March 2017 - We book and the countdown begins. Rob, Ross and I are headed to southwest Colorado in 18 months. It should have been four but Steve, another great friend and whitetail killer said "no joy", too expensive. Too bad, he would be a blast and would round out our flatlander group quite nicely.
Jan 2019, Rob calls Dan at the Rocking R and asks if there any openings. It appears Steve is now regretting the decision to not book. He gets confirmation that there is room for the week we are booked and Steve is in. The Boyz from Illinoiz are heading to the mountains!
Sept 23 we load up for the 1300 miles. Three 50 somethings and one 21 year old. We make quite the crew and we are all running on nitrous oxide. All we could think about for the last week was getting to the mountains and we didn't even know what that meant. We leave Northern IL and have every intention of driving straight through. Shoot, we all have done it before, so what if it was 30 years ago. Needless to say, we ran out of steam about the 14 hour mark and got a room. The thought of sleeping in a bed, even for only 5 hours was so much more appealing than trying to catch a few in the truck cab. Besides we were ahead of schedule and this also meant we would see the mountains in the daylight.
The area on Hwy 76 outside of Vail was easily one of the most beautiful things I have seen.
PS. Lone cone as we see it coming in. Taken through the front windshield, notice all of the casualties
Anyway, we are off at 5:45 and by 6:10 actually in hiking in the mountains. Ross and I exit the vehicle with our guide, gear up and begin walking. I'm thinking the little bit of training I did paid off. This is not bad, I'm at 8000 feet and feeling pretty good. Then we start the incline. Now this country is nothing like what most of you hunt. When I say incline, I'm talking 10 degrees and the first rise covered about 200 yards. At the top, I'm now thinking that I need a lung transplant and that my training was woefully inadequate. I'm following a man that just finished a dall sheep hunt in the NWT and a 21 year old. I set my mind to the fact that I was not going to slow us down, that it was going to hurt, however I will catch what little breathe is available up here each time we stop.
We walk for about 30 minutes to a point were we could glass the meadows below us as the sun is coming up. We see elk but they are running, dang it. We move on a bit to the edge of a draw, stop and call. There it is......7 am on our first morning and we hear a bugle. Ross and I's first bugle ever. This is unreal, we are elk hunting!!!!
Now on to the evening hunt of Day 1. We are told that the evening hunts are much different than mornings, in that we are going to sit in a good a good area, wait for the wind to get favorable, call and then move. We should expect about 2 hrs of nothing and then 1 hour of excitement if the bulls are talking.
Ross and I are going to go to the property where Steve and Rob were but going to hunt down low. Steve and Rob are going to the area we were in the am. I didn't know why we would flip flop, but found out that our guide wanted to check out a couple of thing on the property we were headed.
We get set up and wait. And wait, and wait. We have 30 minutes of shooting light left and we decide to go call another area. We stop at the opening of a meadow and glass another meadow high. There's a bull and he is by himself. He's over a 1000 yards away. In my head I'm thinking well that's cool, but no way we can do anything with him. 2 bugle calls later and that joker is running down the mountain. We scramble to get set up but this meadow is 200yrds wide. No way we can make it across without buggering him. We set up with 80 yards of meadow in front of us. He comes to the meadow edge, stands there for 15 minutes and then disappears. We have had two hunts and two great encounters. This does not suck at all. We walk back to the truck and head to the lodge. I verbalize the fact that my expectations have been met. I have been in elk, I have heard elk bugle within 100 yards, and I have seen some beautiful country. My son replies that his have not been met yet, he's here to kill something. I love young uns.
To bed and we do it again tomorrow. Day 1 was more than we could have imagined. I can't believe we waited this long to do this.
Its like the first time you get lucky. The common thought is, "That was great but it was over too quick, I want to do it again!" Then you spend the rest of your life trying to do it again. Yup, that's elk hunting!
They head out and are "feeling it also". They have a specific pond that they want to work their way up to on the ranch. They never make it. Bulls start firing off as the sun comes up. They decide to go after one and start picking their way to it. The bull is still bugling and they are closing the distance. Their guide hits the cow call every so often and this boy responds but doesn't appear to be moving. They decide to continue to close the distance. They are now within 100 yards and the bull continues to bugle, but does not appear to want to leave his cows. They even hear cows calling. The guide calls again and the bull responds, they need to get closer and challenge. They decided to close the distance a touch more and get set up. They take ten steps and a single cow and spike (not even with the herd they are chasing) spots them and blow out. Set up blown. Dang it! They try to get on a couple more bulls, but to no avail.
You're doing great and I'm enjoying it! I look forward to the day when my son and I get to have a similar adventure together. This is just adding fuel to the fire for me!
