Musket Baby!

By Dale Nielson

Well, the moment finally came. The moment every hunter dreams of his whole life. The $180 big game permit charge on the credit card and the long waited successful in the e-mail draw results.  I have been dreaming of hunting bull elk every since my dad started taking me hunting when I was a kid.  I have enjoyed many elk hunts over the years of friends and family but never had I been the man with the tag.  Finally this year, April 2010, I was sitting in one of my college night college classes when I checked my credit card and saw the charge. Then later I got the e-mail that said ELK BULL SUCCESSFUL. I drew the bull elk muzzleloader tag. From that moment on I began dreaming of the fall to come. Three other of my good friends drew tags on the same unit. Brian the premium tag and Scott and Rob the early rifle tag.

Black BearMy brother Tom and I immediately began the planning, preparing, and scouting. We had 4 shooter bulls to find and only a few months to find them. We went down to the area to look for elk sheds and explore the country and roads. We purchased some trail cams and got them placed in areas we thought were good.  I immediately began shooting my muzzleloader and trying to figure out a load that I was deadly with. People that know me, and history shows, that I usually get a lot of shots off with my muzzleloader at deer but rarely do those shots hit the deer.  This year it was different though and I was taking it seriously. I dare say I shot over 200 shots through my gun over the summer. I shot about every kind of bullet and the one that my gun liked the best was a 295 power belt aero tip with 100 grains of black horn 209 powder. I felt confident up to 250 yards.

Rob's Rifle Bull
Scotts 6x6
Rob (top) and Scott’s (bottom) early rifle bulls.

Finally August rolled around and the scouting became more serious. Our goal was to have some shooter bulls located by the archery hunt. It was about a 4 hour drive to the unit from my house and me my dad and brother made it down almost every weekend. We had tons of sweet trail cam pictures. It seemed the bears liked to pose in front of the camera more then the elk.

The archery hunt came and my friend Brian had some health issues came up which made him decide to turn his tag in. Our prayers go out to him and special thanks for all his help and equipment he left for us to use during the hunts.

The archery hunt came and went. We had spotted a few good bulls but the weather was just so flippin’ hot. It made it a lot more complicated than years in the past.

Rifle hunt eve rolled around and we had a big ole elk camp. Good times and lots of BS’ing going on. Morning arrived and Rob slayed him a nice 5 by 6 with super long beams. They rolled out the next day and the hunt was on for Scott. He passed up lots of little bulls and by day four he was getting ready to kill. He needed to go home and get his hay cut so he was talking about settling for a medium one. The night before they spotted a bull that they called "Daddy Long Beams" because it was a lot like the bull Rob had killed on the opener. They dreamed about him all night, when morning came everything worked out as planned. Scott got him a nice heavy horned 6 by 6.

Now the pressure was on and I was a bit worried about only having one shot. Both of their elk had taken multiple shots to take down and I was stressing that my 1 shot cap gun wouldn’t do the job. When we got home I went shooting some more to keep my confidence up.

Triple Brow Bull
The bull Dale and Tom named "Triple Brow."

Sunday before the hunt arrived Tom and I headed down to get some prime scouting in and prepare for the hunt. Monday morning was amazing, elk everywhere screaming and going crazy. We saw well over 20 bulls that morning but only one shooter. Still I was pumped and excited for Wednesday to roll around. When we checked the trail cams we found my bull. We called him "Triple Brow." Problem was we never saw him in person and he just came at random times to the camera. He was our goal and I told Tom not to let me shoot anything unless it was him or bigger. I was stoked and all I could think about was this bull. Tuesday night my dad and my wife, Katie, rolled in and so did Joe and Scott (who are good friends). We showed them the pictures and the bulls we had filmed the last two days and we all decided that "Triple Brow" was the one to kill. That night I did not sleep a wink. At 4:00 a.m. I looked out the window and saw the light on in my dad’s camper. I figured he was up so I got up, got dressed and went out side and he was asleep. He just woke up to “check for bears”. So I lit the lantern loaded my gun and waited for every body else to wake up and the morning hunt to start.

Holy cow it was an amazing morning. First light we got right into the bulls and passed a little 6 point up. Then we walked over to another area and passed up a nice 5 by 6. Elk were screaming and bugling everywhere. It was sweet. Then we hiked into a spot and got a bull with in 20 yards. To me he looked huge. He pushed all his cows by us and then stopped in the opening and screamed. It was sweet. I got my hammer back and Tom said “Don’t shoot”. I asked him ten more times if he was a shooter and he said, "No" every time. I kept trying to grow the horns but he wasn’t a shooter. Throughout that day we passed up several medium bulls. It was a great day and I have never been so close to that many big bulls in the wild. Thursday was a repeat of Wednesday. Got in on lots of nice bulls but I never got a “Yes Shoot” out of Tom just a “No not that one, He’s little, we can get bigger, No, No, No”. I was getting worried that we would never see a big one and I was thinking I would shoot the next one I thought was good even if he said no. Everything looks big to me this is why I told him to coach me before the hunt. If he hadn’t I probably would have shot a spike. Thursday night my father and brother in-law showed up to do some R-n-R and help pack meat when the time came.

Dale's Musket BullFriday morning was the morning. We got up and did the same thing we did at first light the other two mornings. We were just hoping a bigger bull would move in. We got to the spot before light and you could hear a big ole growler down in the meadow. Tom, my dad, and I, started to move in. We had about a 1000 yard hike through thick jack aspens which then pops out into a nice flat meadow. The plan was to pop out and catch the bulls in the meadow. As we were walking through the aspens in the dark you could here the elk screaming. It sounded like there were at least three bulls in the meadow and lots of cows. As we got closer my heart pounded more and more and the bugles got louder and louder. We slowly snuck in waiting for it to get shooting light. We were almost to the meadow when the stampede started.  Some cows busted us and elk were running everywhere. Tom cow called but by then most of the elk were across the fence on the CWMU. I was thinking,”fetch, so close and it would have been perfect with Tom and my dad here.” Then all of a sudden we heard the big bugle and the bull was sitting right out in the meadow by himself. Tom looked at him and said “He is not Triple Brow but he is nice–biggest we have seen yet”. I threw my binoculars up and saw his swords and back end. I looked at Tom and said “He’s got a nice back end I will take him”. So I got the pods down got set up and he just sat there.It seemed like he held still for a few minutes just waiting for me. It was like it was meant to be. He let out a bugle and I took aim. I was really worried about this shot because the CWMU fence was so close, but I let him have it. BANG! He dropped dead in his tracks. 97 yard shot. I was a little high but clipped his spine. It was a great shot for taking him down fast.  The moment had finally come. The moment I had been dreaming of since April and it was sweet. All the hard work and scouting had finally paid off and I had my dad and brother living the dream with me. I immediately got on the radio and let Katie know the bull was down.  Katie her dad and Kyle showed up fast to help pack it out.

Talk about a hunt of a lifetime. Just living and being with elk and enjoying it all was ¾ of the hunt. It was better than my dreams and I had everybody there with me to enjoy it.  I was rewarded with a nice perfect beautiful 6 by 6 bull. Life’s great. Live it, love it, and never take it for granted — Definitely a once in a life time hunt.

Dale Nielson Bull Elk

The Whole Gang