Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Em's Elk Journals 2014: Day 4

Tuesday - September 2, 2014

Before heading out today, a few chores around camp had to be done ... Troy fixed the leak on the top of the camper, then drained gas out of the old generator into the new generator, while I sewed a rip in Troy's First Lite pants. A quick breakfast of burritos consisting of eggs, wild hog, potatoes and cheese were consumed. I could get used to living like this!

Once our morning chores were completed and bellies filled up, we were excited to get back out there and see if the elk were ready to play. So far, there hasn't been much talking, and I was ready for some bugling action!

Since we had missed out on a hunt this morning, we left a little bit early and drove to the top of the mountain with the hopes of catching some grouse before it was time to play with the elk. We had seen lots of birds in the same area on Saturday, but Murhpy's law struck and now that we were prepared with blunts on the end of arrows, the birds didn't want to cooperate. However, we soon found out that a bull had his game face on and was ready for the afternoon action to begin. Game on!

Around 2:30 PM we dropped down to the first tier on the mountain and sat there for thirty to forty minutes until dropping further down onto the lower aspen ledge. After sitting for another hour or so, we heard something ... cow calls! If you can hear cow calls, then you are close to elk! They were awake and hopefully grazing our way. We let out a few cow calls and then Troy ripped off a bugle. A bull answered back immediately. He did NOT like that another bull was close to his cows. This was the first bugle that we heard this year and we got excited! It seems like each year when that first bugle is heard, remembering how to respond to the challenge gets blurred by the adrenaline rush threatening to overtake your senses. Should you keep calling and sit tight? Move closer and put the pressure on, but risk getting spotted? Bugle or just cow call?  It is definitely a challenge!

Since it was still early in the game, we decided to stay put, hoping they would come to us. We called, patiently waited and listened. Eventually we could tell that they moved just below us. Each response from the bull gave his location away, and we noticed a pattern. He was moving up and down the mountain with no commitment to come all the way up to our location, so we decided it was time to put some pressure on this bull. We dropped down a tier and continued to bugle. Troy raked a tree. The bull responded back immediately, giving us the opportunity to close the distance a little more. Back and forth this went all evening. We made it to within 100 yards of this bull, just above his bedroom, but never caught a glimpse of him. I nicknamed this bull "Mr. T." since he teased us all evening, staying just out of sight.

I left the mountain that night with one thought in my head ...

"I know where you live Mr. T!"

Watch the video version of this Elk Journal entry:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Em's Elk Journals 2014: Day 3

Gunshots echoed across the mountainside this morning, which makes sense; it is opening day for grouse.

The plan was to hunt directly behind camp. I had heard a bull lightly bugle the morning before. I had a hunch they were coming up the drainage right next to our camp, so we decided to explore the territory just beyond it. Wouldn't that be awesome to shoot a bull just below camp?? As soon as we wandered a hundred yards behind camp, it opened up into an old "road." We followed it down for a bit until the thick timber diverted us to a steep ledge. Taking the lead from those who know the area well, we continued down a game trail along the edge until it opened up, giving us a view of a valley below and clear shooting lanes.

We sat down, leaned into a tree just off the trail, and listened. An amazing thing happens when you listen to the silence of the forest. Initially everything seems quiet; however, as you begin to take it in, your senses awaken and the "silence" opens up ... water flows over rocks in the stream below, the flurry of wings slice through the air above as a bird glides overhead, claws scurry up a tree, and a pine cone drops to the floor with a thud. Out of the silence a chorus erupts and the melody of the forest flows together effortlessly. I could easily fall asleep, but then I remember we are here to hunt and the morning is still young.

After a while we ventured a bit further and sat down to do some calling. Nothing answered. The flow of the stream below peaked our curiosity. Holding onto branches along the slope, we made our way down. After crossing the stream, we settled in under a huge pine that stood proudly in an open meadow. Breakfast seemed like a good idea ... Mmm... peanut M&Ms and coffee!

It was now late morning and we had a decision to make - continue exploring this territory behind camp, or climb back up, load the four wheeler up and head to an area we were familiar with. We landed on the latter option since we hadn't seen / heard anything and it looked like if we moved further down the mountain, it would get more treacherous.

Upon arriving back at camp, we took a leisurely ride on the four wheeler to check out the other camps in the area. We were curious how many hunters were down the road from us. So far, it appeared the odds were in our favor. Most of the campers were truly that - campers. We reached the trail that Troy, Rudy and I headed down last year and shot 2 bulls in the bottom. Glassing the area brought back good memories and I was anxious to get back down there again. However, we made a decision that we would let it sit for awhile and wait to go down in the "hole" until the elk started bugling. There is no sense going down there unless we knew the elk were there!

