Colorado- My cold, stiff body ached as ELK:30 rattled in my pocket, jolting my mind to the current situation; getting up for the final day of my 2018 elk hunting trip. I fumbled through my Sitka Gear pants to shut my “nuclear alarm” off on my phone and lied in my sleeping bag for a few more minutes waking myself up. I tried to mentally prepare myself for most likely being unsuccessful yet again on this final morning and leaving for Michigan with empty coolers and tag soup. I proceeded to dress myself with the appropriate elk chasing apparel and pulled myself out of the tight 2-person tent my brother and I had called home for the week; a home we were ready to leave for the warmth of our comfortable beds.
A quick gear check, and we were off as the sun slowly bled over the mountain peaks to the east, painting the motionless clouds vibrant shades of red and orange.
We slowly side-hilled upward to the middle ridge-line; a spot we used to locate any nearby bulls lumbering through the burn or pine drainages encircling it. We sat in awe as the sky increased in its spectacular display of color. It was decided that today at 8:00 we would leave this public land for the trail head, unless a close enough bull created a different fate for the rest of the day. Doubt momentarily flooded our drained bodies when all we were hearing was the cool mountain breeze and several irritating birds cackling our ears off around our lookout spot. The previous morning’s miss was also eating away at my confidence.
That morning, a small five point made his way up the mountain towards me with the intent of finding his cow my brother Dave had been imitating. I decided on two giant pines between the bull and myself roughly twenty yards away to take my only opportunity to draw my bow. In the final moments of the draw, his head peered past the trees, and he stopped in his tracks. Being pinned down, I went for the only available shot, a shot that would need to be tight to the shoulder since he quartered towards me. As I pulled the trigger, he had been one step ahead and had begun turning away before my flying arrow made contact. The arrow only punched open air and sailed into the creek bottom. I had missed a small 5, my only real chance on a legal bull all week. David made the wise joke later that morning which rang in my ears, “Good thing you missed that bull Jonny, because you’re gonna shoot a bigger one!” “Yeah right”, I thought.
A sudden, echoing bugle entered our eardrums, and like a switch, flipped me back to reality and quickly changed our mindsets to the chase. A small, creamy white blur scooted between the scorched trees in the burn in the next drainage over; a lone, screaming bull headed for our drainage and within our huntable range! A quick glass with my Vortex binos confirmed his direction of travel, and we were off! Dave and I hightailed it to the drainage bottom like little kids cutting off the ice cream truck in their neighborhood as the truck’s tune radiates across the subdivision giving away his path of travel. We hoped this bull would give us some good bugling tunes as we tried to meet him in the lower end of the drainage. We etched and sketched our way to the bottom as we called it, navigating up, down, left, and right around and over deadfall and loud brush to prevent any perceptible sounds to keep us undetected. A series of cow calls and bugles were thrown out into the cold mountain air from the Phelps bugle tube and Rocky Mountain Temptress cow caller as we setup; nothing responded. Just the quiet hum felt through our minds, like a channel on TV without reception; we were answered by nothing more than static of the nearby creek. We both agreed on slowly moving up our drainage, sending out a location bugle every hundred yards or so. David let out a desperate bugle at our first stop, hoping a confrontation would be initiated. A bugle rang out directly above us from on top, answering through the antsy silence. We moved into our usual positions: Dave stood sixty yards upwind of me hoping the bull would circle downwind of him and end up within range of my bow.
The cracking of dried out pine branches and crunching of dead brush gave up the bull’s position as he advanced downwind to catch our scent; this was what we had prepared for. Dave let out a couple enticing cow calls and snapped some sticks to pull the bull into the intended shooting lane and into my lap. As he did, I felt a sudden change of wind across my neck, and realized the wind had just worked even more into our favor as the bull reached where the wind had been going. He no doubt discovered the same as he gave us one final bugle and came trotting down the mountain expertly maneuvering his towering rack around every pine tree and low hanging branch.
I steadily pulled the string back on my Diamond Fugitive bow and positioned it onto my anchor point, eyes focused on the inbound bull. He approached the small opening in which I stood motionless in, cracked a branch in the way of his antlers, and scoped the clearing for the leader of the cows he was hearing to dethrone him and make the cows members of his own new harem. Every pin lay over his chest as he exposed the challenging frontal shot before me, and everything around me quickly went silent as my mind focused on where my arrow would end its flight. I didn't notice the final cow calls David laid out before the bull to hold his attention nor did I hear the trickling of the nearby creek. My finger pulled the Trufire trigger and sent my arrow screaming through the tense air. Threading the needle as it were, I scored my arrow through the small five-inch hole into the chest cavity, the muzzy broadhead tearing through major arteries and veins travelling into the brain and heart. The blades severed the one source of life for the elk and continued to wreak havoc as it passed through the thoracic opening and into the chest cavity. The red glowing nock disappeared behind the bull’s long neck hair as he whirled around for his final death run. The bull charged up the mountain barely out of sight and piled up, the loud crashing as if the woods were coming down was a sure sign he wasn’t going anywhere, for the fatal shot gave him little time.
Overwhelming joy and success flooded my veins as we had overcome quite a few lows to end off with an outstanding high. David and I quickly met up and were like two school girls going crazy about a cute boy that talked to us, except in this case it had been a giant bull. We were able to walk up to my downed bull not ten minutes later and were blown away by his size. Three hundred and thirty-two inches of character, mass, and overall bone. Let me tell you how gratifying it is to finally lay hands on a bull we worked so hard for. It took us until the final hours on the eighth day to seal the deal with this tank, and I couldn't have been more ecstatic or felt more blessed for my first bull elk bow kill. Two Michigan guys had got it done two years in a row with two beautiful 6 points on a public land; DIY self-guided hunt.
Upon reflection of the week, we realized this could very well be the bull we ran into that Monday fighting a similar-in-size five point. I stalked within nearly sixty yards when a gust of wind over the rim of the drainage floated into the center of their brawl. They blew out of there immediately, and all I could do was watch another opportunity slip out of my hands. They no doubt had run into the next canyon never to be seen again. Who knew I would have another go at that beast just four days later!
This success was possible due to all the info laid out in Elk 101’s University of Elk Hunting course! I was able to put this new knowledge to the test with boots on the ground in the Colorado backcountry, passing their “exam” with a giant brute of a bull! I highly recommend their program to any elk hunting beginner or even long-time elk hunters to increase their odds at successfully harvesting one of these elusive creatures. I also want to give a huge thanks to family and friends who pushed me to keep hunting hard even when I was so close to throwing in the towel. It’s extremely hard to pick up your feet after a miss in elk country but having a positive attitude and giving it your all changes the game! Finally, thank you Lord for such an unbelievably awesome trip in His great outdoors! Oh how the grandeur of the mountains get me every time! Till next time, till next time.