Heartache at 11,000 ft.
I’ve decided to do something a bit different for this post then previous ones that went over my hunts. On this trip, I actually kept a journal while out in the field and I think it turned out pretty neat. I might end up doing this a lot more in the future, just because of the genuine point of view that it offers with the play by play perspective. This was not only my first out of state hunt, it was my first archery elk hunt, along with my first extended backpack hunt. My brother and I packed into the Colorado backcountry for a week in hopes of making some awesome memories and arrowing my first bull. We ended up doing both…..technically. Enjoy.
Wow! I’m so excited to be here. It’s hard to believe after the long wait and planning that I am finally in Colorado, heading into the backcountry to chase elk with my bow. Our hike in was pretty wet. Rained on us almost the whole time on our way to camp. On our way, we ran into a fellow hunter coming out from being back in here a week. He informed us that he didn’t see one elk the entire time he was there. That was a bit discouraging to hear as we ascended into camp. Luckily, the rain stopped though just in time for us to throw up our tent. My brother Jake is in absolute aww about how beautiful this place is and the rain didn’t bother him the least bit. We glassed up a lone elk tonight! Man, that gets me pumped! First evening and we have already seen elk! Off to bed.
First morning waking up in elk camp! We had a sleepy start to say the least, hahaha. Mostly due to a thunderstorm that was passing over us just as the alarm went off. We didn’t mind the extra rest. Breakfast was great. I had Belvita and Justin’s Almond Butter, along with some Wilderness Athlete Energy and Focus. Time to go hunting! We cow called and bugled our way down a nearby ridge in hopes of getting a bull to answer back at us. I’m not sure if this bull bugled at us or something else, but we just heard our first bugle! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to catch up to this bull or relocate him. The terrain here is no joke! Super steep and everything is wet from all of the recent rain. Today we were within bow range of 4 awesome mule deer bucks. 3 happened to feed right to where we were taking a break. The other, I walked up on. This place seems like a great deer spot for future reference. The rest of our day was uneventful. Better luck tomorrow! Looks like we have a nice couple camped about 100 or so yards up the hill from us. Good people just out enjoying the mountains. I love it.
Today we are going to try to cover a ton of country in hopes to get a bull to bugle back at us. Once again, this country is no joke. That on top of the elevation, and my butt is getting kicked. Glad I trained as much as I did for this hunt. It’s definitely paying off. Today we ran into a group of 2 hunters. Nice guys. Just so happens they were brothers! What a coincidence. Best of luck to those 2. They are going to be here for 3 weeks! We found some great looking areas today and fresh sign, but no elk. Now, we’ve got a long way back to camp. I can’t wait to crawl into my sleeping bag for the night.
This morning was awesome! We woke up and heard a bull bugling! First time that has happened on this trip. Hopefully, the rut is gonna kick in soon here. Again, we found some really nice areas and even found the remains of a bull that was killed less than a week ago! I hope that means we are in the right area. We also found 4 piles of bear scat within 20 yards of the carcass. I was expecting to see that. Today we heard about 4-5 bugles all coming from the same area. We chased the first one, but we think the bull moved, because his bugle kept seeming to travel to the east of us. We checked out that country to no avail. This evening we are almost certain that we had an elk come in to our cow calls. It sounded like an elk walking around, but we just couldn’t see it, because of the dense forest we are in. This is a different world compared to Arizona. Going to sleep is something that we find ourselves looking forward to more and more everyday, haha.
Today we have to hike back down to the truck to resupply on food. We have 3 more days left to get it done. This elk hunting business is proving to be pretty hard. I was expecting to be challenged, but not this much. This morning we saw 2 cows. Tried to make a play on them and they spooked from probably 500 yards away. Are we hunting coues deer now? These are the most jumpy elk I’ve ever encountered. We contemplated moving areas, but found out from another gentleman that the road to my backup areas are closed. Nice. Luckily, we can hike from where we are camped into this area, it will just be more taxing than if we had moved camp. The gentleman also confirmed what we thought was true about this spot. From where he was camped, he could actually see the bull we have been hearing bugling in this area. So tomorrow, we are changing directions and hunting different country in hopes of being able to locate the herd we have been hearing.
