The DIY Hunter

Elk camp with my boys.

While I had a three-season elk tag in my pocket I was unable to start my elk hunting season out with the archery season due to getting my knee replaced in May. Learn more details about my knee replacement in my 2022 Utah General Deer Seasons article.

My knee this year has been taking a lot of time to heal and the most difficult struggle has been getting my knee to bend. Many years of scar tissue buildup from multiple surgeries have taken its toll on getting my knee to recover. My knee replacement recovery has been a struggle and a lot harder than I imagined it would be. 

I really wanted to archery hunt but I would have been hunting by myself with a knee in constant pain and being very much out of shape from not being able to ride a bike because my knee wouldn't bend far enough. I just knew this was a perfect recipe for me to actually find an elk and shoot one and then what. How would I get off the mountain by myself in such rough shape? I had to call it off. :(

Wyoming elk decoy.

We had a good laugh finding this "bull elk" out in the middle of the day, near a main road, in the middle of the Utah elk season, just a little bit over the border in Wyoming. It's amazing how the elk know where to go to be safe. LOL! 

I started my hunts with the muzzleloader deer season and my knee did well enough to make it into the backcountry and have a successful and fun hunt with my boys. This gave me the confidence to rifle elk hunt with my boys in the Unita mountains the following week.

The boys and I have been in a lengthy drought of finding any elk for the past several years. We were hoping to end that dry spell this year. For the past four years, we have been focusing on an area in the Unita mountains that we know has good numbers of elk. We continue to learn more and more about the area and the habits of the elk that live there. The more we learn the better our odds so back to the Unitas for the 2022 rifle season we headed.

Mid-season we made it to the trailhead late one evening and decided to camp at the trailhead and make day hikes in to hunt for elk. The next morning we were up early hiking further up the mountain in the dark. We found as always a lot of elk sign just didn't find any elk in their tracks. We decided to circle around into an area we have never been in for the evening as we worked our way back to the Jeep.

Hiking while hunting elk.

Waiting for some elk to show up.

Midday nap while elk hunting.

As we got deeper into this new area we found more and more fresh sign. At one point we found a fresh rub that extended over ten feet up the tree. The tree was smaller and more flexible so we guess that the bull had this small pine bent over when it was rubbing it. This was a really long day for my knee. We spent a good deal of time in steep rough terrain, going through tons of deadfall pines... my knee made it but I was pretty tired that evening.

The next morning we headed back in further than we did the day before, heading deeper into the area we were in the day before. We found a lot more good elk sign but still were unable to locate any elk. As we were slowly working our way through a cool looking draw Kaden spotted a black bear about 100 yards below us sneaking around through the pines. This was pretty cool. I was able to snap a couple of photos before Dallen spooked the bear as he was moving to remove the cover off his rifle. Little scared were you Dallen? LOL

Black bear Unita mountains elk hunting.

Black bear Unita mountains elk hunting.

We hiked a good deal again this day again without finding a single elk. Boy, we sure aren't lucky at finding elk. We returned to camp earlier in the afternoon this day and decided to move camp and go explore another location. As we were starting to break camp my heart went into AFIB again as it had during my muzzleloader deer hunt. Darn it all. We loaded up camp in my Jeep and started heading to another drainage to explore. My AFIB subsided after a few hours but I was nervous about going for any more strenuous hikes so we went fishing that evening and the following day and then pulled out of the Uintas a day earlier than we could have stayed to hunt.

We had a lot of fun catching Brookies with my new Tenkara rods and flys I hand-tied. Initially, the boys started fishing with spinning rods but after I caught a handful of fish one after the other with my DRAGONtail MIZUCHI Tenkara rod (#ad) they switched over and used my two Tenkara rods to catch some Brookies. I likely caught my personal best Brookie. I didn't measure it but he looked to be 14-15 inches.

Tenkara fishing Unita moutains.

Kaden with tenkara caught Brook Trout.

Dallen with tenkara caught Brook Trout.

My personal best Brook Trout caught with a Tenkara rod.

Tenkara fishing the Unita Mountains with likely my personal best Brook Trout in the net.

