Wednesday, September 19
Today we woke up early with the plan of getting into the upper part of the lakes before any glimpses of daylight made an appearance. We snaked our way down into the meadows under the cover of moonlight and were situated by first light. I had the lower middle, Garnet the left side and Troy on the right. Todd was up on top calling. Not even 15 minutes after we sat down, there were bulls coming in. Unfortunately a bull was not taken this morning. But it was an action packed hunt that I can still close my eyes and remember the sound of the bull we named "growler" stomping around down below, just out of danger from my arrow.
After a long hike out, we arrived back to camp late and ate a quick meal of eggs, elk chorizo and whatever else we could round up. Then we all succumbed to our full bellies and quickly fell asleep which led to a long afternoon slumber. Our bodies were tired, but even after waking up later than intended, no one wanted to waste the opportunity for an evening hunt. So we rallied the troops and headed down to the lower beaver ponds.
We quickly worked our way down the upper trail to a location where we figured elk may be crossing. Upon reaching the designated spot, Garnet, Allen and I sat along the upper drainage while Todd and Troy went down below. When the signal was given that everyone was situated and ready for the action, Todd and Troy began to do their best elk impersonations. Not long after, I heard a commotion of branches breaking and something trying to break free from the thick alders. I asked Troy afterwards, "What was going on down there?" He had a spike (young bull) just about run over the top of him, which in turn ended up scaring the snot out of both of them! Oh how I wish I had that on film!
Nothing else came in, so we decided to mosey on back to camp. We bugled back and forth with what we think is the big bull in the area... he was smart and simply wouldn't stick his nose out for us to get a view of him. He was always just out of reach and during the last bugle exchange, we listened as he made reaching the top of the mountain appear to be child's play. I'm simply amazed at these animal's strength and stamina. They truly are magnificent animals and I treasure every close encounter I am able to experience with them on the mountain.
Troy's 2012 5x5 CO DIY Public Lands elk
If you have been following along in my elk journals, you may have noticed that I skipped over Thursday and Friday. I'm sorry. I honestly didn't journal either of these day's hunts. While I do remember the details, I've decided to cut to the chase and get to the last day... the one I've been waiting to blog about. Plus, I have some Christmas giveaways to get to this week, so I need to wrap up these journals. So, without any further ado... here is the day a tag was punched in our household, or as some call it, the last day cliche.
MORNING HUNT: Big Bull Meadow
Saturday, September 22
Wouldn't you know it! Our favorite meadow is the spot where Troy arrowed an elk and on the LAST DAY of a month long adventure. Here is how the morning unfolded...
Wanting all of the cards to be in our favor, Troy, Allen, Todd and I woke up way before dawn knowing today marked the last chance of the season to arrow an elk. During the long bumpy ride down the mountain road, the following words escaped from someone's lips, "I've got a good feeling today." It's not something we say often in an effort to simply will a good result. So, we all take heed in the fact that God may just be smiling on us and whatever the results, we will give thanks.
We arrived in our favorite meadow just as the first glimpses of the morning began to crack the darkness of night. Our footsteps were cautious as we edged the clearing. The darkness from the thick timber quickly allowed our eyes to adjust to the light beginning to play and lift dawn's shadows in the meadow, which meant our cover could be blown if we weren't careful. We scanned the openness before us for a few moments before determining it was safe to scurry across to our designated spots.
A coyote or two began making horrible noises just beyond the bottom portion of the meadow, and I quickly grabbed the back of Allen's pack stopping him in his tracks. The lower meadow was my agreed upon location, but I was now uneasy about sitting amongst the ruckus. Don't get me wrong - I would shoot one in a flash, but being surrounded by a pack of coyotes potentially after a fresh kill wasn't my cup of tea this morning. Allen agreed to switch spots. We quickly split, and made a dash to get set up. Troy went high, Allen low, and I moved to the right, while Todd nestled in an aspen grove in the middle since he was the main caller, which allowed him to move as needed once we figured out where the elk were at. After finding a spot with good shooting lanes, I removed the loose debris, and sticks from the ground around me. An arrow was nocked, several spots measured with my ranger finder and mentally noted. I was ready. I called three times on my cow call to let everyone know... it was game on!
Troy had picked a spot in the upper meadow. He was situated basically in the very middle of an open field with his back to a huge pine tree which concealed his frame. If a bull made his way into the open, he would have a good chance at a 30 - 40 yard shot. Normally it is probably not ideal to be situated so out in the open, but we've seen bulls make a dash for "cows" below IF they are hot. Allen suggested Troy try it this morning.
