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As a kid I used to read my Dad’s books about bow hunting for bugling elk in the Rocky Mountains. Added to this, my father’s best friend had been an elk hunting guide for years in the west and filled my head of what seemed like outrageous stories of close encounters with giant critters. It seemed so mystical that such a huge, majestic animal could be possible to actually call into bow range. I made my mind up that one day I would save enough money to go on what I considered a once in a lifetime bow elk hunt.  As we all know life gets busy, a busy career and juggling a fistful of kids in a small mid western town doesn’t go well with a burning desire to head west elk hunting.

As any serious elk hunter knows, the place to go for a once in a lifetime elk hunt is Broadmouth Canyon Ranch.  Broadmouth Canyon Ranch is owned and operated by Rulon Jones.  He used to play pro football for the Denver Broncos.  I remember him quite well, as he often ruined my team (The Browns).  Rulon started Broadmouth Canyon Ranch after he retired from a long career with the broncos.  I have several friends that had hunted at Broadmouth and all had a great time there.  I had looked at a lot of free range elk hunts and elk hunting outfitters and was just concerned with the success rates that are offered on public ground throughout the West.  I think the average success rate on a guided elk hunt in the west is 30%.  Some guys are able to go on a hunt every year, but I knew that I would only get one shot at getting a good bull elk.  I have heard lots of stories of guys that have been on several guided elk hunts and had never even seen a bull elk.  I liked the idea that Broadmouth is comprised of exclusive private ground and the “guaranteed elk hunt” part didn’t hurt.  I will say that I was still a little reluctant to go on a high fenced elk hunt.  Around home a high fence area is not a hunt, small acreage with little to no vegetation, along with animals that don’t belong.  I looked in to some other elk hunting preserves in the west, but just could not find anyone that could offer the amount and the type of acreage that Rulon could. Not to mention the amazing bulls they pull off of their ranches year in and year out.  I really wanted to have the ultimate elk hunting experience in the Rocky Mountains with an experienced guide and I truly felt that Broadmouth Canyon Ranch was the only place that could fit the bill.

It was by pure chance that I ended up booking a trip at Broadmouth.  I was in PA on business and had caught wind of a big outdoor show that happens each year in Harrisburg.  Me and a work buddy headed down to check things out one morning.  If you have never been, this show is gigantic.  There was everything there, guided elk hunts, hunting outfitters, elk hunting ranches, elk hunting trips, etc.  Long story short, I found the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch booth and was surprised to meet Rulon and his family there selling hunts.  They seemed like great, family oriented people.   I picked up their DVD and spent quite a bit of time visiting with Rulon.  I decided right then and there that I needed to do this.  I reserved a calendar date for the following year during the rut on Rulon’s Idaho ranch.  I had originally planned on the Utah ranch, but Rulon had mentioned the Idaho ranch and its’ proximity to Yellowstone National Park and the Tetons.  That did it for me, knowing that I could drive through the park and see the Tetons, then continue on and hunt at Broadmouth.  Upon returning home, I broke the news to my wife and was surprised how excited she was for me.  Probably more excited to not have to hear about wanting to go elk hunting for a while.

I started working out in the following months to get in shape for the years upcoming trophy elk hunt.  I Shot my Bowtech over and over, and became quite accurate out to seventy yards.  I decided on the Gold Tip arrows and of course the Rage two-blade broadhead. I was amazed how well the Rage flew and had read and heard good things about what they could do to an elk.

