10+ years ago on this board we were debating the merits (or lack of) of applying for limited entry hunts. At that time I was 7-10 years into applying for Utah limited entry elk. Someone on here told me at the time that I would never catch up to the max point holders and wouldn't draw a tag in my lifetime. Searches of my past posts only go back to 2013 so I can't look it up, but I don't hold grudges anyway so who said it doesn't matter.
On my 19th year applying, I drew a Utah limited entry rifle bull tag for mid-September. In July two of my kids and I drove to Utah for a quick (only 2 full days in the mountains) scouting trip. I have a cousin in Utah who lives fairly close to the unit I drew, and he joined us for those two days. We mostly drove and glassed, learning access points, road conditions, etc. We did hike up to one basin that we thought could be good based on our e-scouting. We saw some elk sign on that hike, but didn't actually see elk there. We did see one herd of two dozen cows/calves in another area, and caught a quick look at a young bull while driving in another spot.
After more time scouring everything online I could find, I had several areas I wanted to check out when we arrived in September. We reached the unit with nearly two full days to scout. As we drove into the backcountry, we found large flocks of sheep still grazing in my plan C or D area, so we could cross that off the list immediately. We set up camp in my plan A area, at 10,000 feet. We truck camped, then hiked into roadless area for the hunt.
That first afternoon we hiked in we found 11 cows with a big 6 point herd bull, along with a couple of satellite bulls. We heard one or two other bulls that evening that we didn't see. The next day we saw the herd bull again, but an archery hunter whose hunt ended that day was making a stalk on him. We watched from across the canyon as that attempt ultimately ended in failure when the cows winded the hunter, and the herd moved out. We did find the bull that evening in the next drainage, but strangely (to us at least) he had no cows then. He did have a very distinct growling bugle, so we could recognize him easily when he was vocal.
My brother and a cousin from PA were along with me for the trip, and my Utah cousin joined us late the evening before season. In the wee hours of opening morning, at least two bulls were bugling close enough to camp that they awakened us. We were up early opening morning and as we hiked in we were interrupted by bugling bulls. We could see a couple of them by moonlight across the canyon. We ultimately worked our way back in (~3 miles) to where the herd bull had been the night before. We didn't hear him, but heard a couple of others.
We worked in on those we heard, and ended up getting to 120 yards on a big 5x6 with two cows. I decided to pass, given the size of the herd bull that we felt was still close by. The rest of the day passed without sight or sound of the herd bull, but in the evening bulls were bugling and we saw several more, including a pretty good six point.
The second day of season the forecast was for great weather again, with possible rain in the forecast for the following several days. As we hiked in we weren't hearing bugles, but finally got a response down in a hole. About that time my brother spotted a couple of cows in the basin opposite where we'd heard the bull bugle. We moved a few hundred yards to a better vantage point and I spotted a pretty good bull going to the cows. Then another bull stepped out several hundred yards below the first, and challenged the bull above him. They didn't get together so they must have sorted things out during the night, but glassing the lower bull I saw long fronts, and he had a wide frame. I wasn't seeing a sixth point on his one side, but one of my partners thought he saw six on both. I decided to go after him when he retreated into a small patch of heavy cover and didn't seem to come out.
We stalked in across the canyon from him, bugling a couple of times when we were getting close. He didn't answer, but finally stepped out at 300 yards, looking down across the canyon towards us. He raked the ground with his antlers and bugled. I got set up, then recognized him as the bull I passed on the day before. I had more time to look today though, and he looked pretty good to me. Since we hadn't heard from or seen the bigger bull for a day and a half, I wasn't sure if he was even still alive. I decided to shoot if the opportunity presented itself. I had some light limbs in the way, so I waited. The bull finally moved ahead into some cover. Some minutes passed, then my brother spotted the bull much further left than where I was looking, crossing a small meadow. I scrambled to get situated at the new angle, my cousin called out the range - 360 yards - then barked and the bull stopped nearly broadside.
My first shot was true, but the bull stayed on his feet and began to retreat so I kept shooting. He was on the move and the second shot missed him clean, and the third hit him too far back. I managed one more shot before he would disappear, and that one dropped him. He barrel-rolled a few times down the steep slope and came to rest in a place where we had to prop him with sticks and keep a hand on him while breaking him down to keep him from toppling and rolling down to the bottom of the deep canyon.
As I walked up on the bull, he just got bigger. I probably should not have passed on this bull, even on day 1. He has really great fronts and heavy mass all the way along the beams. I wanted a big bull, but hadn't dared to hope for one this big.
The packout was kind of brutal at 3+ miles, some of which involved steep climbs. Thank heaven for good buds with strong backs and positive attitudes.
Going into this hunt I knew full well that it would likely be once in a lifetime for me. I'll be 45 next month and have to wait five years before I can apply again, so the only way I'll draw another Utah LE bull tag again in my lifetime is by beating lottery-like odds. But the hunt lived up to my dreams in every way. Even as we packed out the last loads at 11 am the following day, multiple bulls were screaming at us. For me it was truly an experience of a lifetime.