Tonight we hunted the beaver ponds (middle section). We were hoping to run into the elk we had seen the day before. This time, we continued down the trail to the crossroads. Evidenced by all the moisture this summer, the growth along the trail concealed the path, now making it a secret to only those who have previously traveled its course. When we reached the marshy area where we've seen previous wallows, we lost the trail momentarily. Upon reaching the crossroads, we sat down and waited. Nothing materialized, so we decided to head back to the open area we saw elk yesterday. In order to get there in time, we had to make tracks! Unfortunately we went to fast, and as we made our way around a downed tree, Troy looked back at me. "Shooter bull," he quickly announced. A 5x5 was 40 yards in the timber and we weren't ready. We tried to skirt in front of him and quickly set up the decoy, but he was on to us and never made another appearance.

One more set up was attempted before we called it quits tonight. I was reluctant to head back. We were getting closer! I'm ready to draw back on a shooter bull. It's just a matter of time.

Upon reaching camp, Troy decided to cruise down the road and see if the other hunters nearby were back in camp. We chatted with the CO boys briefly and talked whitetail hunting, then went down to the next camp to check in with the PA boys. They about talked our ears off! We hit it off with these guys and the stories flowed easily. However, at around 9:30 I had to nudge Troy. It takes a few days before you get used to eating dinner well past dark, and I had burned enough calories today to eat two plates full. Pointing to my now growling stomach, and giving my best puppy dog eyes, I announced, "I'm HUNGRY! Let's go get dinner started before my stomach eats my backbone."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Em's Elk Journals 2014: Day 2

We slept in today. I know, I know ... you may be thinking right now, but it's only Day 2 of our elk hunt! But since it was just Troy and I calling the shots this year, it was easy to make a mutual decision. The conclusion that we would take it easy and not pressure ourselves to "go go go" the entire time was easily reached, although initially it was hard to convince myself that it really was okay to ease into the hunting. It was an effort to hold myself back, and realize I could allow myself to simply enjoy our time on the mountain. Plus the elk really aren't talking yet, and that whiskey sipped around the campfire last night, combined with the rain and thunderstorm now rolling through the early morning hours, made for a perfect morning of catching an extra hour or two of sleep.

Campfire coffee was prepared as I took in our mountain view. This lead to a little exploring behind the camper, and by "exploring" I mean poop chair sitting. (If you are unfamiliar with the infamous poop chair, use the search feature on this site. You're in for a treat.) Anyway, as I was busy with stationary exploration, I heard a small bugle. There was a bull right behind our camp! I promptly came back to the camper to tell Troy, who was still sleeping. I jumped into my camo and decided to do some actual exploring behind our camp ... maybe I would be able to shoot an elk right next to our campsite. How cool would that be?! That elk decided not to stay around. I never saw or heard him again, but I did discover that the woods behind camp looked "elky." I made a mental note. That might have to be checked out a bit more later this week.

By now it was late morning, and we decided to make a run for town since we forgot a few items for the week (always seems to happen). On our list ... mouth reeds, ice, and matches. While in town, we also couldn't resist the allure of chicken fried steak on the local cafe menu. This is usually reserved for AFTER an elk is shot, but since we seemed to be doing things a bit backwards this year, we gave in and filled our bellies. We were hungry!

When we got back to camp early that afternoon it was time to get scent free, charge cameras, load up the four wheeler and head out. We decided to hunt the beaver dam road tonight - the spot where I had a chance at a bull elk several years ago, shot right over his back, and killed a tree. As soon as we unloaded our gear from the four wheeler, I immediately knew something wasn't right. I felt ill. My pack was dropped as I made a mad dash for the woods. Ugh. What did I eat??? Either the water in my bladder was bad or the chicken fried steak was playing some kind of evil revenge on my body. After making three dashes for concealment in the woods while hiking just 100 yards in, I was beginning to wonder if I had brought enough toilet paper for our evening hunt. It's at this point I think I began eyeing leaves with a curiosity I've never had before. Enough said.

Since I wasn't feeling so hot, we decided to not go very far. We set up our Montana elk butt decoy and found a spot along a well-traveled path. There were lots of elk tracks, so we knew they were walking the path. It was just a matter of when. We sat there all evening, cow calling every once and awhile. Around 6:30, we began to wonder if we would get skunked. Troy stood up to stretch his legs, and so did I.

Then things changed in a moment.

I quickly and quietly told Troy, "Don't Move!"

