Remainder of July and August flew by and September 6th was here before I knew it, I am going to now do what so many great bowsite posters have to me and leave anyone following hanging. More to come with pictures over next couple days. Congrats to all successful guys this year, more to come!!
My buddy and i decided we would not hunt until Saturday evening and would try to catch a couple hours sleep since we had driven all night. Well you can guess how that went, both of us tried for about an hour before we decided can kill an elk sleeping in camp. So off we went to location close to camp. First evenings hunt decided to drop into a bowl and find a spot to relax and see if we could spot some elk on some cuts and meadows below. I think we both caught a little rest before deciding to drop into the bowl and see what kind of sign it held. Not really thinking about being up all night dropping 1000' feet of elevation and being at elevation on first day from Kansas, oh well were here to hunt.
Once we gone in the bowl there was a lot of fresh sign, rubs, fresh droppings, wallow, etc... after quietly working around for a bit sent out first bugle and got a distance response. What the hell did that just happen? Took our best guess at good sit up and start a calling sequence, some cow calls, a bugle here and there. We were pretty high and wind was blowing pretty good hard to determine much sound wise. First lesson learned, we only gave sit up about twenty minutes before deciding to check out another bench we had marked on OnX. We had been walking toward bench for about two or three hundred yards when we ran right into a spike that appeared to be heading to our calling set up. We were both fairly frustrated with our decision to move so quickly, mainly because we had decided prior to trip that any legal elk in range was our target. With this being our first hunt we were setting on killing and elk.
After length discussion about knowing better from years of calling call shy turkeys we were both upbeat. Both of us have talked too and read stories from other elk hunters who have gone on numerous trips and not seen and elk. We had seen elk and appeared to find area elk were frequenting based on the sign, so not all was lost. By this time it was getting toward evening and we were about two miles from Ranger, we decided to climb out of bowl. No going down that was fun coming out not so much, either way we both survived, and shortly after a meal of brats in camp were both on our cots and fast asleep shortly after returning to camp.
Decided to sit up and give some cold calling, was about thirty minutes in when two cows came trotting in. Were coming to call and my buddy ended up being at full draw for couple of minutes had lead cow broadside at 40 she just needed to take one step which never happened. Than what seemed to be the theme of the trip I felt a cool breeze come across my face and they were gone. Amazing for such large animals how fast and quietly they move threw the timber especially with the amount of beetle kill. Again frustrating situation, but felt could because we were in Elk. One step and we would have been in the chips. Gathered ourselves, and hiked another two-three miles found a lot of sign had elk bugle but think it was another hunter, found a great looking active wallow and plans were made to bivy into a large meadow later in the week.
All and All day two started with a bang and was a good day overall, was close to opportunity just couldn't make it happen. Still can't hardly believe that we had hunted Elk and were into them two days. This was shaping up to be a great hunt from the start!
Close does count. Toss Frags or squeeze off a few Gustov’s.
No Coup to count ater those.
Youv’e done well Pilgrim.
So this was first clear bugle we could identify of the trip. Will say that being a rookie probably affected our approach on this one. Spent a considerable amount of time contemplating if this was a bull or another hunter. Several times I would bugle and bull would answer immediately just couldn't be sure it was bull vs hunter, after several minutes of these we determined it was a bull based on how quickly it appeared that he covered ground from first bugle to last. Inexperience defiantly aided in not getting where we needed to be fast enough, if I was too guess I would say he ended up getting our wind. Worked our way over to where he was and called for a while and was never able to get him to fire off again. We decided to work our way back to Ranger in general direction we thought bull came from to see what kind of sign there was in that area. Would have to guess it was a bull based on the speed he moved through some beetle kill, if it was a hunter my buddy and I agreed it had to be Cameron Hanes, based on speed he was moving:)
By the time we picked our way through beetle kill and got back to camp to assure the old guys were still alive and eat some lunch it was around 1:00. Worked out well, wanted to be walking into our designated bivy camp around 3:30-4:00 had a couple bowls of stew, drank a beer and headed out.
