Monday, October 27, 2014

Colorado Elk Hunt Days 5 & 6: Unfulfilled Success

A loud 'THUD' and the sound of something zipping across tent material woke me up at 2:00 AM. Was Brett OK? I thought he may have been having a nightmare and sat up too quickly. As I listened intently, I hear Brett call out to me.

'Al? Something just it me in the head!!!'

I started yelling, 'GO AWAY BEAR! GET AWAY!' I grabbed my bear spray, got my headlamp on, and escaped the confines of my tent. Brett was already outside of his tent, armed with his sidearm and ready for battle. We searched left, right, up, down, and could not see any eyes. There was no sound. There were no tracks. The only thing left behind was a dusty outline of a head imprint on the side of Brett's tent. It was too faded to really figure it out. Our adrenaline was pumping, our hearts racing, and there was no way we were going to fall asleep. We again searched the premises and were baffled. 

'What the *#&$#% was that?' I asked Brett. He had no idea and both of us were visibly shaken. Needless to say, we were also a bit cold from jumping into the cool night air in our skivvy's. We deemed the area clear and went back to our tents. It only took a half hour and Brett is sawing logs as I stared at the seams in the upper part of my tent. My mind was racing from being on high alert. I listened for a while longer and finally drifted off to sleep.

After we ate a small bit of breakfast at 7:00 AM, we packed up camp and proceeded to head back down the mountain. We opted to camp at a lower level in hopes of getting closer to the elk in the canyons. We were also sick of the heat, not hearing anything, and needed a change. As we descended, we enjoyed the view, but also commented on how nice it was to be going down the trail instead of up it. 

We found a great spot to set up camp, at the edge of a fast moving river. Pine trees, cold water, and a change of scenery. It was exactly what we needed. In twenty minutes we had camp set up. The setting was perfect. The aroma of pine needles and dirt. Shade. Ahhh, the shade was delightful! The sound of rushing water over rocks made us crave a cool drink. We pumped out 3.5 gallons of water and then the Pat's Backcountry Beverages kit made an appearance. There is nothing like filtering your own water on a hot day, making your own beer, and sitting next to a river in the backcountry. Then there is dunking your head in the water to cool off. It was invigorating!!

Over our tasty beverage, we contemplate the next two days of hunting. It is decided that we will hunt above the beaver ponds this evening and tomorrow morning above camp. If we don't see or hear anything, we will call it a hunt and pack up after the morning outing. It's just too hot and we are looking forward to being back a day early. Maybe our luck will change, but at this point we both have our doubts. Even I know that the likelihood of even hearing an elk is slim-to-none.

The evening hunt story doesn't change much. The heat drove the elk deeper into the canyons and they weren't talking at all. The most that happened was watching the trout surface in the pond as the beaver was busy foraging underwater. A half hour before sunset we called it a night. Hiking back to camp brought out the worst in us. The hills were uneven and hard to hike on. The irritation of working so hard to hear not a peep from anything was hard to swallow. We stayed silent almost all the way back to camp. I tried keeping up with Brett, but he hiked on ahead. I decided just to take it easy and hike at my normal pace. No need to rush back. It was already hot and I just wanted to try to enjoy the hike out as best I could. 

Dinner and a beer next to the river was a great way to end the night. After 5 days in the wilderness I could not wait to take a shower. My clothing was starting to have second thoughts about the morning hunt, but I persuaded them to stick around. Well, not literally, but it was cutting it close.

After our bellies were filled, we set off to the meadow behind camp. We looked up at the starry sky and stood in silence for a few minutes. I have seen the stars in the wilderness before, but this night just seemed better than all combined. The Milky Way was apparent and there were shooting stars all over. Brett spotted some eyes about 150 yards away and moving closer. Remembering the night before, we anticipated the worst. To our surprise, it was a mule deer buck feeding his way toward camp. We had finally seen an animal! We watched him on and off for twenty minutes as we checked out the stars. He fed behind camp to about 80 yards. We decided we may as well nod off and try to get some shuteye.

The next morning we saw and heard no elk. Camp was packed and we headed back to the truck, which just happened to be only a quarter mile away. Yes, we planned the morning well. On our way out, we ran into a father and son on horseback. The boy had his bow and you could just feel the excitement he was experiencing. We chatted with them, told them of our trip and how many people were in there. They were going to take a different route and try to fill their tags. Not only were they super friendly, but it was great to talk with the locals. Honest to goodness people with a willingness to talk hunting. 