I'm pretty sure I heard Todd bugle once, and then Troy returned the bugle from up above. I cow called in between to complete the elk ambiance. We had been sitting maybe 15 minutes and then I heard a noise... I was inside the tree line watching an open section just west of the meadow Troy was sitting in. Instant adrenaline filled my body. I could tell elk was in the area, but they weren't talking. I heard footsteps above me. Then I heard a bark, and then some calling over by Troy. I heard a moan. Was it a death moan signaling an elk's final breath? Did Troy shoot something? Not wanting to spook anything coming near, I knew I had to stay put until someone cow called three times in a row indicating to rally the troops. I waited. And waited. Nothing. All was quiet. I began to second guess what happened. I was hopeful that someone shot something, but as the minutes ticked by, slowly turning into an hour, I didn't know what to think. Todd continued to call down below. I called some and Troy also cow called now and then.
Finally, Troy couldn't take it any longer. Three short cow calls were let out. I quickly emerged from the shadow of my pine tree and made my way towards the open meadow. As I rounded the edge of a pine, I saw antlers laying just beyond where Troy was standing!! He HAD shot a bull first thing that morning and then sat nestled against the big pine for an hour, while watching his elk only 30 yards away, because he was hoping more elk would come in for Allen and I to get a shot also. Wow! (Before you start thinking that is crazy, let me tell you that it has happened before - Allen and Troy each shot an elk within 15 minutes in this very meadow several years ago.)
After Troy and Todd's quick bugle exchange, followed up by Big Al cow calling down below, this bull elk came RUNNING down from the top of the meadow. He was on a bee line straight for Troy's tree. Since it was the only cover in the meadow, the bull was most likely going to stop right above the tree and use it to peek around to try and locate the "elk" he heard. The only problem... Troy was also using that tree for cover. The Kryptek camouflage Troy was wearing did the trick because just as they were about to be eyeball to eyeball, Troy let out a soft cow call. The bull turned broadside as he put the brakes on and slid to a stop. Mr. Bull was met with the broadhead end of an arrow. Troy said his bull basically did a backflip, ran 30 yards and died right in front of him.
What a way to end the last day of the season!
The guys: Troy, Todd, Allen
Now that's a good feeling!
MORNING HUNT: Road to the Lakes
Tuesday, September 18
After all the fun we had yesterday, we decided it would be appropriate to head back to the same location for round two. We ran into elk again but it wasn't until later that morning, and unfortunately the scenario, while memorable, was anything but ideal.
I don't know if it is ironic, karma, or the forces of nature playing a cruel joke on me, but here is how it went down that day...
While taking a short break from the hunt, I realized that I would need to sneak off into the woods to, well, let's just say become one with nature. I've learned that when you hunt in a group it is a good idea to let everyone know your plans when duty calls so that a search party isn't sent your way or worse yet, they take off hunting without you. It is just one of those things, as I'm often the token gal in the group, that I've learned to get over. I'll even admit that I once got 6 inches from Al's face, opened my eyes as wide as I could and whispered in a very serious tone, "I have to POOH."
So, this morning I let someone from the group know which direction I was headed and quickly vanished into the woods. Upon finding a perfect location that was my own little secret pine tree cave, I unloaded all my gear and dug a nice little hole. Just as everything became quiet, I heard it. A bugle! Are you serious? Okay, I'm sure most of you have seen the comical pictures of hunters caught with their pants down and the bull / buck staring them down from the other side of a tree, while the hunter's bow is just of reach. That was now happening to me. I couldn't believe it. I guess it was bound to happen one day... this was my day! I couldn't see the bull, but I knew he was close. It was a comedy act trying to finish the deed, gather my stuff and sneak back to the guys as quickly as I could.
As I was making my way back to the guys, they were already headed my direction because they also heard the commotion. I quickly got a short lecture on never pooping in the wrong direction. What? Apparently, you should always go back the way you came. Yadda Yadda. The bull was still up there, so he wasn't spooked too bad. As I motioned to Troy to stay away from the "danger zone," he waved me off and moved closer to the bull. I followed. We ended up sitting right around my pine tree cave hideout. Uncomfortable. I don't think that is the scent cover we were looking for.
After a several bugle exchanges, we never did draw him in, and realized the bull was on his way up the mountain to bed down for the day. Let me tell you - I was more than happy to call it a morning and when the suggestion was made to settle in for our late morning snack before heading back to camp, I was all in!
I don't have the evening hunt documented in my journal for this night, and either I'm getting old and can't remember the details, or it truly didn't exist. Sheesh! Tomorrow is another day...
I forgot to mention that we did actual hunt last night... Todd brought his elk into the local processor and Allen, Troy and myself hunted the top of the beaver ponds. We went as far as the "crossroads" and Allen saw the monster bull. He peeked his head out just enough to prove he was there. Big. He was big.
