Sorry for the delay in getting the story out about my hunt in Colorado. The trip sure had its ups and downs.
There were 6 of us on this trip; me, my dad, my brother-in-law Harvey Lee, my former brother-in-law Bob Brown, Bob’s son Jason, and Bob’s son-in-law Ray Armstrong.
Man, I was excited about this trip. This was my 3rd trip west to hunt elk but it was the first time I have had the opportunity go with my dad and see all the places he and his hunting buddies described to me since I was a little kid. Even if I had not been able to hunt, that would have made the trip for me. We left around 5 o’clock Friday afternoon, from Hernando, and drove straight through to Montrose, Colorado. It took around 22-23 hours. Not too bad a trip if you have enough folks to take a turn at the wheel.
We were only a few hours from Montrose when Bob received a call from the fellow that leased us the hunting area. The guy told Bob that “the other group” was still out there hunting on the ranch we leased. Well, I am not going to go into great detail about this part, but there was not supposed to be another group on the ranch as Bob had been told that we had the ranch for the duration of bow season. It turned into a big ordeal. To make a long story slightly less long, the guys hunting the ranch told us not to bother hunting that area as there were no elk on the ranch and not even any cover other than 40 acres of scrub oak. So, we were forced to form a Plan B and then switch to it.
We found out that the interlopers were right and the ranch was indeed a lost cause so we set about finding other places to hunt. My dad and Bob had hunted this general area quite a few times so they showed us around. My dad took us to Ridgeway and then around toward Mt. Sneffels. Dad and his hunting buddies had camped and hunted that area many times. There were quite a few bow hunters and campers in that area. It was very steep and rugged country. This fat boy was glad the place was 2 hours from where we were staying. I did not want to climb those hills. We drove around through other parts of the Uncompahgre National Forest until we found some elk. Unfortunately, those elk were about 3000 feet above the road.
We spent Sunday and Monday looking for hunting areas instead of hunting elk. No one was very happy about fighting the crowds on public land but, we really had no choice if we wanted to save the trip. Since daddy wasn’t hunting he stayed in town a good bit and the rest of us grouped up to look for a specific area to hunt. Harvey and I stayed together and looked and Bob, Ray, and Jason stayed together. My plan was to try to find a trail that would take me up high while Harvey skirted the side of the mountain. Bob’s group basically hunted from the truck and listened from the roads for a bugle and then would head toward the elk. If you have ever turkey hunted the national forests in Mississippi you have seen folks doing this very same thing.
Tuesday morning was our first real hunt. Harvey and I headed up a trail from the main road just before daylight. We discovered that the trail went to a campsite and seemed to dead end. Harvey decided to side hill around and I started looking for a trail up the mountain. If you have never been in to a western state hunting you might not know why I needed a trail to follow. Well, its a lot different from Upper Sardis for sure. The trouble isn’t so much the hills as it is the timber. Things are great as long as you are in aspens or open pines but those things never seem to last long. It seems that you can only walk a couple hundred yards without encountering dark timber and blow downs. The blow downs look a lot like a tornado has been through the area except the trees are laid down pretty much whole. They crisscross over the top of each other like someone dumped out a box of toothpicks. It is a mess and is pretty much impenetrable. At least while trying to hunt quietly, so I was looking for a trail.
Just as there was enough light to see without a flashlight, I found a cattle trail that headed more or less up the mountain. And, I mean up the mountain. Our GPS said the elevation at the truck was about 9400 feet. Where I stopped climbing the mountain the GPS said 11000 feet. That doesn’t seem like much until you actually climb it a few times. There’s a distinct lack of oxygen up that high. I could only climb a few steps at a time before I had to stop. It is a hard way to hunt for sure. Your breathing, if you push it, keeps you from being able to hear very well. And, when you are elk hunting, a lot of the thrill comes from hearing their bugles. So, to hear you must walk slowly….especially if you are fat.
I moved up through a few small meadows that were hidden in the timber and eventually made my way to where the cows were heading, a meadow of about 10-15 acres way up high. I saw more elk sign the higher I climbed. There wasn’t much activity on the lower meadows I guess it took me about 1 1/2 hours of climbing to reach the large upper meadow. I had only been moving up the meadows edge about 200 yards when I saw 3 elk moving from my right to the left side of the opening. It was a cow with a nearly grown calf and a pretty good bull. He looked to be a medium sized 5x5. The bull never looked my way at all and seemed intent on following the cow out of the meadow. They were about 175 yards from me when they moved out of sight. I was stoked! I could hear other bulls bugling on either side of the meadow farther up so I kept climbing.
I reached an open area that seemed like a really good crossing just above where the 3 elk had crossed earlier so I stopped to rest awhile. I pulled out one of Luckydawg’s turkey calls and bugled back at a distant bull. By this time, the bugling seemed to be calming down as I was hearing fewer and they seemed to be longer apart. I didn’t get a response so I decided to climb up as high as I could to take in the view and see if I could get up to the snow. I gave up at the end of the meadow at about 11,000 feet.
