Editor’s note: Below is the conclusion of the early October hunting trip Diamond Springs’ resident John Sethre took to White Peaks Ranch in Utah to hunt elk. Accompanying Sethre were four generations of his extended family: nephew Gary McCarty, 73; Gary’s son Gordie McCarty, 45; and Gary’s grandson Erik Abraham, 13. Erik’s dad JT accompanied the group as the photographer. This is Gary’s first-hand account of the hunting expedition.
On Oct. 6, in the morning, John, Erik, JT and guide Mike were at it again, driving down to the lower area to begin their hunt there. Gordie, Gary, guide Steve and another guide hiked to the higher area following the same trial through the brush.
They saw no elk around the wallow so they moved to higher ground and began scanning the hillsides. A single elk was spotted moving down from the rocky ridge where the hunters had set up the previous morning. The distance was far too great to attempt a shot. Moving down the hill the elk disappeared into a gully.
A while later, a series of shots were heard — one clearly a ricochet. A short time later, the elk we had been watching appeared walking across an open area. It suddenly dropped to the ground and an instant later the sound of a shot reached the group. For a second, it was a little confusing with the elk falling before the sound.
John, Erik, JT and Mike hiked to an area near the point where Erik shot his elk the day before. They spotted an elk coming down the rocky ridge about 800 yards away. When the elk dropped into a gully, the group moved to a point where Mike believed that John could get a good shot.
The elk came out of the gully and continued to move toward the group. When the elk was in range, John used a dead tree for a brace and took a shot missing high; he continued to shoot four more times, each time he was high. On the fifth shot, John hit a part of the elk’s antler creating the ricochet sound heard earlier.
The elk was now behind some trees; John moved to a new vantage point and waited for the elk to clear the trees. As it moved into an opening, John shot once more and dropped the elk. This is the sequence that occured when the sound of the shot came after the elk dropped. They came down the hill to participate in the congratulations and the photo shoot. Mike and Erik then field dressed the elk with Erik doing much of the work; he could now do one himself.
On Oct. 6, the whole group headed for the area of the rocky ridge for the afternoon hunt. Three elk were spotted including the unicorn that Gary wanted. Gary and Mike set up where they thought the elk would pass by; the rest of the party led by Steve began to push the elk toward Gary and Mike. Gary got a nice shot using a spotting scope tripod to steady his aim. He hit the elk with his first shot; it almost went down with knees buckled.
The wounded elk and two others moved off; Gary and Mike followed hoping for another good shot. One more shot was attempted; Mike thought it was a hit. Gary was frustrated that every time the wounded elk turned broadside, one of the other elk was in line.
Steve and Erik then circled the elk to drive them back where Gary could get another shot. JT was on the rocky ridge set up to photograph the action. Finally, Steve and Erik pushed the elk down a fence line where Gary could fire at the elk. As the elk ran down the fence line. Gary took several more shots, hitting the elk at least once more.
The wounded elk stopped in a field not too far from a major gully. Mike asked Gary if it was OK to take a shot to avoid the elk dropping into the gully. It was a shot of about 300 yards; Mike missed twice but finally dropped the elk.
On Oct. 7, the whole group hiked a different trail leading to the highest area of the ranch. The group finally broke out on a ridge near at the highest area of the ranch.
On previous days, a group of about 10 buffalo had been observed in this area. Sure enough, after a while, the buffalo emerged from behind a small hill. There were no elk to be seen but the buffalo provided some entertainment; calves were having fun running and bucking. The herd wandered aimlessly but eventually headed toward our location.
Erik, Gordie, Mike and JT climbed over a steep ledge just off the trail while John and Gary dropped down below. Gary and John saw the animals from a distance of about 80 yards; the rest of the group got a much closer look. At the closest point, about five yards, JT was looking through the lens of his camera and the buffalo saw him and they turned and ran. After a bit longer, the group decided to head back to the lodge for breakfast.
Mike and Steve did some reconnaissance before the hunt; they believed the elk would come around west of the rocky ridge toward the lower hunting area.
The group hiked in to get a good vantage point. Three elk came around the point as predicted; one was the elk that Gordie was stalking. Unfortunately, Gordie’s elk disappeared. After watching the other two elk for some time, Gordie and Steve decided to hunt through a section of brush and ascend the rocky ridge.
As they climbed the ridge, two huge elk came over the top of the ridge. Steve and Gordie got within 50 yards of the elk before they moved off. As dusk was approaching, it was decision time; should Gordie give up on the elk or try to shoot a buffalo.
Gordie decided to try for a buffalo and the adventure began. Gordie, Steve and JT set up where they expected the buffalo to move. Mike took the truck up to the high area where the buffalo were hanging out as they had been for the last few days. Erik, John and Gary moved to the rocky ridge to watch the action.
Gary observed that there was a lot of room for the buffalo to move without getting close to the shooter; another chaser or two might help push the buffalo where Gordie could get a shot. Sure enough, the buffalo headed around Mike and away from Gordie, Steve and JT.
Mike then headed back to try and turn the buffalo toward Gordie and company, while they tried to move to a position where they might get a shot. After chasing the buffalo around, Gordie was finally able to get a shot with his 300 Weatherby magnum while standing on the bed of the truck.
For Mike and JT inside the truck, the round was like a bomb going off. They both immerged from the truck with their ears ringing and slightly disorientated. The buffalo moved further toward the back of the ranch. JT took the wheel of the truck and drove up the road trying to get closer to the buffalo. The light was quickly fading while the urgency of getting the buffalo down was increasing.
After getting on the buffalo again, Gordie tried to make another shot, but the injured buffalo didn’t separate from the rest of the herd. We decided to formulate a plan that was risky but provided the best chance of ending the hunt as quickly as possible. Mike secured a strong flashlight and joined Gordie outside on the back of the truck. JT drove the road, now totally dark, trying to spot the buffalo in the headlights. Once they were spotted, we drove into the rocky fields to get a better shot.
Mike and Gordie strategized and maneuvered the truck by pounding on the roof and shouting directions. Luckily, the designated buffalo had separated from the rest of the herd and made a shot possible. With the headlights and flashlight spotting the animal, Gordie made his final two shots. The buffalo was down for good to the great relief of all involved.
The buffalo was down not too far from a rough road in the direction of the high ground. The group positioned the beast for pictures; a challenge as the animal was huge. After the photo op, Amanda took Erik, John and JT back to the lodge in the suburban; Gordie, Mike, Steve and Gary began field dressing the buffalo.
It was now pitch black with the only light coming from the truck, Steve’s LED cap and a great little light that Erik had the foresight to purchase before the trip. After the field dressing was complete, the group headed back to the lodge for dinner.
On Oct. 8, the hunters packed up to head back home. Then they moved down to the meat processers to decide which cuts were desired. The elk, after skinning weighed: Erik’s 553 pounds, John’s 445 pounds and Gary at 479 pounds. Gordie’s buffalo came in at 777 pounds for a total of 2,254 pounds, or well over a ton. Cut up the total cut and wrapped should be over 1,100 pounds.
It was decided that the meat would be split into five equal parts; to allow everyone to get some buffalo as well as elk. John and Gordie then headed back to Sacramento and shortly after, Erik, JT and Gary left for Peoria, Ariz. Everyone arrived safely back home.
Special note: White Peaks Ranch told the group that John, at 87, was the oldest of the hunters to bag an elk this year and the only one to use a rifle with open sights.