This is the story of my 2019 Colorado Elk Hunt. I'm really looking forward to sharing this with all of you as it's certainly not only a hunt but a time in my life that I'll never forget. Please be patient as EmbryOklahoma and myself take you along this 7 day journey, I'm hopeful you enjoy it as much as we did.
Before we get going here there are several known Bowsiter's I have to thank here for making this year happen. First, EmbryOklahoma (Rick E). Been a friend of mine for close to 10 years now. Dude is as good as they come, funny as hell and straight up cerebral when it comes to killing animals. Rick and I are like minded in a lot of ways, I've learned a lot from Rick namely whitetail hunting together in Oklahoma. There is not much he leaves to chance in the whitetail woods and his wall tells that story. Can't thank him enough for being selfless and coming along on the hunt this year w/o a tag.
cnelk (Brad K) who is one of my closest friends and certainly been a go to for me for many things even outside of elk hunting, I appreciate you greatly my friend. Midwest (Nick D) who is another great friend as well is always a tremendous resource and inspiration to always get your ass off the couch. pav (Paul V) for helping me out with maps and a wealth of intel. BULELK (Robb F) who I have got to know personally over the last two years living in Utah has been an awesome resource as well and the dude get's me laughing every time we talk.
Going back to the winter months, cnelk and myself had planned to go to Wyoming on a group app as we both had a moderate amount of points. Well..... that didn't work out as the unit we applied actually dropped in the regular pool and went up in points in the special pool (we applied special of course). Seems to be a growing trend in Wyoming but, oh well time to move on.
So, after that I'm looking at my odds and realize I may be back to OTC this year. AZ, UT both states I apply and highly unlikely to draw (... and they were, I didn't draw either to no surprise). I end up drawing a tag in Colorado that a couple of the aforementioned individuals above recommended.
At Pope and Young this spring in Omaha the plan started to come together as I had applied to Colorado and had the chance to discuss the hunt with the guys helping me this year. If you have not attended a PNY Convention, do so. Being passionate about bowhunting is one thing but when you're surrounded by so many like minded individuals it's inspiring. Here is a pic from Omaha
That's funny, I'm the whitest (and baldest) person in that pic. By the way, I'm only 5' 9". Those other guys are REALLY short.
On to the story.... About two months ago, Aaron and I were texting back and forth about elk hunting and the idea of tagging along on his hunt came up. The more I thought about it, the more appealing it became. What a great get away with a good friend and to be in elk country, that was all it took. AJ and myself have hunted many times together, so bonding wouldn't be an issue. I was on board and looking forward to it!
2018-19 has been quite a year for me on a personal level as well. I have a wife, two little girls (2 & 6) along with a career that has moved me twice in the last 14 years, Oklahoma to Colorado then to Utah two years ago. Last year I missed archery elk season due to my wife breaking her leg on July 25th. She broke both bones in her lower leg above her ankle in a weird accident on our front porch. Needless to say, she was in no shape to watch the kids while I went elk hunting last year so I stayed home. I only got out during October for 3 days in Utah and went to Kansas where I hit the biggest whitetail of my life in the shoulder on day 2 of my hunt. I was certainly ready to get out come September.
August rolls around and I take my information provided to Colorado for a 2 day "scouting" trip to really just get a feel for the area and put the pieces together for plans A-Z. After that trip I felt confident in my plans. Always a good feeling.
My plan was to hunt the 2nd week of the season. I went back and forth about that week or the last week. After talking at length with cnelk I landed on the second week weighing the pros and cons, namely that of beating the influx of muzzy hunters that would be present in week 3.
About 2 weeks before the hunt, my hip/ back flares up from an old injury. I have issues with my SI Joint (sacroiliac) which is in the hip/ spine area. It sucks, no way around it. I was not even sure how I did it but it was bad, couldn't run, limited workouts kinda bad. I started getting regular adjustments along with using electro stimulus to get me feeling better. Finally felt good the last week before my hunt, got a final adjustment on Thursday the 5th and the chiropractor said, "Good to go my man, go shoot your elk".
