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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Colorado Elk Hunt Day 1: Welcome Hunters!

For over a year, the thoughts of heading back to Colorado have consumed me. Training, making phone calls, reviewing map data, and focusing on when to go had risen to the top making anything else seem secondary. As September 20 crept closer, there was a steady increase in text messages and emails going back and forth between Brett and I. The archery practice and packing of bags was high on the priority list, but as soon as the morning of September 20 rolled around, that all seemed secondary. We were ready to hunt elk in Colorado!

We made it to Cortez, CO in 10.5 hours and stuck to our plan of staying in a hotel the first night. That would allow us to get some rest before hiking into the Rockies to hunt. After dinner, we went back to the room to go over plans for the next day. Those plans were washed down the drain when at 12:30 AM lightning struck nearby. Then the rain came down. 

The rain was still pouring down at 5:00 AM, so we slept in to allow the mountains to soak up some of the moisture. We hit the road at 8:00 Am and drove north, We nearly missed our turnoff as the maps, GPS, and Colorado road signs didn't even come close to matching up. Brett suggested we try one dirt road. We pulled over to look at the GPS and sure enough, that was where we wanted to be. A quick U-turn brought us back and before you knew it we were at the trailhead, but not before passing a dozen trucks from all over the country. It was the last day of muzzleloader season, so we weren't sure how long these vehicles would stay. There was some competition for the elk and we would have to work for it.

Before we left the hotel, we had followed The Weather Channel reports of a thunderstorm moving in early that afternoon. It was going to be a whopper, too. We had talked to my friend Eddy who mentioned that these storms hit quickly and they hit hard, so prepare for it. 'Keep an eye on the sky,' Eddy said. 

Our goal was simple, find the trail, hike it and try to locate a spot to set up camp the next day. We would go in light and follow the routes that were shared with us. That would turn out to be a great learning experience for both Brett and me. The reports said the thunderstorm was to hit around 3:00 PM. We wanted to hike in and get on the main road by then. We focused on finding the two spots we had marked. The temperature was already starting to rise and was beginning to feel uncomfortable. It was going to be an interesting day.

Our path was blocked by thick vegetation. There was no way we'd be walking where we thought we could go. Instead, we took a higher trail across. It was nice to have a trail to walk on, but once we hit the point where we were supposed to break off, we make a decision...stay on the trail. We found fresh elk tracks heading right up the trail and we decided to follow. Unfortunately, the trail was slick as snot in many places due to the rain. We proceeded cautiously and after thirty minutes of hiking, we realized that the trail was going to switchback into the wrong direction. It was time to head back down and try to locate the marked spots on our maps.

We side-hilled across a meadow as we looked for the four ponds that was shown on our maps. I hate side-hilling. I really despise the way it turns your ankles and wears you down. We pushed on and listened. There were no elk bugling, no cow calls, and the temperature kept rising. A few minutes later, we cut through a row of pines lining a stream. As we climbed over the small hill, we spotted a pond down below and one far across. We ventured toward the one across the open meadow, side-hilling and watching our step the entire way. Not only did we find the ponds, but there were signs of recent activity. Footprints, trails, and beaver dams. 

By the spot marked on my GPS, the first hunting site should have been less than a mile away. All we had to do was cut through some more trees and venture across a meadow. I'll be our faces looked white when we found the 'meadow' through the trees. The meadow was not a meadow at all. It was actually a granite rock slide that covered at least a half mile. We both shared the same look. One of disgust. There was no way we would be trekking across that. We would need to find another way.

We hiked all the way back down and around. It was lengthy, but the right thing to do. All this time there wasn't a single elk bugle. We knew it was because of the heat, but we were hopeful. We hiked another mile or so to a stream crossing. This was not where we had intended to be, or was it? We were not near the trail we needed to take, but our GPS units and maps were confusing us. Instead of venturing further, we marked our location and hiked out to the truck to stay in front of the storm.

As we were unloading our packs into the truck, another truck pulled in with Alabama plates. I like introducing myself right away to hunters and these two gentlemen looked to do the same. Come to find out, the two hunters, Adam and Chris, had driven 24 straight hours from Alabama to the trailhead. Talk about dedication! I asked them where they'd be hunting and they pointed exactly where we were going to go. We explained that we couldn't find a certain trail, but as good hunters will, Adam shared where the trail was and that they'd be camping nearby. While they planned on camping near us, they were going to hunt the East Side of the trail and our plans were to hunt the north and west. We wouldn't be in their way and they wouldn't be in ours. We owe Adam and Chris a big thank you and a beer for being down-to-earth good people. They had hunted this area for a couple years and had never harvested an elk here, but were confident. I mentioned the impending t-storm and they said they knew about it. The sky was blue and didn't show any sign of dark clouds, but they were aware. We wished them a great hunt as they hiked in and we loaded the truck to head back to the hotel. I hope we run into them again.

Back in town, we grabbed dinner and discussed the next days plan. Our plans were again challenged when we left the restaurant as we were greeted to a light show. The thunderstorm was coming in and the sky looked like something out of a movie. It was ridiculously awesome! We immediately knew that our hike in the next day would be a challenge and that we would need a good nights sleep.