It seemed like a flash that 2009 came around.  A good friend of mine had decided to join me on my trip to Broadmouth.  We left home the first of September and were finally headed west.  All those books and stories I had heard and read were hopefully happening to me very shortly.  We spent a day touring Jackson Hole and nearby Teton village.  The next day we spent in Yellowstone national park.  This was the one place I have ever been to that surpassed the pictures my imagination had conceived.  There were huge towering mountains with solid pines below; the pines are broken up by huge green meadows and rivers.  We got our first look at elk that day. A big bull elk ran across the road in front of us, and instead of continuing on, seemed content to stare at the cars driving by, weird right? I wish I Had allotted time to fly fish, as there was a good hatch coming off on one of the streams.  We spent a night in West Yellowstone, and to be honest, I think I enjoyed it more than Jackson Hole.  Not so “yuppie” of a crowd.  The next morning we drove about two hours to Rulon’s Broadmouth Idaho ranch.  We turned off of the freeway and weaved our way through the local farms and fields and eventually hit gravel road that paralleled a beautiful river below.  I was told that the opposite side of the river was Shoshone Indian Reservation. This country was full of Sage and Cedar, and the hills seemed to be made of Lava rock.  We were scheduled to meet Tom Brewington at the lower end of the ranch at an older cabin.  We were a little late coming in, but tom had waited and was very enthusiastic to meet us.  You want to talk about a cool guy!  Tom has spent his whole life hunting, camping, snowmobiling and practically living in these mountains.  This was the type of people I had hoped to meet out west.  Broadmouth has two types of accommodations:  spike camp or the hunting lodge.  When I visited with Rulon at the Harrisburg show, he had shown me pictures of his unbelievable log hunting lodge.  It is remotely set in the hunting area and looked fantastic, but I had always dreamed of spiking out for elk, so I chose to stay in the spike camp. Tom is Rulon’s Head Spike Camp Guide, and after meeting with him, he let us know that camp was another ten miles in.  We jumped back in the pickup and away we went.  The scenery immediately began to change to heavy timber and Aspen trees as we climbed higher and higher into the Blackfoot mountains.  The pickups bumped along through creek bottoms and heavy timber stands, not your typical elk ranch by any means. We took one sharp turn and dropped into a heavily wooded, pine and aspen canyon.  In the middle of this amazing draw, a small meadow appeared with five or six white-walled canvas tents.  We pulled in and were immediately greeted by Allen the camp cook who also happens to be a world champion Dutch oven cook.  We were showed to our tents, everything was just like I had pictured.  The tents had wooden floors with a small stove and each hunter had a cot with a pad.  There was a very nice Shower house and outhouse, as well as a huge mess tent where Allen did his magic.  That afternoon we sat with Tom through a short orientation and he got us up to speed with what the elk were doing and other safety concerns.  We had just enough time to get sighted in before dark.  I was the only archery hunter in camp; the other three hunters in camp were rifle hunting.  Broadmouth uses an any-weapon type tag throughout the elk season. We had a fantastic dinner of Ribeyes and potatoes with peach cobbler for dessert.  Tom had a bonfire going for us, and we all relaxed around the fire in anticipation of what would come tomorrow, and as if on cue a lonely Bull elk let out a shrill bugle.  The bull sounded like it was close enough to be in camp.  Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep that night.

We awoke well before daybreak the next morning, and I was excited to hear that Tom would be my personal guide for the trip. We had chosen to head out on an ATV to eliminate as much scent as possible, the rest of the crew would be riding out on the horses.  We left just before daylight and entered the hunting preserve on a small two track.  After a twenty minute ride, we parked the ATV and sprayed down to eliminate any kind of scent.  The sun was just starting to come up and you could see the Tetons off to the east.  I had only heard that one elk bugle, and was a little worried that the elk weren’t too “rutty” when a chorus of bugles erupted in the canyon below us.  Tom flashed me a grin and sad “It’s on like Donkey Kong”. It definitely made me smile and it was then that it finally hit me; I was finally on the archery elk hunt of my dreams.  With a quick check of the wind, we were off chasing bugles.

We hustled down to an old logging road that sounded like most of the action was coming from. Tom had told me that a lot of the elk would use these old grown in logging roads to look for cows, so we set up an ambush downwind of the action.  The action was definitely headed our way.  We didn’t wait long to see my first bull elk.  A young four by five bull was quickly headed our way looking like he was not welcome where he had just come from.  Not far behind a huge bull was making an amazing gurgling chuckle to encourage the younger bulls exit.  The smaller bull came closer as the giant bull turned to attend to more pressing business. We hunkered down and tried not to move. At one point I thought I felt the bull’s breath on me.  The bull stopped at the footprints we had left and began to sniff in the dirt.  We must not have smelled that neat, because he spun and was gone.  At this point I thought to myself, where were the tame bulls that I had seen in Yellowstone?  We spent the next several hours trying to catch up to the elk with no luck.  We had worked our way deep into the bottom of a canyon.  It’s amazing how far you can travel while chasing these animals and the hour hike out was a little rough following Tom back to the ATV.

