Prior to our elk hunt, I told Ryan and Sean, my two friends, that the hardest thing about a hunt like this is keeping your head in the game. Living off your back for nine days is not for everyone. It was their first backpack-type hunt, and it took a lot of coaxing and prepping to get them the right equipment and in the right mindset for the trip. Anyone who has hunted this way knows what I’m talking about. Working through the fatigued muscles, homesick feelings, and just plain being out of your comfort zone is all part of the backcountry experience. My buddy Sam and I have hunted many years this way and know our abilities and limitations well. Having him along was a huge relief.
Day one of Colorado Elk hunt was the most difficult, as the route we chose to enter the unit was straight up with nothing but elk trails to follow. By day two, I could see that one of our group members was beginning to experience the mental and physical challenges I was talking about. However, things started to look up after a few pep talks and encouraging words. That evening, we found a bull worthy of pursuing. We made a game plan, but in order for us to be in position for the morning hunt, Sam and I decided that moving camp was a must, to our teammates dismay.
Our game plan worked, and on the morning of the third day we had a bull on the ground. Ryan was the first to punch his tag. The bull was a great specimen for the unit; it gave everyone the second wind they needed. After a long day, we had his bull back to camp.
After hunting the fourth day and the morning of the fifth, we decided to pack Ryan’s bull off the mountain and go to town for a much needed shower, something other than Mountain House Meals and Cliff Bars. On our way off the mountain, it started to snow, exactly the weather we needed to push the elk out of the high country.
We regrouped, and on the morning of day six we headed back to our spike camp, trampling through the newly fallen snow. We could hardly wait to see what the weather would unfold for the up coming hunts. By the time we got to camp, visibility wasn’t great so we glassed what we could and saw elk on nearly every ridge around us.
At that moment, everything changed. They weren’t in the same mind set as Sam and I. They were very discouraged by the amount of snow, our wet gear and the new challenges that we faced. The tents were weighed down with snow and our sleeping bags were a bit damp, but the conditions were nothing we couldn’t handle. Even if we spent the entire night in front of a warming fire, I felt it was doable. This was just what we needed to get into the elk even more!
Sean and Ryan wanted to go. They told themselves they were done. Sam and I helped them get out of the mountains. Once out, we spent that night drying out our gear and getting prepared for the last few days of the season. It was a long night, with little sleep. All I could think about was getting back out there to try and score another opportunity at one of those bulls.
At the last second, We chose to head into an entirely different area. It was closer to home and a little easier to access. We knew very little about the area but it cut a lot of driving time which meant more hunting! Sam and I found ourselves back in the element that we truly live for. To us, this type of hunting isn’t all about the kill but the spiritual connection we get to mother nature. We spent the rest of the day just trying to find any sign of elk. The day came to an end without cutting one set of elk tracks in the freshly fallen snow. At this point we were discouraged at our choice in trying a new area. The burning memory of the area we pulled out of was fresh minds. In the darkness of day seven we decided to set up camp and make the best of it anyway.
The morning of day eight we really had no clue what to do, so we took off from our tents and headed for the end of a ridge to glass several different canyons. From this vantage point we could see lots of promising country. We sat there in a stupor with really no confidence at all and glassed. As the sun was breaking the horizon I glanced to my left and spotted a line of cow elk working straight away from us. They were only about a hundred and fifty yards across the canyon and following at the end of the line was a nice six-point bull. I set up for the shot but the bull never would present me with an ethical angle. As soon as the small herd entered the timber we took off after them. We made it a short distance when I spotted another bull to our right. He had us pinned so I dropped to the ground and steadied myself for a shot. He was slightly quartered to me and I didn’t have a lot of time to hesitate. I could tell he was good enough so I settled the crosshairs on his shoulder and squeezed the trigger. At the shot he disappeared and I wasn’t too sure what had happened until I looked back at Sam and saw the expression on his face.
We got ourselves together and went to have a look. When we got to the pine tree where we last saw the bull, I did a loop to the downhill side of it and there he lay. It was an emotional moment for the both of us. Two trips of meat and gear later, we had our bull hanging at our camp. As soon as the meat was taken care of, with Sam’s tag still in his pocket, we got our gear in order and headed toward the canyon that we last saw that big six point in.
The last day of the season we saw and pursued elk but didn’t end up filling Sam’s tag. It was still a great end to an amazing season.
I just want to thank our team members Ryan Nelson and Sean Lytle for such a memorable trip. I especially want to thank Sam Hadden for being my right hand man on all of our outdoor adventures. Finding a teammate that sticks with you through thick and thin is hard to come by. Until next time, cheers and shoot straight.
- Sitka Ambassador J.D. Magee