After getting back to camp from the truck, we decided to hangout in camp a bit and let our boots and socks dry out. Had some coffee and enjoyed a nice dinner. A group of 2 girls and 2 dogs passed by our camp today. One of their pups was a red and white border collie. Of course the dog came running towards our camp with a big smile. That makes me miss home. My wife, my dogs, and my house. Right now, we are just sitting down, relaxing, and glassing these meadows for elk. Something that we keep doing throughout this trip is talk about what we are going to eat when we get back in town! We’ve been daydreaming about cheeseburgers and pizza, hahaha. I feel sorry for whoever serves us, because we stink exactly like stink.
Ok, so this morning and last night were definitely the coldest so far. We woke up to ice on our tent! The vestibule was frozen solid! Glad I packed in some extra clothes. Never thought I’d be this bundled up chasing elk in September. Maybe, that is just the Arizona talking in me though. Back home, I believe it is up in the 80’s and 90’s up in the elk country that I frequent. Such a difference. This mornings hike was around 2 hours for us to get up on top of the bench we want to hunt today. Man, there is a lot of sign up here. Still no bugles though. We did find a really promising looking wallow up here. I think we are going to sit there for the rest of our day up here. The wallow is fresh, so we are optimistic! If nothing today, we are gonna switch our tactics over to glassing tomorrow. That is unless we hear bugles, which I hope we do. It would be nice to get into bugling bulls at least once on this trip. We definitely just got done chasing a howling tree. Man, that was lame. Could have sworn it was a bull bugling. We are such rookie elk hunters, haha. Enjoying a nice afternoon right now sitting at, not one, but two active wallows! This area has the most elk stench that I have smelled since we’ve been here. Here’s to hoping!
Well, not 20 minutes into our sit and Jake is out cold. Typical Jake fashion to fall asleep during an ambush setup, haha. Our food fantasies are continuing, by the way. Bagels, protein bars, and mountain house is getting old, but getting the job done. There is a little burger shop in Dolores that we’ve been talking about for days! We sat the wallow to no avail. I’m glad that we got off the mountain when we did, because we ended up having to unexpectedly traverse around a huge gorge. Didn’t see that on the way in. I’m in absolute aww about how much elk sign we are seeing and how little elk we have seen. In 6 days, we have seen 3 elk. Unreal. We headed back to camp a few hours early to relax, eat dinner, and enjoy a nice fire. Tomorrow is our last full day here and we are switching up tactics. Glassing is going to be our main focus now, unless we hear bugles. I sure hope we do. The muzzleloader guys will be heading in here probably tomorrow and they start hunting Saturday, I believe. I’ve decided that tonight I will sleep in all of my clothes. Last night was pretty chilly. Time for bed and hopefully a good night’s rest.
Last night, we made our one and only fire. Probably out of depression, haha. I was expecting to get into way more elk then we had and now, my hunt is almost over. Time flies when you are doing what you love though. Either way, it was nice to sit there and warm up before bed. This morning was a bit warmer than the previous. Didn’t hear any bugles last night or during breakfast, so we are going to head to our glassing spot and plop our butts down for the morning. On our way, we bumped into 2 nice mule deer bucks. Man, I wish I had a deer tag! That makes 6 mule deer bucks I could have taken with my bow on this trip! Back to elk. My theory for today was that, because of the colder temperature, the elk would be out on either an East slope or South slope, feeding and warming up in the morning sunlight. Wouldn’t you know that before we even got to our glassing spot, I glassed up a herd of 20-30 elk up on an East slope, in the sun, and feeding. We are elated that we just found elk and our plan worked. These elk are about 1 1/2 miles away from us and 1,000 ft above us. One of the cows actually spotted us from that distance! After that, they all trotted into the trees. I did notice that the elk in the back of the herd was much darker and bigger bodied than the rest of them. If I had to put money on it, that was a bull. We have decided to let the elk calm down a bit and hangout at our glassing spot for an hour or so. Who knows? Maybe, they will filter right to us? Wishful thinking, I know, but our time is limited and I’m allowed to dream!
The time has come. It is time to make our ascent to the top of the mountain where we last saw the herd of elk. This is gonna be a tough climb, but hopefully the reward is great. Honestly, it’s all we have to go off of though at this point in the game. This is the most elk we have seen on the trip. Right now, it’s about 8 in the morning. I don’t suspect we will get to our destination until probably 10:30 or so. Time to go.
