I would like to preface this story with expressing my sincere gratitude to the wonderful people of Hunting and Fishing World, Inc. They provided me with an experience of a lifetime and were at all times 100% professional in their handling of my hunt. Specifically, I would like to thank the owner Bill Elder and Guides Joe Sailors and James Parsons. If you are interested in a great hunting experiences for a modest price contact them at http://www.colorado-elk-hunts.com or 877-445-4148. The elk hunt that I enjoyed was on a private 4000 acres that surrounds Spicer Peak in Colorado although the do offer many other hunting and fishing excursions.
On Friday October 20th, I finally boarded the airplane to Colorado where I would have my long awaited first Elk hunt.
I have only been hunting for around six years and those first years were in the Everglades National Forest. (The Swamp!)
There is a huge difference between a tiny 70 lb Everglades Deer and a 700 lb Colorado Elk, but the experience of the hunt and the rush of adrenalin when something moves into your kill zone are exactly the same.
Only this hunt, I won’t be sloshing around in knee deep water at sea level, but rather plodding through knee deep snow at over 9000 feet of elevation.
Funny how things turn around?
After exiting the airplane my first concern was my double rifle case.
“Was it intact?”
“Was it dropped?”
“Did it even make the flight with me???”
I headed directly to Baggage Claim (Without Passing Go!) and started searching for my luggage and rifles.
“My second bag!”
“Where the hell is my rifle case?”
I approached an airline employee that was watching the carousels disgorge luggage and asked him if he had seen a double rifle case.
After this question, he had a big grin on his face and told me that he had stored it in “Baggage Services”.
“What the hell is that?”
He explained that it was the airlines policy to store all firearms in a separate location so they would be safe and not just anyone walking by would pick them up and walk off with them.
Now it was my turn to grin!
“What a wonderful idea!”
At baggage services, they were very polite and asked for my identification. After closely examining my drivers’ license, the gentleman smiled, pulled my rifle case from behind the counter and wished me a wonderful hunt.
“What a great town Denver was!”
I guess that he knew that everyone was headed up into the mountains on their never ending quest for the game!
I headed off to pick up my rental truck. I was going to get a pickup truck, but the outfitter’s wife Cherry suggested that I might need a four wheel drive vehicle to get to the property.
“Humm?” I hadn’t thought about that, so I asked the guy behind the car rental counter if he had any four wheel drive trucks?
He checked the computer and said “The only four wheel vehicle that we have is a Ford Expedition and there was only one left , do you want it?”
I thought about it for a second and said “Yes!”
Thank God I made that decision!
On the way up the mountains, I saw no less than three accidents with cars upside down in the ditch because of the snow and ice on the roads. Every 18 wheel tractor trailer was either stuck on the side in a snow bank or was frantically trying to put chains on the tires.
This flatlander wasn’t used to this kind of weather, but that Ford Expedition made it very comforting for me even if I was driving like an old nun.
After a few white knuckle moments, we finally made it into camp a couple of hours after the sun had set.
I made our introductions with all of the guides and fellow hunters and then started headed off to setup my bunk and get ready for the next morning’s hunt.
Exhausted after a long flight and a harrowing ride up the Rocky Mountains, I hit the rack and slept like a baby.
At 4:00AM sharp, I was awoken and told to hit the chow line before being taken to our hunting spots. I had a nice plate of fried eggs, bacon, potatoes and a steaming cup of hot coffee.
“This is turning out to be one hell of a day!”
After breakfast, there were probably a total of twenty people assembling at various vehicles of all kinds and deciding who was going to go where.
I was new to all of this so I just did whatever my guide “Joe” told me to do.
For some reason this outfit had me confused with some young cameraman or photojournalist, because they took me to the biggest rock within miles. They all called it the “Nipple” but its real name is “Spicer Peak”.
It must have taken Joe and me at least a half an hour to just get within sight of it through the snow and trees.
Joe (a 30 year old Navy Veteran) then said something to the effect of “From up there you can see for miles and shoot in any direction.”
