Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Colorado Archery Elk Hunt: Day 4

The scratching around the edge of the tent was incessant. It was 2:00 AM and now I couldn't sleep. Little feet could be heard scurrying around the inside of the tent as little claws met tarp. I was warned that I may find a little present on my pillow from the resident mice, but I had no idea that I was going to be visited by the entire clan. Within a few minutes I felt it. Little feet climbing the wall of my sleeping bag until the mouse reached the peak where my hands lay across my chest. Then they stopped. If I had a sixth sense I would say that little guy was staring me down, but it was pitch black so I have no idea what he was doing. All I know is that I was not about to let it go any further. My arm sprang to life and sent my little friend across the tent. I heard him skid on the tarp as multiple sets of little feet scurried to safety. Between the mice and dreaming of elk I had a very restless night. Finally, around 4:00 AM I was able to get back to sleep. I had just enough time to catch a cat nap before the alarm annoyingly buzzed at 4:30 AM.

Coffee and a Clif bar were again all I could stomach for breakfast. I had planned well for my last day of hunting and had everything ready to go. We had a simple plan of attack - to get into the forest, down the mountain and in the midst of the elk before sunrise. In order to accomplish that we needed to leave by 5:15 AM and be at the trailhead by 5:30 to start our hike in. We didn't waste time and loaded the truck and ventured down the dirt road.

Being public land, there were other hunters out there. We had to follow behind another truck down the dusty road and the further we went, the more Eddy and I hoped they wouldn't be making the same turn as we would. Minutes later, we turned and they continued straight ahead. We felt victorious!

After locking the truck, we were guided by the light of the GPS telling us where to go. As we hiked in we kept getting turned around. It didn't take long for both of us to feel a bit frustrated. We finally got on the proper heading and started to make way to the same area we were at on day three. Our timing was great as the sun had not yet risen.

Down one bench we went and we listened. A bugle! Then another! They were coming from the very same area that we thought so we quickened our decent. On our way down, Eddy stepped on a softball sized rock and slid downhill about ten feet. He immediately looked back at me with a smile on his face. He was OK. I followed him down and avoided the rock. It was still very steep with loose dirt. We made it to the second bench and again just listened. Eddy decided to use his cow call and that's when all hell broke loose.


Our view to the first bench.

From less than 150 yards away came a bugle aimed right at us. When Eddy turned to look at me his eyes were the size of half dollars. Our conversation went something like this:

'That bull WANTS to come in. We need to get down there,' Eddy said as he pointed to the third bench.

'Let's do it!' I said.

Five seconds later the bull bugles even closer. Now, a frantic and determined look comes across Eddy's face.

'You need to get down there NOW!!!' Eddy is waving his hand back to front and pointing downhill as he retreats uphill to set up. 'NOW!'

The next few moments went by in a rush of adrenaline and focus. The trail I was heading down was steep and left little room for error. It was go time and I needed to make every step count. Quickly picking out my steps, I took off. Down the dirt and across a small log, I covered thirty feet in no time. I tried to find a good place to stop and get ready. What I didn't realize was that the bull was making a beeline for my location and that he was less than forty yards away!

Do you remember the scene in King Kong when Fay Wray is strapped to the altar with vines and the mighty ape comes storming through the jungle to get her? Trees are bending and snapping and you can see that something immense is coming fast? That is EXACTLY what went through my mind as I watched the small aspens bend left and right as the bull made his way through the forest. The trees were being raked back and forth as the bull twisted and turned his way through the saplings. Eddy was right, this bull wanted to come in and he was wasting no time doing it! I stopped with my left foot perched on top of a deadfall, my right against the trail. He was closing the distance rapidly when I realized I hadn't nocked an arrow! In one motion, I pulled an arrow from my quiver, nocked it and set my release. Just as I finished drawing my bow, the bull stopped directly behind a spruce tree
thirty feet away. The branches blocked his view, I waited. The bull let out some of the weirdest cooing and chuckles in search of the cow. This bull was on a mission to get lucky and that's when he stepped forward to continue his search.

In record time, as his antlers breached the edge of the pine, I counted four tines. Legal Bull! He stepped forward as if on cue into the opening. I let out a 'Maaaahht' that was immediately echoed by a cow call from Eddy. The bull stopped directly in front of me and swung his head to stare me down. From ten yards away I sent my arrow into the kill zone. Whump! The bull took off, made a quick right turn, jumped a deadfall and stopped. Without any outward show of emotion I watched intently. Emotions and those crazy thoughts flowed through my brain. Had I hit him? Was my shot good? Had I anchored properly? It all happened so fast! My questions were answered as I watched him whirl, teeter over and drop. He was down! My first ever bull elk and he was down. Best of all he had only gone 15 yards before expiring! Fifteen yards!

It was at that moment that all of my stored adrenaline blasted through my veins. I will never forget raising my bow in my left hand, raising my right fist into the air and shaking both all while under my breathe saying, 'YYYYYEEEEAAAAHHHHHH!!!' Looking up the hill, Eddy was clapping his hands, pointing at me and cheering. He damn near ran down the trail to my location quietly cheering along the way. The entire time he decended I was still shaking as goosebumps covered my entire body in pure excitement. We hugged and cheered. Four days of hard hunting had lead to this very moment. Two years of planning and four days of highs and lows on the mountain. I had earned my bull and I was elated!!
Everything Eddy and I had joked about and hoped for the night before had actually come true! It had truly happened. It was the last day of the Colorado archery elk season. It was my last hunt on the last day of my trip. You can't write a story better than that.