MORNING HUNT: Little Mountain
Monday, September 17
We hunted the top of Little Mountain this morning. Only one bull was spotted and no shots presented. Troy spied him at about eighty yards. He was peeing all over himself. (Of course I'm talking about the bull - not Troy) It rained a little on us first thing in the morning, and luckily it didn't amount to much so the ride back to camp wasn't a repeat episode of the giant mud slip and slide we experienced the other day.
Upon returning to camp, we chatted with the guys from Utah camping next to us and then it was nap time for me. One of my favorite parts of having a camper... crawling into your sleeping bag and dreaming of elk during a mid-day slumber episode.
EVENING HUNT: Road to the Lakes
The 2:30 wake call sprung me back to reality. A reality I was happy to wake up to... Hunting time! We figured enough time had passed since packing out Todd's elk yesterday morning, so we headed back to the side of the mountain where we knew the elk were hanging out.
Moving methodically through waist high ferns, listening and using hand gestures, we were beginning to look like a well-oiled team on a mission. The first small meadow, we split up and strategically picked our spots. Troy and Todd stayed up top to call, while Allen and I split the lower section of the open area. I heard a bugle below not long after we set up and signaled to the guys to keep calling. We were set up for maybe a half hour and I began to notice vultures flying above. They most likely had found the remains from Todd's bull. Or maybe it was something else...
While everyone else was hunting, Allen was trying to escape from the confines of his pants and long johns. I'm not sure who's cooking was responsible for this eruption or interruption from the morning hunt (I forgot to write it down in my journal - or maybe I intentionally wanted to block it from memory), but he found himself scrambling for cover while simultaneously searching for tid-bits of tissue. Jim caught a glimpse of it from his ill-chosen location above. And the vultures above had a prime view and were left wondering if they should begin circling a new target, as surely something was about to die.
Even after all that ruckus, a bull was still bugling below us. Allen didn't believe me. I offered to restock his q-tip supply. We regrouped and headed to the next meadow over. Making our way through some thick pines, we stumbled on a few large pines that a bull raked the snot out of. I tried really hard to suppress the "I told you so" look from displaying on my face. Troy let out a bugle and we decided to set up in the meadow just in case Mr. Bull was still in the area. Troy boogied across the meadow, Allen skirted the edge of the meadow to the right and I headed down below. This is where hind sight is 20/20. First, we probably shouldn't have bugled until we were set up. Second, I was focused on quickly finding a spot to set up with good shooting lanes instead of checking my surroundings.
Let's just say it doesn't work well when you are on a collision course with a bull. Apparently we were both walking in the same direction and didn't realize it until we were right on top of each other. Me, searching for a spot to set up. Mr. Bull, carelessly meandering towards the bugle he heard moments ago just above. When we were about 10 yards away, he caught a glimpse of me. I caught a glimpse of fur, which seems to be a recurring theme for me this year. I quickly cow called and he started bugling again down below.
We ended up having 2-3 bulls come back in, but never close enough to seal the deal.
Allen cooked chili tonight,
so there may be a few more mad dashes for pine trees tomorrow!!
Todd's Top of the Lakes bull
I'm going to fast forward one more week. Troy and I hunted together that last Sunday before I headed back to work for another week. Then, the last week of elk season was upon us and the whole crew was back together again...
DAY HUNT: Little Mountain
Saturday, September 15
Once again the entire "pack" rolled back into camp arriving during the wee hours of the morning. As we woke up one by one, Troy had a campfire burning to welcome the sleepy hunters. It burned all morning long as we munched on egg burrito breakfast and prepared for the afternoon hunt.
As the muzzle loader season was winding down, we were ready for our turn as the last week of bow season brings hopes of bulls in full rut. The leaves on the aspen trees were reaching their peak which somehow seems to act as a signal to the bulls that it is time to pick up their game. It is more likely that the shorter days and colder temperatures are the contributing factor to the bugling frenzy, but the golden aspen trees are a visual reminder to us archers that something brilliant is about to happen... aka The RUT!
Our Saturday hunt was pretty much non-eventful. We climbed up "little mountain" that afternoon and ended up seeing a group of 15 elk milling around the top of a meadow. They seemed uninterested in our calling, so we backed out without any close encounters.
Tomorrow would be a different story...
MORNING HUNT: Top of the Lakes
Sunday, September 16
We decided to hunt a different section of the mountain this morning. An incredibly bumpy road led us down towards an area that has trails down to a lake at the bottom of the mountain. We decided to hunt the top section. As we made our way down over dead fall and thick timber, our first ambush attempt had us bugling back and forth with a bull. However, he left to gather up cows after a bit and never returned. Apparently we weren't convincing enough that time.
