A Nevada hunter heads north to Liberty, Utah, to bag the elk of a lifetime on the ranch of former NFL Pro Bowler Rulon Jones.
By Brett Prettyman
Jeff Bargerhuff had heard horror stories about hunting on private ranches, hunts that were actually shoots whereby a guide practically pulls the trigger for a client. After booking an elk hunt in northern Utah, he hoped the stories would turn out to be wrong, or at least exaggerated.
"I wasn't necessarily looking for a record-book bull," said Bargerhuff, a 47-year-old banker residing in Henderson, Nev. "I wanted a nice rack that had something a little unique about it. I wanted something a little different."
Bargerhuff would go on to earn the shot he would take at a trophy bull on the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch in Liberty, Utah. He hunted hard to be in the right place at the right time and now has a 9x7 rack in the Boone and Crockett 380-range to prove it.
Bargerhuff had applied for the elk drawing in Nevada for six years and finally decided to stop gambling over the winning of a permit. He was willing to pay the price for his first bull elk.
"I was really frustrated. I made the decision to pay for a ranch trip and try to get a good animal. I figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and I decided to do it right," he said.
Bargerhuff started making inquiries about guided hunts and got several leads. He studied hunting operations on Native American reservations in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, but was either not impressed with the setup, or the price was too lofty.
"I had never done this kind of thing, and I will probably never do it again. It really mattered to me to find the right place," Bargerhuff said. "I didn't want to just pull a name out of a hat."
He asked around for possible leads and got a solid tip during a Boy Scout meeting. "This guy started talking about this place he hunted in Utah and said how he really liked the terrain. He happened to be talking about Rulon's place," Bargerhuff said. That would be former NFL All-Pro Rulon Jones.
Not sure what he would encounter on a "ranch" hunt, Jeff Bargerhuff was pleasantly surprised with this 9x7 bull elk — and what it took to get him. Photo by John Bargerhuff
After a quick taste of the Broadmouth Canyon experience on the Internet (www.utahelkhunt.com), Bargerhuff liked what he saw and picked up the phone. Rulon Jones answered.
MAN AND THE MOUNTAIN
Jones grew up in the mountains around Liberty, shaping his mind and body for a nine-year career as a defensive lineman for the Denver Broncos. Countless hours of hiking and following his wildlife photographer father, Larry, gave Jones the physical aptitude to pursue a football career. But Jones longed for his home mountains during his college days at Utah State University in Logan and then on the other side of the Rocky Mountains while with the Denver Broncos of the National Football League.
After twice being named to the Pro Bowl, Jones called it a career and returned to Liberty and his beloved mountains. "Hunting is part of my heritage. It is about as different a world as you can get from what I was doing," Jones said.
Broadmouth Canyon Ranch has 12,000 acres, 5,000 of which are managed for elk. The elevation of the ranch ranges from 5,300 to 10,000 feet. Jones says there about 300 elk on the ranch, which he feels is as realistic a hunt as you will ever find for Rocky Mountain elk.
"I have some strong feelings about management," he said. "We have done everything we can to be as authentic as possible. The terrain and acreage affords that. This is where the elk really are."
Bargerhuff left home on a 90-degree day in September and arrived in Liberty in a cold sleet, and then picked up his brother, John, at the Salt Lake International Airport. John lives in Alabama.
"We had to run to the town of Morgan to pick up some coats at a Browning outlet store," Bargerhuff said. "The forecast didn't say anything about rain and snow."
The Bargerhuffs grew up hunting, but bird hunting in Georgia, chasing whitetails and ducks in St. Louis and goose hunting in Ohio were nothing like the hunting they would experience in Utah.
"We were excited to be hunting the West. The wide-open range is completely different than hunting on the East Coast," Bargerhuff said. "In the West you have to go a long way to track and hunt your game. In the East there is more coverage, so hunting tactics are geared toward still-hunting and shorter shots. In the West it seemed we were keeping an eye on finding good cover for the next move while keeping the other eye on the game."
As a scuba diver who does a lot of hiking and camping, Bargerhuff figured he was in pretty good shape. The altitude on the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch proved him wrong.
"The first day we saw a lot of elk, and we climbed about two miles up to the top of this ridge at almost 10,000 feet," he said. "I felt like I was breathing through a straw."
Two hours into the first hike, the Bargerhuffs got their first good view of Utah elk and a lesson in how spooky they can be.
"We came across about 20 elk about 500 feet away. The wind turned and they bolted out of there," Bargerhuff said. "They were gone in like 10 seconds."
So much for an easy hunt on private land.
The second day the hunters went to a different location with Jones' oldest son, Garet, as their guide. They could hear bulls bugling all around and spotted a nice animal late in the afternoon. They decided instead of hiking in and possibly spooking him to let them be and hope they stayed in the area overnight.
The bugling was also something new for the Bargerhuffs.
"I had never heard that before. The first time, it made the hair on the back of my head - the few hairs I have left, anyway - stand up," Bargerhuff said. "It was like a bugling war with all the bulls trying to outdo each other. Quite exciting."
The hunters returned to the spot the next morning and heard that the bugling was still on, and then Bargerhuff got his first look at a living, mature bull elk.
"We saw a nice 6x6 bull," he recalls. "I had not seen that many elk
that close, and I figured a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush. Garet said I could take one like him anytime, that I should hold off. I got buck fever a little bit and he calmed me down. I'm glad he did."
They kept looking for the large bull seen the night before, but he appeared to be deep in the timber. Garet suggested they head to bottom of the mountain to flush the bull out.
"Garet is like 25 and I'm 47. Sweat was already pouring down me and I had already eaten my candy bars for a sugar boost, and it was only 10 a.m.," Bargerhuff said. "I suggested we sit and see what happens."
The group had just started moving to get a better vantage point when the bull appeared about 125 yards away. Garet said it was the bull they had seen and to go ahead and take it.
Bargerhuff spotted a tree about 10 feet away to provide some cover and a stand for his rifle. He dropped to the ground and started to crawl.
"I'm not sure where all those rocks came from. I hadn't noticed them when we were walking," he said. "I put the scope on him and he turned and looked at me, but he remained interested in the cows."
He fired - and nothing happened. "I was so embarrassed to have missed him," Bargerhuff said. "I shot again and nothing happened, but this time I heard a thud. I thought he was going to run so I fired again."
Seconds after the third shot the bull dropped without having taken a step.
Bargerhuff watched the video his brother shot of the shooting and realized the first shot was a clean lung shot.
"It was a perfect shot. That first shot killed him; he just didn't know it," Bargerhuff said.
And then the real work started. The bull was on a 40- to 50-degree slope, and getting a truck or all-terrain vehicle to it proved futile.
"It took us forever to get him out, but it made it more worthwhile," Bargerhuff said. "I felt like I had really earned it."
Bargerhuff's bull was not the biggest killed in 2003 on Jones' property - a bull that would score 458 gross B&C took that honor - but the Nevada hunter had fulfilled a dream and created more. Based on his experience at the Broadmouth Canyon Ranch, Bargerhuff has changed his mind about paying to hunt big game. "I'll go deer hunting there in 2004, and when my son gets a little older, I plan on taking him to see Rulon."
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