Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

By Sid Evans
In the first week of September, I set out on a weeklong bow hunt for elk in Wyoming's Thorofare region, which some say is the most remote wilderness area in the Lower 48. I believe them. To get to our camp -" an old wall-tent setup that had been there since the 1950s -" we had an 8-hour ride on horseback, with about two-dozen mules packing in all our food, gear, and supplies. The country was breathtaking, especially when we reached the top of Shoshone pass and got our first look down into the Thorofare Valley, an area loaded with elk, mule deer, wolves, and grizzly bears, but very few hunters. We spent 7 days chasing elk up and down mountains, and we had close encounters with nice bulls every day. I hunted with a young guy from Georgia named Cary Zech. Our host, Jeff Krueger of Wyoming Expeditions (Wyomingexpeditions.com; 678-953-2026), was another fanatical Georgia hunter who bought the camp in 2007. It was the first bow hunt for elk for Cary, and my first bow hunt ever, and we quickly realized this was the toughest and most exhilarating thing either of us had ever done. Above: Guides T.J. Redder and Jason Fales packing saddle bags for the ride in from the Deer Creek trailhead. Preparing for an elk hunt in the Thorofare is like preparing for a military expedition.
Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Jeff Krueger (above) owns Wyoming Expeditions (Wyomingexpeditions.com). Krueger hunted for a few years in the Thorofare before deciding to buy a camp there and become an outfitter himself. He describes his first hunt in the Thorofare as a "life-changing experience."Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

We weren't 20 minutes from the trailhead when one of the mules freaked out and nearly rolled off a steep embankment. The mules are strung together with ropes that will break if enough pressure is applied, so the whole string won't go tumbling over a cliff. Fortunately the crisis was averted, but packing mules into country this wild is fraught with peril. It's said that there are plenty of horse and mule bones along the trail from previous disasters.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Jeff Krueger (left) and me at the top of Deer Creek Pass, getting our first look at the Thorofare Valley. The Thorofare is in the middle of the Teton Wilderness, part of the 3.4 million-acre Bridger Teton National Forest.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Home sweet home. "Camp Jack" Doug DeJong atop the platform where all the food was stored, safely out of reach of grizzly bears. The same dining and cooking tents have been used at this camp since the 1950s, when it was set up by a man named Glenn Fales. The whole area has an incredible history, with famous hunters like Grancel Fitz, hall of famer Ty Cobb, and more recently, Ted Nugent. (I'm still trying to find out if Teddy Roosevelt hunted here.) For historical photos of the Thorofare, check out this link to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center's site: www.bbhc.org/thorofare/index2.cfmDusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Beans, anyone? Actually, we ate extremely well. Ribeyes one night, pasta and salad the next, huge breakfasts at 4 a.m. And you needed every calorie to keep up with the elk.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

On the first morning we mounted up long before sunrise and rode to near the treeline, which is where the elk were this early in the season. One thing you must have on a hunt like this is a good bow sling (mine was from Primos). You're going through a lot of trees and brush, and your bow can take a beating -" as can you. You also need a good headlamp.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

After a 45-minute ride on the mules, we started listening for bugles, and glassing for elk on the ridges. Our guide, Colby Gines, always seemed to see them first, sometimes from as far as half a mile away. After spotting one we'd run, usually uphill, to get in position and start calling.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Here's a picture of Colby looking somewhat relaxed, which you didn't see often. As the "Camp Boss," he was in charge of making sure everything ran smoothly, which is not easy when you're dealing with 30-some head of horses and mules, guides, hunters, a few dogs, and the odd grizzly bear that might wander into camp (hence the pistol).Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

More glassing. One great thing about bowhunting in early September is the weather. We were in light turkey hunting clothes for most of the week.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

And more glassing... A good pair of binocs is critical, because you look through them all day long. I had a pair of Zeiss 8 x 32s that worked great, but you might want to consider 10 x 40s in big country like this.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

A decent bull that we called in one afternoon. Between Cary and me, we had 16 close encounters with bulls over the course of the week. This guy was about 80-100 yards away, but we just couldn't get him into bow range. Still, there's nothing to get your heart pounding like a bull elk bugling at 80 yards.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Cary (left) and T.J. before an afternoon hunt. The dogs were at camp mostly to keep the grizzly bears away.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Speaking of grizzly bears, there were other ways of keeping them out of camp. The Thorofare is loaded with them, and if you don't take all the right precautions, you're sure to have trouble. Colby and the crew had put electric fence around the cook tent, stored food on a high platform, and made sure there was never food in the sleeping tents.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Practice, practice. The morning hunt would usually end around 10 or 10:30, when the elk would start to bed down, so I would shoot at least a half dozen arrows a day to stay tuned up.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Jesse Cornett, who wrangled the horses and mules every day, and Doug, who always seemed to be splitting firewood, fixing tents, or dealing with troublesome mules. Their day started at about 3 or 3:30.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

One day Tim Fagan, the South Cody game warden, rode into camp to check on things and say hello. Tim has been patrolling the Thorofare for 30 years and probably knows more about the area than anyone alive. He couldn't have been nicer, but let's just say I was glad my license was in order. He told me about how elk have been migrating through the Thorofare for centuries, and when a big snow hits you can sometimes see them coming through by the thousands.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

On about day four we decided to hunt way up on the ridgetops. Getting there was brutal, but the views were worth it -" and so was the hunting. I had my best shot at an elk up on this ridge, when a nice bull came running in to our call. I drew back when he was at about 25 yards, but he heard arrow squeak and...Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare
...well, let's just say it was back to the drawing board.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

One afternoon we tried using a decoy, nickname of Jezebel. She actually got a bull to come down off the hillside, but when he got a closer look at her (about 60 yards from me), he kept his distance.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Here's a good look at Thorofare Creek. Our camp was just down to the right. If you kept going up that creek you'd hit Yellowstone Park in about 10 miles.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

We spent some quality down time sitting around the fire listening to Lonnie Gines, Colby's brother, who's a great musician with a band called Station Hollow. Check them out on MySpace.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Unforunately we didn't have big 6x6 racks to pack out on the last day. Both Cary and I had plenty of opportunities, and both of us missed shots. But hunting the Thorofare during bow season was about as exciting as it gets, and we're both planning to be back in 2008.Dusan Smetana
Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Backcountry Bowhunting in the Thorofare

Here's what we're going back for -" a monster taken in a hunt that happened after ours. If you want to see more photos of huge elk (including a 420 bull) that were taken during rifle season, or if you want to book a hunt yourself, go to Wyomingexpeditions.com. Or call Jeff Krueger at 678-953-2026.Dusan Smetana