Now let me tell you we both had worked pretty hard to be in descent mountain shape. In last couple years I have gotten into gravel bike riding , and have done multiple rides over 100 and did a 200 mile race this year, so consider my self to be in descent shape. So far was holding up well, however adding tent back, meals and okay un-needed weight 24oz of beer to pack ended up feeling like 24 pounds. Either way we decided to try spot on way in we called in two cows based on amount of sign, spent about hour to hour and half there with no responses and worked our way up to bivy camp which was about three quarters of mile below a big meadow and number of wallows that we wanted to be on at first light. Got to camp site, set up, ate a mountain house, drank a couple of beers that we cooled off in creek below camp. Was looking forward to being out all night to see if we could hear some bugles. Not much after dark myself and buddy were in our tents ready to sleep. Fortunately we were high enough were able to get some cell reception. Was nice, had chance to Facetime my family it was good to see them and get a weather forecast which didn't look good for afternoon. Unfortunately only heard one or two bugles and were a ways off over the night, at some point around ten I was awaken by some huffing and growling from some forest creature guessing black bear, must have been tired because it only kept me awake a short time before back to sleep.
Following morning day three dawned clear and cold, excitement level was high as we worked our way toward the meadow and wallows. However all was quiet, tried some calling for a couple hours with no response, did notice that some cows had moved into the meadow which weren't in area previously so wonder if that affected the elk. Also had talked to some locals previous day on road when heading in who communicated they had been driving roads since two in morning try to get a bugle with no luck. Who knows lots of sign but elk just didn't seem to be there when we were. It was fun bivy hunt, will defiantly do it again lots of lessons learned mainly more focus on off season with weighted pack! Afternoon hunt was scrapped due to rain and wind all afternoon and evening, was able to go into town grab a shower and meal.
Our first calling set up below where heard was did not pan out, honestly I don't know that they could even hear us. During our calling four small rag horns walked across the top of ridge and stopped in group of trees. The wind was right and blowing hard so we got below them and worked our way right at them. Got too about 75 yards and could see they were all working over several small trees. Really thought this was going to happen, crawled up another twenty yards was moving to tree that would close distance to thirty yard when they all picked up heads barked and headed out. So close probably could have taken shot from where I was but with 20-30 mph wind was not happen. Really don't know how they saw us and know they didn't wind us. Figured there must have been one that we did not see. So close!!
So in first hour of day four we had already seen seven bulls, after swing and miss at the rag horns sit down to regroup and make game plan. Based on direction elk were headed earlier we were guessing they headed for timbered bench that would protect them from the wind. Decided to slowly work our way around this section of timber keeping wind in our face bugling to see if we could get one to fire. Another lesson learned "WHEN YOU FIND FREASH SIGN SIT UP AND CALL AND GIVE THE ELK SOME TIME." Came to nice bench lots of rubs fresh sign thought I will bugle and see if one fires, wind is pretty minimal where we are at. Sent out a bugle stood in place for five minutes before deciding to move up about fifty yards and do calling session. Well started up ridge and take about fifteen steps and here comes a small 5x5 come right at me, had to be within a couple hundred yards. UGHHH....starting to feel the frustration that I am sure all seasoned elk hunters understand.
After running that bull out decide to work down ridge about another half mile and sit up and call, appears to be a lot of elk in this general area. Find likely look spot set up and call for hour no sound or sightings. At this point we get up and head toward the next pin again don't make thirty yards on down wind side of where we are calling and see another bull working downwind side of our calling sit up. We see him first but there is no way to make a move he gets down wind and is gone.
By this time its lunch time look at our next pin which is about 1.5 walk away via rough ATV trail. Stop along the way to eat some lunch have cell coverage so quite honestly check the regs and units to assure we are still in general unit. Feel stupid to say that I knew we were but was just blown away amount of elk we were seeing. Confirmed we were hit one more good looking spot to no avail. On walk out did meet a nice older gentleman that told us he was on wrong side of 80 and spends majority of his time out here. Came across wall tent camp that I am guessing was his place. He almost fell over when we told him cost of out-of-state license for elk and told us his cost in the past. Could have spend rest of day talking to him, but had to move on. All and all first half of day four was crazy nine bulls, wind, and cold and some beautiful country seen. By the time we made it back to truck it was 3:00pm and we had covered 9 miles.