So this bull takes one more step, I'm at full draw can only see his antlers. My son is at full draw and this bull is about to decide which of us gets a shot. Just then my son releases. I hear the hit and the bull spins, I hear him crashing off and hear the guide cow calling. I let down look over and he is pumping his fist and jumping up and down. I set my bow down and start to jog over to him and the guide beat me to it. I had to wait in line to give him a hug. We discuss the shot, he's the only one that saw the placement. It sounded good and he thinks it was "money" maybe a little low. He also commented that he saw blood immediately as the bull took off. The arrow did not pass through.
As we discuss the events, the final one or two steps this bull took put him directly at Ross' 20 yard spot, ranged earlier. He watched him come a the full 80 yards and had drawn as soon as he saw the bull enter the meadow. He had a shot at 30, but kept telling himself to be patient, this bull was coming.
We go to the spot of the hit and find blood immediately, right side only. No exit hole. We decide to wait 30 minutes before taking up the trail. I look at my son and he has a look on his face that I have only seen one other time, while he was standing at the alter watching his soon to be bride walk down the isle. This moment needs to be bottled and released every so often.
So much has to go right in order to kill one of these critters.
We have gone about 50 yards and I realize that we have not found the arrow yet. I am praying that it comes out and this blood trail gets stronger. I can only imagine the heart ache coming if we don't find this bull. We keep moving forward. For what the trail lacks in quantity, it make up for in consistency. This whole time I'm watching Ross and he looks like a race horse in the starting gate. He's about to pop a gasket, but he is maintaining discipline and staying behind the guide as we work this blood trail.
We make it another 20 yards and we hear "there is your dead bull". Oh how sweet those words were.
We go out and stage up waiting for the winds to settle into something more predictable. As we sit there we are talking about the hunt this far. Everyone in camp has been real close. Two arrows have been released and everyone else has had great opportunities. It should just be a matter of time before we all get a chance to release an arrow. The only real concern is the weather forecast. They are predicting winds in excess of 20mph gusting to 50 starting the evening of day 4. We, however have tonight and one more full day before that happens,
I am in an elevated shooting tripod overlooking a small water hole. We will sit here until about 630 and when the wind settles we will chase bugles. This tripod has a shooting rail all the way around it and I can see uphill in this meadow about 200 yards. I keep thinking this is going to be difficult with a bow. I will need to stand, get drawn and make sure I stay clear of that rail. I see an elk moving from my left to right at the upper end of the meadow. By the time I spot it it has moved out of view to my right. I mention it to my guide and he cow calls. This elk responds immediately with a cow call, but a squeaky one. My guide whispers "cow calf what do you want to do"? I respond by "kill it". He calls again and another response, she's coming. I stand and set the bottom cam on the rail and clip the release on. She enters the meadow and is coming at a trot. She reminds me of a group of jakes that just spotted the decoys. She is coming on a string!!!! How in the world am I going to get drawn on her and she appears to be coming right at my guide, who is 10 yards to my left. I'm running through scenarios and can't seem to see a broadside coming. She gets to my 40 yard mark and stops facing me. She puts her head down, giving me my draw opportunity. I start my draw and my bottom cam barely makes contact with the shooting rail. Her head comes up and she locks directly on me. Houston we have a problem!!! I never completed the draw. My guide calls a couple of times to try and brake the stalemate, but to no avail. She buggers. Wow, I blew that one.
I climb down and about 10 minutes later the wind settles and we hear a bugle. Off we go. We chase that bull for about 1.5 miles before the sun goes down with him still bugling and the closest we were able to get was about 80 yards. Never laid eyes on him.
Tomorrow is another day. At dinner my guide tells me to be ready for a climb tomorrow morning, we are going up top. I can't really appreciate what that means, but set my mind to the fact that it probably is going to hurt, but pain it temporary.
Nothing better than watching your kids get amped doing this stuff.
The evening after the encounter with the calf, my guide stops by the table after dinner and tells me that we are "heading to the top" in the morning, for the morning of Day 3. My first thought is that this is going to hurt, but I'm here to hunt and any pain is my own fault for not preparing physically.
That morning, we start out in the dark and are definitely heading up. The hike was more difficult than anything before, but well within my preparations. We get set up and call a bit....bingo! We are below him about 400 yards and we get moving. He is moving also and up hill. We get to the top of the "ranch" and are at the bottom of a meadow that is 400 yards long and probably 80 yards wide with aspens on both sides. This is the start of national forest and is absolutely beautiful. The bull appears to be just in the tree line at the top of the meadow. Of coarse he is.
My guide turns to me and says "your call, it's up hill the whole way and it's gonna be a tough one". My response "it's only going to hurt for a little while, let's go." My training was not adequate for this jaunt, but we got where we needed to go. The bull was now about 150 yards inside the timber. We could hear cows calling and he bugled about every 5 minutes. We get set up and start calling. He goes quite and we never see or hear from him again.