A little background on me, this was my 7th year of hunting elk. I'm a flatlander from Oklahoma, grew up hunting whitetails and turkeys. I've shot one bull in the previous 6 seasons but felt really good about year 7. I've hunted and spent a lot of time with some of the guys above. I lived in Fort Collins for about 4.5 years, spent a lot of time talking, shooting with cnelk, Paul@theFort, otcWill, Dirty D and Jaquamo. A wealth of knowledge and experience between those guys and we have drank a lot of beer. Some of the best dudes you will ever meet if you want to learn about hunting elk. Thankful to call them all friends. I reflect regularly on conversations we have had where I was a sponge just taking it in.
Worked my tail off Labor Day weekend to get the final touches ready and go through my final list of "To-Do's".
Friday the 6th, I leave Utah around 6AM. Rick was leaving Tulsa around 10-11AM so he would get to camp late. I arrive around 3PM, pretty quiet with traffic in the National Forest area as well as where I plan to camp. I shuttle gear up the mountain to my planned base camp spot. An old rifle camp, meat poles, great shade and flat. Nobody on the mountain.
Rick arrives around 10:45PM, by the time we get all of the remaining items up and settled in camp its after 2AM at this point. We obviously opt to sleep in and recover from the long drives and just hunt the evening.
One note, when Rick was following me into the area we had an awesome bull and cows cross the road in front of us. Long main beams, just a great looking bull. Surely that was a good sign of things to come. I think it got us both fired up late that night.
The reflection portion of this story....when I was 12 I had a friend of mine pass away in a hunting accident on September 4th, 1994, he was 14 years old. His name was Justin Roberson.
My father and his both worked together and were really good friends and hunting partners. I remember as a kid, going to deer camp during the Oklahoma muzzleloader and rifle seasons. It's really my first experiences and memories of big game hunting as a child. Justin was dove hunting the opening weekend in Oklahoma. The shotgun somehow discharged and he was gone from us. A day that happened 25 years ago in which I will never forget receiving the news and going to the funeral. The emotion I seen from his mother and father I will never forget. Tragic and unfortunate are understatements.
Justin's father and mother who still stay in contact with me made Facebook posts about the anniversary of Justin's passing. It touched me and brought back a flood of memories both good and bad. His mother and father always stay interested in my hunting experiences and my life in general. I reached out to his father and told him I was marking my #1 arrow in his memory and was hoping to take an elk with it. It really touched him and he was emotional. I know this time of year weighs heavy on them, I wanted them to know I had not forgot. My earliest memories of hunting were with Justin and his father. They helped light my passion.
That night going up the mountain was a giant s--t show. Aaron will tell you the same. Lol
As tired as we were, we got up early and had coffee and mountain house. Then we formulated a game plan for the afternoon. We were going to check for sign in one of Aaron's spots he scouted in August, and also pick up a camera he had hung on a waterhole. The area was void of fresh sign but did have a few cows and of course the unruly bear that repositioned the camera. :)
Later that afternoon we did grids on a few north facing slopes, calling sporadically with multiple setups. With no luck calling and getting zero responses, we opted to sit a meadow and see what comes out of a ridge of dark timber. At almost dark, two cows came out followed by a respectable 5x6. The bull was easy to spot when he came out, even without seeing his antlers, because he was shaking the S out of an evergreen. They were too far out of range for a bow shot also.
Seeing the 3 elk was good news, but the lack of sign we were seeing in this particular area only proved these elk were likely passing through. It was good getting the legs stretched out and the wheels were turning in our minds on what to do for Sunday...
Day 2 had us back to the same area we were the night before. We were going to try to find the elk we seen the night before on a great looking north face slope. We opted to get in and do a large loop hoping we would catch elk getting back to their beds. After a total 6 mile trek, we did not see or hear any elk that morning. Fresh sign was very limited.
Upon arriving back to camp one of the area Conservation Officer's stopped by our camp. Super nice guy and he probably chatted with us for 30-40 minutes. We told him the areas we were focusing on and he hinted that we should stay higher. He told us that the year so far was "odd" and he had not heard many elk like he had in years past being in the field. He also let us know that most of the hunting pressure was in the opposite end of the unit and we were best to stay in this area. I discussed an access point with him and he confirmed it for us. So that evening we had a plan.
That afternoon we made the 2 mile trek into the area where we had discussed. Again, limited elk sign and we had not even bumped any elk coming in. We made it to our goal location and spotted a cow shortly after arriving. Other than that, it was a slow evening so we headed back to camp at dusk.