Tenkara fiahing with Dragontail Mizuchi.

Tenkara fishing the Unita Mountains with DRAGONtail MIZUCHI Tenkara rod (#ad).

I had high hopes of getting out with my muzzleloader for elk in early November but a combination of a large amount of snow, my knee not it the best of shape, my heart going AFIB and an opportunity to help with a large video project at work had me staying home for the muzzleloader season.

Maybe next year we will see some elk.

Gray Jay while elk hunting.

Always fun to have Gray Jays drop by for visits while elk hunting.

Muzzleloader mule deer hunting with my boys.

This year Dallen and I drew general muzzleloader deer tags and Kaden drew a rifle tag. With Kaden still a youth hunter he can hunt all of the seasons with his rifle tag so he also hunted with Dallen and I during the muzzleloader season.

Going back the last couple of years I have been dealing with some challenges in my life and 2022 had its share of them for me to say the least. Last year in 2021 I was mountain biking almost every day throughout the summer and early fall to get in shape but most importantly to strengthen my right knee to make it through the hunting seasons. I made it through many hikes during the 2021 hunting season until my final 11+ mile hunt in November during the muzzleloader elk season. The bone on bone in my right knee never recovered from that hike. It was time. A time I feared and hoped would never come, time to get a full knee replacement.

The first of May 2022 I had Dr. Grunander replace my knee. Going into the surgery my flexion was only 108° and losing ground. The swelling and pain made hiking impossible. After the replacement, I was up walking that day and doing everything I could to try and heal in time to hunt in September but... I quickly became a "special" one for the Physical Terrorists. My knee wasn't bending. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get my knee to bend enough to ride a bike. I had a manipulation surgery in August which helped improve my flexion and another manipulation surgery in December of 2022 that as I write this has now given me the ability to go down stairs with only stiffness and a little pain. I can now pedal a bike with only some stiffness and a little pain as well. To this day I am stretching my knee multiple times a day to try and keep the 100+ degree bend in my knee so I can ride a bike. I'm trying to get it to hold at least a 115 degree bend... it will bend that far but it takes a minute of stretching it.

Right leg a week after knee replacement.Right leg a week after knee replacement in May of 2022.

With my knee not doing the greatest I didn't even attempt solo hunting during the archery elk season and started my hunting this fall with the muzzleloader deer season at the end of September. At the time I thought my knee was going to be my greatest issue this fall... unfortunately, greater health issues were to come.

A couple of days into the season and I was able to take some days off and packed 4+ miles into the backcountry to hunt with Dallen and Kaden. We were hunting our favorite rifle deer hunting location instead of our favorite muzzleloader deer hunting location this year. Our favorite muzzleloader deer hunting location is just a little too difficult of terrain for my less-than-functional knee.

Glassing the buck I eventually shoot with my Paramount muzzleloader.Glassing the buck I eventually shoot with my Paramount muzzleloader.

My 2022 muzzleloader mule deer buck shortly before I take the shot.My 2022 muzzleloader mule deer bedded. The buck stood up and bedded in a broadside position shortly after this photo.

Two point bucks on the skyline muzzleloader deer hunting.Two-point bucks on the skyline while muzzleloader deer hunting.

After a couple of days of hunting, we were able to find a handful of two-point bucks and a couple of small three-points. We also found one small four-point buck. We glassed him up multiple times over a couple of day period of time. With this buck being the largest buck we could find we set out on our last evening to try and harvest him. Early in the afternoon we dropped down into a canyon and set up 500 yards across the canyon from where we last saw him earlier that morning. Dallen might have taken a shot at a three-point we jumped as we worked our way into position. A clean miss.

With where the buck was last seen if we were to cross the canyon there was no great location to be able to see the buck. We needed to stay across the canyon so that we could find him. Once found we would then make a call on how we would make a play on him. It wasn't long after we set up that I spotted the buck bedded down at 375 yards and further down in the canyon than where we thought he bedded for the day.

