The Phantom Bull Makes a Mistake
Bowhunting for Trophy Elk in Utah
by Layne Larsen
I have found that if I really want to do something in life I can, not because I’m great but because I want it and have the desire and work ethic to accomplish it. I wanted a successful Wasatch Archery Elk hunt so bad that I could taste it, but I knew that it wouldn’t be an easy feat. For months beginning in May I began to research the Wasatch Elk unit and what my options were. I scouted, spotted, and tried new areas. Every week my wife and I would choose somewhere new and go to scout out water holes, new areas to see if there was any elk sign, and if there would be any great places to put my trail cameras. Every week, multiple days, days in and days out I thought and researched about this hunt trying to pinpoint the perfect area that would grant me the most success.
After many weeks of trying to narrow down this huge unit that I had been blessed to have a tag in, my frustrations were getting the best of me. One night while discussing my concerns with my wife, she said you already know where you should go. She was right - I had been combing through this Wasatch unit over and over and over trying to come up with a game plan while out my front door was the beautiful Mt. Timpanogos and a canyon I had grown up hunting in. My brother, dad and I had killed many animals up there and it was an area that I knew I could have success in.
One morning while spotting in American Fork Canyon with my little boy Cael, my dad, and brother we found ourselves almost giddy at a bull we had just spotted a few canyons north of us. It was beautiful. This was one of the biggest bulls I had seen up American Fork Canyon for a long time. That bull hooked me - I was obsessed. I scouted every area surrounding it, continuing to try and find its water holes and pattern this 7 point. But he eluded me weekly. I couldn’t put a pattern on him, week after week I tried and I found other bulls and I had some great back up waterholes that I had some beautiful bulls hitting but I could never get that 7 point to come out of the shadows of darkness.
And then opening morning came and it’s like the feeling of your first football game, the rush you get when your name gets called over the speakers - but this was better, it was opening morning of my once in a lifetime elk hunt and I was sick. Butterflies in the stomach sick and the anticipation was driving me crazy! We had made a game plan to spot and stalk some elk we had put to bed the night before. My brother-in-law Shane and I rode our dirt bikes up the ridge to get in closer and my brother and dad were down at camp where they could spot multiple canyons and talk us into one of the elk.
As we were assessing the situation and where the elk were we just knew it was too thick and we were too far apart to try and make a move on any of these elk. As we were talking on the radio my brother Gary said, “Layne I found him!” The mysterious 7 point elk or the Ace in the Hole as we had called him at home had finally shown himself, he was headed down the canyon following three cows. My brother never took his eyes off of him and he guided us into the bottom of the canyon where there was a large opening and we were hoping to be there before he and the cows came through.
While we approached the opening we could hear the elk making their way down. We were about 100 yards away and the cows were going crazy and then that beautiful elk bugled in the cold morning air and it was like angels singing on high! We listened for a few minutes trying to get a glimpse of the majestic beast and all I saw was his rack through the quaky trees and I started to get that adrenaline rush back, he was so close, I couldn’t screw this up. We watched him from about 150 yards for several minutes and then watched him bed down.
After looking at our options and communicating with our spotters back at camp we got into position. If we had it figured out right and everything worked (the elk god’s were looking out for us) I would have a 15 yard shot at the bull of my dreams that had been a ghost in the darkness all summer long.
As I got into position above the bull’s bed my brother-in-law went in from the bottom of the canyon and just slowly pressured him out of his bed. I could see the tips of his antlers coming over the top of the ridge in my direction. As I drew back I felt as though my heart was going to jump out of my chest or I was going to throw it up - either way I was in the perfect spot to put Ace in the Hole down if my nerves didn’t get the best of me. He reached the 15 yard spot and STOPPED, broadside, and then looked over in my direction. I touched the release and prayed that my arrow hit where I had put it. As the arrow pierced his side he crashed down the canyon and out of sight. My brother came onto the radio and said he had his eyes on the bull. He ran about 120 yards and laid down. After what seemed to be the longest hour of my life we worked our way towards the bull following what looked like a massacre of a blood trail, to find the big 7 point bull down!
This phantom mysterious bull has been the most interesting and complex bull to hunt. I had seen him early in the summer and I worked my butt off trying to find him and being able to finally put my hands on his horns was the most rewarding feeling ever! He officially scores 380 ¾ gross P&Y and is by far the greatest thing I have ever worked for.
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