February 2006, after unsuccessfully getting drawn for a Wyoming Archery Elk license, I made arrangements with 2 friends to apply for a Colorado Archery Elk hunt.
May 2006 – Unsuccessful draw of a Colorado Archery Elk License – 1 point earned (maybe next year…). Later that month, received a check in the mail returning my $500. How often do you get a check in the mail for $500 and are disappointed about it?
May 24th 2007 AM, impatiently hit the refresh button of my web browser waiting for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to update their web site with the Elk Lottery results. SUCCESS!!! We were drawn! The planning begins!
90 days prior to hunt, 6 AM pre-work workouts start (and continued until I left for Colorado):
Monday – biking 8 miles,
Tuesday – jogging 4 miles,
Wednesday – 45 minutes on the Elliptical Exercise machine,
Thursday – Day off or repeat one of previous workouts,
Friday – Repeat one of first 3 days or walk 2 miles with loaded pack frame.
Saturday – Swim 500 yards in the Alleghany river (across and back) plus waterskiing.
Work lunch hour – Skipped the usual fast food with co-workers and instead walked for an hour and drank a Slim-Fast. I apologize to my co-workers for those hot days where I came back to work sweaty.
July & August 2007, included:
- Playing all of ElkNuts (www.elknut.com) videos.
- Practicing Elk calls in my back yard.
- Listening to the ElkNuts cassette tape on the way to work.
- Surfing the Topo map sites like Google Earth and http://ndis.nrel.colostate.edu/Maps which allows you to enter GPS co-ordinates provided by my friends who had hunted there before.
- Numerous email correspondences with my hunting buddies regarding the hunt.
- Shooting as much 3D as my loving wife would allow (some of which included taking my 2 year old and allowing him to sit on the targets, pretending he was riding them) plus shooting in the back yard and in our basement as well…
- Sharpening the broad heads (thanks Dad) and hunting knife.
- Trips to Cabela’s and ELKNUT.COM for last minute items.
- Surfing Sites like ElkHeaven.com & sagecreekforums.com to read everything I could.
August 29th – Finally! The day we leave for Colorado brought me terrible stomach cramps I assume from the stress and made for the start of a long ride. It is always bittersweet to say goodbye to the family to leave on a hunting trip. The workout sessions paid off for a total weight loss of 18 pounds over the summer and the best shape I have been in since high school!
August 31st – 5:00 AM (6000 feet in elevation) – Wake up in a Colorado motel after driving 26 hours straight the day before from Pennsylvania to Colorado. This was our feeble attempt to acclimate to the altitude prior to the hunt.
9:30 AM – 8200 feet at the trailhead. We prepared our pack frames with only the essentials for 6 days in the high country. About 2 miles into the hike, my buddies say “No Cows past this point”, it was just too far to pack one out just for meat…
Half way to camp, we heard some cows chirping. I wanted to set up on them and call but the wind was all wrong and no one really wanted to take off their packs and change into camo when we were already hot and sweaty and only half way to the camp site.
3:00 PM 9000 feet at camp location – A quick baby wipe bath after setting up my one man tent, and got dressed to hunt that evening with the intention of getting higher in elevation and glassing for elk for the next mornings hunt.
3:05 PM – change camo to rain camo gear due to threatening rain showers.
5:30 PM – After stopping to catch my breath (I mean take magnificent high mountain scenery pictures) several times (glad I worked out as much as I did), I finally found the first nice wallow in the draw that my hunting buddies directed me to.