The view was beyond my means of description. I could see over the mountain pass between me and Mt. Sneffels. I could even see Chimney Rock. If you have ever watched the original “True Grit” with John Wayne you have seen this rock too. I would have been content to sit there all day if an elk hadn’t bugled right down below, in the same area where I had rested and called from just an hour or so before! I couldn’t see the elk so I decided to call. I pulled out my converted Luckydawg call and laid out a squealing bugle I hoped sounded like a young bull. After a minute or two the bull below me let out a chuckle. It is a hard sound to describe but it does sort of sound like someone chuckling. I decided to move down to him. I had moved a couple hundred yards down the hill when another bull sounded off right where I had just been sitting! I immediately answered him with a squealing bugle of my own. It seemed like half an hour had elapsed before I heard anything from either bull, but likely only 3 or 4 minutes had passed. The bull above me bugled again, he had moved 50-75 yards to my right which was away from the meadow. I nocked an arrow and eased off into the woods with him.
The timber up there was fairly open and in some places you could see 75-100 yards so I was moving really slowly hoping to see the bull passing above me. He bugled occasionally as I angled my way up to him. I hit a trail that paralleled the direction the elk was moving and slipped along as quietly as I could below and behind him. I hadn’t heard a bugle for a few minutes when I stopped to really look around closely. I stood really still for quite awhile before deciding to move on along the trail. It was the wrong decision. The bull had been standing about 60 yards above and slightly in front of me. He saw me move and trotted off slowly. The wind was blowing perfectly for my approach so he hadn’t smelled me and he really didn’t seem that alarmed. He bugled again about 5 minutes later. He had put about a ¼ mile between us. I cannot catch up with an elk that wants some yonder when we are at 11000 feet. It just ain’t a fair race.
I decided to back out of there and give him some room since he didn’t seem too scared and was still bugling. I eased back out to the meadow and made my way down to where the other elk had bugled. That elk had also moved off into the dark timber. I thought I heard a chuckle or two and maybe a weak bugle from that area. It was about lunch time so I decided to head down to Harvey and see what he had found.
It turns out Harvey hadn’t seen anything but other hunters. He said those guys were walking around the side of the mountain bugling and cow calling constantly. He said it was like a public land turkey hunt. We decided to go look for Bob and his group. It turns out that Bob, Ray, and Jason had gotten on a huge bull on a mountainside they described as slightly steeper than straight up. They had the bull within 80 yards for several minutes but never shot. Jason and Ray later set up a target at the same range and angle and had no trouble sticking it using a hold between their 40 and 50 yard pins. So, everyone, except Harvey, saw an elk on Tuesday.
Re: Some pics of my Colorado trip..1st part of story added
The rest of the story.....
Harvey and I arrived back at our hunting area the next morning about 1.5 hrs before daylight, which required us to roll out of bed really early as the mountain we were hunting was well over an hour away in the Uncompahgre National Forest. I started up the mountain as soon as we got out of the truck and made the meadow about 10 minutes after turning off my flashlight. Let me tell you, dark timber is well beyond dark at night. Pitch with trees mixed in is a fairly accurate description.
I had heard an elk bugle a good ways above me during my climb. He sounded like he was at the lower end of the meadow. When I arrived at the bottom of the meadow I paused to catch my breath and listen. It wasn’t long until the elk bugled again off to my left and up the mountain several hundred yards. I slowly made my way up the left edge of the meadow trying to be as quiet as I could in frost covered grass. I came to a corner that if I followed it to the end would put me out in the open on the high side of the meadow. I really didn’t think much of being in the open on that exposed point and then factoring in a wind that was blowing off the top of the mountain and crossing from my right to left I decided to back down and cross over to the opposite side of the meadow. I did and had almost reached the spot where the 3 elk had crossed the day before when the bull bugled again above me and to my left. I got behind a small evergreen and bugled back to him on Luckydawg’s turkey call. When there was no response for a couple of minutes I cow called to him. That was the wake up call I guess because he moved down the mountain on ridge parallel to me while bugling sporadically.
The meadow was about 80 yards wide at this point and sloped steeply upward on the bull’s side. He moved down until he was right across from me and about 100 yards deep into the woods on the opposite side. I stayed hidden behind the tree all the while expecting him to come out into the meadow to whip me and take my cows, but he never did. The next time I heard him bugle he was several hundred yards higher up the mountain and seemed to be following the same path as before. I bugled and cow called again. The bull bugled again up high and then chuckled a few times as he made his way back down again, but he still wouldn’t come out in the open. The bull did the same thing again and climbed back up chuckling and giving the occasional bugle.