As I was starring up at this five or six hundred feet climb, Joe lit up a smoke and enjoyed the morning and his youth.
I just starred at him and said “I am supposed to go up there?”
Joe laughed and said “That is why you came here wasn’t it?”
“Damn!” I thought.
Not quite understanding the joke, I assumed this was some kind of initiating rite of the novice Elk Hunter, I told Joe.
“As long as you aren’t in any damn hurry, I will make it to the top of that hill!”
(I’m a 53 year old fireman damn it! I’ll make it if it kills me!)
It took me almost another hour of huffing, puffing and lying in the snow trying to catch my breath before I got myself wedged into an outcrop on the SE corner of “The Nipple”.
I checked my GPS and it showed over 9500 feet, but I felt like I could see Kansas and Nebraska from up there!
It was beautiful and I could see some really promising shots if only something would walk into view.
Here are some views from the peak:
[Click on these images to see to view them at 800 X 600 Pixels!]
(I made these images small for the dial-up users)
As I was taking in the view, Joe
said something to me about coming back to get me before lunch. I told him that I
might be able to stay there until the evening if it didn’t get too cold. (It was
only around 15ş at the time and the wind wasn’t too bad.)
I asked him how I could keep in touch and he called back to camp on the radio and got Bill Elder’s (the owner) cellphone number.
I told Joe, “OK. I’ll call you if I need you.”
Wouldn’t you know that I wrote the number down wrong!
Here is an important tip:
Test the communications before you bid your guide farewell in the mountains!
Well, I stayed up there until just after11:00 when I saw some weather coming in from the NW.
First the sky darkened, and then the wind kicked up to around 30 mph.
I tried Bill’s cellphone and it came back as “Not In Service”.
“Great!” I thought.
For a while I was warm, but then my toes started to get cold because of inactivity.
“Crap!” There was no place to walk up here unless you were headed down!
Then my toes started to hurt.
Then my toes went numb.
I’m freezing my ass off and I can no longer feel my toes!
Also, I think all of the elk are hiding from this weather and I am the only dummy up on this hill!
So I pack up all of my gear into my backpack. My “Camel-Back’s” water hose has frozen solid and now I can’t even get a drink of water!
I stuffed the whole damn thing (hose and bladder) inside my bibs and hook its carabineer to the neck of my tee-shirt to keep it from falling down my pant leg and started down the hill.
“Maybe that will defrost it, I thought?”
The first few steps were ok, but for some reason, the rocks under the snow were much slippery walking downhill than walking uphill?
It was still exhausting because of the thin air and it never did feel like I could catch my breath, but I started heading downhill and away from the cold wind. Every five or ten steps, I would slip on a flat rock under the snow or trip over some hidden obstacle.
(What’s new in my word of hunting? Snow, mud, rocks, sticks, falling on my face or butt, the same thing!)
I knew that by the direction I was heading I would be crossing into someone else’s firing lane, but there was no other choice. (Thank God for Blaze Orange!)
One time in particular, I slipped and fell on my butt and just laid there panting and catching my breath. The snow was soft and comfortable in my big thick clothing. Why rush to get up?
I thought that I heard someone yelp something about getting out of their area, so I got up and moved off through the trees.
I found out a couple of days later that the yelp wasn’t someone complaining, but a gasp because they thought that I had fallen dead in my tracks. I hadn’t. I was only resting. (I was flat on my back and warm and comfortable in my thick Cabelas winter gear, so why rush and get up?)
These other hunters were in a blind at the base of the hill.
As soon as I got in the trees the wind diminished and it turned real pretty. I felt my toes again and I could now drink from my frozen water bladder.
Life was good again.
This is what it looked like once I got into the trees:
I sat down on the leeward side of a
big tree and took a break for about a half hour.
I was hoping that a big elk might wander by, but no such luck, so I took pictures:
After a while I noticed a line of
marking tape on tree branches heading off in one direction, but I wasn’t about
to just follow someone else’s markers so I stayed just off of the jeep trail
where I was dropped off.
