My fourth year of “do-it-yourself hunting” public land in Colorado resulted in my fourth year with a big game harvest — but this year’s adventure was one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life.
It ended with another great hunt when I pulled off an improbable spot and stalk and downed a cinnamon bear with my compound bow — with only one arrow and no gun, knife, bear spray or extra arrows on me.
I chat with dozens of hunters year after year who venture up the mountains, yet never harvest any animals. The elk odds are around 2 percent. However, this year finally someone else did — my buddy Ben, who I put on my secret deep spots. Our trip started great when Ben got a huge cow elk on a perfect 70-yard shot with a follow up 80-yarder (both passed-through using Ramcats) on the second morning.
It was in one of my favorite fields over 5 miles deep, and we packed out the meat then he left early to head home to see his pregnant wife. I stayed alone with an archery bear and elk tag.
Earlier in the year on my scouting trip to in July, I had filmed a beautiful blonde bear that ran up 10 yards to me. I took pictures without any fear while it stood on its hind legs. Another hunter had a bear try to come in his tent one night. After hearing that story, my nights solo in the mountains were a bit eerie. Last year, a bear stole my food and cleaned grouse next to my tent one night.
My start was pretty slow out the gate. It rains practically every evening up in the mountains, and much of my gear and tent got wet while hiking up my first few hunts. Still, I had a few close calls with a bull in range that I couldn’t count the points on until it walked off, and big cows I stalked to 15 yards but couldn’t get a clear shot at.
Then, just like every year, they had many other hunters come through and scare the elk and bear out of those areas after the first weekend. Elk will travel miles and miles in a day to get away from human pressure. Most of these people don’t do scent prevention, but I take cold showers multiple times a day and switch to fresh clean clothes for every hunt.
Most hunters have trouble making it up the mountain one or two times, taking hours each trip with their walking sticks unable to carry enough clean clothes, but I just jog on by. Soon all the others left battered and beaten, while I continued to voyage deeper.
I stay on the grind from dawn to dusk with heavy gear and camera equipment all day. Over my trip I hiked up the mountain 13 times to the tent, brining five pairs of boots and more than 10 sets of clothes to cover 256 miles in 15 days. My goal was 250 miles, because I was training for a 100-mile trail race at the end of September.
The first week, I focused on getting an elk with my recurve bow from the climber, hunting solo much deeper. Into the first week that plan backfired when the top piece of my Lone Wolf climber broke cleanly in half 30 feet up a tree in the morning darkness before dawn. The metal frame split in two in a split second throwing me airborne. Luckily, my safety harness flung me back into the tree.
Then, I had to untie the harness while dangling and bear-hug the tree all the way down in the dark many miles from any other person. The Lone Wolf manager later told me that tiny trees put extra pressure that can potentially break older versions of the stands.
To make matters worse, I got extremely sick — presumably from a bad water filter that was four years old. Alone up the mountain throwing up everything I ate, horrible cramping and diarrhea with severe dehydration was one awful experience. I had violent shakes and a fever over 104 one night. It was worse than any flu or sickness I ever experienced, but bear season had finally opened, and I had no plans to stop my quest.
I woke every morning in the tent at 4 and hiked another two hours to the hunting area. Then, I got back to the tent around 10 each night starved, cold, wet and sick – then kept repeating the process.
On opening day of bear season, I focused on using my compound bow to stalk hunt. I had seen bears on my friend’s elk carcass early in the first week, but by bear season only a few bones remained in the field it was taken in, but the wind was consistently wrong. Plus, there was little cover to setup for bowhunting.
I switched to Plan B to stalk hunt some berry bushes in thick blowdowns where I had seen a big blonde earlier in my trip. They were feasting on the mountain prickly current bushes, and I saw many berries in the bear droppings. Still, I knew getting a bear without a carcass and with a bow is unheard of, so I figured maybe I could still try for an elk.
Then, I spotted a large light blond bear above a small waterfall in the middle of an extremely thick blowdown woods. I thought there was no way would I get into bow range unnoticed with the noisy underbrush and tough 60-degree climb, but I dropped my large backpack and went in with a stealthy approach anyway.
