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Trophy Elk Without The Trophy


Editor’s Note: Jim Stephan of Cody, Wyoming has been a member of the Mossy Oak Pro Staff for the last 10 years. He moved to Cody, because of the tremendous hunting opportunities the area provides. According to Stephan, “The biggest advantage of living in Cody is that you can hunt some kind of critter there 12 months of the year. I hunt antelope in September. As winter comes on, I hunt elk, deer and bear. In the spring, I hunt ducks, turkeys and predators. So, if you love to hunt, find a job in Cody, Wyoming.”

stephan-Day2-2Out here in Wyoming, elk season usually starts September 1 and ends in December. The best way to find out what areas are open. and when they’re open for archery, muzzleloaders, and modern rifle is to go on the Wyoming Game and Fish webpage. It has that information available every year. Usually, in September, there are still a few regions that open up for archery and a few areas open up for rifle season. Before I start, let me explain. Although I've had some close encounters, I haven’t successfully harvested an elk in the last five seasons. One of the reasons is because I haven’t drawn a tag, since drawing a tag for a trophy elk area isn’t easy. You can buy general tags for public land, but you better pack a lunch and take some popcorn. You’ll see a lot of characters and many hunters on public lands. I put in for a trophy bull area this year. My odds were 1 in 1,800 for drawing the tag. I didn’t need the meat, because I have a freezer holding 3/4 of a buffalo in it. A trophy elk hunt is many things for many people.

stephan-Day3-3A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to draw a tag for an elk trophy area. I was super-excited about the hunt. But about a month before my hunt, the State of Wyoming decided to open its first-ever wolf hunt. My heart sank when I heard that - not because I have a passionate love for wolves, but because the area I had drawn to elk hunt in is prime wolf hunting country. We went up Thursday afternoon and started setting-up camp. Elk and wolf season opened on Saturday. Friday we went out and began scouting for elk. I already had scouted this area in July when I first learned I had drawn a bull tag for this trophy-hunting area. In the region I drew, only 25 bull tags were available for hunters to draw. The locals call this area the Sunlight Crandall area. For a resident, the chances for drawing this tag were 1 in 1,500. For a nonresident, the odds were much higher. I couldn’t believe that I was drawn for this tag the first year I put in for the draw.

We were hunting on a couple of horses. On Friday morning before the season started, we rode about 4-5 miles back into the back country before the season opened on Saturday. We left the horses behind and followed a ravine up to a nice meadow where we had scouted and discovered many elk trails, droppings and rubs. When we got up to the meadow, I fired off a bugle, and I heard a huge bull bugle back to me. At that point, I had all the information I needed to know for our opening-morning hunt. So, we backed out of the area - not wanting to spook the bull. We had seen no sign of any other hunters. When we returned to camp, we felt pretty confident that we could go into that same meadow on opening morning and have a really-good chance of taking that bull.

stephan-Day2-4The next morning we rode back up to the meadow, left our horses and got into position to call in the bull. Just as the sun was beginning to break over the mountaintop, my hunting buddy asked, “Do you hear that?” I listened carefully, and I could hear a sound that I thought was a cow bell dinging. We used our binoculars to look above the meadow into the draw going higher up into the mountain. We spotted some free-range horses that people had turned loose. They had put bells on the horses to help find them. I whispered, “You’ve got to be kidding. I can’t believe those horses are going to ….” Before I could finish my sentence, my buddy started tapping me and saying “Shooter bull, shooter bull.” As I took my eyes out of my binoculars and started whispering, “Where, where, where?” my hunting buddy said, “He's coming straight at you.” I raised my head up just a little, and I saw this beautiful 7x7 bull moving straight toward me. He was one of the most-magnificent bulls I ever had seen in my life. As soon as I saw him, I had visions of him hanging on my wall.

When I first put my range finder on him he was 750-yards away. “Get ready, get ready,” my hunting buddy said. So, I took my pack off, laid it on the ground, got in a prone position and prepared to take the shot. By now, my buddy had the range finder and said, “The bull’s at 520 yards.” Sudden, the bull stopped. My buddy started cow calling to the bull, but the bull was totally focused on those horses moving across the mountain. I told myself, “I'm not taking a 520-yard shot at this bull. He's too big. I only have a head-on shot. The chances of missing and wounding him are much greater than the chances of dropping him.” That thought had just barely crossed from one side of my brain to the other side of my brain when the bull wheeled, ran and vanished into a creek bottom. I told my buddy, “Let’s go. We have to try and close the distance and get a shot at that bull.” We saw him crossing a meadow. So once again, I pulled my pack off and got set-up to take the shot. Again, the bull vanished. We waited there for a long minute. Finally, we saw the bull crossing over a ridge top about 600-yards away. He turned and looked toward us, let out a bugle and then dropped over the ridge. I never saw him again, but we hunted hard. We saw so many people who were out wolf hunting that when we did see elk, the animals were gone almost as fast as we had located them.

When the hunt was over, I was pretty depressed. I had drawn a tag to hunt a trophy bull, and I had a trophy bull in my sights facing me. Of course, you always second guess yourself about, “Should I have taken the shot or not?” I felt confident I had made the right choice not to shoot and possibly wound the animal. Although, I didn’t leave this trophy area with a trophy bull in my truck, and I don’t have that trophy bull hanging on my wall, almost every time I start to go to sleep, I see that bull and his massive antlers. That recurring dream becomes more intense every year when elk season arrives here in Wyoming.

To learn more about hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ new eBook, “Bowhunting Deer: Mossy Oaks Pros Know Bucks and Bows” – go to . You also can download a free Kindle app that enables you to read the book on your iPad, computer or SmartPhone.

For information on making jerky from your elk and other big game animals to provide a protein-rich snack, you can download a free book from

Tomorrow: Mossy Oak Pro Jim Stephan Loves to Hunt Antelope

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