I let out what I thought to be a terrible sounding location bugle (not enough air in the lungs for that first call). About ¾ of the way up the mountain I hear an answer. It is hard to put into words what emotions I went through hearing that first bugle after so much planning and effort that went into this hunting trip. When the adrenaline subsided, I quickly set up downwind of the wallow and ranged several yardages. 15 or so daunting minutes go by and nothing happens. This time I try to get more air in my lungs to make a better sounding location bugle. The bull quickly answers me again in what I believe is the same spot he called from before. I distinctly remember thinking about one of the ElkNuts videos where he mentions being in the elks “comfort zone” – a place where you can call back and forth with an elk all day and he will never come in but is happy to answer you. Quickly I scurry up the hill gaining about 300 – 400 feet of elevation in the dark timber and it occurs to me that I am no longer sure of the exact direction to go in. Up ahead is a small park (opening in the dark timber – sorry not sure all people in Pennsylvania know what parks are out west). I sneak up to the edge but see no elk. I tried a lost cow call in hopes to get him to sneak in on me but no luck. Several minutes go by and I decide to continue side-hilling the dark timber. Then it happens! I can hear a thrashing, (it was raking!) – an elk rubbing his horns. I can feel my pulse jump (and not from the altitude but it was close to 10,000 feet now). There is a very narrow park ahead of me running up hill with a high rim on the far side so I skirted it on the up hill side. I remember attempting to sneak as quietly as I could in what looked similar to what we (in Pennsylvania) call golden rod, only it has leaves too. Not sure what the plant is called in Colorado but it is very noisy, especially if you step on it and it seems to grow in marshy/wet areas of the high country. What seemed to take forever to me, sneaking / crawling across this opening to get to the rim up ahead was about to pay off. Just before I get to where I wanted to be, I see 2 cows below me just in the dark timber. Then suddenly, I hear cow mews all around. Just past the rim ahead of me I then hear real soft chuckles as if he was saying “Stay close Girls”. Finally I reach the rim and peek over.
There he is at about 80 yards, black horns and a muddy belly as he tosses mud up in the air with his horns. Not sure how long I sat there in awe over this magnificent sight, (I am sure it was only a few seconds but I still have that picture burned into my head – and I hope I will never forget it). I make some calls with the Hoochie-Mama (because it was the easiest call to use and not mess up under the conditions). It did not really do anything to him, but many of the cows seemed to like it and made calls of their own. Now he turns and heads away from me into the dark timber and begins to rake a tree again. So I made the decision to step back from the rim of the wallow and sneak around below to the right and come in from the dark timber on the far side. I get about 15 yards and it hits me. I can no longer hear him raking and do not know where he is anymore. So I sneak right back to where I was before and peek over the rim again. There he was back in the wallow and soon lets out another soft bugle! Then I got the bright idea of making a popping grunt to make him come my way.
Well, not sure why, but he acted like he did not even hear it. He started to ease off to my right where I last heard the cows but the yardage was still too far. At that moment, a cow appears about 25 yards to my left and feeds on through, thank God for the wind in my face during this whole experience. He seemed to react to her call and made a beeline right to her, this brought him quartering across in front of me at about 60 yards. I came to full draw and remember leaning to one side so to not hit one of those golden rod plants. In hind sight, I remember Paul’s (ElkNuts) instructions to always voice grunt to stop them. Well I didn’t, and am not sure if I would have been physically able to make any noise with all the excitement and adrenalin. I took the shot and it hit back further than I’d wanted, “Definitely guts” I thought, as I could see half of my fletchings sticking out when he jumped. He only went about 25 or 30 yards into the dark timber and just stood there. I remember thinking “bad shot, bad shot…DROP, DROP, DROP”. But he just stood there. I sat there and glassed him (now at about 100 yards) as it began to get dark. My shot was at 7:30 and I knew it would be pitch black around 8:00 pm. I got out my GPS and waited for a lock. I also got out my orange marking tape and snuck it into the pine next to me on the down hill side. My GPS got a lock and I hit MARK. “009” was the waypoint name that was assigned and no time to rename it (seems like a strange detail to remember, but I do). I made the decision to back out and come back the next morning.
