My second year in Colorado got off to a rocky start. After the long 21-hour drive, I got lost entering the woods because the GPS deleted my spots from last season. After 90 minutes of making circles in the thick mountainous terrain, I finally made it to one of the waist-high prairies at first light. Within three minutes of beginning the hunt, I jumped a noisy grouse which sent a cow elk running just 40 yards away.
Two minutes later there was a mule doe, 19-yards and broadside. I drew my 100lb bow, aimed and then whispered to her how lucky she was I didn’t get picked in the mule deer draw.
That day I saw another elk, more grouse dancing on logs at 5-yards and many mule deer, but thiscloser-to-our-cabin area where I killed my bull last year didn’t have the high amount of sign I was hoping for. Still, after a full day of hiking ten miles through this dense network of rocks intertwined with nearly impossible to cross fallen fir logs, I realized how much I missed this challenging terrain.
I set my sites on my planned main mission: backpacking with my new North Face Talus 3 tent deep into the mountains alone.
The next morning, after a two-hour hike up to near 11,000 feet elevation, I hopped off a trail and into a thick mountainside swampy bottom. Two minutes later, I was videoing a huge bull that was drooling and staring me down from 60-yards, far out of longbow range.
Then, I came across the foul (but delightful to a hunter) stench of bull elk and heard bugling. Soon three sets of antlers were in view, one the massive size of the giant beasts which line the walls of Cabela’s. For 45-minutes I crept behind these bulls and tracked their stench every time they popped out of view. I managed to get within 50 yards before they eventually out-maneuvered me. I ended up seeing another legal 3x4 bull at 35-yards in some thick brush, but I had zero shot on all these animals.
Tired but still excited that evening, I tested a new further section of woods and instantly saw what I was hoping to find: bear sign, and lots of it. In the fall, bears feed up to 20 hours a day, so they leave plenty of droppings and I literally found hundreds. The bears were feeding on wild mountain strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. I helped myself to as many of these tasty fruits as I could find for energy throughout my trip.
The next day, I woke up before my alarm at 3 a.m. and left the cabin, hiking up my tent and gear. I wore only my old slightly-ripped compression boxers, cut-off shirt and rolled down hip boots to keep from overheating to stay scent-free.
Once in the prairies, I rolled up the hip boots to stay dry. Wearing hiking boots in the dewy mornings with thigh-high underbrush in the woods and prairies is the dumbest thing one can do in my opinion. The upper 30-degree mornings are not fun once your clothes get wet when crossing one of the shin deep creeks and sink past your knees into the mucky bottoms, or just walking through the thigh-high grass that lines all the tiny trails.
Out there, it isn’t much different from the cypress swamps of Louisiana in some areas. Last year, after getting wet on my morning hunts, I tried out my hip boots and stayed bone dry when I shot my big bull. Read about that adventure here.
I slipped on my thin mesh ghillie suit and entered the new section of woods looking for a bear with my compound bow. I approached from an unexplored side to gain a wind advantage.
Instantly, I started seeing elk sign along with more bear droppings. I decided to set a camera near a commonly used trail lined with huge rubs, when out the corner of my eye a female elk was making its way up the mountain.
The stalk began, but before I could make it 50 yards, the entire herd was coming in my direction. About eight cows, with the largest in the lead, were headed for a 15-yard gap. As she neared, I wanted to draw when she was behind a tree, but another big cow had spotted me and was staring.
I stood motionless, and the seconds seemed to take an eternity.
That cow furthest away turned its head, and when the nearly 600-pound lead cow walked behind a tree at 20 yards, I drew. She entered the gap, but before the shoulder appeared, she hit the brakes. I was busted.
She turned to retreat, and I thought I missed out on my opportunity, when she suddenly made a 90-degree and moved to look more closely at my strange leafy figure. Moving slowly at 20 yards and broadside — it was game over.
The big cow only ran 30-yards with the lung shot, and I stood there shocked at how perfectly it all went down — I had three cameras rolling during the sequence.
Luckily, I had hiked up my tent in my frame backpack, and after an hour of deboning meat into two game bags, I started hiking out all 200 pounds at once.
It was way too much weight, but I did manage to make it a quarter of a mile to a creek where I left the smaller bag in 38-degree running water while I hiked out the back legs and backstrap in one long, 3-mile load.
My wife and dogs accompanied me for the second load, but even with no gear she had to take breaks every 100 meters to make it up the mountain in the low-oxygen conditions — even though she runs half marathons with ease. That’s when she understood why I spent all spring and summer training two to three times a day to prepare for this trip.
That’s when hilarity ensued: My wife noticed that my camo boxer tights that I had been wearing all day (while hiking meat past several hikers) didn’t have the small hole I thought they did. Instead, it was a foot-long rip that exposed my muddy backside from all that time sitting on the ground.
I had been too exhausted to even notice. Up until that moment, I hadn’t understood why my elk story had all the other hikers laughing when I talked to them. Of course, my wife took pictures without my knowledge and sent them to all her friends.
By the end of the day, I had hiked for 14 hours and all the meat was salvaged. Soon the bear hunting would begin and my buddy would fly in for my second week of hunting.
Part two of my Colorado mission will come out soon, including video footage and details of action-packed duels with a 400-pound chocolate bruin.
During my two weeks there, I spoke to more than 30 hunters and though many had seen elk, not a single one harvested any of these elusive beasts besides me. I was blessed to have beaten the odds two years in a row, learning how to hunt these majestic animals alone on public land with no guide or help.
Many people hunt open prairies and test their luck with decoys and calling, but I like venturing into the extreme areas where most don’t go. This makes it very similar in difficulty to stalking whitetails with a bow back home in thick woods.
I never even came across another hunter’s boot track during my hunts. Sometimes it seems nearly impossible, but you never know when that beautiful hunting moment will unfold before your very eyes with a quarter-ton animal only a few paces away.