Alright, back to business. Day 3... which was Monday the 9th. I decided to go to a spot down low that had been suggested to me. It was about a 20-30 minute ATV ride from camp to my truck then another 10 or so. Not too bad. Rick opted to stay in camp as he wasn't feeling well. I trucked down the mountain and headed to my spot. Was there just as light was cracking and headed in to the basin. Quiet. Very quiet. As daylight peaked and it was clearly shooting light I started to work a call circuit across the cut. I noticed this area was void of elk sign as well other than very old sign. The morning passed and 3 miles later I was out by 9 AM. I went down the road and was going to see what camps were in the area and stopped to talk with some really nice young guys (mid-20's) from AR and MO. They were all brothers, 3 of them. They had killed two bulls and were seeking the third. We chatted for 30 minutes or so as they showed me their bulls. They were rattling ridges mid-day with bugles finding them bedded and then slipping in. These guys were in shape, like really in shape and you could tell they were effective killers. Even had their wives and kids camping with them. Even post hunt, I've been in touch with the oldest brother which he killed his bull so they went 3 for 3.
That evening Rick and I opted to try the same in a lower elevation area with a lot of north facing slopes. We took a long ATV ride into the area and started the hunt. We worked one long ridge that evening with some great setups but to no avail. Again, this area was void of any fresh elk sign. Admittedly so, I was starting to get frustrated with the lack of sign.
I was equally impressed with the three young killers from Arkansas and Missouri. They reminded me of MMA fighters on the mountain. They were ripped! Nice fellas too. Just doing what they love.
As to why I didn't hunt Monday morning... my ankles and the "ball" of my right foot were giving me trouble and all of my work at trying to cure this (right foot pain) prior to going to the mountains were for naught. My foot HURT! So, as I'm preparing to go out that afternoon, I remember the leukotape in my pack. I think, hell if it can keep people from blisters and help on hotspots, maybe it can help with my discomfort? I put a strip on my right foot like my photo above and wore it all evening. The difference was clearly evident as I had NO dull pain after walking a considerable amount with some climbing and downhilling. The better test would be the next day... and beyond. For now, the magic tape is worth its weight in gold.
As for the elk... They were hard to come by but we weren't giving up. As most hunters know, the more you're out there, the closer you are to succeeding. That was 100% our mentality, despite the lack of sign and sightings. Tomorrow is a new day...
The evening of Day 4 we get back to camp and we each cook a Mountain House and mull over the plan for the next day. I tell Rick, "Man, I really keep going back to the place we went Sunday night. I know we only seen one elk but there has to be more elk in there." Rick stated he was thinking the same exact thing. So our Day 5 plan was set.
We get up early and make it to the hike in point in good time. It's about a 2 mile walk to our destination but we opt for another way to get in and it was much easier to access than we had Sunday evening. Much easier!
As we plug away on our hike we are roughly 1.5 miles into the hike and a bugle rips off about 100 yards away below us! First heard bugle of the hunt. We both look at each other and develop a quick (real freaking quick plan). As we make the plan, he rips off again and I'm amped! The wind is coming across us down away from the bulls location. Rick gets behind me and offset where the bull would have to swing by me for a shot. As I analyze the location I quickly realize I can move even closer to the "doorway". I nock an arrow and Rick begins calling lightly with some simple mews. As I sit there nocked "I'm thinking, if he shows I'm going to have a 25 yard max shot, this is a dead elk walking." I'm checking the wind, constantly, it's steady across and down.
I start hearing limbs breaking and hear the bull grunting through the timber. At this point I can feel my heart beating. "This is going to happen, right now" I say to myself.
At this point he's not bugling anymore and a cow appears about 60-70 yards away through the timber. She's looking where the calls are coming from. We had no idea he had cows, but unfortunately he did. I can hear the bull coming through the timber and he's got to be 50 or so away, certainly close! The cow suddenly turns and trots down the hill. I hear other elk and I realize he just looped the herd and pushed them away. I bugle at him as he's pushing them, too late they are gone.
Rick and I regroup to discuss after the conclusion of the action. We don't think they winded us by their reaction but certainly think that the bull didn't like the thought of other elk just ahead. Rick was far enough away that he didn't hear all the commotion. We make a plan to try to locate him after a quick look at the map, we are certain we know one of two spots where he took the herd.
