Weapon: 300 Winchester Magnum
Distance: 363 Yards
Ammo: Nosler 190gr. Accubond
Outfitter/Guide: Bugle Basin Outfitters
Score/Size: 6×5. Approx. 290-295 SCI
It was a cool and crisp September morning in the East Kootenay’s of BC and for the first time in my life I was looking for a bull elk with a tag in my pocket and a rifle in my hand. As a California native and the rarity of seeing elk in the wild in my area, seeing a large bull has always been a special experience. Coming into this hunt and knowing I was going to be hunting the rut, I would be just as excited to hear a bull elk bugle in person for the first time in my life. And then it happened…
The journey started 3 days prior for my dad and myself as we packed up the SUV and our Rockbox Trailer leaving Northern California for 2 full days of driving to our destination of Cranbrook, BC, 1,045 miles away where we would meet our outfitter, Alex Smutny of Bugle Basin Outfitters. Fortunately the drive up was easy and we had no issues crossing the border.
After meeting Alex and having our obligatory while in Canada Tim Horton’s breakfast, we headed up Highway 95 and to the base camp that we would call home for the next 8 days. As we left the pavement and the road turned to gravel, the beauty level of the scenery just kept increasing around each bend and reached the pinnacle when we pulled into our campsite. Our cabin sat alongside Coyote Creek with the beautiful Kootenay Rockies serving as a 360-degree panorama, my jaw instantly hit the dirt with awe. All the while, looking at how big the country was and the steepness of the terrain, I knew this hunt was going to be hard work and I was hoping I had trained enough physically for it.
We spent that first day meeting the guides, setting up our cabin, and scouting the area. That night, Alex came to me and said that he had been back in a basin the week prior and spotted a really nice 6×5 bull and he would be joining me and my guide Jeff Kopak for the first day of the hunt.
Sleep didn’t come easy that night as I was shaking with excitement and nerves as I waited to get the hunt started the next morning. We woke in the dark and had a hearty breakfast before trailering the horses to drive up to the basin we were going to hunt. The ride in started under the cover of darkness and the trail ventured through a narrow opening, through several creek crossings and into a larger valley. In retrospect, the ride in wasn’t super difficult, but for a city slicker that has spent less than 10 hours of his life in the saddle, it was quite nerve racking at the time! Especially when my horse decided those many creek crossings needed to be leapt over in a single bound! After a couple hours we tied up the horses and went the rest of the way in on foot. Almost immediately we were on top of elk. The trail we were following was littered with tracks and droppings and shortly after we were glassing 4 bulls, a 5×5, 4×4, and two spikes, along with a at least a dozen cows. Alex and Jeff verified quickly that there wasn’t a 6th point so we kept moving down the trail without spooking the herd. After about another mile in, and completely soaked from walking through the wet morning dew, Alex and Jeff stopped in their tracks and told me to listen. There it was coming from deeper in the basin, I had just heard my first bugle, and it was coming from right where Alex had spotted the 6×5 bull the week before on his recon trip. We pushed up the trail and over a little ridge at a quick pace to where we could see across the drainage. The creek in the bottom below us was heavily forested and remained that way until further up the hill as it opened into a grassy hillside. As soon as we set up our spot, we could hear the bull bugle again and observed at least 10 cows at the top of the tree line across from us and a handful of mule deer much further up the mountain. Every so often we would hear him bugle and every time I saw movement through the trees my heart would race, each time proving to only be a cow. At that point, I think the shaking from being soaking wet gave way to shaking from anticipation. Then came dead silence. And more silence. In fact, the silence lasted for about 2 hours. We watched the sunlight move into the basin, the dew dry up, and my outer layer come off because I was actually getting warm. Alex told me to just hang tight, we knew where he was, he knew which way the wind was going to shift and we were in good position. Not to mention we had all day to wait him out. During this wait I could almost feel my eyes getting heavy with drowsiness, after a couple of head bobs, all of sudden my heart was sent racing again as we heard his loudest bugle yet.
Almost immediately, the cows started to get up and move about the mountain side. Alex and Jeff then caught glimpse of the bull through the spotting scope pushing his line of cows from the rear. We tried to scoot down the side of the hill to close the distance as we were pushing close to a 400-yard shot. By the time I was able to get set up he was straight across the basin, being ranged at 363 yards. Once he was verified to be a six-pointer, Alex told me to get on him. I had him straight away in the crosshairs and by this point, I was shaking with excitement and getting ready to shoot when all of sudden a loud noise comes in from above. Here we are, deep in the Canadian wilderness at the moment of truth, and a helicopter comes buzzing directly over us. The three of us all looked at each other in disbelief thinking this would surely spook the herd. The chopper floated over the peak and out of site, but luckily the elk didn’t make haste. By now, the bull had cleared into an opening so I set up again and squeezed the trigger of my 300 win mag only to shoot high over his back. The next shot stuck him hard and made him stumble. It was a little further back on the body than I had hoped as confirmed by Jeff who had him zoomed in through his spotting scope. By now, he was nearly into thin patch of pines and I rushed one last shot hitting him towards the hind as he snuck into the trees.