The small meadow was perfect in upper end there was a point that bottle necked down and was about thirty yards wide. Expected thermals to be coming down the mountain by time elk hit the meadow which would be perfect. Got settled in by 5:00 not expecting elk to hit the meadow for another hour or so. Well we had been sitting no more than ten minutes looked up in corner of meadow and saw a cow, now two cows. Thought WTH this might work, puffer told me wind was perfect. Cows worked ways back in timber but figured they would be back out. About ten minutes later two cows coming running out, then two more than two more, six in total. They kept looking over their shoulder and hunting whitetail rut long enough I knew what was coming. Shortly thereafter I nice 5X5 steps out, and starts pushing cows, lead cow breaks and comes running right to bottle neck. Everything is happening fast, in my mind I am like this is gonna happen he is gonna run down here and be at twenty yards. I am in sitting position get up to my knee's hook on to string loop and put some pressure on my string. I can see lead cow and nothing but horns on her butt. Then I feel what we all dread, my neck cools down and feel breeze across my neck lead cow slams on the breaks and turns to the timber bull in toe and out of my life for ever. Not thirty seconds after they are gone I squeeze my puffer wind is perfect....WTF!!!
The next thirty minutes we sit cussing damn mountain winds, why can't this be Kanas when it says south wind it is south may be thirty but at least its consistent. After cussing for extended amount of time we figure it still early might as well see if anything else shows. About an hour later lone cow steps out in same place small heard came from earlier. She is consistently feeding our way, about twenty minutes after she comes out a small black bear comes out below her and starts working our way. She is not overlay concerned about bear and continues to feed. Bear gets about twenty yards below us and gets our wind, now wind is not blowing toward Cow but is in direction of bear and he takes off. Cow is now on high alert, and eventually winds us and moves. At dark we are both thoroughly frustrated but happy we were in elk all day. Sleep comes easy we put in some miles and were on elk all day today was a good day!!
There was some more adverse weather in forecast for afternoon of day five, considered going back down hell road from day four but with weather coming in and expected snow we decided against it. Hunted a couple of spots close to camp until about 11:00 when weather rolled in and stayed nasty all day, snow, ice, rain, wind. No elk seen or heard today. Used weather as opportunity to go look at some others spots in couple of units about 40 miles away. Considered moving camp to that side for last three days to be closer to where we had seen all the bulls yesterday morning, but did not really want to move camp with everything being wet and only having two more days to hunt.
As fate would have at we stopped at connivence store to grab some ice, and beer. Was guy in there in camo so out of curiosity asked how things had been going from him. He was local guy, and said he had been in since last Thursday, and had been in bulls the last several days. We got to talking and sounds like he did some guiding locally, we shared some pins where we had seen some moose one being what I would consider big but I had no idea. He mentioned he had some guys coming in and was thankful for intel and pointed us in general direction he had been into bulls. Didn't catch his name wish I would have would love to thank him for info, nice guy and was more than willing to talk hunting and strategy his insight was greatly appreciated for a couple of novices.
Dawned cold it got down to 26 overnight and everything was frozen. Decided to hit area's around where we had gotten local intel. I actually had some pins in general area and discovered an ATV road that went to that area. So this road was 50" or less road and could not take ranger up it. Actually ended up being a good thing, anyone who rides atv up this road is more man than I am that for sure. Huge rocks and boulders would make for a very rough ride, but did make for nice road to work up and bugle and locate elk.
About half mile from the truck we came to first good spot and ripped out a bugle, and got pretty much and immediate response. Both my buddy and I eyes lit up sounded like bull was ahead of us, so we worked up about another quarter of mile and head toward him got in likely spot, and started a bugle fest back and forth for about thirty minutes. We were in some pretty thick cover and was really no way to close closer than we were with out running into him or getting wind wrong. One minute he was answering every bugle and cow call and the next he was gone. At one point he had to be within 100 yards but never laid eyes on him. There were several bulls bugling in the vicinity, so we moved up and found another one wanting to play. We were high enough that there was 1" or so fo snow on ground so it was apparent that no one had been up the road. We were finally hearing what we came here to hear which was elk bugling. Hunt could have ended right there I was happy!