After stalking a while, I saw the bear walking off 100 yards away with no way to catch up to it. I took a quick scan using my range-finding binoculars and couldn’t believe it — I spotted another figure still feeding - a cinnamon bear. The waterfall got louder, and helped to hide my noise with the wind in my face.
That’s when I realized my pistol, knife, quiver with extra arrows and bear spray were still in the hunting bag I dropped off when I started my stalk. I was going after a bear with one arrow, up a steep mountain side where I could hardly move – but no fear. (Yeah right — I was terrified but excited all at the same time.)
I got 33 yards away and drew the bow. I held draw for 44 seconds on video as the bear fed. It turned broadside, and I released the arrow into a small gap between trees — bang!
The bear jumped up, growled loudly and disappeared into thick cover 25 yards from me. Had it seen me? I was whispering to my camera about what just happened more excited than ever, but was unsure of the impact point from my fast Full Throttle bow. So it was time to sneak out.
The next morning I found the 200-pound(ish) bear pretty stiff only 8 yards from my arrow, which was stuck deep in a tree stump. I couldn’t believe I had tagged a bear with a bow. It was one of the most surreal hunts I ever made, complete with a serene waterfall backdrop.
Now it was cleaning time. To keep everything cold to preserve the rug, I put the skinned hide and meat in the cold creek then hiked out over 100 pounds of wet hide and meat for hours.
So how does bear taste? Pretty amazing.
It’s similar to beef and very tender. Medium-sized bears taste the best, and I was told big ones aren’t nearly as good eating. According to the weight chart, my bear could be anywhere from 3 to 10 years old, so I’m eager to find out its exact age when the tooth gets processed next spring. My wife liked eating the bear so much that she wants a bear tag next year, too.
The video of the hunt can be found here.
I was still slowly recovering from my mountain water infection, but didn’t stop there. In the evenings, I decided to focus on turkey hunting. A hunter can take one either sex Merriam turkey during the fall season, but they stay in flocks that are hard to sneak up on.
I embraced the challenge and nearly got a big tom, but an angry pine squirrel busted me sneaking through the dense acorn shrubs 80 yards away. The squirrels are very vocal, and seem to consistently chirp at hunters.
Then, I saw another flock of hens in a field. I made the spot and stalk perfectly, crawling on my belly over 100 yards into a trench 40 yards away. I used my new ultra-light CZ over and under to blast the big hen. (I bought the gun just for tough hunts like that. It’s the lightest full-sized over and under on the market, weighing in at just 6.1 pounds.
Later, in the second week, I stalked far up a mountain and finally got back on some elk. Amazingly, I got 20 yards from two bulls feeding with the wind in my face in very thick fir trees. I thought for sure I’d tag a big bull elk and knew both the 7x7 and 6x6 from my trail cameras. However, the 6x6 saw me and stopped. I had a very makeable gap on the shoulder and released. But my arrow hit a tree and exploded just before reaching the elk.
The two bulls ran up into a field and I followed. The closest I could get was 80 yards, where one blew angrily at me for 32 minutes on video. Later that day, I found out my bow was shooting 6 inches low and 6 inches right at 30 yards.
I should’ve tested it before that hunt. Climbing mountains every day means falls and bumps happen. The terrain is more brutal than anything in Louisiana. But it’s just all part of the challenge and adventure. Still ,to have that up-close run-in with large bulls was truly a remarkable experience.
I saw many mule deer and a huge buck at 20 yards on my last day, but I wasn’t picked for a deer tag this year. My Ironman buddy joined in to hike and explore, he used my new shotgun and ghillie suit and shot a nice hen turkey himself.
One evening we hiked to a pond with beautiful brook trout to fly fish. I caught eight small ones on my fly rod. I also had a lynx on trail camera video, along with run-ins with two porcupines.
Eating delicious wild chanterelle mushrooms, Merriam turkey and dusky grouse jambalaya all week really completed the mountain life experience. Year four in Colorado was amazing — it seems like each one keeps getting better and better.