October marks the beginning of rifle season in most Western states. When my friend Alan called me to tell me that he bought a leftover cow tag in Wyoming, I knew that I had to make the trip. As I am from Virginia, I hop on every opportunity I get to go out West. Last year, we went to hunt pronghorn outside of Casper, Wyoming and tagged out on public land in two days. This year, we went to Sheridan, Wyoming to hunt elk in the Bighorn Mountains. For me this trip was simple; film, create content, and learn the basics of elk hunting for when it would be my chance to draw an elk tag. This was a learning opportunity for all of us, but little did we know what we were getting into.
As we landed in Wyoming, all we could see was snow for miles; we knew this would make for a challenging hunt. After we settled in the first night and scoped out our unit on OnX Maps, we made a drive south to explore the Big Horn Mountains with miles of snow covered pines in every direction. We turned down a snowy forest service road and immediately slid into a ditch. This was not what we planned for our first day of hunting. The Forest Service Ranger gave us some fair words for attempting to drive down that road without chains, but was able to pull us out. It was clear that our access would be limited in a rental truck without chains and appropriate tires.
We were limited to two access points, both of which required 5-mile hikes through the snow to reach a glassing point 1 mile from the timber. We knew we were up for a tough hike when everyone else pulled up with a horse trailer. So, this is what we did for 5 days. The hunting pressure was intense. Each ridge to the left and right had two or three hunters on it. We had no issue with finding mule deer, but the elk were nocturnal. They would only show themselves right before the end of shooting light and by the time we could get our glass on them, it was too late. Unfortunately, we were not able to fill our tag.
Hunts like this test our patience and loyalty as hunters. It is important to note that hunting is not always about the harvest. Yes, it would have been nice to harvest a cow elk, but the lessons we learned on this trip were just as valuable. Although many would be disappointed by not harvesting an elk (and we were, a little), in my book this was a successful hunt. I learned the ins and outs of elk hunting, the dos, and the don’ts. To me, this is just as successful as harvesting an elk. At Safari Club International (SCI) we do not just preach the success of the hunt. We preach the process of the entire hunt and hold sportsmanship at the top of everything that we do.
For new elk hunters or those interested in going out west – pack more than you need, study your maps, and practice hiking in elevation if you can; that way, you can hike in further than the average joe. If you can make the drive out West, definitely have the right tires! I learned that the weather can easily throw your hunt off track and the hunting pressure will make it even more challenging. With the proper equipment, you can reach more access points to get away from the pressure. Public land elk hunting is not for the weak, but I can’t wait for the next adventure!
– SCI Content Creation Intern Christopher LaCivita, VA Tech Class of ‘22