About 3/4’s of the way up, we ran into a fellow hunter taking a nap under a tree. We stopped to introduce ourselves and, let’s be honest, take a break from climbing. He was a nice gentleman from Maryland that just got packed into his camp by horses. We spoke for a bit about the area and he informed me that he has been hunting CO since 1985. I asked if they have ever been successful with their bows here and he told me that he killed a cow a few years back on a waterhole. That’s it. This was anything but encouraging to hear on my way up after these elk. To top that off, he told us that you couldn’t call in these elk, because they are too pressured. I was better off sitting a meadow, he said. We bid one another farewell and wished luck upon each of us. We are almost to where we need to be.
I am HUNGRY! Time for a lunch break before we dive into the hopeful elk pit the lay ahead of us. As I sit here and eat this dry bagel with peanut butter and honey, my mind is racing with what we might find later in the day. Right now, I have to admit, that I really don’t think we are going to find these elk again. I’m trying to remain positive, but when failure has been by your side everyday up until this, it’s hard. Done with lunch. Let’s see if we can make something happen. At this point it’s 11:30 a.m. It’s probably pretty warm down at camp, but up here in the trees, it’s beautiful. I told myself that today I wasn’t going to call at all, especially after what our friend from Maryland told us. Suddenly, I got frustrated with everyone that told me I couldn’t and shouldn’t try to call in these elk. That is what I am most familiar with though and how I want to hunt. We aren’t seeing anything so far. Time to get out my call and start singing that September song.
I am thinking that if I just cow call every once in a while, as we move through the forest, we shouldn’t spook anything too much. In my heart, I am hoping that we hear a bull bugle. It would just make things so much easier. You have to be kidding me?! Was that a bugle? My brother and I can’t tell exactly which way it came from. That wasn’t a problem too long, because the bull bugled again. LET’S GO!
Awesome. We just bumped a group of bedded cows. They were at 40 yards. The one and only time, up until this point, that I had been within bow range of elk. I tried to cow call these elk back to us, but it didn’t work. The bull just bugled again! Just in time to cushion my mental fall. And we’re off again!
We just ran into more cows. These elk aren’t spooked. I’ve got one shooting lane that is 35 yards. I am thinking that the bugling bull in tow, will be right behind his cows. Nothing. Time to move forward and keep heading towards the bugle. My cow calls haven’t been getting this bull to respond at all, at least I don’t think so. Time to do the unthinkable. I got frustrated again and decided to “break the rules of Colorado elk hunting.” After I bugled, this bull answered me so fast, you would think we were in sync. NOW WE’RE TALKING!
I found a nice log for my brother and I to set up in front of and handed Jake a big stick. I am gonna have Jake beat up this dead pine tree and I will sporadically add in nasty bugles, in hopes to draw the bull in for a fight. I ripped off my first bugle in the spot. The bull hits me back immediately. I told Jake to keep destroying the tree. I rip off another bugle, this time even nastier. That’s when I saw it. Antlers emerging from the brush to my left. Did we actually just call in this bull? I am in disbelief. To boot, this is a nice 6×6 bull. We were in his territory, and he didn’t like it. The bull slips behind a row of thick vegetation. I draw my bow and patiently follow him as he comes out the other side. CRACK! My arrow hit the elk and the next thing I know, the bull is racing down the hill to our right. My brother and I looked at each other and just broke down in tears about what just happened. For 1 week, we did 10+ miles a day and saw very little elk, let alone a bull. We endured pretty much every sort of weather that you could have during that time and then this.
I noticed upon impact though that my shot was high and did not penetrate well at all. This has me worried and for good reason. For the next few hours, we looked around and grid searched the area. Not one drop of blood was found, not my arrow, and not my bull. Right now, is the lowest of the low for me in the elk woods. I had just called in my first bull, on my first archery elk hunt, shot my first bull, and lost my first bull. That is a lot to handle and too much for me right now. I feel disgusted and beat down. This is the part of hunting that no hunter likes to deal with, but is inevitable if you hunt long enough. Why did it have to be on this hunt, on my first archery bull though?
After searching for anything that we could, we have come to the conclusion that I hit my bull in the shoulder blade and misjudged the yardage. I had 35 yards stuck in my head from our previous setup. I aimed for 35, aimed mid lung, and hit pretty high. I would be lying if I said that adrenaline didn’t play a role in this hiccup of a shot. I am ready to go home now and lick my wounds. We weren’t planning on hunting tomorrow anyways, just packing out. We have had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows on this trip. A little bit of everything. Even though we never found my bull, I am so proud of what we have accomplished this week as new elk hunters. We defied the odds and bugled in a bull that was ready to whoop us! These past 7 days in the backcountry with my brother are some that I will never forget. The problem is, now I have to wait a whole year to do it again!