My First Elk by Craig Simpson
My elk hunt began by contacting Big Al McCarty of Chairbound Hunters in Wyoming in the winter of 2016. Al replied the next summer to tell me I was the lucky hunter to be picked to receive a Wyoming elk tag! Al explained he wasn’t comfortable with me using my .243 caliber rifle in Wyoming. With the rotator cuff tear to my right shoulder, I was not excited about trying to shoot a larger caliber rifle, but I was excited to purchase another weapon! I told my friend Pat Moore of Silent Ability that I was looking for recoil relief. He let me try his .308 with a suppressor. I have to admit I was a little ignorant as to what a suppressor was – and it’s potential. After shooting it, I was pleasantly surprised by the recoil relief. The suppresser had less recoil then my standard 223. I was sold on using a 308 and adapting it with a suppressor.
With such a short time period to purchase the rifle, we were under some pressure to have it adapted with my bite trigger and the suppressor. Fortunately I already had a cable, housing, and aluminum-machined bite trigger in my garage. With the help of Jon Fettig at Engineered Silence LLC, I purchased the gun, mounted the scope, and installed the bite trigger and suppressor. On top of all this, there were also two or three times Pat and Jon took off of work to help me sight in. I had everything completed with two days to spare, before I left for my hunt of a lifetime.
I made plans to leave Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 14, 2017 with my wife, Ann. I am no longer able to drive long distance because of a torn rotator cuff so she could drive. It was a good excuse to get away with her as well. The first day we rode 600 miles and stayed in a beautiful motel in Custer State Park, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, with an amazing view. We were up bright and early the next day and arrived in Wheatland, Wyoming. We met Big Al, Sharon, and Marv of Chairbound Hunters later that day, and signed all my licenses. We made plans to meet them at 3:30 a.m. the next morning. The first day the weather did not cooperate. It was raining heavy, with up to 30 mile-an-hour gusts. We drove to the elk hunting parking area, and for over an hour, we watched the rain fall and the sun rise.
After a while, Big Al made the decision that the weather was not even ideal enough to sit in the blind, and chances were not good that the elk would move. So, the plan was to go antelope hunting the remainder of the day. The antelope definitely did not want to cooperate with the high winds and were very skittish. We saw several nice bucks, but they did not offer a shot.
The second day the winds decreased and the rain had moved out of the area. We decided to go antelope hunting in the morning, and elk hunt out of the blind in the evening. Again, we saw quite a few antelope bucks, but no shooters within range. That afternoon we went up to the elk blind. I was so pumped up for my first opportunity to harvest an elk! My tag allowed me to harvest a bull or a cow, but I really wanted to harvest a bull. If it was big enough I would have it mounted for my trophy wall. Marv, Ann and I were in the blind. We sat there for 3 hours and watched a beautiful sunset with a few mule deer off in the distance.
The third day we decided to do the same thing; antelope hunt in the morning, and elk hunt out of the blind in the evening. I don’t know what it was, but the antelope were nowhere to be seen. Word must have gotten out that we were in town (lol)!
We had a beautiful drive to the elk blind. We must have seen a dozen antelope and a few shooters, but unfortunately they were not in my harvest area. While sitting in the blind with Marv and Larry, it was an uneventful evening until an hour and a half before sunset. Then, “Eagle Eye” Larry tapped us on the shoulder. Larry points straight out and whispers, “we have elk straight out at 509 yards!” I pulled up my scope and had elk in the crosshairs for the first time in my life. How exciting! It was a 3 x 3 antlered bull with a cow and a calf. Unfortunately it was too far away and was on private property that we did not have permission to hunt. We glassed them for about 20 minutes hoping they would move down within shooting range and on to our hunting property. They never did, and that’s why they call it hunting. We were still very excited and very encouraged we were able to see some elk from the blind.
The fourth day was like the first day. The weather was not cooperating. We had a light drizzle and extremely high wind. Like my father always said, “Craig, you’re not going to harvest anything sitting on the couch.” The game plan was for me to get up on the ridge looking down into the canyon. Fred and Larry would work the heavy timber in hopes of pushing some elk off their beds and up the canyon for, hopefully, a shot for me. While waiting for Fred and Larry to get in position, Al was glassing a nearby mountainside and spotted a beautiful elk. It was a 1050 yards away though. But let me tell you, when you put your crosshairs on something that large, even though it’s that far away, it gets your heart pounding! Getting the elk up and out of their beds was definitely the right thing to do, but the elk had other ideas about coming up through the canyon and offering me a shot. In all, there were 13 cows and calves counted, and one small bull, not counting the big one we saw off in the distance. On the way back home that evening, we decided to do a little antelope hunting in hopes of spotting a shooter, and getting into position for a shot. We did spot some nice antelopes bucks, but I wasn’t comfortable with the high winds and how far my bullet might drift horizontally. The day ended with a lot of stories about the elk that we saw that afternoon.
