Friday, November 6, 2015

A little bit of elk huntin'

It's a slow day in the deer woods, so I'm gonna take the opportunity to catch up a bit until Mr. Bones shows up...

As I eluded to earlier, I was fortunate to find success on my first trip to elk country. It wound up bein' some of the hardest, but fun and fulfillin' huntin' that I've ever done. If you're part of the TL;DR crowd, might as well head back to Facebook now. If you're up for a huntin' story, grab a beer and keep readin'.

Since Joe and I flew in and arrived at camp in the dark, I decided to stay at camp the first mornin' to see the sights. I was not disappointed... our camp was right on the top of the hill, overlookin' the valley below. I was treated to a first-class sunrise, then grabbed some grub and split some wood until the ol' man got back from his mornin' hunt. Then it was time to get my gear together and let the hunt commence.
Sunrise from camp.
Our modest accomodations for the week.
We spent that afternoon and the next day at our buddy Robert's favorite huntin' grounds. They'd had success there a few weeks prior in the bow season, but Dad's fleeting glimpse of an elk a few hundred yards away that first afternoon was the only fresh sign seen. The old sign was there, but the elk no longer were. The views were intoxicatin' though, and I put down quite a few miles as I explored that section of mountain. 
The "Ol' Man's Hole", as our buddy Robert calls it. It's close to
the truck, and has been very good to him over the years.
This tree was about 3" diameter, and
was broke about 8' up. Elk in the
rut take no prisoners.
A few views across the valley.
Some of those aspen trees get the damnedest bark markings...
Dad's second day spot.
The third day, Dad, Joe and I decided to explore a different area. En route, Joe got distracted by a stream full of native trout, so we yanked off the road and let him catch a few. He decided he was gonna stay there and fish, so Dad and I pushed on another couple miles and found a decent hill to hunt for the afternoon. Dad decided to stay near the truck, so I found the tallest hill nearby and headed for it. I found some fresher sign on my way up, so I kept goin' the whole way to the top. I found a nice meadow up there, and was rewarded when a cow and a calf stepped out at 150 yards just before dark. To finally see an elk in the wild after years of waitin' literally sent chills down my back. My trip was made then and there.
Joe, with a beautiful native brook trout.
The view from the top... 11,300ft.
It's a little hard to see, but there's an elk calf in the middle of the
picture. The cow had already gotten behind the trees.

For day four, I was gonna fly solo and go explore a promisin' area I'd found on the map. Dad was headed down to the water hole below camp, and Joe was goin' explorin' in a different area. I was just gettin' dressed when I heard Dad's .300 RUM sound off twice. Sure enough, my phone range a few seconds later. He'd intercepted a herd of elk, includin' a nice bull, as they were leavin' the water hole. He felt certain he'd made a good shot on the bull. I headed down, but after over an hour of searchin', it was apparent that he'd done no damage. I'd have given anything for Dad to take a bull on this trip, so I'm not sure who was more dejected. We sulked around camp for a few hours, then I went down the hill to town for a bit, then went explorin' while Dad got drunk. Day Four was definitely the shitty day of the hunt.
I snapped a few pictures on the way to and from town. Of
course, I had to ge the obligatory Park Service sign.
Not exactly roads that you want to misjudge...
With only one day left to hunt, I decided I was goin' to try my original Day Four plan again. Again, it was another uphill climb, but I was tickled when I got to the top... Lots of meadows with patches of pines scattered about, and several water holes around. The first water hole I encountered had reasonably fresh elk tracks in it, which did nothing to hinder my enthusiasm. The whole place just looked "elky". With a plane to catch early the next mornin', I decided I would explore for a few hours, the sit on the waterhole until early afternoon, then call it a hunt. 

I picked my way slowly across the top, glassin' as I went. The backside of the hill led down into a rocky, deep ravine, and I wanted to stay on top. So naturally, it came as no surprise when I nearly stepped on a handful of elk, and they promptly headed across the rocks and toward the ravine. Although I knew they were long gone, I decided to go to the ledge they'd disappeared over and have a look. I was startin' to see fresh sign, and the whole area smelled like elk. For the first time on the hunt, I felt like I was gettin' close.

As I was glassin' the rocky bowl below me, I heard what sounded like an ol' Holstein bawlin' down below me, and it sounded reasonably close. Seein' that there were no bovines in the area that I knew of, I suspected that my quarry awaited me, so I pressed on. 

The next bowl down was empty, but I could see another one a little further down. I decided I'd have a look, but if that one was empty, I was headin' back up to before I got to far down the ravine.
One of many rocky bowls that led down into a large ravine.
I crept down and glassed the bowl, but there was a large section that was hidden. I started to circle around to glass the hidden part, when I heard the unmistakable sound of runnin' elk. I scrambled back to the gap in the trees I'd just vacated, and sure enough, a herd of elk was runnin' through the bowl, about 150 yards below me. The big bull was leadin' the way; I threw my gun up and tried to get on him, but it was too late. Meanwhile, cows were pourin' through, well over 20 by my rough count. I had just about given up hope when I saw two smaller bulls bringin' up the rear. I picked out the larger of the two, and my trusty Remington 700 .30-06 barked just as the bull slipped into a small patch of trees. Several seconds passed, and the bull stumbled out of the other side of the cover and went down. His head was still up, so I quickly sent what proved to be an unnecessary finishin' shot. Just like that, the hunt was over, and the work began.
It was about 9am when I pulled the trigger. Although I was two miles from the truck, I reasoned that I had all day to get him out, so I decided not to mess up anybody else's hunt. I composed myself, got changed into lighter clothes, and started cuttin'.
This is a zoomed-in view from where I shot. you can see the
elk layin' in the middle of the picture.
This was the bowl where the elk were hidden.
Naturally, he came to rest between several rocks and an old
log, which made the butcherin' process a bit tricky.
My first elk. Hopefully not my last.
Three hours later, I had a bare skull and three bags full of delicious elk meat, ready to be trucked up and over the mountain. I stashed the meat in the shade, strapped the skull to my pack, and headed for the truck to get my frame pack. Two more round trips later, I arrived back at the truck just after dark, thoroughly whooped, but as satisfied as I've been in a long time. I never did get a chance to weigh everythin', but I'd guess I took between 175-225 pounds of meat off the mountain that afternoon.
Everything bagged up and coolin' in the shade.
Jesse bought me this pack for Christmas
ages ago. I do awful things to it, and
it just keeps on tickin'.

All told, I'm glad that I didn't get anythin' until the final bell. It gave me time to enjoy the best of what Colorado had to offer. Huntin' out there is a completely different ballgame to what we're used to out here. No traffic noise, no dogs barkin', no nothin' except for whatever noise Momma Nature wants you to hear. Every direction you look makes you want to drag your camera out and snap pictures, which I did plenty of. And although I'd have given my bull ten times over for the ol' man to have connected, I'd be lyin' if I said I wasn't thrilled by havin' the chance to take a bull on my first trip out. It was truly an experience I ain't likely to forget soon.
My final picture from the trip. Dusk as I headed down
the mountain with the final load of meat.

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