If he squinted a little, just enough to blur some of the definition, Bern Vetter couldn’t see much difference between southwestern Montana and northern Mongolia. Same trees – white birch and larch – and similar terrain – rolling hills and meadows of tall grasses. Same noises and smells.
The second he opened his eyes, though, he knew right where he was – in the Altai Mountain Range of Mongolia … 250 kilometers from the capital city, Ulan Bator.Vetter had gone there in late September to hunt elk. The trip was a gift from a longtime hunting companion. It was, recalled Vetter, to be a dream hunt for them both … “And it was, let me tell you, it was,” he said.
The trip lasted 20 days, only five of which were spent hunting. Before and after the hunt there were guided trips in both China and Mongolia.
Each of the 10 hunters on this trip was allowed two Asian wapiti, a nearly identical cousin to the Rocky Mountain elk of Utah. Each hunter was told to be as selective as his nerves would allow. Mongolia has become, since opening to elk hunting a few years back, a garden of trophy elk.
“During the five days I was there I’ll bet I saw over 5,000 head of elk. Every day I saw between 25 and 50 elk that were trophies – six-point or bigger.
“During the time I was there the elk were in the rut. It was something to see, the big bulls moving their cows around, trying to keep them away from the other bulls. There was fighting and jousting and bugling all day long. I saw one of the bigger bulls actually lift up a smaller bull with its antlers and toss it. I think it killed the smaller one. But it was that kind of action all day long,” he recalled.
“I’d get up at 5 a.m. and be out on a ridge before daylight. About the time I’d get set up the bulls would start to bugle. Then when it was daylight, pandemonium would break loose.”
The hardest part of the hunt, he said, was not in finding the trophy elk, but in getting past the sentries. The bigger bulls tended to stay toward the center of the herds.
“I’d spot a big bull and start my stalk. When I’d get close the smaller bulls and cows would run into the herd and spook the bigger bulls. Then I’d have to start all over again.”
It was interesting, too, to see the other animals of Mongolia, including Asian moose, red Russian boars, roebuck, Siberian wolves, brown bear foxes and wolverines.
“One night, I remember, I sat on a hillside and saw a wild Russian boar rooting around, six large bull elk and a cow, three roebuck and a wolf skirting around the edge of a clearing, all this in one scene,” he recalled.
It wasn’t until the evening of the fifth day that Vetter got the first of his two elk. He kept waiting for just the right trophy. It turned out he waited too long.
“I didn’t know what to expect, so I kept passing up big bulls. I’ll bet I passed up 30 or 40 bulls that were bigger than my biggest.
“The morning we left, I walked out behind camp and shot my second elk. While I was taking care of it, three larger ones stepped out of the trees and watched me. They’d bugle and shake their heads, and just watch,” Vetter recalled.
Both of Vetter’s elk fit into the trophy class. That is, they scored over 300 points under Boone and Crockett guidelines, and were both six-point elk. The capes and racks were his to keep and bring home. The meat went to a small village near camp. Fact is, all 20 elk taken by his party were trophies.
Cost of the hunt was $4,995 and included all travel from San Francisco, lodging, tips, guides, tours, licenses and meals.