We hike further and wait for the thermals to switch. Get above a big east facing aspen pocket where I think they went. We try to location bugle mid morning to no avail. We opt to stay on the side of the mountain for the remainder of the day in hopes that we spot the bull.
Sad but such a great memorial in a beautiful location.
Sad but such a great memorial in a beautiful location.
That afternoon we spend on the side of the mountain relaxing and coming up with a game plan for the evening. During our planning, I tell Rick "what is that over there?" Looks like a shed antler or more. We walk over on the hillside and see a memorial for someone who had passed. After reading it, the individual had died in 2001. Looked as if his family had rode or hiked in to set the memorial. A metal cross, shed antlers, jaw bones and a rock formation of a cross. Certainly a very beautiful way to honor a loved one. Rick and I wondered if he had died on the mountain or if the area was just a favorite place of his. Given the date of death was in October, we figured it may of been a hunter.
After returning home I researched it and he did in fact die in an elk hunting accident on the mountain in that spot.
That evening we make a great plan and fully expect to have an encounter with some elk on the fringes of this meadow. However, mother nature had different plans bringing in a storm with rain that continued through dark. So off the mountain we went back to camp.
Upon arriving at camp, I notice my vestibule on my Kodiak Canvas tent was down. The storm didn't seem that bad so I was curious to see what happened. Damn cattle had got in our campsite and bumped into the vestibule pole bending it and tearing a hole in about 12 inches long. I was not happy.
So we dismantled the vestibule and re-organized. We were wet, so was our gear and now this. To pile on, my wife texts me on the inreach to tell me my daughter had an accident on a trampoline and was bleeding badly. I frantically respond with emotions running through my head of what happened. I'm texting "how bad is it?" "Is she ok?" "Do I need to come home?" With the satellite slower responses and knowing my wife had her hands full she texts back, "it's all OK. I'm taking her to the Dr in the morning. You don't need to come home." Without going into detail, this injury was unique in nature and certainly was concerning. I didn't sleep great that night with thoughts of how my 6 year old was feeling and how I could not be there for her.
It was a quiet evening between Rick and I but our plan was to head back in the same area in hopes to find those elk from today. At this point I'm frustrated a bit with the hunt, what's going on at home, the vestibule and being wet. 4 days into the hunt, have to stay the course.
Day 5... it started out with one VERY annoying alarm about 4:15. We grumbled and mumbled... made coffee... then someone spilled their coffee in the tent. Let's just say it wasn't me. There was more grumbling. I didn't say a word, because the other guy was having a bad morning, along with the news he got the evening before about his little girl being injured. He was having a bad couple days and our tent was smelling like a men's locker room without a shower. Most of our gear from the previous day was wet due to coming out in the rain the evening prior. Day 5 was proving early on to be our biggest mental hurdle. On top of that, someone had Chili Mac for dinner and it wasn't me... :)
Our plan was to be back in to the same area as the morning before at daylight. After numerous pit stops on both sides, we were two miles in. We heard a couple faint bugles and cows chirping below us in the dark. Not knowing the terrain too well and the location of the bull, we continued on to get into position on a North facing slope about 3/4 of a mile West of our position. There we would cow call and bugle some in an attempt to locate a bull. We knew if we kept trudging along, something good would come. We were getting closer to narrowing the elk down... somewhat.
The cattle had completely torn Aaron's vestibule off of his tent, he had a bad call from home concerning his daughter, we couldn't find the elk, we were wet, spilt coffee in the tent... what else could go wrong? Well, nothing...
Continuing on Rick's preface to day 5, I was certainly not in a good mood. I'll add that after the coffee spill in the tent, I admittedly grabbed my pack opened the tent door and chucked it out towards the ATV saying "F&%$ it, if we don't do any good today I may get the hell out of here." I was frustrated with the events of the evening before, worried about my daughter and pissed about my coffee. My emotions got the best of me and Rick reminded me of a post Kota-Man had about his saying underneath his hat "Remember where you're at" or something to that effect. That really put it in perspective for me and he was absolutely right.
Carrying on..... as Rick mentioned we were heading towards this north facing slope which was 2.5-3 miles from the nearest OHV road. As we hike along we stop and bugle in response to a bull that sounds quite a ways away and down from us. He bugled twice and it was faint. We discussed briefly and decided to stay the course to the north facing slope.