The entire chain of events from me skirting down the trail, to me shooting and the bull dropping took less than two minutes. That is how fast it all went down. Everything happens for a reason and everything had happened perfectly on this hunt. I wouldn't have traded any blister, cut, or fatigued muscle. It all happened for a reason.

As we talked about how everything went down, we climbed over the deadfall from where I shot. Eddy let out a hoot and said, 'There's your arrow and it's covered in blood!' My arrow had blown completely through the elks chest and buried six inches into the ground. Your mind can play tricks on you, but seeing that I knew my bull was down.



There was virtually no blood trail. With a chest cavity the size of a 55 gallon drum, it takes a while for any blood to make it out unless it's a low hit. We knew the direction the bull had gone, so we walked through the foliage and over a deadfall.

Eddy looked around, 'I wonder where he went. Now we just have to find him.'


'Eddy. Look down! Turn around and look down!'

Eddy turned to see antlers growing out of the ground not twenty feet from where he was standing. More hugs, more fist pumps and more cheering. We had done it!! I glanced at my watch in disbelief. I had shot my bull at almost exactly 7:00 AM. What a hunt!

We walked up and admired the majestic animal that rested at our feet. It hadn't sunk in that I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I had arrowed a 4x5 bull elk in the mountains of Colorado during a DIY OTC archery hunt on public land. I knelt down and said a prayer. I thanked God for providing this animal to come in and for giving me the composure to make a clean, ethical shot. As I brushed my hand down his mane, I thanked the bull elk for giving his life.


Al Quackenbush with his 2012 Colorado OTC archery bull elk.
Eddy Erautt (L) and I pose with my bull. Much appreciation to Eddy for all of his help!

After pictures were taken I figured my adrenaline would settle. Not a chance! The work was about to begin. The prior three days worth of hiking didn't hold a candle to what I would endure over the next twelve hours. Not everything would be as cheerful as we started the butchering.

We field dressed the bull and started quartering him up right away. The temperature was in the low fifties on the bench where we worked. We hung finished the right side, flipped him over and began the left. Halfway into it I heard Eddy chirp loudly, 'Oh no. Oh NO!' I asked him what was wrong and he lifted his hands, showing me the blood seeping from his fingers. As he was cutting the front shoulder, the Havalon Piranta blade caught on the massive rack. As the rack moved, the knife sprung forward and filleted his finger. Eddy needed to stop the bleeding and get a compress on it fast. All the years of getting ridiculed for carrying a first-aid kit were worth it as I produced my kit. Gauze, athletic tape and some pressure stopped the bleeding. It really could have been a lot worse. We were more than a mile from the trailhead, 25 miles or so to town and we were halfway down a mountain in the forest. It would have been worse if I hadn't had a first-aid kit, too. In a matter of a minutes, Eddy had wrapped his finger and was back at work helping me quarter up the elk. You wouldn't even know he had an injured finger by the way he moved.



I wanted to see what damage my shot had done. By the way the bull had acted and dropped I knew I had hit heart. Sure enough, as I pulled out the lungs I saw the entrance hole through one lung. Helping me pull out the massive airbags, Eddy showed me exactly what I wanted to see. Flipping over a lobe of the lung, Eddy pointed inside. The razor sharp broadhead had nearly severed the aorta. Lungs and heart, it was no wonder the bull hadn't gone far.


With the bull quartered, hung up to cool and time pressing on, we needed to pack the bull out. Mother Nature wasn't done with us yet as the work was about to get very real. The pack out was going to test me to my very core.

20 comments:

  1. Congratulations again, Al! The story has been awesome to follow, so I know the experience was an amazing one to live!!!

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    1. Thanks, Mark. It truly was an amazing experience that I hope to attempt again someday!

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  2. That was an awesome story! Great experience Al. That's an awesome bull! Congrats on an outstanding hunt and a well deserved success!

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    1. Thank you, Dustin. Fantastic hunt and wonderful experience.

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  3. Awesome, Al! It's crazy how when it comes together, it just happens....and when it doesn't, you wonder if it'll ever happen. Congrats on a fine DIY trophy!

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    1. Very true, Tom. I have had hunts where I worked and worked to no avail. This time everything just came together. I was wondering if this hunt would come together and it did... fast!

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  4. Beautiful bull!... and as you said you couldn't ask for a better hunt than that!

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    1. Thanks, Suzee. He is a beautiful bull. Love the character in his antlers, too. Awesome hunt and now I have a freezer full of awesome meat.

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  5. Way to go Al! After looking at that bull, I was wondering how many trips it would take you to get him out. Guess I'll find out later this week! I've seen video of elk rushing through the woods toward the call and ending up just a few yards away, I can only imagine the excitement and the adreneline rush!

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    1. Thanks, Bill! Yes, I'll be following this post up with the pack out and trip home. Plenty more to write about.

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  6. Awesome bull Al... congrats my friend. I hope to join the club next year.

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    1. Thanks, Kerry! I hope you get one next year as well!!

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    2. I hope so too my friend... it will be an episode to remember on Man Up Outdoors

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  7. A wonderful climax, looking forward to reading about the hard work that followed

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    1. Thanks, John! The pack out was a story all in itself.

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    1. Thanks, Rudy! It was great to live and retell. Had such a great time!

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  9. Great story Albert! Hope I can be able to do that as well.

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  10. What a spread! I'm so jealous, I want more than anything to go colorado elk hunting! I have been working on my bow skills to help me out but I have to draw an elk tag before I can make my dream come true. But that being said, great job guys! Hes a beauty!

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  11. Congrats on your first bull. Perseverance pays. And they taste better for every yard you have to pack them out.

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