We booked our trophy elk hunting trip after I made the decision I wanted to do a western big game hunt with 3 generations of my family. My father, Doug at 69, was not too old to withstand the rigors of a hunt and my 14-year-old son, Colin, was just coming of age to be able to handle it. I also knew I wanted my brother Phil to join our hunting party.
We knew we wanted a fair chase hunt, but we also wanted a chance for all of us to be successful. Colin found The R & K Hunting Company in Utah. The Cooperative Management Wildlife Unit (CWMU) philosophy they use to ensure available mature animals really captured our needs and gave us all tags at the same time. This was really a once in a lifetime opportunity.
After booking our hunt, we spent 13 months preparing for the hunt. It was fantastic for the four of us to get together regularly to shoot our 7 mm mags. Our hunt finally arrived! After all of our preparations we were ready to head for the Morgan Camp in the Wasatch Mountains. When we arrived we loaded up, headed out on Polaris side-by-side ATVs, and could not believe the landscape with the beautiful fall colors of reds and yellows on the side of the mountain.
The cool thing was that we were there as three generations of Hartgerinks and all of our guides and those taking care of us were mostly all family as well. We can’t say enough at how well we were treated by them. Thursday morning arrived and boy, were we excited! The food prepared for breakfast was fantastic and we couldn’t wait to get back out on the mountain on that crisp, clear, beautiful September morning.
Cody, my guide, and I headed to the far south of the 15,000 acres to an area called the Salt Bowl. Apparently, some bigger bulls had been spotted there and we were just the guys to be able to withstand the terrain and physicality required there. We made our way through drainage in the dark and headed toward our destination when we started hearing our first bull bugling. It was only 6:30 in the morning. Unfortunately, this bull was up on national forest property, so not a bull we could hunt where he currently was, but we wanted to get a look at him.
We set up on a ridge and started calling. It didn’t take long for the mountainside to come alive with elk. This herd was huge and I was getting pretty excited about the prospect of how big he might be. We had elk all around us responding to Cody’s calls. At seven elk come crashing down the mountainside like a freight train and then they pranced into the clearing below us. About this time we caught a glimpse of the herd bull coming out into a clearing 500 yards up the mountain. We finally both spotted him with our binoculars and thought he was a big 5 or 6 point.
He was bigger than any bulls we had seen the night before so we decided it was worth continuing to try to draw him to us. About this time, I received a call from my dad that “Colin just shot a huge 6 by 6!” Papa was excited and I was ecstatic! I couldn’t imagine how Colin was feeling at the time. Here he was out with his own guide and he had just shot an elk.
We continued watching the herd and finally were able to pick up our bull with the spotting scope. It became evident that he was at least a 7 by 6. Now we knew we had to hunt this bull.
We did some more stalking amidst the amazing terrain located where our bull had bedded down. We formulated a plan to come back that afternoon when the Elk were moving again. Arriving back at camp, I learned that Colin and dad had gone with their guides to opposite sides of a bowl where elk had been spotted before. Colin and his guide were able to see that one was a nice bull, most likely a 6 by 6. They were on top of a ridge and could see where the bull might come into a clearing. Colin set up with his tripod while sitting on the side of the mountain. Bob started calling. The bull came into the clearing and Colin made a perfect shot at 175 yards. I was absolutely elated that not only had Colin been successful but that he was able to do so with his Papa at his side immediately after the fact. This was why we had come out here to hunt as a family – to make lifelong memories! Come to find out this was the biggest animal taken so far this year by one of the youngest hunters R & K had ever had.
We had a fabulous homemade lunch and were ready to hit the trail again. Cody and I had a 7 by 6 waiting for us up on the mountain. Back up to our designated kill zone, we were anxious to hear if our bull was still there. Around 4 p.m., he bugled once letting us know where he was and it sounded like he was moving away. Cody made the decision to cow call and we could tell within a few minutes he was coming back down toward us.
We spotted his cows starting to make a move toward the next ridge over. They were well over 500 yards up, so we immediately jumped back behind our little ridge and sprinted up mountain. After sprinting as hard as we could for close to 150 – 200 yards, we stopped and started to calm our breathing and bringing our heart rates under 200 beats per minute. After about two deep breaths Cody pulled up his binocs and realized that our bull was on the move and we had maybe 5 seconds to make the shot. He urged me over to my rock and said, “That’s him.” Cody spit out the range at 225 yards and I loaded one in the chamber. Cody made a cow call to stop the bull and I made the shot. He went about 20 feet and stopped, looking right up at us. I went to shoot again and there was a click as the second bullet hadn’t chambered and so I quickly bolted another into place and put another round into him. We both watched as he fell over.
We were thrilled. Than the adrenaline started surging and I couldn’t quit shaking. Had we not both been in shape, we would not have been able to sprint up the ridge and there is no doubt this bull would have turned into a ghost and disappeared with his cows. After 30 minutes of pure joy and excitement in which I made some calls to my boy and then to my wife to thank her for allowing us to come on this fantastic trip, it was finally time to go see our bull.
We were elated to see he actually was a 7 by 7! Since this was the highest bull Cody ever harvested at around 8500 – 9000 feet, we quartered and deboned him for the rigorous hike out. About three hours into our field butchering of this fantastic bull, Cody received a text that my dad had just gotten an el
Come to find out, two guides had gone out with dad that evening with Colin tagging along. That is one of the coolest things about The R & K Hunting Company. Once a guide tags out his client, they work with the next hunter and his guide so that everyone has a successful hunt. Anyway, they spotted a nice bull over 1,000 yards away that eventually moved into around 200 yards. After about an hour, the bull came out into the bottom of the valley at a full charge and continued up the ridge until he was just 30 yards from Papa. At that moment, dad popped up from the tall grass and fired free hand. He made four shots on the bull with Colin videotaping his every move before the elk fell. The guides called it “self-defense” as he was coming in so fast and furious. After two previous unsuccessful elk hunts, Dad now had a trophy elk to hang alongside his trophy whitetail and trophy mule deer. This elk turned out to be a 6 by 6, with the width and overall size comparable to the 7 by 7 I had taken. The day had gone from incredible to downright amazing! We had come to Utah with hopes of being successful. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined the victory we ended up having on Sept 26. To have three generations of Hartgerinks including both my son and my father all harvest elk on the same day was beyond words!
As successful and lucky as we were that day, we started the next day out with strong optimism that my brother Phil would likely tag out soon. After a couple of days, he saw a 4 by 5 bull along with a couple of others but he was looking for something a bit bigger. The great thing was that all the guides were working real hard for Phil and not once was there any pressure for him to settle and tag out.
By Monday Oct 1, time was running out for Phil to take an elk. After our success on Sept 26, we were really beginning to feel as if our luck had run out. That afternoon, however, as we came around a ridge we all saw the bull at the same time. Phil and his guide jumped from the Ranger and grabbed his gun from the rack. I quickly ranged the bull at 180 yards. Calvin whistled and the bull turned sideways. Phil made the shot and nothing happened. He calmly reloaded, fired another round and this time it appeared as a good hit. The bull moved another 20 yards where Phil took a third shot which dropped the bull in his tracks. We were elated! We started making the calls to let everyone know of our 11th hour achievement. The dedication by all the guides at The R & K Hunting Company was amazing! We were 100 percent satisfied that we had made the right decision to come select R & K as our outfitters even before Phil shot his elk. It was icing on the cake that we all got to take a trophy home!