We gave Kaden first dibs on shooting the buck and he passed. He knew he would have much better chances of seeing much larger bucks during the rifle season. This was a good call for him which paid off with him taking his largest buck to date. More on that buck later. Anyhow, with my knee not doing the greatest and having two of my boys with me I decided to take the buck over Dallen. Sorry and thank you Dallen. And Dallen wasn't upset because the buck was pretty small.

Browning OVIX camo and my 2022 muzzleloader mule deer.A whole lot of one of my favorite camo patterns, Browning OVIX and my 2022 muzzleloader mule deer.

I set up with my homemade double cross shooting sticks and a shooting bag under my armpit. In this position, I can get near bench stability from a sitting position. With my CVA Paramount muzzleloader, I am very comfortable at shooting out to 500 yards with great precision. When we spotted this buck he was well within range but bedded at a poor angle. I will post a photo of him bedded in this position. With the buck bedded I had plenty of time to calculate the shot distance, angle, barometric pressure and wind using Strelok Pro (love that app!). After a few minutes, the buck stood up and then quickly bedded right back down except he had moved forward a bit and was now bedded near perfectly broadside. I can make that shot now! And the Paramount didn't let me down. What a fantastic muzzleloader! With the blast of the muzzy and the whop of the impact, the buck jumped up, dove forward and piled right up. 

That was a cool experience to be with two of my boys and take this young buck. Aside from the buck I shot in 2021 with Kaden, these are the only times I have killed a buck or bull with any of my boys. Most of the time I have been hunting solo. I'm really enjoying these hunts with my boys.

Set up ready for my buck to get in the right position for the shot with my Paramount muzzleloader.Set up ready for my buck to get in the right position for the shot with my Paramount muzzleloader.

Browning Monroe frame pack loaded with boned out mule deer.Browning Monroe frame pack loaded with boned-out mule deer meat.

Cooking backstrap in the tent while hunting.Cooking backstrap in the tent while hunting.

We boned out the buck and packed him back to our camp that evening with backstrap shishkabobs for dinner. Yum!

The next morning we were up early looking for a buck for Dallen and Kaden before we made the 4+ mile hike off the mountain with camp and my buck. We spent a couple of hours hiking up a canyon only to find one small forky and a few does. About a half hour after we made it back to camp and in the process of breaking camp my heart went crazy. I felt good but my chest felt like I had an orbital sander vibrating on it, my pulse was quite irregular and I kept almost passing out when I would raise up from bending over... but I felt fine. I figured I must be in atrial fibrillation (AFIB). Which I later confirmed was indeed AFIB.

We finished packing up camp and started heading off the mountain all the while my heart was vibrating weirdly. Whenever we came to any uphill sections I had to go extremely slow or I would start to black out. The trip off the mountain took an extra two hours and by the time we made it to my Jeep my heart was back to normal... Hmm... AFIB? What caused it???

With the buck in the freezer and a couple of days rest, I was back out helping Dallen find a good buck. We found a number of smaller bucks and had a good buck slip around through the pinon pines and disappear. We only caught a glimpse of him but he looked nice and we believe he doubled back on us around a cliffy steep point on the mountain. Cleaver buck.

After a pause to hunt elk in the Unita mountains and another AFIB episode in the Unitas, Kaden and I were back in our favorite deer hunting spot for the last few days of the rifle deer season.

It was dark when we made it to our camping location with our headlamps spying around 10 deer feeding and bedded down right in the spot we pitch our tent. LOL. The next morning we watched many deer and a good four point out around 700 yards. Not a huge enough buck to chase after for the first morning but a nice buck. That afternoon 200 yards from our camp a four-point appeared feeding out of the maple trees. Kaden made a less-than-perfect shot as the buck was facing us and the window to see the buck created a rush to shoot faster than we desired. We took our time working our way around the point making sure he wasn't sneaking out wounded where we couldn't see him but the buck was already expired within 100 yards of where Kaden shot him.

Kaden with his 2022 mule deer buck.Kaden with his 2022 mule deer.

Kaden packing out his 2022 mule deer buck.

The buck Kaden takes earlier in the day.Kaden's buck earlier in the day at around 700 yards.

