Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Colorado Archery Elk Hunt: Day 2

My sore aching body slowly woke up with the alarm on day number two. Mentally I was ready to hunt, but physically I was drained. One day of hard hunting and I was tired and sore. What the heck was I thinking? Tired and sore? Really? I was here to hunt elk with a bow and arrow and I was going to give it my all! Ignoring my sore muscles, I made a cup of coffee and ate a Clif bar. Stomaching a big breakfast on a hunt is something I have always struggled with and just the fact that I could eat that was progress.
 
I was dressed in my camouflage earlier than on day number one. Being known as the slow-poke wasn't something I was striving for. I was ready to hit the mountain and today we were going to change it up a little. We decided to all hunt together. Gabe and Eddy, being the experienced callers, would be doing all of the vocalizations. We hit the road, made it to the trailhead and parked. The air was already uncomfortably warm, but with limited time for hunting we had to be out there every chance we could.

There was a slight breeze blowing into our faces as we headed up the trail and into the forest. Almost immediately we heard a bugle and our hearts skipped a beat. Time to get after it! Eddy let out a cow call and a long way ahead of us we heard a bull bellow out a strong bugle. Two days in a row and we had bulls bugling! This was very promising! As we crossed deadfalls and made our way to a clearing the air temperature increased to the point where we had to shed our first layer. It was 6:30 AM and I was already down to a shirt and base layer in the Colorado Rockies. Here I was thinking I'd be freezing in the mornings, but having the air temps rise and us constantly moving, well, let's just say I had no problem staying warm.

As we neared the same clearing where the previous day we got busted by multiple sets of eyes, we sat down and waited. We caught our breath and we let out a few cow calls. Immediately, we heard crashing a short distance away and heard a bugle aimed in our direction. Where two of the hillsides converge was a small opening. My gaze fixed on that position and within five seconds there it was. Movement! Actually, it was a big brown body of an elk moving uphill instead of down like we had anticipated. We quickly shared our thoughts and figured we had a very good chance of intercepting the herd as they breached a higher bench. We hatched a plan, kicked in the afterburners, and scaled the mountainside. We crossed the bench, diverged into a wallow, crossed another wallow and down into a canyon. Utter silence. No elk were to be found and they had ceased conversing. We knew that they had to be close.

The bugle that came next about made us all jump because we weren't ready for it, but it was down lower in the canyon. Those mountain goat Erautts took off down the hill leaving me in their dust. I was able to keep up fairly well, but damn can they can move! We set up around 40-60 yards apart and started our calling. The bull was fired up and began answering right away. He was followed by another bull, but we couldn't tell if he was closer and calling away from us or if he was sitting on the opposite side of the canyon riling up the bull on our side. We sat in our positions for fifteen minutes and decided we had to get closer. Instead of going up the mountain, we were going to head down the mountain. The very steep, dry, mountain with briars, deadfall and rocks. Just typing that puts a big smile on my face. This was HUNTING at its finest!


One of the many challenging ascents on our morning hunt.

We made one more short stand along the canyon bottom just far enough away from the running stream that we could still hear a bugle now and then. Our only problem was that the bull on our side of the canyon had quit talking. The bull on the far side was still chiming in, but he was also heading up the opposite side. With time slipping away, we decided to go after him on the far side. We descended and crossed the stream before hurdling a sizable deadfall and making a vertical climb that seemed insane. It didn't take too long for us to realize that our progress was quickly becoming futile. The bull was putting too much distance between us and we were not going to be climbing any higher as the vertical climb was almost impassable.

The decision was made to descend and as I was third in line going up, it made me first in line going down. My third step found my feet skidding down the loose dirt. Just as I caught myself I looked up to see a medium size rock land directly on my shooting hand. It truly seemed like a slow-motion scene in an action flick. I half expected to hear a crunch and feel shooting pain. Instead, the rock bounced off my hand and rolled past me. God was watching out for me at that very moment as I caught my balance and was unscathed.


The natural beauty of this shot makes it one of my favorite photos from my trip.

We made it down, crossed back over the stream and hit the trail Eddy and I had painstakingly hiked the day before. Deja vu? It was again very warm and it was time to head back to camp. The next two hours of hiking were filled with groans, hilarious shenanigans, and shared stories of hunts past. While it was a long, dusty trail that was challenging to the mind, body and soul, it was still a great experience. I saw some of the most beautiful country as we trudged along. The trees smelled of fresh tilled earth, there was a slight breeze and there wasn't a hint of a tractor trailer slowing down on the 405 spewing rubber and exhaust. No, this was indeed a much better place.

Things back in camp were rather quiet as I realized that the morning hunt was Gabe's last hunt with us. As he packed up, we chatted for a bit before he and Eddy made the trek back to town. Before they left, Eddy gave me a location of a good waterhole that offered promise in the unseasonably high temperatures. He figured something had to be coming in to water and with me being the only one hunting that night, it was my chance.

