Well this past weekend I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go bowhunting for the elusive Rocky Mountain elk. This was my first year for obtaining a big game tag, and luckily I have some experienced friends that allowed me to hunt with them. After countless hours, of which my wife can attest, spent planning, researching, and dreaming about gear we hit the road last Friday to the mountains. Our destination was just past the town of Buena Vista and heading over the Continental Divide. We arrived with about and hour left of daylight and decided to do a quick hunt on the Divide itself. In all reality we knew we wouldn't see anything that night but we couldn't wait to lace up the boots and start making some bugle calls.
Upon sunset we ventured further into the mountain towards Taylor Park Reservoir meandering our way through the haze of the dirt roads. We landed ourselves in an deserted mining town on a back country road, which we would call home for the evening. It was a bit erie camping out that evening so I decided to sleep in the truck. Big mistake as the combination of a truck seat mixed with the excitement of the morning hunt I didn't sleep more than an hour.
That morning we got up just before 5am to hit the trails. The 4 of us split up into two groups to cover the most ground as possible. Noah and I spent about 2.5 hours making our way up a dirt road climb, along the way stopping to make bugle and cow calls hoping to locate some elk. However, that morning we were not as lucky as our friends. They managed to get within 50 yards of an elk, before it ran off, just merely 20 minutes into their morning. That being said Noah and I's hard work was rewarded with the following view as we reached the ridge of the mountain at 12,800 feet.
Not a bad view I must say watching the sun rise over the top of the Continental Divide.
We took a much needed break to glass the mountains and look for sign of any elk in the distance. Upon more meandering through the woods we decided that this would be a great place to camp so that the next morning we would be able to walk into the basin to hunt early in the morning. So we made the 2.5 mile trek back down to the cars only to load the 50 lb packs on our backs and hike back up to the top of the ridge. We did gladly welcome the afternoon rain shower, which cooled us off while hiking the pass. We settled down and made our camp before heading out on the evening hunt.
The 4 of us split up that evening and this was my view for the night as the sun was setting. Looking into the woods hoping to call that big elk into my sight. I found this tree that and elk had been using to scratch his antlers. I thought for sure I would see something this evening.
Unfortunately, no luck this evening either I did get to witness another great sunset in the mountain though!
That brings us to Sunday morning. We decided to wake-up very early and drop down a couple thousand feet into the basin in hopes of seeing some more cow elk. It was a beautiful, and surprising easy hike in the morning. I should have figured since we were going downhill the entire time. My legs reminded me of that when we made the return trip back to camp for lunch.
After hours of wandering through the dense forest and thick marshes I was only lucky enough to see a few deer. However, the other group saw two massive bull elk and a herd of cow elk as well. This alone was motivating enough for me to want to keep pressing on to find that elusive creature. During our lunch conversation we decided that there was too much water and food down low that the elk didn't want to hike up to where we were camping. We made the executive decision to load up our packs again and make the 8-10 mile trip down the basin to around 10,300 feet. My lungs were happy about this as I realized I might get a little better sleep tonight. However, the elk had bigger plans compared to my sleep needs. I was fortunate enough that early Monday morning around 4:00 am I was woken up by two bull elk bugling back and forth for about 40 minutes non-stop. I didn't realize how rare of an even this really is until Noah elaborated more on what I had experienced. I must say this was one of the neatest experiences to be out in the middle of God's country without a sound to be heard except for the elk doing what they do best with their small symphony in the woods that evening.
The morning view from our camp that morning once again did not disappoint.
Noah and I eagerly jumped out of our tents to pursue the elk that we had heard throughout the early parts of the morning. We hiked only about 5 minutes from camp and made our first bugle. To our delight the elk bugled back, the same way he had been calling earlier. He was within 200 yards or less of our location. We walked another 5 minutes closer and called again. We waited a little longer this time and to our delight the elk responded back. This time within 100 yards or so. Too far to see, but right under the tip of our noses. We walked a bit close and called again, to our surprise he stopped calling back. This made it incredibly hard to locate his position. We spend the next 30 minutes trying to hear back from him again, but he decided to become a ghost, something the elk are all so good at accomplishing.
Once again with a sigh of disappointment we headed back to camp empty handed. However, I felt like I should give it one more effort. I headed out again around 7:30am from camp and within 3 minutes I heard something in the woods. It is amazing how in-tune your ears and eyes become when you are in these situations. When you take out the noise from cell phones, cars, planes, and everything else in the busy city life you can feel your sense truly come alive. As I briskly stopped I began to scan over my right shoulder up the hill and picked out to creatures about 60 yards in the distance. I couldn't quite make out what they were until they started to investigate me a little closer. They made their way around the back of me and headed across the trail to get below me so that they could be downwind to get a good scent from me. I have heard about animals doing this but it was quite remarkable to see how they put their strengths to their advantage. As they walked across the trail I was bummed to see that it was a doe and yearling buck.
Although disappointed it wasn't the elk I had been chasing for days, it was a great sight to see. I then decided to just enjoy this moment in the woods with the deer. I became motionless and allowed them to do what they do best and determine if I was a threat. It was quite comical because the deer would act like they were going to bend down to eat but the whole time they had their eyes fixed on me to see if they could catch a movement out of me. They inched closer and closer and before I knew it they were about 7 - 8 yards ways from me. From there I could see their noses moving a 1,000 mph trying to figure out what the heck I really. I decided to see if I could get away with a movement. I made the slightest motion with my hand and those deer took off like an F1 race car off the starting grid.
After that the excitement was over, we headed back to camp packed up our gear and made our hike to the car. However, the fun didn't stop as I suspected it would. About 10 minutes into our hike I got to see a beautiful momma moose and her baby walking through the Aspen trees. Quite a cool sight. We decided to take the long way around them as moose can be quite territorial and become aggressive.
As we were heading out on Cottonwood pass I was laser focused scanning the terrain out the window as I desperately wanted to see an elk. To the best of my abilities I was foiled again. However, I did get to see a male moose eating some grass out in the open and that was one huge animal. Words can't even explain their massive size until you are that close in person with them.
After a few long days and dozens of miles hiking through the woods it was back to reality. As much as I wanted to get an elk my first trip out it just wasn't in the cards for me. However, I was wonderfully blessed to get to see some amazing wildlife in God's country. At the end of the day that is what it is all about in my opinion. There is nothing more connecting than going out into the wilderness to truly begin to see some of the scope of what God has created. No noise, no cell phones, no work is needed at times in every one's days, weeks, months, and years. To you it may not be an elk hunt in the Rockies but we all need some time away to truly get some peace and quiet.
Big thanks of course to all my great sponsors who have the best gear out there in helping me great through this new endeavor. Thanks to Honey Stinger, Big Agnes, BAP, Osprey Packs, Backcountry.com, The Adrenalin Project, LifeProof Cases, etc.