Last January I made plans to make, what seems to be, an annual pilgrimage to Idaho and hunt elk on a sheep ranch. Having been there before this is gentleman hunting at its finest and at my age it is the best I can do.
We have enjoyed wild game for many years as have many of our friends. One couple not only enjoys game, but they enjoy a homemade adult beverage made from grapes to accompany a meal of well prepared game. They are also excellent cooks and a week before the trip, there was a familiar voice on the phone saying, “I have a case of exquisite liquid made from grapes. It is yours for my yearly ration of elk meat.” We can hardly wait and the time table was laid and, of course, it is contingent upon a successful hunt.
We have made this drive before. It starts from Council Bluffs to Rock Springs, Wyoming and is 755 miles. With stops it is a full 12 to 13 hours. It is very weather dependent as east of Laramie is the Sherman Hill Summit that reaches an elevation of over 8,640 feet. We want to cross this spot in the daytime and hopefully when the sun is out. Driving in the clouds east of Laramie is not fun and it take some time to break out, but not until you get to Laramie at an altitude of 7,220 feet. After that it is smooth driving to Rock Springs.
After Rock Springs it is only a mere 320 miles to the ranch in Idaho. Now that does not seem so bad, but is almost a full days drive as you travel from Rock Springs to Jackson, Wyoming and then over Teton Mountain Pass. Now as a flat lander, this is a challenge. Going up is not a problem, but on the other side the road is narrow and winding going down hill. We go so slow and pull over frequently to let the locals pass. They all wave with one hand and a finger in the air. It must be a form of greeting.
At the ranch, we were greeted by the same people that have worked there over the years from the cooks to the guides, the manager, and the lodge dog. After settling in and shooting the rifle on the range, it was dinner and plans were made for the next morning.
We all have met a person several times that we really hit it off with and this is the case with our guide. When the reservation was made he was requested, and it was a pleasure to hunt with him again. . His son also guides at the ranch.
I was amazed this year at how the ranch looked. The sage brush had really grown and this made it very hard to spot an elk. When they are feeding on the grasses their bodies are hard to spot and you have to look for the antlers sticking up above the sagebrush. In some cases the sagebrush was almost to my shoulder and I am 6’2″ tall. We were hunting the first week in October and it was unseasonably warm. The ranch is located about 75 miles southwest of Yellowstone at an elevation of about 5,000 feet. We did not expect this kind of weather.
We drove along the ridges, then stopped and began glassing the areas below to the hill across the valleys. Our requirement is a young boy that does not have a low slung belly or any type of sway in his back. Also, I do not shoot big racks. I already have a bull that scored 380, and this is big enough for me. Our guide took us over to a spot on the ranch where he had spotted some young bulls.
With the warm weather, we felt they would be feeding and then stop around 10 to 11 a.m. to chew their cud. Elk have 4 stomachs like a cow. Then we would have a really tough time finding an animal till in the afternoon when they started grazing again. I had spotted a couple in a group of bulls that met what we were looking for, but our guide had said no to those animals as they had a broken antler. Pam said to him, “The people in Iowa will not know the difference.” With that in mind we continued scouting the ranch.
After a leisurely lunch we headed back out onto the ranch. Our guide had another place where he had seen some elk. We scouted the area all afternoon but saw nothing. Tomorrow was another day. We headed out before light the second day and moved over to the area where the small group of bulls were sighted. The grass mixed among the sagebrush plants was plentiful and we worked to find them.
Looking the group over, Pam spotted a good looking boy off to one side. He was about 300 yards out and we were not noticed. Moving down hill somewhat crouching among the sagebrush plants, we got within 200 yards and had a good view. A light breeze was in our face, and with that, we had meat to take home.
The lodge recommends Matt’s Meats in St. Anthony, Idaho to process the animal and they do a great job and will work with you on cuts. We like our burger in half pound packets and the two tenderloins divided into thirds. We used to do roasts and steaks, but all the people we give meat to prefer the burger and so do we. You have so much versatility from just plain burgers to casseroles and other dishes.