By this time, I seriously doubted that the elk would ever come out into the meadow and, if he did, he probably wouldn’t cover the 40 or so yards of open ground to where I would need him to be for a shot so I decided to turkey hunt him a little. I cow called a few more times and followed up with a pretty aggressive bugle. The bull responded pretty quickly. I took off (took off is a relative term at 11000 feet and doesn’t mean the same thing that it does here) across the meadow and reached the other side as quickly as possible. I moved about 20 yards up a game trail that angled away from the direction I had last heard the bull then stopped to catch my breath and listen. He had bugled at least one time while I was crossing the meadow. It is sort of hard to hear when your breath is rushing in and out that fast, but I know he bugled at least once on the way down. I stood there listening and waiting for my breathing to slow for several minutes.
I was hoping that he would act like gobblers sometimes do and come back to the area he was before and bugle again. Well, it worked because the next thing I heard was his hoof hit a rock up above me and when I located him all I could focus on was antlers.
I didn’t have much time to size him up as he was coming down but I think he was a big 5x5 or a smaller 6x6, either way, he looked as big as a horse as he came down the mountain at an angle from my left to right. When he went behind some low trees I quickly moved to my right to find an opening he would pass through. I got settled again and drew my bow as he headed down the mountain toward the meadow. Honestly, just before he entered my shooting lane I tried to whistle at him but the exertion from the climb and the excitement of the moment combined and would not permit me to whistle so; I kind of made a “shushing” sound at him. Not a very dignified sound at all but, it made him stop in the opening I had picked and he was less than 20 yards away from my spot on the trail.
He looked massive standing there. When he stopped and turned to look at me I could see his head, several really nice ivory tipped tines, and his right shoulder. A 15 foot spruce blocked the rest of his body from my view. I was already at full draw so I placed my 20 yard pin a little less than halfway up from the bottom of his chest and as far back as I could due to the tree and hit the trigger on my release. The bull lunged forward and into a tree when the 125g Muzzy hit him. I saw about half of my arrow sticking out of the bull right before he snapped it off against another tree. He staggered out into the meadow about 10 feet and collapsed! He had only traveled 15 yards from where he was shot and he was down. I was high fiving myself and thought that I had just “Will Primosed” that bad boy! He had landed on his right side and had slid about 5 yards down the mountain. The grass was still covered with frost where the elk fell and he covered the white grass with blood. I thought he was down for good.
He raised his head and tried to get up but his rear end wasn’t working for him and he collapsed again. That’s when I made the big mistake. I decided to try to get another arrow in him. I moved down the trail and he saw me. Up until this point I don’t think he had any idea what happened as I don’t think he ever saw me clearly and he couldn’t have smelled me. But, when I moved toward him he knew what was up and went into a major panic. I look back now and think that, if I had just been still, he would have likely died right in that spot. But, I pushed out to the edge of the meadow and tried to stick him again. He got up and fell back down 8 more times in the 75 yards it took him to cross the meadow. When I last saw him he was staggering with his back end down going into the dark timber on the other side of the clearing. I was sick. I knew what a mistake I had made but there was no undoing it so I marked the last blood in the clearing and headed down the mountain for some help.
It took about 4 hours to get everyone rounded up and then climb the mountain. We carefully lined out the elk’s tracks and probably route but we quickly lost his sign in all of the cattle tracks in the woods. We only found two spots of blood in the trees where the elk had brushed up against bushes. No sign at all that we could find after that. We also fanned out and walked the side of the mountain but had no luck with that either. Several hours later we headed back down to the trucks. The next morning Harvey and I went back up the mountain and looked again for several hours. We hoped the magpies or ravens had found him, but we had no luck. We never found any new sign of the bull at all.
I guess I didn’t hit the bull far enough back and only got maybe one lung considering the penetration my arrow showed. Sure did hurt leaving that place without him. I have 0 for 3 on elk trips. I missed a bull much bigger than this one in New Mexico several years back. Maybe it just isn’t in the cards for me with an elk. I had a great time though and saw some of the prettiest country you can imagine. If you get out there go see Red Mountain Pass, Monarch Pass, Mt. Sneffels, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison those are some beautiful places.
I am the only one that got a shot on the trip. The elk were really high and if you didn’t climb up high, well you just didn’t see anything. Things didn’t turn out the way we wanted with the ranch and all, but it was a good trip with my family and I had a fine time.
Great story Bullie, just wish you would have gotten him. I have been twice to Grand Junction to hunt and I know what you mean about 11000 ft. You are right about just sitting and looking, you can not find any pretty place on earth. Thanks for posting it.
I sure enjoyed the story...especially the part about the fat kid trying to flatfoot catch up with a bull elk trotting up the mountain at 11000 feet. One thing is for sure...keep doing that and you will soon be known the skinny elk racer from Mississippi. The part about the elks chuckling at a redneck blasting at them with a Turkey call was funny too. Sorta reminded me of the deer laughing at lazyghost.
Sure hate you pushed the elk and lost him. But at least you know you put him down!