We spend the majority of the day up the ATV trail, ended up covering 9.5miles. Had several responses but couldn't get them to finish. Really guessing that our choice of set up was hampering us, and we were both frustrated about the every changing winds. We were seeing and hearing elk and have been daily. All in all day six was awesome, and found out that no matter where you are bowhunters are bowhunters. In my experience they are normally willing to give advise or point each other in the right direction. In the this instance I hadn't hit some pins in this area close to camp because i had been hunting other areas but some helpful insight pointed in me in the right direction. Don't know if he is on bowsite but if he is and reads this thanks!!
After the day we had yesterday we planned to hit ATV road at first light and hit a couple of spots we had heard bugles yesterday. I can tell you for two guys from Kansas our legs were telling us it was day 7. The final day dawned clear and cold a truly beautiful day in the mountains, reminded me of a perfect day during the whitetail rut here in Kansas. Everything was covered with frost and was clear and cold with very little wind. We both felt really good about today based on interactions we had yesterday we were hopeful we could pull off last day miracle.
Got to our parking spot, and based on ice on puddles in road we were first ones up that direction, made it into the first place we called yesterday and let out a bugle, carried a long way on clear morning, stood there for fifteen minutes or so without a sound. Determined our best plan was to walk about a mile to where some drainages dumped into a big meadow and see what was cooking up there. When we arrive we bugled and listened again for about 10-15 minutes nothing, before moving on we decided this looks too good and there were several bulls sounding off here yesterday morning lets find a place and sit up.
We moved into a likely sit up and I got lazy, when we initially set up we worked over a ridge that drops into meadow, expected the elk to be in drainage across the meadow, wind was perfect for the sit up I knew better but figured a bull would come across the meadow to our sit up if he was in there. Lesson learned trust your instinct and know they are not likely to run across the open to see whats calling if they can see whole meadow from ridge above. In reality should have set up on back side of the ridge rather than going over where you can see the entire meadow, you can guess how this goes,
Shortly after getting setup I let out several high pitch mews about my second call a bugle rips out about 250-300 yards out. Immediately I think about moving back and trying to pull over the ridge but in that time he bugles again and has covered a lot of ground, at this point it sounds like he is about a 100 yards out straight in-front of me, I can tell he is using ridge to get around me but is also skirting the edge of meadow, I take off to end of meadow trying to cut off, no more than get settled behind a tree and he bugles again I cut him off half way through and he does not like it at all. All goes quiet for several minutes and I notice some steam coming out of timber about 50 yards below me, I identify the bull raking a tree 45 yards head on from me, he takes three steps and is at 43 head on. I had determined prior to this hunt I will take head on shot but will not take it over thirty. As bull starts to turn broadside I feel the dreaded unpredictable winds hit the back of my neck, off he goes. Got good look at him it was a super nice 6x6, so close yet so far away.
If I could do it again I would have stayed behind the ridge where he had to come up and over to see us, really think he hunt up at end of meadow because he could identify where sound was coming from but could't see other elk. Either way it was an amazing experience and something I continue to see when I close my eye's at night. Spent better part of the morning and early afternoon in general area and was unable to strike another bull. Made it back to camp had lunch and beer and decided to give meadow a try again this evening.
Since it was our last night we pushed the envelope a little too much. Wind was changing always but decided to move to upper end of the meadow a little closer to where Elk came out two evening before. Wind was not stable all night but most stable periods appeared it to keep it away from general direction the elk were coming from. Should have known when we set down we were screwed, had pine squirrel sit above our heads and bark non-stop for 33 minutes, I have never heard anything like. He took several direct hits from pine cones and would just climb up a little more and keep barking, I also can still hear that sound in my head. We had several groups of Elk try to make their way to meadow tonight however they wind always seemed to swirl at in opportune time. Hunting meadows I see could be productive but man the wind is frustrating. Really would consider giving a tree stand a try on return trips in the future. On several occasions throughout the evening we heard huff's running off and looked up to see elk butts headed in opposite direction.
The walk back the truck was one in silence, in reality we had nothing to be ashamed off. We learned a lot about elk and finding elk on this trip, my e-scouting and hours on youtube learning paid off, our goal on this trip was if we saw elk great, hearing elk would have been enough! We had several opportunities just could cash in, I will be back, and just like title of this story if close counted in elk hunting the way it does in horse shoes we would be eating Elk. Instead we are living on memories until our next elk hunt, with the hope that next time it wouldn't be if only close counted!!!!