Blizzard, rugged and remote terrain, bears and big bulls make for one memorable elk hunt!
Photos by Blum
As any big game hunter knows, there's a difference between hunting elk and finding elk.
The recent elk season in western Colorado saw many hunters returning home empty handed.
But on one successful hunt, two buddies found the key to trophy success last fall was a willingness to go the extra miles.
Horrible roads, long pack trips in and out, loaded hikes up and down steep mountain sides, cold, a blizzard, and a pair of boots left too near the campfire to dry on the first night out were among the setbacks that stalked this hunting pair as they stalked a young man's first bull elk.
This is a true account of a hunt that took place near here last fall. This account could be about anyone who loves the outdoors and thrives on knowing that he has measured himself against nature and measured up.
It was Max's hunt. A western Colorado native, today he lives further "out west." Last fall he bought an over-the-counter bull tag to make the hunt he'd been planning for two years.
Along as companion and helper was "Blum," a back country mountain biker and Dakota bird hunter who was in Colorado to experience his first elk hunt.
Max had first scouted the rugged, inaccessible area of public land in 2008. He had carried a rifle and overnight supplies in during the 2009 season and got a good look around, though no game. But the bulls were in there, and so were bear.
There was one stretch of steep, nearly vertical hiking, and long pack distances that assured him few other hunters would venture in. Even using horses were out of the question in this terrain. Some private ridge-top access existed, behind locked gates and sky-high fees. Max had reckoned that any pay-to-play hunters on the private land would just push game towards his position.
A lower access road went in part way. Blum wisely decided to chain up his F-250 Powerstroke. Some out-of-state hunters camping along the way had been unable to climb a muddy road grade even with their small fleet of ATVs, but the Powerstroke handled it nicely.
With packs fully loaded, Max and Blum began a trailless hike through thick oak brush that turned into an almost vertical climb up a wet hillside. Some of the ridge lines on top bore the remains of old exploration and access routes, making parts of three-hour-long pack in a bit easier.
Camp was a flimsy nylon shelter. Campfire that first night would be the only one they'd find enough dry fuel for on this hunt. Max left his boots too close, and had to repair the burnt leather toes with heat duct tape. They carried only enough food for about two days.
During the night they heard elk passing close by their camp. A good sign.
The next day began early. It was cold, damp, and cloudy with fog and constant drizzle. Weather was headed in, and they knew it. The country is creased by ridge lines and deep gullies. The first day hunting consisted mainly of seeing animals far off and not getting close enough for a good shot.
In the late afternoon, Max spotted a 6x6 bed down in the open on a distant, though accessible, ridge. It was a long shot. He got comfortable behind his .30-06, the muzzle resting on a mounted bipod. The rifle, a sporterized WWI vintage Springfield, carried an older Redfield scope with an early type of metering assist feature but offered little help in low light.
He shot, more than once, but nothing happened. The bull decided to get up and walk away. By pre-arranged signal he met Blum on the ridge to look for any sign of blood, and to start tracking the animal if necessary. No sign. It was getting late. They hiked back to their campfireless tent and heated up some canned chili on the pack stove. They crawled into sleeping bags, and a half hour later the blizzard hit.
It was a nasty storm with lots of wind and wet, icy snow. Morning greeted the pair with up to a foot of new snow on the ground. Their tent looked like an igloo. The .30-06, kept in an enclosed vestibule overnight, got a coating of blown-in snow and ice. Before the bolt would operate, Max had to thaw it with heat from a cigarette lighter flame.
Max got out early, trudging through wet snow in his taped-up boots. Not too long afterwards, Blum heard the shot and hurried off to find him.
Max had spotted a 6x6 with a large group exposed on an opposing hillside. As he glassed the area he identified at least four other legal bulls. But he wanted the 6x6 that was near the top of the ridge and acting nervous. The big bull walked over the ridge and the other animals began to follow.
Having scouted the country, Max knew what was on the other side . . . another ridge separated from the first by an open meadow he had paced out at about 400 yards. He decided to stalk the group hoping for a good shot at the 6x6.
He found the group of elk across the meadow. The 6x6 was already heading up over the next ridge and the others were beginning to move about.
It was decision time.
Max thought, "I think I can get a better shot at that 6x6 over the next ridge . . .
the weather's turned bad . . . we're wet and can't get a fire going . . . we're basically out of food . . . am I on the verge of endangering Blum or myself?
"It's time to end this hunt now."
At that moment, one of the legal bulls at the base of the hill directly across the meadow turned, presenting a perfect broadside.
Knowing the terrain he'd encounter, Max had been practicing with the old, but accurate infantry piece at 400-yard ranges. He held over and squeezed. A moment later the sound, "Thwap!" A 5x5 dropped to his front knees. Max watched through the scope ready to fire again as the animal tried, but failed to get up. It was about 10 a.m.
As he skinned and de-boned the big animal, he set pieces of raw meat on plastic sheeting in a nice cradle of fresh snow to cool – the bad weather became a blessing.
It was 2 p.m. before the two hunting buddies, feeling no discomfort at all, began their first pack out to the truck. It was about 6 p.m. and nearly dark when they arrived. They feasted on fresh elk steak cooked over the pack stove, and then slept in the truck.
Another seven and a half hours of physical labor was waiting the next day. They walked back in to collect their camp and the rest of the meat that had been left in packages hanging from a high tree limb. It was Max's first bull elk. It was his hunt.
And then there's the story about that bear – but that's a tale for another time.blog comments powered by Disqus