8:15 (ish) pm – almost back to camp. I was almost running down over the hill in the black timber until I got to the park just above the camp. Halfway through the park, I see 4 bulls about 100 yards ahead of me and 2 cows above me. The first bull was a spike but the next 3 were legal bulls and nice shooters. Not very observant of me to walk up on them like that but I guess I had other things on my mind… I remember thinking, “don’t blow these guys out of here” and my buddies can hunt them tomorrow.
After waiting several minutes for them to clear out, and starting for camp again, I find out that my flashlight will not turn on. Must have gotten bumped on at some point on the trip out west and the batteries were dead. Not a big deal when I was in the park and knew that camp was ahead on the edge of the dark timber, but I was not sure if I needed to gain or drop in elevation. I had borrowed my Dads GPS, an old Garmin 12 that does not have a light on it (or I just don’t know how to turn it on) so I could not get the direction from it. Luckily I see the flashlights of my 2 buddies. By now I am worried sick about my shot placement, or lack thereof. Your brain tends to play dirty tricks on you as to where you remember seeing the arrow hit. I play it cool in camp, walking in and not saying anything. They start chirping about how they called in 1 bull but could not get a shot and later saw 26 cows and several bulls on my side and that they found a skull of a rag horn (later dubbed “Old Dead Head”).
The truth comes out about me hitting one and we forge a plan to get up at first light – 6:00 am and get my bull.
The night from hell. You know in your heart that you have made the right decision to back off a bad hit and give it time, but that never makes it any easier. Not sure how many times I tossed and turned that night retracing my steps and the events of my hunt. Then it happened. The worst sound you can imagine in this situation. Rain. If I had any supper in my stomach at that point, I would have thrown it up. There was nothing I could do but just sit there and stare into the darkness and listen to it hit my tent. Man that sucked. Not sure of how many light showers hit us during the night but I was miserable thinking of the blood trail being washed away. In the early morning I remember hearing coyotes howling and thinking to myself “don’t eat my elk”…
September 1st – The next morning. Later in the hunt, the guys accused me of running up the hill that morning and said I was no longer allowed on point when walking. I guess it was the adrenalin again and wishing the impossible of finding my elk. Well, my GPS took me right to where I shot and when I peeked over the rim, THERE HE WAS! That was an emotional HIGH for me followed by the worst low of my hunting career. His head turned. He was still alive. I must thank Kirt who was with me at the time and helped me make a wise decision to back out again. I am sure that if we would have jumped it, there would not have been a blood trail to follow and we could have lost him in the dark timber.
So I proceeded to follow my two hunting buddies on a long walk (to kill time for me) so that they could get some hunting in that day. We came upon a huge park on the back side of the mountain and sat there and ate lunch (well actually brunch). While sitting there we had a few cows come by at about 35 yards that quickly winded us.
Now it was time again to check on my bull. We snuck in from the down hill side with the wind in our face once again to the spot where I had shot my elk. This time, the Bull was laying there motionless. Not sure how long I stood there glassing him, but finally my buddies said lets go get him. As my excitement level hit an all time high, I went straight towards him. The bull was expired, and I was so excited that I led my buddies right across the middle of that marshy wallow to get to him. I remember thinking that I wish my Dad was there to see him, that he would be so proud. But 10,000 feet and his heart condition just don’t mix (this hunt was not for him).
I tried something new this time, as it was my second bull and the first with the bow. I took out my space blanket and used it to set the meat on as we de-boned it. This worked out great and I highly recommend it… A few years ago, I watched Paul (ElkNut) de-bone one of his own bulls without gutting it and I passed this knowledge on to my two hunting buddies. What they really thought was interesting was taking out the tenderloins without getting into the cavity. Later in the trip I got the title of Dentist. I still do not know of a good way to get the ivory teeth (Whistlers?) out other than to just flat out dull a knife.
