Editor's Note: This essay appears with permission from Extreme Elk Magazine in its entirety and as originally published in the Winter 2013 issue. To subscribe to Extreme Elk, click here.
Elk season was quickly approaching, and I found myself procrastinating as I had many previous years. Child care, bills, and the gear I still needed for the trip weighed heavy on my mind. Thankfully, with just a couple days to spare, I finally got everything ironed out and elk season was upon me. After my 20-hour drive to Colorado, I picked up some groceries and ice and headed up the mountain. Driving up the switchbacks reminded me of all the great hunting experiences I'd had in the past, and I hoped to make new memories on this hunt. I arrived at my base camp and parked the truck and loaded up for the hour-long ATV ride into my spike camp. From there, I would be able to access the remote back country.
I got camp set up and crashed in the tent, exhausted from the travel and lack of sleep. I knew opening day would come very early the next morning and I wanted to be ready and rested if possible. As the alarm sounded, I was already up and preparing for the morning hunt. Thirty minutes later, I approached one of my hunting spots and set up on a well-used elk trail. The trail originated from a small, open meadow where I had frequently seen elk in the past. A few hours had passed when I heard some commotion, followed by a nice chocolate-colored black bear lumbering by me at 10 yards. Aside from that exciting encounter, the morning was uneventful.
I walked back to camp, and after eating lunch and taking a quick nap, I started planning the evening hunt. I remembered a small waterhole in a secluded area I wanted to check out, but it was over two hours away. I knew I needed to get my gear ready and get after it if I was going to make it there for an evening hunt. As I hiked toward the waterhole in the 80 degree heat, I started questioning my sanity. My disappointment escalated when I reached the waterhole and found only knee-high weeds in the bottom of the dry hole. It looked like there had not been water there all summer. Since I didn't know of any other waterholes close by and didn't have a plan B, I thought I might as well just sit tight. I didn't want to alert the elk to my presence by trampling around the area, so I settled in for the evening.
As the shadows grew longer and the temperatures dropped, I was shocked when I looked up and saw a nice 5x5 bull coming down the hill and into the meadow where I was sitting. As I sized him up with my binoculars, I thought I might pass him up, even if he was to get close enough for a shot. After all, it was the opening day of a two week hunt. As the bull got to within 100 yards, I could hear the sound of branches breaking in the distance. Suddenly, a nice 6x6 bull stepped out of the oak brush right in front of the other bull. He is a dandy, I thought, and I would love to put a tag on him.
Suddenly, the bulls turned toward each other and the fight was on. They were very aggressive considering how early it was in the season. I could tell by the setting sun, however, my opportunity for a shot was diminishing with every second. I knew when the bulls locked up their antlers, their eyes would be closed as they engaged in combat. As soon as they locked up again, I jumped up and took off towards them. I have to say that with the lack of cover, I felt pretty silly sprinting in the open meadow, but it was working so I kept going. Each time they would pause, I would stop and lay flat in the sage brush. After doing this a few times, I felt like I was getting close enough to get a good shot at the bull.
I crawled to a tall patch of brush and settled in just as the big 6x6 rammed the 5x5 in the side, sending him running straight in my direction. The 5x5 ran by me and stopped and the big 6x6 came running in to bully him again. The bigger bull stopped in front of the 5x5 as I drew my bow and tried to talk my way through the shot to calm my nerves. I released the string and my broadhead found its mark. The bull instantly thought he was rammed by the other bull and became enraged. He started lunging at the smaller bull, raking the ground with his antlers and throwing rocks and dirt up in the air.
After just a few seconds, he realized he was in trouble. The bull took two steps and fell over. I was shocked at first, but then started to celebrate. It was a little awkward celebrating by myself, but I remember pumping my fists and jumping up and down. As I started to calm down, I raised my hands up to the heavens and thanked God for letting me experience such an awesome hunt.
I was amazed at his body size as I walked up to the bull. I’d killed a lot of elk in the past, but this bull was a tank. As the saying goes...then the work began. I took some field pictures and deboned the elk. I started my first pack out at 10:30 p.m. and after making numerous trips through the night, I finally had the last pack loaded with the cape and antlers at 10:00 a.m. the next day. The drive to Colorado had been nearly as long as the entire hunt and pack. After the meat was in the coolers and the antlers were hanging in camp, I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to do it again.