At some point I either noticed movement or heard something. I turned behind me and found someone in Blaze Orange coming in my general direction. When he got close enough I gave him a little owl hoot. This gentleman heard my warning and acknowledged my presence. I waved him over and I asked him where he was headed. He told me that he was going back to camp and said “It is just a few hundred yards that-a-way.”
I have heard that before, but it beat sitting in the snow until someone decided to drive by.
He told me that the marking tape headed back to camp. Ha!
I packed up and followed him into camp. It was a long “few hundred yards” for this old beat up flatlander.
When we finally wandered into camp I was beat. I sat down by the fire and had a big glass of “Tang” that they always had ready.
After that adventure, I decided to rest and enjoy the afternoon with a lot of the other hunters or guides. I still had three more days to go and I hadn’t had six hours sleep in two days because of the flight and drive.
It was nice to sit around the campfire and watch the sun set on the mountains with all of the other guys.
The next day they took me up to the
other side of the mountain to a place called “Hole-in-the-Rock”.
It was another place with unlimited viewing and many different short and long shots afforded to the keen-eyed hunter.
Here are some of those views:
As you can tell, it was pretty cold. It was in the single digits and with gusting winds up to around 30 mph.
This was me:
Long, beautiful views, but no elk.
On the way back from Hole-in-the-Rock, the Suburban that we all were in had a flat and guess what?
No spare! They had just had a flat previously and had not yet fixed the tire.
Well, I sat there for about 45 seconds and told them that I was here to hunt and I was going to find a good spot up the road.
Joe told me that it was fine. I could hunt while they were waiting for the repair vehicle to drive up from camp.
Those guys stayed in the truck and I humped it up the road looking for an overlook. I noticed a lone pine tree sitting up on a little hill and decided to go and sit under the tree and see how it looked.
When I got there I found that the lone pine had a man made log blind at the bottom of it. I sat down inside of it and found it to have a great view!
I sat there for an hour or so until they fixed the tire. When they started up the truck and headed my way, I grabbed my gear and hopped into it with them, but I asked Joe if I could hunt there in the morning?
Joe said “Sure”. The closest other hunter was about a quarter of a mile way on the other side of the lake.
To me, it felt promising and looked good. Joe didn’t bother to tell me that they hadn’t gotten an elk out of that stand for a long time, but as the sun was setting and the light was hitting at different angles, [i]I saw the elk runs in the snow.[/i]
I didn’t know if they were nocturnal tracks or what, but they were criss-crossing just across the road and heading up into the pines on the far side. It looked like a good ambush site to me!
We all headed back to camp and stuffed ourselves with warm food and cold drinks.
So far, everything on the mountain
had been pretty slow and the weather was wickedly cold. It was hoped by all that
the weather might warm up a little and the snow falling off of the pine trees
might drive the elk out to prairie instead of keeping them holed up.
Hopefully, tomorrow will tell.
Monday morning 4:00 AM. Breakfast and out to the “Lone Pine”. (As I found it was called.)
Funny, it didn’t feel any warmer!
As I sat under that pine tree and waited for the sun to come up, the wind was still howling and my toes were starting to get cold again.
I started exercising my toes inside of my boots in the vain attempt to generate some heat.
I did everything possible to try and warm up my toes, but nothing seemed to work.
The sun was now up in its full glory and I tried one of my old swamp tricks when I got cold, I put my feet up on the logs and exposed them to the heating rays of the sun.
In South Florida, this would have worked, but up in the mountains, I had too much layering between my toes and the soles of my boots. At this rate it would take hours to warm my toes up.
Well, that is what I bring my bag of tricks for. I don’t tote around a twenty pound pack for nothing.
It’s time to break open some more hand-warmers. (I found out yesterday that the ones that you put in your boots don’t work worth a darn. I guess they need a decent flow of oxygen to really work?)
Ok, I put two new ones in my Buckmasters Hand Muff. (That thing really works!) After the first day I stopped wearing gloves at all. Now if I could only get my feet in there?
Now that’s an idea! One for each foot! Oh well, that will have to be for the next hunt.