Great buck Kaden. This buck we believe is the buck that we watched in the morning at 700+ yards away. 

After boning out the buck and making the 300-yard trip back to camp it was deer shishkabobs for dinner again. Yummy!

The next morning we slept in a little and then packed out camp and Kaden's buck. I was glad that my heart did great this whole trip and was hopeful that these episodes were over as I was thinking that the Celebrex prescription I had recently stopped taking for my non-bending knee was the culprit.

I had just an awesome time hunting for deer with my boys this fall. Sorry, we didn't find you a good buck for you Dallen.

AFIB in the emergency room.AFIB in the emergency room.

Since this hunt, I have had two AFIB episodes where I have gone to the emergency room. I had at first thought my AFIB episodes were caused by Celebrex that I was taking for my replaced knee that wasn't bending well... apparently not. My last episode was bad and I had to have my heart shocked back into rhythm. I'm on meds that I'm not happy about but hopefully will keep me alive and away from a stroke that AFIB can cause. I'm not sure what 2023 is going to be like. My knee is slowly and I mean slowly improving and I just don't know what to do with my heart. It might be getting an ablation surgery, we will see. I hate the meds but am not quite ready to die.

Muzzleloader deer hunting with my boys.

Selfie of me hunting with my boys.

45 caliber ELR Powerbelt bullet recovered from mule deer.45 caliber ELR Powerbelt bullet recovered from mule deer. It is interesting that some of the blue cup stayed on through the air and through the deer.

Drinking hot cocoa while glassing for deer.

Muzzleloader deer hunting.

Glassing for mule deer mule deer.

Hanging out in the tent while hunting.

Cooking backstrap in the tent while hunting.

Muzzleloader hunting.

Kaden mule deer buck in camera across canyon.

This deer season in Utah rolled around with Dallen having and muzzleloader tag and me and my two younger boys having rifle tags.

For the muzzleloader hunt, I went out with Dallen a couple of times. On two occasions Kaden carried my muzzleloader as youth hunters with a rifle tag can hunt all of the seasons. We had a few good trips hiking up the mountain but didn't find a lot of deer. One trip that Dallen and I went on had us pushing probably 9 miles and didn't see a single deer. After that trip in we switch to a different area of public land and found a few right along the fence with the private land.

Dallen hunting at sunset.

Hunting in the rain with Kaden.

Dallen did have a close encounter with a four-point buck that out-smarted him while he was trying to slip into closer range with his CVA Accura V2. He now wants a CVA Paramount Muzzleloader like mine to extend his range a little more.

After the muzzleloader season, we were back after the elk for the rifle elk season before we switched back to deer hunting again.

The rifle deer season had some really late dates pushing the close of the season on October 31st. This had us excited because the deer really start to move into the public land in November for the rut so the chances of better bucks starting to migrate into the area would be greater.

The day before the opener had me and Kaden packing in to set up camp. We made it in the four miles to the area we like to hunt ready for the opener in the morning.

As the light started to fill the sky we were set up on our shooting sticks watching our favorite canyon. It didn't take long before the canyon erupted with deer going everywhere. The sky was cloudy making the lighting quite dark. As the deer started moving rapidly all over the canyon we spotted two four-point bucks running together. Kaden was ready and on them but they weren't stopping. I was going back and forth from my rifle to my range finder and my 50-year-old eyes were having a hard time adjusting to the different optics and just looking without optics across the canyon in the dim lighting. 

It became quite clear the bucks were not going to stop and were getting further and further away. Without saying a word Kaden took the shot at the buck moving at 320 yards and drilled in through the heart. What a cool moment for me to just give him the range and he knew what to do. He's becoming quite the marksman and hunter. After the shot, he told me he was holding right on the front edge of the buck as it was moving to compensate for the movement and he judged it perfectly.

After Kaden's buck hit the dirt I turned my attention to the other four-point that was now running. I thought about shooting it but it was just too difficult to spot him amongst all the other deer across the canyon with my bare eyes then switch to a rangefinder then over to a rifle with my old eyes. Oh well, the most important thing was making sure Kaden made the shot. Nice work Kaden!

