Wyoming Elk Hunt in the Thorofare
I've recently returned from a week in the Wyoming backcountry hunting elk in the fabled Thorofare region with Lynn Madsen of Yellowstone Outfitters. The trip and experience was nothing short of amazing!
Located in the Teton Wilderness along the southern boundary of Yellowstone National Park, the Thorofare is said to be the most remote spot in the continental U.S. -- the furthest point from any road in any direction as you can get.
The region is named after the Thorofare Creek which merges with the Yellowstone River just a mile or two inside the park line and serves as the major migratory path for elk and mule deer moving out of Yellowstone National Park to their wintering grounds in Cody, Wyoming. Consequently, the area is renowned for consistently producing trophy caliber bulls in the 350-400” range. The largest bull taken by Yellowstone Outfitters several years ago was reported to score 399 1/8.
Horseback elk and fishing pack trips with Yellowstone Outfitters depart from their base camp at Turpin Meadow just east of Moran, Wyoming, which is about a 45 minute drive up from Jackson Hole. From there, it is an 8 hour, 30 mile horseback ride into the Thorofare.
I traveled to Jackson Hole with four close friends from childhood, and we met up at Turpin Meadow with four other hunters who had booked with Lynn for the same week. After our gear was loaded onto a string of pack mules, we departed with our guides on horses around 9:00am. An early winter weather system dropped temps into the 20's and snow began falling before we had even left Turpin Meadow.
The route from Turpin took us north along the North Buffalo Fork and eventually over Two Oceans Pass and the Continental Divide. A lunch break halfway through the ride helped break up the day and gave us a chance to stretch our legs.
The trail gradually descended, and by the time we crossed Atlantic Creek above its merging with the Yellowstone River there was already six to eight inches of snow on the ground. It was well after sunset before we finally arrived at Hawks Rest.
Hawks Rest Camp
Lynn's hunting camp is situated at the base of Hawks Rest (elev 9761) along the Yellowstone River about three miles south of the Yellowstone Park boundary and the Thorofare valley.
The camp is comprised of a half a dozen or more canvas wall tents equipped with wood-burning stoves and cots, a cook tent, two latrine tents, and tents for the guides and their gear. In addition to several dogs, the camp has an electric fence perimeter to help deter Grizzly bears, but on two occasions, we had bears slip into camp in the late hours of the night.
Hunting was conducted from horseback with two hunters per guide. The days began with a 4:45am wake up, and breakfast was served promptly at 5:00am. We would saddle up at 5:30 and ride about 1 1/2 hours in the dark to the areas where we would hunt for the day — usually setting up on knobs along the valley floor which allowed us to sit and glass ridges, benches, and mountainsides in all directions. Shots ranged from 175 yards to over 600 yards, with 300-400 yards being the norm.
The first day the temperature at sunrise was 5°F and never made it to the twenties. The second day... -6°F! But, as the week wore on the temps gradually warmed to the mid 40's. This cold weather initiated the elk migration and herds of elk began moving down from higher elevations within YNP. On numerous occasions, we saw herds of 50-100 elk stacking up inside the park boundary.
Most of the hunting was done up the Thorofare Creek valley along the YNP boundary, and that is where the majority of the elk were shot, sometimes within less than a hundred yards from the park line. However, two guys in our group went upstream in the Yellowstone valley and successfully hunted higher elevations for resident elk preparing to migrate towards Dubois.
This 6x6 bull was taken at 250 yds by one of my friends with my Tikka T3x chambered in 30 Nosler shooting Berger 215 gr Hybrids at 2900 fps. A single shot to the vitals was all that was needed, and the bull dropped within 25 yards.
Another friend’s 5x5 pictured below was taken at 300 yds with his Tikka T3x 7mm Rem Mag and Berger 180 gr VLDs. His elk absorbed 3 rounds in the paunch and barely flinched before a fourth round to the heart using the guide's rifle with 168 gr LR Accubond put him down.
Grizzly bears were a constant presence. We saw a total of 15 different bears, many of them several times a day. Most sightings were from several hundred yards away, but one afternoon, we had 5 different pairs of sows and cubs come within 50 yards of our position. The bears had been attracted to a quartered elk loaded on two pack mules that the guides had temporarily parked with us while they recovered a second bull nearby.
Several times our guide chased them off on horseback only for them to return 15 minutes later. On one occasion, a warning shot into a nearby stump from our guide's .45 was required to get them to move off. Eventually, we moved locations due to their persistence.
By the end of the week, all eight hunters in camp had shot opportunities on bulls over 300”, and a total of six mature elk were eventually taken -- the largest 6x6 bull scoring in the 340 range.