I took my boots off and took out the two hand-warmer bags that were warm from the muff and sandwiched my toes between them.
Slowly the feeling came back to my toes and I then stuffed the hot hand-warmers inside my boots.
Now they were working!
I then stuffed my soon getting chilled hands back into the muffs with the brand new hand warmers and relaxed to enjoy the day.
It was a really pretty day and the blind was in such a spot that the sun made everything sparkle.
I sat for hours like a statue
waiting for some small movement to catch my eye. I saw birds on the ground at
ranges of up to 600 yards away, but no elk came into my field of fire. The wind
was still blowing pretty hard, but at least it was in my face and nothing would
wind me unless it came from behind.
While I was thinking about the wind and where my scent was blowing (which was probably not much because I had on two layers of scent-loc clothing) I checked out the two draws to my right and left. It was completely possible that something could come up from these draws that fed to the fire lane in front of my stand, but the draws were at least fifty yards to each side of me.
It was about this time that I started hearing cows from behind me and downwind. They didn’t sound too far away and I decided to get up and slowly check out the sounds and see what was really behind me and over the hill.
The crest of the hill was only about fifty or sixty yards behind me, but because of the altitude, it was still very winding for me to move around too fast. This actually worked to my benefit because it insured that I took five or ten slow steps and then stopped to catch my breath and take a look around.
As I worked my way to the crest of the hill, I started noticing what looked like elk tracks in the snow all over the hill heading to and fro this way and that way.
I took this as a good sign, but was again not sure if this was daytime or nocturnal activity. In any event, the animals had been at least moving through this area at some point!
Once I crested the hill I noticed that the draw wrapped around behind me and after that there was a fence line and a property line. This fence line must have been for the cows because it was only about three feet high and would not stop a deer or an elk.
I got into an area where I could glass the downwind side of this hill and it’s surrounding draw thinking that this is where I would be holed up in this wind, but I saw nothing out of the ordinary here except…
What is that?
Two animals caught my eye. I focused on these animals and saw that they were two horses huddled together in the side of the hill protected from the cutting winds.
This was one giant horse farm and I had seen them as we traveled back and forth from camp, but I had forgotten about them. I had also seen at least three pitch black moose.
Were these animals what had made all of the tracks in the snow?
I sure hope not!
I took another look around and never did see the cows that I had heard. Maybe they were over on of the other hills. The sounds seemed to carry pretty well up here and who knows how far they were away, really?
I was little discouraged with my discoveries, but it was still a beautiful day in the outdoors.
In fact, it appeared that the wind was starting to slow down a little bit. Maybe that warming that we were hoping for was starting to set in?
With this in mind, I slowly made my way back to the blind.
When I was back in the blind and comfortable, I decided to eat one of the sandwiches that I had in my pack.
It wouldn’t be too long before one of the guides would come back to pick me up at the scheduled time of 10:30 AM.
This hit the spot and I took a long pull on my water. (I had left it in the sun to keep the water tube liquid and not frozen solid.)
Now where was that candy bar?
As I was digging through my pack, something caught my eye from my right.
I pulled my head up and was shocked to see three, four, five, six elk cows run right by my blind not ten feet away!
I remember thinking “They are beautiful! I hope a Bull is with them!”
Sure enough, right behind them at the end of the train was a majestic Bull Elk.
He wasn’t a world record or anything, but he looked legal and this was the third of my four days of hunting.
I was very concerned about making sure that if I shot, it was at a legal animal. I pulled out my binoculars and focused in on this group of animals that still trotting steadily away from me.
I looked at the bull, once, twice and three times to confirm he was legal. The animals were crossing each other’s paths and it was making the confirmation difficult.
It looked like he was a 4X4 (the legal minimum), but there was something that I couldn’t put my finger on. Finally I got a good look at his brow tines. They were at least 12 to 15 inch long and Bill had stressed that if one brow tine was longer than 5 inches, the bull would be legal.
The group was now crossing the road in front of my blind and this put them at about 100 yards away.