We all took off back down the trail to get ahead of him so we could catch him on the other side of the small thicket. Jeff and I raced up the hill to close the distance to about 100 yards and Alex ran up the other side of the trees to find the blood trail and see if he had fallen. The wait seemed forever and doubts started creeping in that my shots weren’t good enough to stop him and my biggest fear as a hunter, losing an animal, would become reality. Not long after Alex radioed that he found blood and could hear him moving towards us, the bull then came waddling out of the trees and stood in the clearing. I lined up my shot and plugged him, setting him off on about a 60-yard roll down the hillside.
I was so stoked and could not wait to get my hands on him. We climbed the steep hillside and reached this beautiful giant with heavy antlers and battle scars down his back and side. We estimated him to fall into the 290-295 class. It was smiles and high fives all around. This was exactly what I had come to Canada for and had sealed the deal on the opening morning. For me personally, it was more opening day magic and a trend I hope continues. This is my 3 rd year big game hunting and my 4 th species taken on my first ever day hunting them – this Elk, California Mule Deer (2013), BC Moose (2014), and Idaho black bear (2015).
The hard work began as it took us nearly the rest of the day to clean, cape, and pack this big boy off the mountain. Thankfully, once we carried everything down the hillside, we had 3 horses to help do the majority of the heavy lifting! We rode it all the way out and returned back to camp at dark where my dad was waiting for us after his day of hunting. I kind of nonchalantly asked him how his day of huntingwent as I jumped into bed of the truck. He was telling me it was ok and that they had glassed a nice buck. Then I lifted the antlers out of the truck and said “mine was pretty good!” I’ll never forget that look on his face!
The trip was already a success and I still had a mule deer, black bear and wolf tag to try and pursue. My dad still had an elk and muley tag himself.
After taking the next morning off to care for the elk meat and hide, we started scouting for mule deer in the evening. The previous day, in the moments after I fired on the elk, we saw two very nice 4×4 muleys race up the mountain, too far out of range to do anything with. We decided against pursuing them as we figured the kill site would surely have a big mean ball of fur on it, so we worked up to a different area that had some big open steep slides. That night we glassed a very solid 4×4 towards the top of the slide and decided later on that we would go after him in the morning. Jeff and Alex came up with a plan of attack and warned me that this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. They were absolutely right! This turned out to be the steepest and most physical hike of my life. Jeff and I climbed for what seemed like days, passing does, forkies, and spikes like they were going out of style. There were a lot of deer on this slide and none too spooked either. We finally got a glimpse of the big boy through the spotting scope and we pin pointed his location. After an even steeper climb, we came up over a cliff where he had been hanging out below and we were sure he still was. Expecting to see him less than 50 yards away, we peaked over and “poof” he was gone, vanished into thin air on a wide open slide. Even though we came off that mountain empty handed, just knowing that I was physically capable of climbing it was reward enough. The views were amazing and I just tried to soak it all in, for me, hunting isn’t just about pulling the trigger, it’s the entire experience of being in the wilderness where few people go. It’s an experience that too few people will ever enjoy and everyone should. I can’t wait to experience this one day with my young son.
I’m pretty confident that I would have filled my mule deer tag had we pushed up into the high country basins each day, but I told Jeff after that day that I would like to make the number one priority finding my dad an elk. Despite some drastic temperature changes throughout the week, the next few days we saw plenty of game as Bugle Basin’s area seems to be loaded with it. We saw quite a few more bulls, including two very large 5x5s that will probably be wonderful 2016 models, but never could find one with that 6 th point. They responded to our calls which was just as awesome as actually seeing them.
Every day we encountered immature mule deer bucks and whitetails. By the looks of what we saw, the buck to doe ratio is very good in the area and with some good moisture and horn growth, there could be plenty of legal bucks the next couple years.
If you are looking to put your physical skills to the test, this area of BC was a fantastic place to experience and I would highly recommend giving Bugle Basin Outfitters a call. We had comfortable lodging and the food they cooked was always delicious and plentiful. I’d like to thank Alex, Jeff and Ray
of Bugle Basin for providing my dad and me with a great wilderness adventure and a trip we will never forget. British Columbia is a magical place and I hope it won’t be long before I can step foot there again.
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