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Adventures in the Wyoming Wilderness: Not Every Hunt Ends in a Harvest

By: Randy Tucker

Green Mountain in southeastern Fremont County, Wyoming is claimed to be one of the best kept secrets in elk hunting in the Rocky Mountain region. For this hunter at least, it can remain a secret, not a well-kept one, but a secret nonetheless.

In 2018, I drew one of these highly sought after tags.

In Wyoming, there are two seasons for hunting big game: an early archery season and a later rifle season. Some areas even have special black powder seasons for deer, antelope, and elk.

We had the entire season to hunt. My son Brian is an excellent archer, taking a pronghorn on a stalk with his compound bow the first time he tried. Since then, he’s taken a few mule deer as well with his bow.

I’ve never been a great archery hunter.

My first attempt at bow hunting came long ago on the Laramie River west of the town that bears the same name.

My friend Frank and I both had a couple of old Ben Pearson recurve bows and a handful of wooden shaft broadheads in our quivers.

We set out one afternoon, west of Laramie on the Snowy Range Road, intending to hike into an area about five miles off the highway. As we walked north through the foothills of the Snowy Range, the scenery changed abruptly. It was akin to the John Denver song “Rocky Mountain High,” only it wasn’t the Rockies that caught our eye, but the three-foot tall cannabis plants growing on a half-acre or so of pristine BLM land.

Realizing we found someone’s personal growing stash, we hot footed out of the area quickly, looking at nearby hills to make sure no one was sighting in on us.

We slept on the ground that night in an area clearly marked by recent deer bedding down. In the morning, we awakened to the sound of mule deer does stomping their feet and barking at us, trying to get us to leave.

We spotted one cagey buck, and I lost an arrow taking a wild 65-yard shot that sailed a foot or so over his back. That was my only experience with a bow until 38 years later.

Green Mountain rises above the surrounding plain of high desert just east of the mining ghost town of Jeffrey City.

I’ve camped up there, caught a few brook trout on the streams that flow off the ridges, and even cut corral poles and logs for pole barns, but I’d never hunted it for elk before the 2018 season.

My son Brian and I drove up to set up our camp on a very hot fall afternoon. As we drove up the gravel road from the highway, it gradually changed to dirt, with a few well-worn ruts.

Herds of wild horses were everywhere, wandering in off the nearby Red Desert. They found water and better grazing on the mountain than in the drought-stricken plains below.

A few mule deer dotted the meadows as we continued our climb – a promising sight, we thought.

We set out to hunt an hour after sunrise on opening day, but to our surprise, every campground, wide spot or flat area on the mountain had a trailer, wall tent, or nylon tent set up on it. It looked more like a KOA campground than it did a pristine wilderness area.

Brian is adept at calling in elk, using one of those long flex tube calls. If you’ve never heard them, elk make a unique, high-pitched nasal sound. It’s not what you’d expect from a large member of the deer family, exceeded only by moose in North America as game animals, sort of a Mike Tyson style surprise voice, only it’s in the animal kingdom, not the boxing ring.

We set up on a trail at least a mile from the nearest camp, hoping all the humans would chase the elk our way. It almost worked.

As Brian patiently went through a mix of calls, we heard a bull answer off in the distance. He kept calling, and by the sound of the return call, we could tell the elk were moving our way.

I don’t shoot a recurve, or a compound bow anymore, but I did have a great crossbow to use that week.

The elk moved closer; I notched a bolt in the crossbow, and my pulse began to pick up.

We estimated them at about 150 to 200 yards by their last call. An estimate is all we ever got that day.

Two clowns on 4-wheelers roared up behind us.

“You guys bow hunting?” the first one asked as he shut down his machine.

“We were,” we both said simultaneously.

“Oh, sorry guys,” he said, and they both roared off.

We didn’t get that close the rest of the season with either bow or rifle.

With just two days left in the season, we finally spotted a bull and about 10 cows a half-mile away on the desert just south of the mountain.

My daughter-in-law Katelin dropped us off, and we began a stalk up a long series of draws to where we thought the elk would be. “Thought” is the operative word. When we slowly crawled up a hill to glass the area, we spotted the little herd as it trotted across the ridgeline about two miles away.

The hunt was over, with not a single shot fired. The only damage I was able to do during the entire seven days we hunted that season was to the right front bumper on my GMC truck. I managed to find a big rock one morning driving through a foot of new fallen snow, and the plastic gave way.

Not every hunt ends in a harvest. I never fired my .308 that week. The 180 grain bullets were just as new as they’d been when I loaded the magazine. Still, it was a wonderful experience out in the vastness of the Wyoming wilderness.

Will I put in for another Green Mountain tag? Probably not – I’ll leave that to everyone else.

Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at ratucker@wyoming.com.

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