I dropped my binoculars and moved forward to my rifle that was leaning against the log blind.
As I made this movement, the herd started to sense that something wasn’t right. I am not sure if they heard something or saw something, but they were now starting to break into a run.
I don’t think that they were exactly sure of where the threat was coming from because they went right and then left.
I had brought my rifle up and removed the lens covers. I had the bull in view, but the scope was set at 4X.
(I had learned a long time ago that if I really wanted to know where the bullet would hit, zoom in as far as possible. At this magnification, you could see the cross-hairs dance across the target with every very small movement of the rifle. This is where the bullet will really hit! It takes more effort, but makes for a better shot.)
My magnification ring was very stiff from the freezing weather and I remember cursing my bad luck, but I finally got it up to about 7X.
Right now the bull was breaking into a run from my right to left. I made the decision that I was going to make a shot on him as he was quartering away from me, but my rest was solid and I felt confident with the shot.
I put the cross-hairs right behind his left shoulder and put my finger inside of the trigger guard.
(I have a 2 lb trigger pull and it only takes a light touch to fire the rifle.)
Just as my finger felt the cold of the trigger, the bull came to an abrupt stop.
He was now actually offering a full broadside shot at around 120 yards!
I carefully placed the cross-hairs right in the center of the kill zone and squeezed off the shot.
The report of the Winchester .338 Magnum sent the cows off in a dead run to my right, but the bull didn’t seem to react? He started walking to his left and looked like he was going to take off with the cows.
I had already chambered the next round and was just about ready to squeeze off the next round when he fell on his face and piled up in the snow after about five steps.
I remember keeping the rifle trained on him in case he got up and ran, but I could tell from his movements that he wasn’t going anywhere.
My shot had been dead on.
As I slowly pulled the rifle back and sat back, the adrenalin hit me full force.
My hands started to shake and I remember slowly trying to pack my gear up so I could head down and take a look at the bull.
Just about this time I could hear the suburban heading down the road to pick me up.
I threw my back-pack on, picked up the folding chair and slung my rifle over my shoulder.
I could now see the guys heading my way.
“Talk about timing!”
I didn’t want them to get to the bull first, so I stepped up the pace an ended up beating them to the crossing in the road. I remember setting my gear up in the folding chair and taking off my heavy winter jacket.
I walked up to the driver’s side window and Joe asked me “What do you think?”
I was a little puzzled by the question and asked him what he meant.
Joe said “Do you think this is still a good spot to hunt or do you want to check out somewhere else?”
It was then that I realized that they were oblivious to what had just transpired.
I smiled and told Joe “I think there is a bull laying over there in the snow about twenty yards away.”
All of the guys heads in the suburban popped up as Joe said “What? You shot something?”
I smiled again and said “Yep! It is right over there somewhere in the snow and bushes!”
At this point everyone piled out of the suburban and ran over into the snow looking for the bull.
I saw one of the guides looking down and I remember asking “Is he legal?”
The guide said “He sure is! Congratulations!”
This is what I found in the snow.
He doesn’t look like much half
buried in the snow, but he was the biggest kill that I had ever made.
We speculated that he was between 500 and 600 lbs and maybe around two years old.
One of his tines was broken off about six or eight inches from the top and this is what had me confused when I was trying to judge him.
All of the guys said “OK, now you have to dress him out.”
I remember thinking, “Great! One hundred and fifty pounds of guts!”
Luckily, my shot had hit nothing but rib bone, air in the lungs and his heart.
(We never found the heart. I think it was liquefied by the bullet.)
Here is a photo of me up to my shoulder dressing him out:
This is a picture taken later back
Here is a picture with the path of
the elk as they ran by my blind and “X” marks the spot where I made the shot:
The guides hung and skinned him, then let him cool off over night. It was still below freezing.
The next day I drove him into Steamboat Springs to a meat processor and a taxidermist, so now I am setup for a nice shoulder mount and over 100 pounds of prime meat!
Colorado is a beautiful state and this was the best hunt of my life!
I may just have to do this again.