When the good folks from Leupold extend an invite for you to hunt elk with them in Utah, no matter how quick the turn-around time, you accept. That’s a trip of a lifetime.  

Our friends at Leupold contacted Matt with the invite on Monday, September 25. On Sunday, October 1 he was on a jet westbound to Wild Country Outfitters. In those few days between the invite and the departure, Matt dialed in the Leupold VX5 HD scope atop his Winchester XPR .30-06 at the range and packed up his gear. This would be his first ever elk hunting trip.

The rut was in full swing in northern Utah so their cursory scouting trip Sunday evening after arriving made it clear to Matt that he was in the right place to kill a trophy elk. Bugling came from every slope and it wasn’t hard to locate bulls chasing cows. The challenge wouldn’t be getting on a good bull, rather getting on a trophy worthy of the area they were hunting.

Since this was Matt’s first elk hunt, he watched and listened to his guide Amo who helped him discern good bulls for truly great ones….and there were some great ones they encountered. In fact, on their first hunt of the week on Monday morning, they saw 12 good bulls and even had one in as close as 40 yards. Amo counseled Matt to wait for at least a six by six and explained how to judge a mature animal by his body.

Tuesday brought more close encounters but no opportunities at a trophy. The bugling and chasing intensity remained high as they continued to call and move towards the many bulls that responded to them.

Wednesday Matt and Amo called in a mature bull from 400 yards down to 10 yards. With the wind in their face and concealed in their Nomad apparel in Mossy Oak Mountain Country, the guys witnessed the majesty of a bugling Wapiti within mere steps of their location. Truly an awesome experience.

Wild Country Outfitter guide Austin Land (who also happens to be Taylor’s number one fan) had intel on a trophy bull in another territory on the property, so the guys made a move to get in close.

Matt and Amo stalked 500 yards down a slope, sneaking past smaller bulls on their way to the big one. Since the cover was sparse, they stuck to thin lines of Aspens and crouched through ground cover to conceal their approach. Once they got to a ridge above the bull they wanted, peering over to get a look at their target, at 40 yards a cow picked up their movement, bumping the herd away. As the elk began slowly moving off, between coordinating the camera and making an ethical shot, it just didn’t come together.

Knowing how disheartened Matt was by the close call, Amo encouraged him to be patient and that things could change at any moment.

The mountain light twinged with the onset of evening as the guys glassed for their next hope from the spine of a ridge. A full moon waited in the wings and the rutting elk knew it. Bugles echoed from every hillside and draw.

Matt’s eyes detected movement down the ridge as he turned his binoculars in that direction.

“Amo, is that a good bull?”

“Yeah, it is.”

The calm in Amo’s voice contrasted against the excitement and hope in Matt’s. After miles of hiking and close calls, this could be his shot at the first elk of his life.

Amo used his Leupold rangefinder to get a precise distance. 200 yards. Matt dialed in the range on his VX5 scope specifically calibrated for the caliber and elevation. 20 mile per hour winds buffeted the gun as Matt watched the reticle sway back and forth over the bull’s vitals. He had to steady the shot. Taking a deep breath, releasing just a bit of it, then holding the rest, the crosshairs steadied solidly on the elk’s vital area.

The Winchester XPR thundered as the bull’s blonde coat shuddered with the impact of the Winchester Expedition Big Game Long Range .30-06 round. His arched back indicated a hit and he managed only a few stumbling steps before falling over.

After hiking miles in his Danner boots carrying his daily gear on his shoulders in his Tenzing pack, Matt had put his first elk on the ground…and a beast of an elk at that. His success wasn’t only due to the dependability of his gear, but also the generosity of the people at Leupold who offered him this trip of a lifetime.

As told to Tim Kjellesvik.