- By Rich Miller
Needless to say, sleep didn’t come easy that night with the anticipation of hunting elk the next morning; plus, Mickey snored like a logging truck pulling up the side of a mountain all night. After lying in bed for what seemed like most of the night, 3:15 a.m. finally rolled around and we hit the floor wide open with high expectations for the upcoming hunt. Breakfast was ready at 3:45, and after eating we made some sandwiches for lunch. After hiking up that mountain to 12,500 feet, we were not planning on coming back down until we had something dead – or it was dark.
Heading up the mountain that morning was still pretty rough on us, but it was better than the first day. We both had headaches that we kept for a couple of days but we drank plenty of water to help with those. I don’t know if it helped, but that was what everyone in camp kept telling us to do. We made it to the top of one of the mountains as it was getting daylight, though we were not at the top of the big mountain we were in a spot that we could glass above tree line and look for elk. Shortly after we started glassing, we spotted some cows coming across the top. While watching them trying to figure out which way they were headed, we noticed there were six cows and one small bull. We thought they might come down the ridge toward us – headed into the dark timber – but instead they went straight off the side of the mountain, which we never expected. It looked like something a mountain goat might go down but I doughted that. The elk went down that bluff and around the side f another bluff and was gone in less than three minutes. It would have taken us two hours probably to get around there where they were. I cow called to them a couple of times and finally the bull bugled back at me and that was the only bugle we heard in five days of hunting. After crossing over to get to the mountain the elk just left, we started thinking there might be more coming across later so we decided to go to the very top since we were there. It was a lot of work to get there, but man did we have a wonderful view after we got up to the summit! We hunted up there all day and that afternoon we figured out what caused them to go off that bluff like that – it was our buddy that had given us the ride down mountain the day before.
The next three days were more uneventful as the first was as far as the elk went. We did see plenty of people after moving to other areas miles from where we first started. The last afternoon we found a spot on the map that was miles and miles from anything but it was going to take a lot of work to get to. We had to ride the ATV's over twelve miles then walk several more just to get started. We even thought about taking a summit run and gun blind in with us and camping for the night. Then we checked the weather forecast and then came to our senses. We didn’t pack the right kind of gear for that kind of hunt. So we headed into that wilderness area after lunch on the last day with renewed high hopes for getting our tag on an elk. After the long ATV ride and about a mile walk we came to a pretty good-sized clearing or park whatever you want to call it. Before we walked out in to it we glassed around the edges for a bit and it was a good thing we did because we spotted a cow on the other side of the creek. We were really excited then because that was the first elk we had seen in three days. The bad part was there was no way we were going to be able to get to her the way the wind was blowing. So we decided to hunt past her and to the mountain he had originally planned to get to that afternoon. It was another two miles to where we wanted to be and when we got there the wind was perfect for us and there was a lot of elk sign in the area. Even better thing was there was no sign that anyone else had been in here hunting. We stayed back there and hunted as long as we could but we kept thinking back to where we had seen the cow earlier in the day. Not only had we seen elk in there, there was also a lot of bull sign also in that area and we wanted to get back there before dark. After the wind changed on us we started hunting our way back down the river and there was a lot of elk and moose sign all along it. When we arrived back at the clearing as we entered it I set off a Code Blue PST cow urine scent bomb to saturate the area because we had also planned on being back in there the next morning for our last chance if nothing happened that afternoon. After setting the PST off we walked about twenty-five yards when I stopped to bugle as soon as I stopped and the bugle had stopped ringing through the timber we heard a limb snap on the ridge above us. Why I do not know but we both looked at each other and the immediately found us a tree to hide up against. After we got settled in our ambush spots and had our arrows knocked I bugled again. I don’t know if I had finished bugling or not when all of the sudden that big joker came running of the ridge straight at us. There was no doubt that he was a legal bull, and with some trees in between me and him, I was able to get my range finder out and check to see how far away he was. When the range finder displayed 46 yards I think I was in more shock that he was in killing range than I was about an elk in front of me. Mickey was 10 yards to my left and had a better angle in the bull than I did. As the bull stepped in an opening I heard him whisper to me, “What’s the range?” I immediately – and as quietly as possible – answered back to him “46”. When I saw him get his bow drawn and the elk never moved, I just knew that we were finally going to get this done. In the next instant I saw the arrow flying over the big bull’s back and he was turning sharply around heading back into the timber. I couldn’t believe what just happened, so I looked at Mick and asked him, “What range did you shoot at?” and looking back at me in disbelief and said, “60 – like you told me!” At that point, I just lay down on the ground because my legs were still to numb to stand after being on my knees for what seemed like forever. When I told him “46” he heard the “six” and thought I said “60”. Needless to say, it was already a long ATV ride back to camp as it was; but after we blew the chance we had, it seemed twice as long that night. We did go back in there the next morning but never got on anything else.
We may not have killed an elk on our trip but we did finally get to go elk hunting and do it our way. A good friend of mine, Don Wackerman, is an expert when it comes to elk and he has always told me you have to pay your dues when it comes to elk hunting. I don’t know how many we have to pay but Mick and I sure knocked a dent in ours. The other thing we learned on this trip was something that people had been telling us all week and that’s Colorado elk hunting is no vacation!