Saturday, September 13
We woke up early this morning - early enough to get ahead of the boom stick hunters. It's opening day for black powder and there are camps speckled with an orange glow everywhere. The plan is to drop in deep, find the nastiest part of the mountain where the elk will hide as soon as the first shots begin to echo across the mountain.
With headlamps guiding our foot steps, we journeyed down the mountain slope into a corner pocket of the mountain. An area that holds beaver dams, and steep drainages. It didn't take long before we heard the first bugle and we worried that we weren't deep enough in and others might hear the bugle, breaking the morning air. I was tempted to tell the bull, "shhh... we hear you, but do you know how close you are in giving away your location to the multitude above us? And they have guns!"
We dropped down a couple hundred more yards, quickly set up our decoys, then let out a few soft cow calls. He answered immediately. After a short call sequence we set realized he was gathering his cows and moving further down. We followed. Another set up attempt was made and with the wind not in our favor, we had to bid farewell to the herd, but we knew where they were headed. We paralleled them down the slope and waited.
At one point as we were making our way down through some timber, a twisted up limb lay broken and hanging across a beaten down path. An angry bull took out his frustration on a tree branch and it now lay twisted and raked to shreds. It was clear that bulls were in the area!
We could hear distant bugles below us - not far enough to deter us from chasing them, but far enough that we knew it was going to be a long day hunt (and even longer hike out that evening)! Glassing the mountain terrain below us, we spotted a bull emerge from the quakies. He was big! I could clearly see several inches of ivory tips ... 6 points for sure on one side and it looked like a messed up right side. I wouldn't hesitate drawing my bow and releasing an arrow if the opportunity presented itself. We watched him for a bit to see where he went, and felt confident that he made his way into a patch of dark timber directly below us, for an afternoon siesta.
As we were getting ready to sit down for a cup of coffee, we realized that in our excitement to begin the hunt this morning, complete inventory of our pack supplies had not been performed ... no COFFEE. We discussed trying to make tea from pine needles. H e l l o caffeine headache all afternoon.
We quickly forgot about the throbbing in our heads due to the lack of caffeine because a bull below us started bugling from his bed around 11:30 and proceeded to bugle all afternoon. It was most likely the big 6 I had spotted earlier. After the first 30 minutes, we decided that it would be worth it to make a move instead of waiting him out until evening. Each time we got closer, he would get more and more upset. A throaty bugle would emerge from the pines below us. We made it as close as we dared without him spotting us from his bedroom. Each cow call sequence was returned with a bugle. At one point we watched one of his cows walk just across the ravine, make her way down, get a drink of water, then mosey on back to the "bedroom." Once again it was perfect timing as we were in need of some comic relief. Before seeing Mrs. Bugle, Troy and I actually thought there might be other hunters working their way to the same bull we had been chasing all morning. In an effort to suppress our irritation, we moved in to "cut off" the new intruders and make sure they knew we were the ones calling back and forth to the bedded bull. Then we saw her and the strange cow call she was making. Simultaneously we looked at each other and asked, "was that really the cow?" Turns out she was the intruder ... a real live cow elk that now had us pinned down. The sounds she was making sounded like someone was calling through a bugle tube. We quickly realized she was not alone, as we watched several other cows mill around across the edge of the drainage we were now perched on.
Feeling confident that we were the only ones down in this hole, with an entire elk herd, we sat and waited. It was now 2:00 P.M. and everything turned quiet as the elk bedded down a few hundred yards from our location. The bull most likely decided it was time to get a little shut eye and we were content to wait a couple hours, knowing that it wouldn't be long before he decided to get up and play. We were in perfect ambush position. Wind was in our favor. It was only a matter of time. Snuggled in under a pine tree, we found ourselves nodding off as the afternoon sunshine warmed our faces.
Suddenly the peacefulness of the afternoon was broken. A sound, similar to thunder but more like a tidal wave of broken branches, erupted from the nearby trees. I nudged Troy, "Did you hear that?!" Before he had a chance to answer, the misplaced crash of thunder quickly gave way to the sight of the trees seemingly coming to life. As we looked across the ditch, a plethora of legs and bodies were moving quickly up the mountain. Something was pushing the entire herd of elk. Not yet sure what was happening, we cow called, hoping that they would run our way (and not run us over). They ended up skirting the ravine and making their way up the mountain. Then the reality of what happened became apparent ... florescent orange appeared and my heart sank. A guy with a rifle tag for bear was riding his horse RIGHT THROUGH the bedded elk.