We rushed to get a few photos before it started to rain and then it rained on us the whole time working on boning out the buck. 

Kaden 2021 mule deer buck with X-Bolt 300 WSM.

After we had the buck boned out we headed back to camp to rest and get out of the rain inside of our tent. One thing I have found with boning out deer and elk meat is that if I can get the meat boned out it has always been tasty good even when I get it off the mountain the day after it was harvested. So we were going to spend the night and see if I could find a buck in the evening or the next morning before hauling the meat off the mountain.

As it started getting late into the afternoon the rain started to stop so we set up glassing the canyon for the evening. That evening we saw a few buck smaller bucks and a couple of mountain lions about 400 yards up the canyon from our camp. These are the first mountain lions that Kaden had ever seen. They were hanging around one spot in the brush so I figured they had a kill somewhere right there. (Shaky handheld video of the kitties is below.)

Cooking fresh tenderloin in the tent.

Roasting chunks of tenderloin over our camp stove. Yum! Fresh venison on the mountain is delicious.

Morning rolled around and we were out glassing again for deer. It was a little difficult as fog kept rolling in blocking our ability to see across the canyons. We watched a good number of deer but nothing in the four-point category so after a couple of hours we decided to pack up and get Kaden and his buck off the mountain.

As we walked back to our tent we decided to walk and look off the other side of the point we were camping on. As we approached to edge of the point and neared some maple trees a buck jumped out and took off running. I could see he was a young three-point... the best buck we had seen since opening morning. I quickly decided to try and take him as I ran back to the tent to grab my rifle and shooting sticks. To date, none of my boys have ever seen me shoot a buck or bull. I have always been hunting by myself whenever I have taken bull elk and buck deer. This was running through my head rapidly as I knew this could be a good opportunity to fill a tag with Kaden there to share the memory with.

DIY Hunter 2021 mule deer buck.

As I ran back to the edge of the ridgeline I dropped and ranged the buck now running across the canyon about to go over the ridge. 400 yards. The buck paused as it got to the next ridgeline looking over the ridge and I quickly sent a 147 ELD-M over to meet him. The buck flipped upside down right in his tracks and then a large cloud of fog rolled in blocking any view of where the buck was. 

We grabbed some gear to work on the buck and off we went over to find him. Given the fog rolled in we weren't sure if he may have jumped back up and ran off but that wasn't the case. He was stone-cold right where I shot him at.

What a cool experience to share with Kaden. I kind of wish I would have shot smaller bucks in years past when my boys were with me. We now were each coming out extra heavy packing deer with our gear off the mountain.

The 147 ELD-M performed great in taking this buck. You can learn more below in the video and caption of the bullet.

After taking this buck with my 6.5 PRC I will want to make sure not to hit a shoulder on a bull elk with this bullet/cartridge combo but a shot into the boiler room through the ribs should be deadly on a bull elk. Although I do have better rifles to take elk with I really like how lightweight and comfortable this rifle is to shoot so... I might still carry it on some of my elk hunts.

Our 2021 deer season turned out great. I didn't shoot the largest buck on the mountain but I had an absolute great time sharing this memory with Kaden. 

Here are some technical details of how the 147 ELD-M bullet performed on my 2021 mule deer buck.

Technical ELD-M Bullet Performance Details • 147 Gr ELD-M • 6.5 PRC • MV 3,000 FPS • 400 Yards • 10-15° Downhill Shot • Recovered Bullet Weight - 21 Gr. • The bullet hit just off the top rear edge of the left shoulder blade blowing a fist-sized hole through the rib cage in the top of the chest cavity. The bullet angled down and forward going through the front of the right shoulder bone and almost exited the hide on the front of the shoulder close to the neck. • The buck dropped immediately upon impact. 

Dallen muzzleloader deer hunting looking across canyon.

Nice two point buck we passed on.

DIY Hunter 2021 mule deer with 6.5 PRC.

Paramount muzzleloader mule deer hunting.

Two Utah 2021 mule deer bucks at Browning tent.

Selfie of Kaden and his 2021 mule deer buck.