After I warmed my toes, a quick bathroom break and snack, we decided to meander through the timber to see if we could call in another bull. As we made our way down an apparent game trail, we soon discovered that we had stumbled right into their bedroom. It was obvious. The forest duff was kicked up under the dark timber and the stench of urine filled the air. The coolness of the late morning under the cover of pines quickly made it clear as to why the elk chose the spot. Since the wind was in our favor, we decided to stay put and see if we could catch them on their way back up the mountain for their afternoon nap. We spread out strategically. Troy and I took the right side. Allen had the below section covered. Todd and Jim took the left flank.
I cleared out some debris beneath my feet to eliminate any unnecessary noise, nocked an arrow, sat down and proceeded to munch on skittles, jerky, and fruit chews. After only a few minutes we heard crashing timber. Initially we thought a bull was spooked, so we stood our ground and tried our best to sweet talk him back into the area. Since Troy, Allen, Jim and I were all within eyesight, we pulled back together after a few minutes because we figured the bull was gone. After joking around, another noise was heard. Arrows were once again nocked and bows perched next to each hunter, as we sat motionless, attempting to blend into the trees.
After a few more minutes, Todd appeared... it turned out he had shot an elk at 10 yards almost immediately after getting set up! No wonder we heard so much commotion! He had just sat down when his elk made an appearance. Todd quickly got ready and whistled to get the bull to stop. Yes, whistled as in *youhoo*, I'm right here. A clear broadside shot was presented. An arrow was released.
MORNING HUNT: Big Bull Meadow
Saturday, September 8
If you are following along on our elk adventure, you may have noticed that several days have passed since Day 9 of our hunt. While I would love to be able to hunt the entire month of September like some people I know (*Ahem* my husband), I had to go back to work for a few days. After we all left camp on Labor Day, Troy stayed behind. I don't think he minded. He cleaned up camp and enjoyed a few solo hunts during the week until I was able to return Friday night after work. (I need to post about one of his solo adventures - let's just say that he ended up sliding down a slope in a rainstorm which resulted in him knee deep in a wallow!!)
Saturday morning on September 8th marked the opening day for black powder season. We decided to get up early and get in a strategic position for when the boom stick boys would begin pushing elk around the mountainside. We figured that our little meadow was as good a place as any. So we snuggled into the aspen grove in the middle of the meadow and waited for the sun to rise. I heard movement before shooting light and the jitters began to set in a little. It was looking promising that first light would produce an opportunity for a shot.
Your eyes play tricks with your brain in the wee hours of the morning. As you sit motionless, nestled against the bows of thick pine branches, somehow the shadows in the pine 40 yards away begin to look like figures. Branches are easily transformed into antlers as you try and will them to be sitting on top of a shadow-like life form. Just as I'm trying to decipher imagination from reality, a footstep behind me awakens my senses. That was real. As Troy and I slowly turn around, a spike elk is staring us down at 20 yards. Actually it was more like 10 yards. After several minutes of the spike elk standing his ground. We decided it was time for him to leave us alone. This curious little guy had a different idea. We stood up. Sat down. Turned around. Put a left arm in and a left arm out. (I'm kidding - there wasn't any hokey pokey going on!)
After tossing a stick in his general direction, he backed up a few yards. It was comical really. He just didn't want to leave. I seriously hope he gets a little more smart by the time he grows a few more points on his antlers. Yikes!
Finally our alien friend wandered back into the woods and we were left with the sound of a few shots in the distance. Then a really bad cow call below filtered up to us. Troy and I both looked at each other and said, "Here they come." We decided to stay put and keep our eyes peeled. The other hunters may just push something our way. Soon we realized that the cow calls were getting closer and closer. I saw a flash of orange. I didn't move. Troy had let out a bugle earlier and we now realized our muzzleloader friends didn't figure it out there were other hunters in the area, and they were now on top of us.
In order to not get shot, Troy slowly raised his bow with the bright fletchings showing and waved it back and forth. The orange-vested Elmer Fudd look-a-like, trying to hide behind a charlie brown pine tree, lowered his gun and hung his head. As he approached Troy, the first words out of his mouth were, "Was that you bugling earlier? I thought it was a big 'ol bull!" And then, almost immediately in the next breath, "but you could really work on your cow calling." Oh. My. Word. We had a good laugh on that comment all the way back to camp! I think that he must have been trying to think of something to say because Troy is anything but a bad caller. I can't even count how many elk Troy has called in for us over the years. And he obviously fooled this fellow!
After parting ways with our orange clad friends, we decided that our hunt for the morning was pretty much over since we learned these guys planned on tromping around through the woods like a herd of elephants. As we made our way back to our truck, we discovered their four-wheeler parked right next to our truck. Really? That was a whole other conversation starter for the ride back to camp! Not only did Troy need to "work on his calling" but the ethics of hunting right on top of someone else was discussed the entire ride. I think there was a little steam coming out of our ears by the time we got back! It's funny now, but not so much then.
The question hanging in the air... if our calling was so bad, then why in the world did you walk right into us? Hmm....
From the Draw
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