My third day of elk hunting and I certainly got a taste of what you real mountain hunters experience. I also have a great baseline for what I need to train for. According to my guide, that last push was legit! It hurt, but I'm out here doing it, was my thought as we made our way off the mountain before the winds became unstable.
Morning of Day 4. We make the hike up to the top of a knob, about 600 yards of clearing, leading to the bottom of a draw with Aspens on the other side. To my left is a fence (no shoot) and that slope is covered in scrub oak. At the bottom on that side of the fence, it levels out into meadow and we can see about 1.5 miles.
We set up facing east down the knob and start calling. A couple bugles then mostly cow calls. We wait, anticipating a bugle response, but nothing. Ross speaks up and says he sees an elk way down in the meadows below, by itself. We glass it and it is a "toad" for this area. Certainly a legal bull and he looks quite mature. My guide cow calls again and here he comes. He has to cross a fence running N/S and then he will be into the scrub oaks to our left and appears to be making good time.. It is decided that once he hits the oaks, we can move into position. We figure he is going to jump the E/W fence into our meadow about 40 yards from a good oak bush on the fence. That is where I should be, looking down hill.
He hits the brush and we move. Once set up, I range. I have a 50 yard shot below, 40 out to my right ( the caller is 40 to the right and 40 up), and a 40 yrd shot up hill. I give no thought to the uphill shot, because this bull is going to sidehill and then be on a string to the caller. 5 minutes goes by and we don't hear anything. No big deal, he was coming in silent anyway. I see some cows below me and they are all looking across the fence, in the direction this bull is coming from. I range them, 50 on the nose. I'm good for that and based on the moo cow posture, this bull has read the playbook.
Not now, he's up hill and just about parallel with the caller. He decided to come up hill in the brush, get even with the caller and then move over. I turn around and think, this is awesome. I will see antler before he sees me, I can get drawn and shoot him after he jumps the fence. "Glunk" again. He's moving. Another 10 yards or so and I should be able to lay eyes on him. Again, another "Glunk". Any minute, my dreams are about to come true on a mature bull. Then I hear a "bark". I'm not sure, but I don't think that is a vocalization that I want to hear. As you real elk callers/hunters know, that is all she wrote! He's gone, without another sound and without showing himself.
We wait another 10 minutes and I go get back together with the guide. He says he caught our wind. I can't figure out how, the wind was blowing straight down hill. Then I feel it. Only 40 yards up hill from my set up the wind is blowing cross hill. How can that be? It makes zero sense. What an education!
Back to the statement that we need 10 out of 10 things to go right, this one had 9 out of 10. It also made Ross' bull that much more special.
As we are hiking out, it dawns on me. My two friends that came with are struggling a bit, not guide related, but just the way it works. I ask my guide a question. What happens if I'm done hunting? He says he would keep on but pull a guy from one of the other guides and have 1:1. I tell him that since Ross is tagged out and my expectations have been exceeded, he should do that. With the winds that are coming, it's going to be difficult hunting, so let's see if we can up the odds for the other fellas. My elk hunt is officially over!
My guide has decided he will take one of my buddies 1 on 1 tonight and will pull from the other groups tomorrow. Wind has kicked up to 20 gusting 40. The plan for the evening hunt is to go sit a water hole, until the wind settles (if it does). Ross decides he is going to go out with them and watch (he is also pretty tight with the guy going out). We have all hunted whitetails for a lot of years and this friend has killed a pile of them. Given the impending weather (wind), he is going to adopt the "brown it's down" mentality.
They get set up at the same water hole I was at when the cow calf came in. Rob is in front with a 35 yard shot to the other side of the water hole. Ross and the guide are looking over this shoulder.
This cow arrives, drinks for a bit and finally presents a 35 yard shot. The trail camera captured this image just prior to the shot.
These two pictures will end up framed and presented. We all of have done it, but not many of us have had it captured in pictures.
We wrap up the trip that evening with a great meal and more than a few drinks with everyone else in camp and the guides. Stories were exchanged and a good time had by all. I truly hope this is not the last, but even if it is I can say that I hunted elk and was bitten by that bug.
What do you think the going rate for a kidney on the black market is? Enough to finance an elk hunt?
PS. I will post a few more pictures and a video. Thanks for letting me chronical this adventure.
A huge congrats to your son, and you for taking him!
Great write up.
We are in Rockford. Some of us were here in the late 70's and 80's. I personally didn't move here until 98. In the late 90's early 2000's, we had a group of bowhunters, all about the same age, in church that would take an annual trip down to the Shawnee National Forest and one year we had hats made that said that. Rob and I are the only two out of that group still hunting together.
The reason I ask about the "Boyz" was there was a very popular bar band back during the early 80`s called the "Boyzz from Illinois". Just wondered if there was any connection.
Welcome to the world of "Hi, my name is jrhurn, and I'm an elk-a-holic!"