As we dropped our packs, we let out a sigh of relief. We stowed our gear and dropped the tailgate. The only thing getting punched on this trip were cigars. While we hadn't filled our tags, we had hunted hard, covered more than 20 miles in five days, and we needed to celebrate that. It was a success in the fact that we had made the trip to Colorado and hunted elk on our own. We tried our best and that is all you can ask for. Hunting with friends makes the trip more memorable and this trip was every bit of that.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Colorado Elk Hunt Day 4: Movement in the Water

Napping. That's what I would call it. It sure wasn't sleep. I was thankful for a place to lay my head, but was not well rested. All part of the elk hunting experience sometimes. On our way up the mountain, we kept noticing these grasshoppers bounding all over. Even in the cold! It was crazy and we joked about some nuclear spill nearby and it had possibly affected these little jumping machines. 

We hiked past the outfitters camp and immediately the howls of coyotes erupted in front of us. We hiked and hiked up to nearly 11,000 feet. The scenery was again beautiful, but desolate. No animals were moving and coyotes were the only thing we heard all morning.

Back in camp, my water filter stopped working. I was thankful that Brett and I had thought ahead and each brought one. Mine was an attachment to your water bladder and after two uses completely plugged up. The problem was that there is no way of taking it apart and cleaning it.

Disappointed we hadn't seen anything and frustrated with the heat again, we hiked to a northeast section of timber behind camp. It was a pretty sweet looking set up. As we sat and glassed, Brett found a hidden pond about 500 yards from our location. We sat and glassed the meadow, the valley, and the pond for a long time. Again, there was nothing happening.

In the midst of the boredom I noticed ripples at the edge of the pond. We raised our binoculars and waited. For what seemed like five minutes, and in actuality was like thirty seconds, we watched and hoped an elk would materialize. Unfortunately, two foraging ducks appeared and dashed our hopes. It was the most excitement we had encountered in days. 

The 75 degree temperature drove us back to camp early. Cursing and commiserating about our experience to date, we made dinner and discussed our plan of attack. We decided that in the morning we would break camp, head down to the beaver pond area, and set up to hunt the remaining two days. It all sounded great and we turned in with anticipation of a great day ahead of us. 

At 8:25 PM we heard our first bugle of he trip and it came from deep within the canyon we would be hunting near. I was very happy to finally hear a bugle! It turns out that what happened overnight would overshadow any excitement we had and frighten us both more than ever.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Colorado Elk Hunt Day 3: The Sounds of Silence

A good night it was not! I slept hardly at all and was awake almost every hour, on the hour.  There was a a stiff breeze and it was blowing right into my tent! It was very cold outside! I had the urge to urinate at 12:30 AM and refused to go outside. Finally, when the alarm went off at 6:00 AM, I couldn't wait any longer. Outside my tent, the cold air hit me like a cold fish to the face. It was unpleasant! In less than thirty seconds my teeth were chattering! We dressed quickly and looked around. The ground was covered in a heavy frost, and after a mildly warm breakfast, we loaded up and hiked to our first spot to call.

Brett perched near a log by a clearing, and I about 75 yards behind him, uphill. I was sure to leave myself a few shooting lanes as well. The hour dragged by as we called. We moved along and called as we hiked. Nothing. Only the birds wanted to chat. The surroundings were beautiful and perfect for elk, but they were not to be found. It seemed like we were hiking and not hunting.

As the darkness of the forest opened into the light of the meadow, we found one of the outfitters campsites. As we continued on, we found the other sites and it looked like they had been hunting this side of the mountain quite heavily. It was a great spot. In fact, it was one of the spots we had marked on the map to check out. We were thinking right, but someone else had beaten us to the punch.

We hiked up and kept going...UP! Our lungs were screaming and we found a great place to call. Well, it was a great place for breakfast as we heard nothing for an hour, so we sat down and ate breakfast while we glassed the far meadows. It was beautiful, but discouraging. Nothing was moving. Even the squirrels seemed upset and didn't want to be in the sunshine. 

We hiked back to our lookout spot above camp and quickly spotted two bowhunters. They spotted us, too. They stopped to see what we were doing, so we sat down, glassed for a bit, and got a bit of sun. That was about all the excitement we could take. We decided to head back to camp and relax for a couple hours. The temperature was rising and the heat was awful. We figured we could rest a bit and filter some water. We should have remained in camp all afternoon because the evening hunt was as uneventful as the evenings prior. 

