Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Friday, February 22, 2013

RMEF Makes Memories for First-Time Teenage Elk Hunter

I recently had the privilege of taking 15-year-old Dylan Lytle from Afton, Wyoming, on his first elk hunt as part of a program sponsored by the RMEF’s Jackson Hole Chapter and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. Dylan did not disappoint. He gave us both some of the fondest memories one could ask for. He killed his first elk—a five point bull—with his grandfather’s Remington 760 Gamemaster .308. The icing on the cake was that Dylan did it all just hours after his father Jim Lytle, an RMEF member, arrived home from military training in Alabama.

Dylan and his first elk
Dylan took hunter’s safety while his dad was in Kuwait with the 115th Fires Brigade as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Dylan and Jim hunted the last two years together, killing a couple two-point mule deer bucks and making some great memories. Jim was surprised and grateful when he heard Dylan was going to have a chance to hunt this year, despite Jim himself being out of state.

However, our first weekend campout in Wyoming’s Gros Ventre Wilderness near Jackson Hole produced nothing—not even a glimpse of an elk. That did not deter Dylan’s resolve. He was more than willing to put up with horses, mules, camping and me for yet another weekend in the woods.

The following Friday afternoon, I set up camp while Dylan struck out on an evening hunt. He saw two elk, both of which were on the move and did not offer a shot. Saturday morning we saw no elk, or even fresh tracks, in the 7 inches of snow in the drainage bottom.

That evening we decided to hunt a ridgeline between two drainages. We spotted a lone bull and started our stalk. All of a sudden we saw two bulls running beside us. Dylan set up, while I cow called. The bulls stopped momentarily, but then moved off. A spike appeared following their tracks, and a cow call stopped him at 250 yards away. Dylan shot, but missed.

Bright and early the next morning, we headed up a little drainage where we saw two spikes and a couple of cows. They sensed us and moved uphill into dense tree cover. We proceeded a few yards ahead, and there on the hill above us, we spotted an elk’s butt sticking out from behind a tree at no more than 250 yards. We crawled a bit to our right to see more of its body and confirmed it was a bull.

Dylan set up using the shooting stick we’d picked up on the trail earlier, aimed, then deliberately and methodically squeezed the trigger. The gunshot echoed through the canyon as the bull bolted through the trees and out of sight. We climbed the steep hillside and found an obvious bloodtrail in the snow. Five hundred yards away—deep inside a twisted downfall—the bull lay dead from a shot to the lungs. We field dressed the elk, cut it in half, and began the multiple-hour pull/slide down the hill to the meadow below. Maneuvering through the downfall was tough, and the steep slope and wet, slippery snow had us on the ground as much as we were on foot. Then we hiked to camp and brought the horse and mules back to the meadow. Camp robbers entertained us while we boned out the elk. One even landed on Dylan’s arm.

Since Dylan’s riding mule was laden with elk meat, he had to hike back to the trailhead. But he didn’t complain. He knew that was just part of the deal.

Along the way I asked Dylan what he enjoyed most during our five-day hunt. “Dragging the elk halves off the mountain,” he replied. In other words, he cherished the hunting, not just the killing. And that’s the way it should be.

By Steve Kilpatrick, Jackson Hole Chapter

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