On the 5th day we made the decision to go to the blind just as it was getting light out. We hadn’t tried that yet with rain and high winds. As we rolled up slowly to the blind it was already 10 minutes past legal shooting time. I was in the backseat of a 4-door pickup prepared to shoot, just in case we saw something out in the meadow before we were able to get unloaded to sit for the morning hunt. It’s legal for me to shoot out of a standing motor vehicle if you have the proper permits, which I do. As we were creeping up to the blind, I feel the vehicle stopped suddenly. I see Al glassing off to the left in the meadow. The next thing I remember hearing is Al stating we have a nice bull elk off to the left at 125 yards. Extremely exciting! I shoulder the gun, and with the weakness of my shoulder, the gun flips on its side in the moment. It takes me a few seconds to get it to my shoulder again. The bull is extremely nervous. He is a wild elk, and in no way is this a fenced in hunt. I have the gun shouldered, but he has started to move and trot. Fortunately, Al whistles, and the elk stops at 200 yards. I know within seconds this bull is going to start running again and be out of sight. I’m definitely not comfortable taking a running shot. I focus on putting the crosshairs on the bull vitals, and I bite down slowly on my trigger; making sure not to jerk it. The gun goes off. Still looking through the scope; I see the bull dropped right in his tracks! Inside the truck, celebration erupts with elation and excitement from everyone. Lots of high fives, and we thanked the Lord for everything coming together for this incredible harvesting of such a beautiful six-by-six elk.
My biggest regret is this morning my wife Ann decided to stay back and sleep in. I harvested this elk without having her experiencing it with me. I did have my hunting buddy with me in spirt. My father was the biggest influence in getting me involved in this great sport of hunting at the age of 10. I owe it all to him for creating the drive within me to go on these hunts that are so challenging for a quadriplegic of my level. Unfortunately my father passed away August 23, 2017, just prior to this hunt. However, his spirit was with me helping me focus on my shots, and guiding my bullets to a successful harvest of this great animal. I do miss being able to share my elk hunt with my father. He would have been hanging on every word of my story. If I recall correctly, I think he asked me things about my upcoming hunt every time I saw him- the last few months before his passing. And that’s what life is about; a father and a son creating lifelong memories.
With all the celebrating, I still heard big Al say the bull elk was one of the biggest ones that he had seen in the area. We were all so excited that it took us a while to figure out what we were going to do next. It was 41 degrees out, so there was no rush to get it field dressed. The number one thing was trying to figure out how we would get me down there. We tried a few different spots, but were unsuccessful getting the pickup over to the elk. Then we had Larry unload his four-wheeler. He went over to check out the elk and was fortunate enough to find a trail that we could drive the pickup right to it. Now the fun starts. We get me unloaded out of the pickup. Marv has been doing the fireman’s carry with me the last 5 days, and helps me into my wheelchair for taking pictures. Everybody is reliving what just happened, and with the biggest smiles on their faces. After taking pictures, field dressing, and loading it in the pickup, even though the pickup was right there. It was still a struggle to get the beast loaded.
After getting it tagged properly, we headed to town to pick up my wife Ann, and then drop off the elk at the butcher. I had it caped out for a shoulder-mount, and the meat would be ready in two days. The day was still early. I think it was 1:00 pm and I still had my antelope tag left. I told Al at the beginning of this adventure that it would just be a bonus if I was able to harvest an antelope. The number one thing was to harvest an elk. We had lunch and ventured out to the antelope hunting grounds, with Ann along this time. Hopefully we would experience harvesting an antelope together. It didn’t take long before we spotted a shooter. Fortunately the rut had just started, so the bucks were a little distracted, worrying about fighting off rival bucks. With Al knowing this country like the back of his hand, he weaved us around through hills over rocks. We popped up over this hillside, and there it was standing broadside at 200 yards! I’m reliving what I just did seven hours ago! I put the crosshairs on the antelope and gently bite down and hold it there until I see the animal drop or take off. I witnessed the antelope drop to the ground in my scope. What an unbelievable day! When I woke up this morning, I could have never imagined harvesting two beautiful animals.
It was a total group effort, and I owe many thanks to my wife Ann; for driving and for all her great care. I also would like to thank and recognize Big Al, Sharon, Marv, Larry and Fred at Chairbound Hunters. They worked hard to make this an outstanding hunt of a lifetime. To Pat and Ruth Moore at Silent Ability, thank you for talking me into trying Pat’s suppressed 308,. They convinced me to not give up on my dream of going on this incredible hunting adventure, despite the recent passing of my father. Also, Jon Fettig at Engineered Silence LLC, for the gun, mounted scope, installing the bite trigger and suppressor.
Last but certainly not least, I am overwhelmed by the generosity of a particular family who made this trip possible for me. I have never met Brittany Isle, or her father Brian K. Olson. Brittany lost her father June 25, 2017. She wanted to do something special in memory of her father. Brittany knew that her father would have loved to be able to go out West on a big game hunt. With her donation to Chairbound Hunters to help a hunter fulfill their hunting dream, Chairbound Hunters decided my hunt would be in memory of Brittany’s father Brian K. Olson.
Story by Craig Simpson