DIY Pubic Land Muzzleloader Elk Hunting in Idaho


After the 3rd or 4th stoke job for the fire of the night, the alarm was now going off in our little wall tent on the prairie. Sub zero temps made it hard for us get out of bed that morning.  With crusty snow that had blown a stalk earlier the day before, to say we were overly excited to climb the ridge where we had seen some elk the night before, would be a lie. The smell of bacon and coffee cooking on the hot wood stove helped me get out of my fluffy down bag and up off my cot. When we reached the spot we had planned to hike, a side by side was already there and headed up the mountain before us. To say we were let down really wasn’t the case at all, for going on another long stalk with a slim rate of success is something you get a little tired of, towards the end of a long season. Over the last few weekends and a few days taken off during the week, Benji and I had some close encounters but were never really able to even cock the hammer back on the old smoke pole yet. Sometimes you just have to keep trying even when the odds aren’t in your favor. We headed off to another canyon to try and glass something to stalk. Being as it was Sunday and we both had to work the next day, a long hike up a drainage wouldn’t be something we wanted to do, knowing if we got lucky, that we wouldn’t be able to get it packed out in a days time. After some glassing, we never turned anything up to go after. With our tent being set up for what was now pushing the legal camping limit, we decided to go back and break it down. We were planning the next and last weekends hunt of the season while cruising across the huge flats of sagebrush back towards camp. We spotted a herd of elk moving across the sage. With nothing higher than your knee caps and not a break in terrain for miles we knew the odds were slim of getting traditional muzzleloader close, but we had to try! After networking around the roads in the flats, we had gotten well out in front of the herd that appeared to be migrating in one direction. This is the point where once you commit to a stalk like this, you question yourself; am I really going to crawl this far, or walk hunched over for this long? But, commit we did. In the back of my mind I kept thinking of my antelope hunt the year before when it all paid off on a low percentage chance with my first muzzleloader pronghorn.  After a while of moving when the majority of animals heads were down, we kept as low as possible when the sage was skinny.  We had finally made it to about 200 yards of the herd. With minimal cover and no terrain to our advantage, we were stuck. Benji was ranging the path we figured they would take if they maintained course. He kept coming up with 200 yards and that was just too far.  My heart sank with the fear of just having to watch them walk past us hidden in the sage. The lead cow seemed to start angling towards us. I thought to myself, “could it really be?”  This is where the effort you put forth and a little luck meets. The herd was now all single file, feeding and walking and were going to pass us, perhaps within range. I cocked my hammer back and set the trigger as Benji said they would be about 140 to 150 yards, if they continue on that path. I knew this was a long shot but with no wind and all the practicing I had done the last few seasons, it was a shot I felt comfortable taking on a bull elk. One cow call from Benji’s diaphragm call had them all stopped broadside right in front of us. I had been tracking the bull for quite some time now through my sights, so it didn’t take me long to settle the front sight level on the top of his back and squeeze. As the shot broke and smoke filled the air, the yellow bull fell to the ground. As we got the gun loaded, he was trying to get to his feet, when I got the cap on and the hammer back he was now up and about to start walking. Immediately after the second cloud of smoke we heard the whap of the second 425-grain bullet hitting the bull. He ran a short distance and laid down. We could see blood on his yellow side and knew that he probably had been fatally hit with one of the shots. In our rush to get in front of the herd we left the extra speed loads in our packs at the truck. We put the last load of black powder and lead bullet down the barrel and cap on the nipple. We could see his antlers moving around above the sage as we closed the distance. I always find myself wondering if the smoke pole will go off at the moment of truth and this was definitely in the back of my mind this time. Loaded with my last chance, we reached that 150-yard mark again when he began to stand up. Knowing my hold over, I settled in on him once more as he looked back in our direction, I squeezed off the shot. A loud whop was reported back to us as the bull staggered off and appeared to fall just out of sight. We gave thanks by saying a prayer when we arrived and snapped a few photos to remember the day, the hunt, and the countless hours spent afield.  After skinning and dressing the bull we discovered that I had taken his heart out on the last shot. The first two shots would have done the trick, but it felt extra good to know I was able to end it so quickly with that last shot.  It all came together as we never expected it to.  This is hunting, often things can change in a moments notice and it almost never plays out like you had imagined it to in your mind.  Our family is forever grateful for the time spent in the outdoors on public land and that we are able to harvest our own meat for the year to come.
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4 comments


  • cugjiobtnp

    Muchas gracias. ?Como puedo iniciar sesion?


  • Pat Henry

    Very enjoyable story. You are an awesome huntress. Always routing for you.


  • Thomas Goble

    Congrats! Greatfull for your sharing of your hunt and success. Pics are beautiful. Thx Autumn.


  • Thomas Goble

    Congrats! Greatfull for your sharing of your hunt and success. Pics are beautiful. Thx Autumn.


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