I prepared to take a quick nap and heard a crunching, followed by chewing and then the tearing of vegetation. My brain immediately said 'Bear' and I grabbed my can of bear spray. I looked outside the tent and there he was. A big, black free range steer just chewing away by a stump. Laughing at myself for getting spooked, I ducked back into the tent and emerged with my camera to snap a few pictures. You'll notice in many of my camp photos is a white cord strung along the outside of our campsite. The cord was not meant to give our minds some sense of protection from bears. No, this was to keep the roaming bovines from entering camp and trampling and destroying everything in their path. Pictures taken, I laid down for my nap and by 3:00 PM was up and ready to head back up the dirt road. Before I left camp, I knew I needed to care for my blistered, aching feet. Even though I had broken in my Schnee's boots weeks before I left, the constant up and down hiking was taking a toll on my heels. When my socks came off I knew that I needed to break out the blister kit. I am a firm believer that duct tape works wonders and I had packed a roll for exactly this reason. Once the blistered areas were cared for, I covered them and my raw toes with duct tape for added protection. You could almost hear my feet sigh in relief.


He really didn't seem amused by my taking his picture.
 
Caring for my blistered feet with a redneck medical kit.

Along the way to the trailhead, I encountered more and more free-range cattle. I just dig the free-range idea and was loving every second I had with the cows. I knew that if my wife were there, she'd be loving these moments, too. I stopped more than a few times to capture a few shots I was sure she would enjoy. I even stopped just to view the far mountains and enjoy what an incredible view I was given the chance to see. We take our senses for granted, but when you get the chance to take in surroundings like that you have to just stop and embrace it.



 

I parked at the trailhead as two other hunters pulled up to chat. I casually started getting my gear on as one of the hunters walked over and started asking about the area. Not being too familiar with it I mentioned that we had heard bulls bugling, but that I was headed up the trail to see what I could find. He shared that he and his buddy had encountered a very large, 400 lb. bear feasting on a fresh kill a few mesa's over that very morning. They even got it on video. That gave me the warm and fuzzies and made me feel incredibly safe. (Note: That's sarcasm in case you wondered). I was still going hunting. We talked for a couple minutes before I think he realized that I was itching to get my feet moving.


Up the trail I went, careful to keep watch behind me to be sure I wasn't being followed or that my SUV was being tampered with. I hiked into the forest and across a meadow and stood there in awe of the beauty. I grew up with meadows and open country, but having lived in SoCal for six years I hadn't had the opportunity to bask in it. This was amazing!



I followed the cattle trail across the meadows, to where I thought the waterhole should be, and for some reason I could not locate it. I searched the area Eddy sent me to and felt like I was close, but after half an hour I decided that I should go sit the water hole I passed on my way in. It was quite a bit smaller, but should offer some opportunity. Making my way down the hillside, I took notice of how clean the air smelled, how the breeze floated through the trees, and how the dirt crunched beneath my boots. My emotions gave me a sense of pure freedom that lasted for the remainder of the evening.

At the waterhole, I created a small blind with what branches I could find, but after forty minutes I knew that my location wasn't going to produce any elk. The winds were swirling entirely too much and when they did blow in one direction they blew my scent right where I expected the elk to come from. I packed up and made my way back down the trail. I took my time and enjoyed each and every step I took, all the while taking notice of the raw, burning feeling inside my boots. A quarter mile from my vehicle I kicked out a couple of mule deer hiding just inside the treeline. I was in such a peaceful state that they scared the heck out me as the brush erupted with hooves stepping on branches. It reminded me not to get too complacent as they could just have easily been bears.


I was greeted by this guy on my way out of the forest.
The glow of the sunset on the trees made me stop and smile.

My arrival in camp brought Eddy to the SUV and I gave him the bad news about not finding the waterhole. Even after I described the area I stopped at he mentioned I had to have been right on top of it. As I neared the tent, I noticed that there were a few other people enjoying the glow of the campfire. It turns out that some friends of Eddy's were up camping next to us. Introductions were made, and as we chatted I devoured a beef stroganoff Mountain House meal. The package says 'Serves Two', but after all of the calories I burned I turned it into a single serving.  I learned that the father, Nathan, was going to also be hunting in the morning. He is by far one of the nicest men I have ever met. Not long after eating dinner, refilling my water bladder, and wolfing down a Twinkie in record time I was ready to call it a night.

We set up the camp stove with a 4-hour log and made our plan for the following morning. Instead of going back to where we had been hunting, our goal was on the opposite side of the mountain where we had last heard the bulls on the steep slope. If our instincts told us anything, it was that these bulls were in this area for a reason and they weren't going to come out easily. So, instead of trying to draw them out, we set our sights on going in and trying to get them fired up on their own turf. The plan would turn out to be one of the most intense learning experiences I have ever been a part of in the wild.

4 comments:

  1. I am demanding more! I find this captivating and riveting.
    The redneck foot fix is classic!

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  2. Sounds like you had the time of your life again with all the action! Can't wait to read how it went when you went in after them! All your pictures are great but I really love the last one...

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  3. Free range cattle on public land are great, but keep in mind that every cow = 2 elk that would be there otherwise. Not to mention buffalo here in Montana.

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