The good news was the pack out was all down hill. We took the meat back to camp where we had a deer carrier (with wheels). It was the expensive aluminum one from Cabelas. Camp was located about 300 yards from a main horse trail that led back to the Trailhead. Well you might guess where this is going. I looked it up when I got back home and it was supposed to be rated for 250 pounds. After about 500 yards the back of the carrier broke off so we untied the 4 meat bags, moved the portion of the frame that broke off in front of the wheels and tied everything back on and continued for the trailhead. The closer we got to the truck, the more the carrier bowed in the middle. Luckily we had tie-downs on it which basically were the only thing holding it together when we finally made it back. I said goodbye to my buddies who promptly headed back in to camp in an attempt to get some hunting in that night.
Next was the hour ride back to town calling everyone I knew. I was excited to find a butcher open on the weekend after 6 pm, and with it being 88 degrees in town, I chose to let them do it all for me. While in town, I had a list of things to do. I stopped at a car wash to hose down the coolers, my pack frame, the tie downs and the deer carrier (even though it was broken, it still attracted flies and bees). Next I was off to find a shower. Interestingly enough, the Laundromat in town also had a shower. Possibly the best $2.00 in quarters I have ever spent. While there I put the meat bags (from ElkNut.com) in the washer in case I ever need to re-use them again! Next it was off to the gas station for that $3.00/gallon stuff and a T-shirt with Colorado and an Elk on it. Then on to the grocery store for batteries for my flashlight, another pair of rubber surgical gloves for the three of us (in case we got a second elk), and another DVD for my buddy’s camcorder. Finally I sat down to a steak dinner at a local pub. An excellent steak (sure beat the MRE’s), but lacking in conversation as the waitress did not care that I just killed the biggest bull of my life with a bow.
I crawled into the back of the suburban for the night as it was too late to make it back to the trailhead let alone even think about making it back to the camp site, even though that is where I wished I was at that moment. The next morning I rose early and headed to McDonalds for a quick breakfast and a restroom call. Porcelain really beats going in the woods. I was ready to head back to the trailhead when I got the call (My buddy was able to get reception from the top of the mountain). Kirt had just hit a bull and I was to get my a$$ up there pronto.
Well, the adrenalin kicked in all over again but luckily I still had my wits about me. I drove to the hardware store in town – Murdock’s I think it was called. I had stopped there the night before and it was closed but knew it opened at 7:30 am. The problem was it was only 7:00 am. So I paced in the parking lot for a few minutes and decided to knock on the door since I could see people inside and did not want to waste a half hour in case they did not have one. The lady did not open the door but asked if she could help me. I promptly asked if they sold deer carriers! As luck would have it, they did, but still did not open until 7:30. So I ran next door to the gas station and got 3 blocks of ice (and another Colorado elk t-shirt) and a bottle of Gatorade for the long walk in. Back to the hardware store and paced until 7:25 when they opened the doors early for me. They had a nice carrier on display and several more in boxes. But that meant assembly required and time I did not have, so I asked the manager if they would sell the display. I should write them a thank you letter because they did, and off I headed to the trailhead.
Once again, I headed to camp and all of those workouts prior to the hunt paid off because I made it in record time with no stops for air. When I got to the tents, a 2-way radio was on my tent and I called them and got directions to where his bull was. Well, that did not exactly work out too well – “Follow the creek by the camp and stay to the right when it branches off”. I did that, but came upon a marshy area and somehow ended up taking another left branch and ended up in a completely different draw. I eventually found them and to my surprise there lay a nice 5×5 bull with a 25 yard double lung shot. Kirt’s first bull with the bow! Wow, what are the odds I thought… 2 bulls! More pictures! Kirt had snuck up on the bull just after it bugled.