Over dinner, we contemplated the different areas to hunt the next day and tried to figure out what to do. It would be different if we were hearing bugles or seeing elk, but with nothing to go on it was just a matter of how much boot rubber to burn. We crashed a bit early, but getting any sleep was difficult at best. Never again will I eat Chicken Tortilla out of a bag for dinner. Between the grumbles in my belly and the rough ground, getting comfortable was not easy. I was optimistic for the following day and was hoping for cooler weather. We were only halfway through the week, so things had to get better. Right?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

SoCal Bowhunter Tech Tip - DIY Tent Footprint

As I prepared my gear for the hunting season, I realized that I did not have a footprint for my tent. Here I am using a Teton Sports Outfitter XXL tent, but they do not make a footprint for it. Here's my quick and easy way to make a DIY tent footprint.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Colorado Elk Hunt Day 2: Mountain vs. Man

The clouds had cleared as we hiked in to camp.

Rain clouds littered the sky at the hotel, but we decided to go for it. We wanted to have camp set up as soon as we could because we wanted to start hunting. In an hour we were at the trailhead and took a few minutes to get things organized and loaded into the packs. The 'Bama boys, as Brett referred to them, showed up shortly after us. It appeared that we were not the only ones waiting out the storm. They took off right away while we readied our packs. 

As we began to hike the trail, we knew we would have to take it slowly. With the 85 lbs. of gear on each of our backs and the muddy snot on the trail, we needed to pay particular attention to our footing and gait. It may have only been 50 degrees, but soon enough we were sweating and cursing under our breath. 

As we made it past the last marked spot from the day before, we encountered steep switchbacks with little footing. We took our time and made our way up. As we crossed a meadow, an outfitter was coming off the mountain with two bow hunters in tow. All on horseback, we gave a wave and a hello as they trotted past. There was a small 4x5 raghorn rack in the back, so we knew they had been successful. It also looked like they possibly has a cow, as the horses were weighed down heavily. It gave us hope to see the hunters come off with tags filled, but also that there would be fewer people to contend with during our hunt.

We made it to the Y in the trail, the section of trail we had wanted to find the day before. This was going to be our first major test of physical endurance. We had trained for months, but with the altitude, heavy packs, and slick trails, we needed our legs to be solid. Within minutes we knew the mountain was going to kick our ass. The ups and downs, the horseshoe tracks, the hidden holes, and the mud. That damn mud! We would hike 50 feet and then stop for a breather. It might be 20 feet or 30 the next time, but we took frequent breaks. As we neared a meadow, we spotted Adam at the point of a grove of pines. Their camp was nestled somewhere inside and was well-hidden. Chris emerged as we passed by and they both waved as if to say, 'Good luck men!' 

Adam had informed us that there was a running stream where we could get fresh water. Unfortunately, it was right near their camp. Brett and I decided to push on for a short bit to find a possible campsite. When we got to one area it was waterlogged. The other was too rocky. Giving him a chance to rest for a second, I hiked through a clearing in the trees, over a small hill, only to find that there were other hunters camped out not a couple hundred yards from where we were. There was a Montana Elk decoy in front of the camp, almost like a flag. I was bummed, but this was public land. This spot was supposed to be a gold mine for elk, and Eddy thought there wouldn't be too many in there. The secret got out someplace because we had to share this area with at least four other hunters. We opted for a small, flat spot in some trees that would give us access to the mountain behind us and to the meadows. 

My tent set up with a great view.

The waterhole right next to camp was off limits to drinking. Think wallow.

After camp was set up, we went in search of water. The stream was about 200+ yards downhill and we really wanted to find a closer spot if we could. We found water next to camp, but it was sitting in a pool. I heard a stream running so we set out to find it. It turns out that on the other side of the trees was a running stream with gloriously cold water! It was fantastic! We took turns pumping water and filling up three gallons of drinking water. I also filled a 3L bag with a clip in filter. 

We had to lighten the mood a little, plus I have a hard time being serious all the time.

The temperature was nearing 80 degrees at 10,000 feet. Having a few hours left in the day and not wanting to exert too much energy, we grabbed our packs and set off behind camp to glass for elk. The setting was perfect, minus the heat. A large pond surrounded by tall pines at the top of an open meadow. It was straight out of a hunter's dreams. That night we heard nothing and saw nothing. Talk about dreams being dashed. No elk bugles. No signs of any movement. Nothing.

Right before sunset, and discussing what we wanted to do for the next day, we hiked back down to camp for dinner. There is something about eating dinner while overlooking a huge valley that makes you smile, but also give you the chills knowing you are far from civilization. We chatted for a bit and decided to call it a night. It had been a long day and we really needed some sleep. The coyotes decided to serenade us from all over the mountain for a few minutes prior. I turned in ready for the adventure awaiting us the next day.