An elk was walking down the path and looking right in our direction. Troy was in the process of putting his binocular harness on, therefore couldn't reach down and turn the video camera on which was sitting beside him. He was caught with arms in mid air trying to get his gear on. It was a bit comical as we stood there motionless, Troy in an awkward pose, with an elk walking straight towards us! As we stood there motionless, eyeballing each other, the spike elk was getting closer and closer. 20 yards. 10 yards. 3 yards!! At this point, I realized I might have to make a decision, which meant either ducking into the pine tree or possibly having a very up-close elk encounter. The elk made the decision for me. He stopped about a yard away and barked! WHOAH! That will rattle your bones. Upon realizing the pine tree was more alive than he would like it to be, the young bull retreated to around 30 yards. We kept our cool, picked up our bows and hoped that he would come back in and bring some friends.

It didn't take long before an additional two spike elk came down the path, along with a cow elk. They circled around and this time the cow let out a bark. They knew something wasn't right, but couldn't figure it out. We had the cow decoy set up perfectly, about 60 yards down the path. They kept trying to make their way over to the "cow" feeding along the path. However, our wind kept busting us. I almost shot the cow at one point. She came within 30 yards, but I never had a clear shot. Then she backed up to 40 yards and stood there for what seemed like an eternity. I finally convinced myself that I would be happy with a cow and if I could see her vitals when I stood up, I would release an arrow. I drew my bow from a sitting position and slowly stood up. An aspen tree perfectly blocked my view of her lungs. She barked at me and ran off, taking the young bulls with her.

We sat for a few moments in silence after the woods swallowed up the elk, who just moments ago stood directly in front of us. The adrenaline ran thick throughout my veins. My body shook uncontrollably, as my mind tried to control the rush. I once again remember why I love elk hunting. It is moments like this where sweet September whispers in my ear and encourages me to continue chasing after the sounds of bugling elk.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Em's Elk Journals 2014: Opening Day

Elk Season 2014. A lot happened up on the mountain during the month of September. This year, our hunting camp consisted of just myself and Troy. We had a wonderful time together, learning how to hunt as a husband and wife team while chasing elk around the Colorado mountains. There were many memories made, that consisted of beautiful moments I wish could linger on, and other times where I wish I could go back and rewrite the story. Those tough hunts always seem to result in lessons learned ... even if they are hard to stomach at times.

I kept a diary almost every day while up on the mountain, and I'm once again opening up my elk hunting journals so that you can re-live these moments with me ... the good, bad and ugly. I'll clean up some of my entries a bit, simply because I was almost asleep by the time I sat down to write down the events of the day, and you wouldn't want to read through that mess. However, for the most part, I'll share with you each day's activities, the ups and downs of elk hunting, all the emotions I was feeling, and also lessons learned. I even have some fun videos to share!

So let's get it started! Here is my first entry ...

August 30, 2014

We woke up early this morning. I suppose the excitement of opening day played a part in the 4:00 A.M. alarm. The plan was to reach "big bull meadow" before the first break of dawn. This meadow has brought us luck first thing in the morning on previous hunts, so we thought maybe lady luck would visit us again. After sitting watching the morning sun rays slowly creep down the tips of pine trees, working its light down towards the open meadow, I heard something above us. Then, a doe with a buck hot on her heels ran across the meadow before us. We hoped that elk would follow, but after another hour or so with no other action, we decided to push further into the timber. With not a lot of elk sign, our spirits were a bit down and we chatted about whether or not to head back to camp or sit tight for the afternoon, then push further up the mountain. We decided to take a nap, which was followed up with a Mountain House lunch. (If you've never eaten a hot Mountain House meal, while sitting under a lodge pole pine tree in the mountains, you are missing out!)

Around 2:00 we pushed further into the mountain and found a meadow with fresh tracks and elk droppings. It looked promising, so we set up our decoy and nestled along a pine tree on the edge of a small meadow. However, around 4:30 the clouds rolled in, the breeze picked up and we decided (actually more than once) to head back to the truck. You see, if he road gets wet on the side of the mountain that we were on, you might as well plan on spending the night. The road turns to a slick mess and sliding off the edge is not optimal, considering it is quite the drop off! Since it was only the first day and a whole month of hunting was ahead of us, we were okay with throwing in the towel early that day in order to get back to camp. One thing about mountain storms you can always count on ... they are unpredictable. It could blow over in a few minutes, linger and decide to come back and hit you again, or just build and build until it unleashes its fury upon you. I guess fickle is a good word to describe them.