We got back to camp and ate lunch and exchanged notes with the other hunters in camp. Everyone had seen elk and heard bugles, but no one had drawn blood-yet.  After the mornings hunt, I needed a minute to let my legs rest and before I knew it Tom was waking me up from a deep sleep to let me know that it was time to head out.  Tom said he had been keeping an eye on some elk that were coming down to drink and wallow in the bottom of a deep canyon in the evenings. This early in the season the elk use wallows to cool off and cover themselves in mud to attract the ladies.  After another thirty minute ride, and good forty five minute walk we were in an elk hunter’s paradise.  We had followed an old game trail to a creek bottom that wound through a thick pine canyon. Tom is a great caller and pulled his bugle with a bull elk instantly responding.  We planned earlier to set up in a pine stand not far from a wallow, but never made it there.  Just like I had always dreamed of, here the bull came.  With a deep raspy bugle and huge brown rack, the bull couldn’t help himself.  We had to set up quickly in an aspen thicket and I quietly knocked an arrow on the Bowtech.  Tom quickly ranged a few shooting lanes and whispered the yardages to me.  The bull was moving quickly towards us, but saw the wallow and stopped to get dirty.  It was amazing to watch this bull flip mud thirty feet in the air.  We took advantage of the bull being distracted and quickly closed the distance.  We made it to about forty yards when suddenly the bull became alert and I knew it was now or never.  I drew back my bow and let the Rage fly.  Smoked, the bull spun and was gone in a flash.  Tom quickly reassured me that it was a good hit and that’s when I got the shakes.  Something I had dreamed about hundreds of times as a child had happened in a flash and it was almost overwhelming.  We waited to give the bull time to expire and just before dark we headed into the pines to recover my trophy bull elk.  He was piled up next to creek and he was huge!  I was amazed at how big the elk’s body was and blown away by the elk’s antlers.  We exchanged high fives, whooped and hollered and Tom took about five hundred pictures and radioed in to the ranch wrangler for some help in getting the elk out.  It was ten o’clock before we rolled back into camp with my bull in halves.  The guides met us with excitement and immediately went to work skinning and getting the bull hung up.  It was amazing to see how well they worked together; it was definitely not their first rodeo.  It is hard to put into words what an amazing experience that was to have been that close to a huge bull elk and to be able to harvest that bull with a bow and arrow.
I rode into Idaho Falls with Tom the following day to take the elk to a local butcher.  The shop was nice, and the butcher assured me that he would have the elk cut, wrapped and frozen in time for my departure.  Upon our return to camp we found that two more in our party had scored on trophy elk.  That night was one of the most relaxing nights of my life.  After another of Allen’s fantastic dinners we sat around a big bonfire and enjoyed a couple barley pops and swapped stories of the day’s events, all the while admiring the giant racks of the elk we had taken. It was amazing how close the stars seemed to be to us that night.  The next morning I was lucky enough to hunt along with my friend Steve and his guide Blake on horseback.  I never realized how fun it could be to ride the horses in such beautiful mountain country.  It gave me a small insight into the western big game hunters’ life.  After a long morning of playing cat and mouse, Steve took a giant non-typical bull that scored over 400″.  That was the icing on the cake to have taken a great bull and watch a good friend take such a huge trophy elk.  This was not a trip that would be soon fading from my memory, the good people we met, the food, the animals and especially the country.  Everything had been like Rulon had said and more.  I had just experienced a true world-class elk hunt and felt like I was one of the lucky few.  I would like to thank the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch staff for all their effort in making our trip a true once in a lifetime elk hunt that won’t soon be forgotten.

Dean Howard