Elk Double Down - Part I
The story of the 2013 Elk Double Down ...
I'm not sure how or when the area was first coined this name, but we all know the area immediately whenever someone in our hunting camp suggests we drop down into the DMZ, aka the Dead Man's Zone. To some, it is an acronym that has military references, and for fire fighters it has a whole other meaning, but for us hunters ...
It's the place where the hunter finds himself looking down into a mountainous canyon, wondering if he can call the elk up instead of venturing down. Sometimes the call of the elk on the ridge beyond is too great a temptation, and the hunter journeys down. This is exactly where we found ourselves last September. Our "Dead Man's Zone" is a valley or hole in the mountain where we've found elk before, but crawling out of the area with an elk on your back will have you quickly wishing for a tow rope. Still echoing across the canyon from seasons past are the sounds of hunters with elk-laden packs ... thoughts of "one more step" and "elk steak, elk steak" seem to be burned into the hill-side with each footstep, as the hunter carries his quarry up and out of the canyon below. Like a fossil of previous hunts, these steps serve as both a warning and encouragement to the next hunter who finds himself peering down from the ridge. They beckon the hunter to move forward, yet warn of incredible fatigue. A choice has to be made.
Last September, we chose to venture down.
The evening before chasing after elk in the canyon below, we had located a bull. So we knew there was a good chance of having an encounter the next day. Here's what happened ...
All throughout the day, unforgiving rain continued to pour out of the heavens. We had become used to the conversation about the cold, wet, and mud. On a whim after a late lunch, as the sun forced it's way through the overcast sky, we decided to not waste the evening. We were restless and ready to hunt. Bows were grabbed, and hastily put together packs were thrown in the back of the truck. We named our stir-crazy attempt at chasing elk that night... a FUNT. Translation? Fun Hunt.
Making our way to the top of the canyon, we decided to follow a path down a couple hundred yards. It was a section that we hadn't become familiar with (yet), and often wondered if it would provide an easier way in and out of the "Dead Man's Zone." Since my boots were drying out in preparation for the next day's hunt, I had tennis shoes on. Remember, this evening hunt was to be a low-stressed FUNT; therefore, I carried a light pack, a few snacks in my sweatshirt, and a bottle of water. Of course, as if on queue the elk knew that we weren't taking them seriously. At the sound of the first locator bugle, we received an answer below. And we were off! Down we went a couple hundred yards and set up in anticipation of the bull making his way up the "hill."
Laid across the mountainside, fingers of aspen groves took on the appearance of a hand print impressed upon the slope, as if a giant leaned against the mountain and peeked across the ridge, leaving his mark. Meadows dispersed themselves in between aspen finger impressions. Settled in the edge of an aspen grove, we strained to locate the approaching elk, hoping he would make his way up our aspen finger cut against the ridge or make the fatal mistake of crossing the clearing in front of us. Bugling back and forth, he closed the distance. However, it wasn't meant to be this evening. The bull made his way up an adjacent aspen finger, giving us a brief glimpse of his existence and then slipping back into the shadows.
Our FUNT ended that evening, as we said goodnight to the bull and climbed back up the trail in now soaked tennis shoes. Even though an arrow wasn't released, this brief encounter wasn't for naught. We not only discovered a new path in and out of the area, but we went to bed with the knowledge of where the elk were located ... at least one bull.
A plan was formulating in our heads that night. Tomorrow, we would venture down.
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From the Draw
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