bow range.
This year, I saw there was a very limited rifle tag for the unit and the chances of drawing were way less than 5%. On my first try, I drew. My bow hunting partners had been putting in for this tag for 25+ years and both have drawn one time (which is about the average).
The hunt began Monday, October 1 and I made the 11 hour drive from Oregon on Saturday with my 75 year old Dad who did not have a tag. I figured there were good odds he would be able to work a cel phone if I fell or had some other issue in the high country. My Dad is in great hiking shape, but unfortunately herniated a disc last year and he can't pack more than about 10 lbs without severe pain. We spent Sunday morning behind the spotting scope with one of my bowhunting partners who only had time to drive over and help me opening day when he expected I would shoot my elk. We spotted several hundred elk up in the high country. We picked a canyon and strapped the packs on Sunday afternoon for a 3 mile uphill pack in 72 degree heat. I not only had my gear, but my Dad's mat, sleeping bag, food, etc. My pack was well over 60 lbs and I developed my usual heel blisters from hiking uphill.
We found a nice sagebrush covered knoll at 8500 ft. elevation with bulls bugling in the canyons around us. We spotted 3 decent 6 points from camp that evening, 1 which I would eventually shoot on Wednesday.
The coolest, and scariest part of the trip happened on Sunday night. My Dad, being 75, had to crawl out of my massive 2 man tent (i.e. barely big enough for my fat ass) every 2 hours to pee. I had just fallen asleep, having listened to the bull I eventually shot bugle every 5-10 seconds (literally) from 9 p.m. until 11 p.m. We were in Grizzly and wolf country, but I forgot all about them with this elk bugling just 500 yards from our tents in the bottom of the draw. Just after Dad crawled back in the tent, we had a bull bugle just 10 feet from the tents. It scared the hell out of us as we thought we would be stomped by his herd. We made some noise and they ran off.
At daylight, the noisy 6 point was on the ridgetop across from us and my buddy talked me out of going after him. I guessed him to be a 310 bull and they had seen a 400 class bull in this same canyon just a week earlier bow hunting.
We hiked to 10,000 feet and covered all of the areas that held elk. We spotted many elk that day, and more than 10 branch bulls, but nothing bigger than the 310 class bull.
On Tuesday, my hunting partner left for home and it was just me and my 75 year old Dad. Dad informed me he would hunt the lower stuff with me, but he didn't want to climb anymore up to the high stuff. I realized at this point that I was really going to have a problem if I killed a bull more than a few miles from the truck. My blisters had opened and I had wrapped them well and was taking pain meds to hunt all day. If I'd have had a few strong-legged guys with me, I'd have held out for a 340 plus animal, but realized I would need to get really lucky to find that class of bull in the lower country.
We spent Tuesday down at 6200 feet driving the desert and checking out the 500+ elk hanging on the private property where the owners didn't allow hunting. Saw a few 340-360 class bulls, but they stayed on the private stuff.
Wednesday morning, I had decided I would shoot the 310 bull if he showed himself again. I drug my Dad back up that canyon and to my luck, spotted a herd of 20 with a nice 6 point at the 2 mile mark. There was no way to get closer to the herd as they were out in the open sage and so were we. I wasn't up for a belly crawl, so hit him with the rangefinder and discovered he was 594 yards away. I looked at my Swarovski TDS reticle sticker on my Z6 scope and saw one of my hash marks was perfect for a 583 yard drop. I got into prone position with the bipod down and let a 250 grain Accubond fly from the .338 Remington Ultra Mag. I was bedded down so solid that I actually saw the bull fall in the scope. It was a true boom/flop and a perfect hit in the front shoulder. I recovered the bullet under the far hide.
The pack was a bitch to say the least. Got my Dad to carry my gun out on the first pack as I took the antlers and front shoulders (85 lbs). I then made 2 more trips to get a hind quarter each time and my Dad was a trooper carrying the straps and loins out for me. It was a great hunt. I could hardly move the day after but it was worth it. The bull green scored 312 5/8's. He has a broken G4 on his right, or he would have been really close to 320. I'm already excited for my Oregon elk hunt in 2 weeks!
Good luck to all of you still out chasing the big one!