We were able to get ahead of this storm and arrive back safely in camp. Since it was still early, we cooked steaks and sat around a fire just enjoying being back up in the mountains once again. Ahhhh... sweet September!

Happiness is the feeling that washed over me as I let my sleeping bag envelope me and encourage me to drift off to sweet dreams of arrowing a big ol bull elk. Hopefully tomorrow we will figure out where the elk are hiding, but for now it is enough to know that I'm simply on the mountain elk hunting again.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hawke Sapphire ED 8x42 Binoculars - Review

In searching for a new set of binoculars, I decided on the Hawke Sapphire ED 8x42 from Hawke Sport Optics. The idea behind the 8x42 option is to get a set of lightweight optics that fulfill my needs for locating animals in the high country of Colorado. If I got a high quality set of lightweight binoculars, then I could get a spotting scope to fulfill the need for having the ability to get closer examination of the animal that I am hunting.

Initial Impression
When the package came in, I opened the box and the first thing I noticed was the very nice leather carrying case the binoculars came in. It reminded me of the days when my grandfather got his new binoculars in a black leather carrying case. For me, there is something to be said for the first impression of a product. If it comes in a plastic low-quality case, it tends to lead to the impression that it may not be the best product on the market. In my opinion, the packaging a product comes in provides a hint of what is to come.

Binocular Details
Moving on to the actual binoculars ... The exterior of the binoculars are composed of a rubber coating, which allows for ease of handling out in the field, especially in adverse weather conditions. There are nicely placed thumb creases in each side of the binoculars that help make them more comfortable to hold during long periods of time, which is important for glassing mountain slopes and drainages for animals. The eye cups feel comfortable on the bridge of your nose and eye sockets while looking through them. The large focus wheel in the middle of the ocular eyepieces is smooth and crisp when focusing on the subject. When first looking through the binocular set, you focus to your left eye using the main focus wheel, then start focusing your right eye using the diopter adjustment (focus ring in front of right eye cup).

The lenses on the Hawke binoculars are made from extra low dispersion glass, e.g., ED (extra dispersion glass). This is a high performance optical system with a dielectric coating prism that provides bright and vivid images, allowing these binoculars to work great in low light situations. This is a must while hunting since most animals make an appearance in the early morning hours and in the evening at dusk.

Practical Experience
I had the opportunity to use the Hawke Sapphire ED 8x42 while shooting 3D tournaments, in addition to scouting and hunting both elk and antelope in Colorado. I used them on bright sunny days and had a great crisp look at the targets and/or animals. In addition, while using them on rainy or lowlight situations, I had just as clear field of view. There was several times this past September where I was able to clearly make out the size of a bull elk in low light conditions. I remember one time we were making our way into a meadow, and we were able to spot elk feeding in the early morning hours. We stopped at the edge of the meadow, waiting for the first shooting light, and having my Sapphire ED 8x42 binoculars readily available allowed me to easily glass the bulls in front of us.

Anyone that knows me well can attest to the fact that I'm not a technical speaker / writer. I like stuff in layman's terms or basically, as we say in the fire service, "keep it simple stupid." I can pick up a set of very expensive binoculars, look through them and then pick up a set of less expensive binoculars and not be able to see a difference that would cause me to open my wallet that wide and purchase the costly set. Hands down, I can tell you that the quality of these binoculars is worth your money spent. Compared to some of the other more expensive binoculars on the market, I would come back to these binoculars again and again.

Bottom line - I like to have a good set of optics that I can afford and trust to be good on a blue-collar budget. Hawke Sport Optics produce, what I feel, is one of the best lightweight and durable optics available for your money spent. They have crisp clear glass and come with a leather case, padded strap cleaning cloth, ocular lens caps, object lens caps (that can either be removed or left on and hang down out of the visual area of objective lens) and instruction guide. The quality and craftsmanship of Hawke Sapphire ED 8x42 binoculars are impressive! You can guarantee that these binoculars will be along for the ride for each hunting trip in the Rocky Mountains, and wherever else my hunting adventures lead.

If you are in the market for a new set of optics, I would highly recommend Hawk Sport Optics. Visit their website, www.HawkeOptics.com or email them at sales@hawkeoptics.com. I know they would be happy to answer any questions you have on their products. They are extremely knowledgeable and helpful.

Thanks, Hawke Optics!

Disclaimer:  The reviews on FromtheDraw.com are solely the honest opinions of Troy & Emily.  The Hawke Sapphire ED 8x42 Binoculars were provided at no cost by Hawke Optics for the purpose of this review.  FromtheDraw.com received no monetary compensation in exchange for this review.