I couldn't help but feel a bit frustrated and irritated that we had 1) hiked in on foot, 2) worked our way into a perfect position for ambushing a huge bull, and 3) now someone rode their horse right through the entire elk herd. We packed up our bags and moved up the mountain where we could get a good vantage point, hoping to see where the elk were pushed to. After a mountain house meal filled our bellies, and not spotting any elk, we were about to let defeat wash over us.
Then, a bugle was heard -- right in the same area the elk were pushed out of an hour ago!!
Our bull was back in his bedding area, calling his cows back to him. The hunt wasn't over after all! We quickly made our way back to the last spot we were calling from. It was now or never. Since he wasn't budging, we decided to get aggressive. As we inched closer, we learned why he wasn't crossing the ditch that separated us. It was more like a ravine. It was deep and steep. Finding some cover right on the edge, we quickly ranged distances. I'd have a 40 yard shot if we could lure him close to the ledge. However, he still wasn't showing himself. Troy looked at me, "Your call. Do you want to try and cross over to get closer?" I looked down and doubted if we could safely cross, then looked back at Troy. He saw the look on my face, and replied, "We'll be fine, just take it slow and we can cross over there." So we ventured down. It turns out that it looked worse than it was. Navigating down wasn't that hard, but climbing the other side, I quickly learned that it is better to get momentum and not stop. I told myself, "Think like a mountain goat."
We found a good spot to set up and saw a cow a hundred yards off, making her way down the trail. Unfortunately, the bull decided he didn't want to "play" and continued to move further down the mountain. Troy called him a "coward" out of frustration, and we decided it was time to start heading back up. It was going to be a long climb out of here! Plus there were still some bulls above us. If we started now, we could hunt our way back.
It didn't take long and as we followed a game trail up, I heard a bark and cow calls. We froze. After not seeing anything for several minutes, we decided to move up for a better vantage point. Slowly and cautiously we crept up the trail, then stopped and cow called again. Something was moving above us. I got excited when I thought it was the big lead cow, but after a closer look, realized it was a big spike (young bull). Since we can't shoot spike bulls in Colorado, we sat and watched him for a while, thinking maybe he'd lure in something else. I thought I heard more movement, but never saw anything. The problem now ... we didn't want to spook him off, giving us away, but also wanted to keep moving up the mountain, to hopefully get closer to a bull above us. Spikes are curious, and sometimes not very bright. He wouldn't leave us alone! Finally we had to start walking down the trail. He literally followed us for awhile before finally running up along he ridge to the right of us.
As we made our way through a patch of trees, we were about to walk into an opening. "Stop! Don't move. Cow looking right at us," Troy whispered authoritatively. She was 150 yards out and grazing along a pine tree. Unfortunately, we were stuck in the open. With a few aspen trees behind us to break our silhouette, we stood still and watched. Troy cow called with his mouth reed. She moved closer, then momentarily disappeared below us. I first saw a yearling cow dance right into the opening in front of us. She stopped at 30 yards and looked back. The cow I saw earlier came running up to her and stopped. I had decided I would shoot a cow if the perfect shot opportunity presented itself. However, I couldn't bring myself to shoot this cow. That calf was right by her side, and knew she was probably still wet. So I watched as they proceeded to walk right toward us. 20 yards. 15 yards. I heard movement behind her. We were now in close proximity to a herd of elk. The cows looked back over their shoulders and we watched what they were looking at ... several other cows with a bull following behind them. Unfortunately, the cow and calf spooked a little as we were standing right on the pathway they wanted to walk along, which contributed to redirecting the herd to cross right above us, out of bow range. The spike, that wouldn't leave us alone previously, then came trotting up the clearing, stopped and stared at us. Why couldn't YOU have been the bull, Mr. Friendly Spike? Oh well ... another close encounter with elk in the books. That is a good day in my opinion.
I'll get my elk someday. It simply wasn't today.
Btw - Here's your elk hunting tip of the day: Never. I repeat never go to the bathroom next to itch weed. Not only were my legs on fire from all the hiking today, my bottom was also burning due to not recognizing the obnoxious stuff.
From the Draw
A website devoted to sharing bowhunting stories. From the draw in the mountains to the draw on paper, the moments live on.