As we trek along we come across an opening in the timber with some small spruce trees scattered in the area. I'm guessing it was about 200-250 yds long or so to the next stretch of dark timber. As we approach I see a bull to the east cresting a hill probably 60-70 yards away on a steady trot perpendicular to our path! My eyes must of got as big as baseballs and my mouth probably dropped open. Rick is several yards behind me on the hike, I don't look back he's moving quick like in 2-3 seconds he's out of my life. So I immediately start pulling an arrow from the quiver and "mew" from my mouth and he stops in his tracks as I'm preparing to draw. He looks right at us as we are next to a small tree and I'm at full draw. Up the leg and back, I'm holding, floating the pin just trying to pick a spot......
I'm judging him at 40 yds. I'm not the best field judge but certainly not the worst and I do practice it for situations just like this. I release the arrow...watching my yellow fletchings the entire way as the bull wheels out away from us I watch the arrow hit back further than I would like. To be honest here I was immediately upset seeing where the arrow hit. I was certain it was paunch. The bull goes up over the hill and into the dark timber.
Rick comes up to me and says "I heard you hit the bull but didn't see the arrow". I'm frustrated immediately, thoughts of a nightmare blood trail, tracking, waiting... ugh. We pick up looking for the arrow. I'm being pessimistic about the situation quickly. I can make that shot easily and I knew it while I replayed it in my head what seemed like 1000 times. I tell Rick it felt good the whole way through until I seen the arrow hit. No arrow, no blood at point of impact. I range where the bull was standing, 42 yds approximately. I was very accurate in my judging.
Rick looks up the way where the bull bolted. Turns to me and says, "blood". My demeanor immediately changes. I walk up and see the dark blood on the ground. We look further and more blood and this is approximately 20- 30 yds from the hit from what I recall. I know from experience that elk have a tendency to not go far when hit to bed, etc. I'm spooked of that situation running through my head as we pick up part of the short trail. Rick looks ahead and turns to me and says "there he is" as I'm looking at the blood on the ground. I slip up to look and the bull is picking up his head and working it back and forth, up and down.
I nock another arrow and consult with Rick if I should slip another one in. He and I both ponder, it's chancy given his position, the thermals, etc. Rick says "I think he's going to die right there, let's watch him." The bull lifts his head one last time and lays it down, motionless. We look at each other and know he's dead. I'm overwhelmed inside, a feeling many of you know very well.
What an unbelievable day! We just smacked him in the a$$ and said.,, "you're coming home with us." Well, mostly you but anyways, I had a blast! This photo was days in the planning. Thought I'd add a bit of flare to it. I told AJ I was going to do this. Third try was the charm. :)
I hope everyone enjoys the tail end and I want to thank Aaron for having me out. We might not knock down everything in front of us, but we'll give it hell trying.
Great job guys! Congrats on the bull Aaron! Fortunate to have a good friend like Rick along for the journey! Enjoy the moment and don't sweat the frustrations, been there...done that. Only take five minutes to change your season....as you found out! Congrats again....happy for you both! Thanks for sharing the adventure! Paul
It's crazy how one encounter can turn your hunt around. I'm really proud of Aaron and his accomplishment. He held it together, was very prepared, and he made it happen. It also couldn't happen to a better person and friend in Aaron. He's simply a GOOD dude! We went from the depths of wondering if we might ever see an elk, to the highest of highs in a matter of minutes. We all know it can change just like that, that's why we keep battling!
"lol...that shitter! A nice frosty morning and I'm definitely hovering!" First thing I thought when AJ and myself came upon the steel shitter was... "I'd hate to sit my ass on that cold SumB!" Checking for bugs down in the hole first would be a must, because I'd hate to get the ding dong chomped on by a spider.
Great thread, guys! Nothing better than getting to share in the highs AND lows together with a good friend. Also loved your reaction in the video, upon finding your bull, AJ! Refreshing to see that kind of reaction vs someone jumping around like they’re having a seizure.
Missed it also, still playing catchup from September...
Great recap fellas! Aaron the note about your buddy growing up is a great reminder for me when I got my little guys in the field, it's easy to become too complacent. Thanks for that. Congrats on a great bull!