That day was long for me as I helped pack out the bull to the trailhead (and on ice) and hiked back in to camp for the second time. The next morning came early and we headed up into the dark timber again. We did not walk 15 minutes when Kirt grabbed Bill and whispered there’s a cow in the meadow ahead of us. We never heard a noise to know she was there or any other calls that morning. She moved off to the left and out came a small rag horn at about 35 yards. Bill quickly drew back and whispered “It’s too dark, I can’t see my pins”. He let one go and it did not make it ½ way to the bull before it hit the ground with sparks flying. I remember thinking that’s it, that was his chance, that’s all you get, that’s all you can expect on such a short hunt… We stood there in awe, and I think I gave a couple of calls on the hoochie-mama. Well, another bull crested the hill. All I saw was the horns and the light came on in my head as to what to do. I quickly backed up and went straight away from my two buddies into the dark timber calling on the hoochie-mama. I broke some sticks while walking. As a Pennsylvania Whitetail hunter, it is taboo to make any noise while hunting, but Elk seem to love to hear a small branch break as reassurance that the call they hear is real.
Then I hear it. Thwack. That hollow sound that an arrow makes when hitting the chest cavity. I sat there for a second and thought did this just happen? Could we go 3 for 3? Then I began calling again, almost non-stop. Another trick I learned first hand from the ElkNut! A few seconds later, I hear another Thwack. Now I was confused. I know he did not miss the first time and that the second arrow sounded the same. I must have been about 80 yards from my buddies now so I started back to see what the heck just happened.
When I got to them, they were giddy. Kirt kept saying to Bill (teasing him) “Turn my peep – Turn my peep”. But it was Bill that had been shooting. I guess when Bill drew back, his peep did not turn open and he could not see through it. So he had Kirt turn his peep while at full draw on the ELK. He made his first shot at 40 yards slightly back with the bull quartering to him (not good). But the Elk jumped and stood at 60 yards again (I like to think because of my calling in the background), so again Bill drew back and had Kirt turn his peep, this time connecting slightly back with the bull quartering away (bingo).
Later, on the 26 hour ride home to PA this became known as the impressive “cross arrow placement tactic”. Now the waiting started. Kirt went up the hill first (imagine 60 yards at a 45 degree grade). Bill stood with me with eyes that were glazed over replaying the events that just happened. Kirt whispered down to us “First Blood”. That was a good sign, so we moved up to where he was and attempted to find any of the 3 arrows that were now missing from his quiver. No luck. We gave the bull an hour and proceeded to track it. It amazes me how hard it is to see blood on pine needles before the sun is high in the sky. We tracked for about 150 yards (I was in the rear and took the job of staying on the last spot of blood until the next was found). Soon I saw Bill point and at the same time Bill and Kirt raise their binoculars. Next I saw Bills bow raised above his head in sheer joy, while Kirt yelled “He’s down! – He’s down!!!”. After several photos, the cell phones came out. First calls went to the 2 guys that were also invited for this trip, but chose not to go. I remember hearing “3 bulls down and headed for home…YEAH WE GOT THREE BULLS… no kidding”.
I have read that the odds of killing an elk with the bow are around 18% for an archery hunter. Don’t ask me how 3 guys killed each of their first bulls with the bow on the same trip, because I don’t know. I don’t know that we could ever do it again. I cannot believe it even happened in the first place. But I can’t wait to go again…
Why this one meant so much to me?
- No outfitter
- No guide
- No one calling for me
- National Forest land (No fences)
07 Hoyt Vectrix XL (need to thank Gold-n-Grain Archery)
280 feet per second
About 77 pounds of kinetic energy
Bemoan ISC Hunter 400’s – 436 grains
4 ½ inch Duravanes
Magnus Buzz Cut Stingers 100g (need to thank Magnus broad heads)
Trophy Ridge Rhino Guide series 5 pin sight
Trophy Taker Pronghorn rest
I need to thank the ElkNut (www.elknut.com) for teaching this Pennsylvania native how to Elk hunt, his videos are the only ones I own. I especially need to thank my Wife and children for my time away from home and time spent focusing on this trip. They have allowed me to live my dream. And also thanks to the man upstairs for answering a prayer or two along the way…