Date of Hunt: 09/15
Location of Hunt: Craig, CO
Animal Hunted: Elk
Were you successful?: Yes!
Weather, Wind, and Conditions: Beautiful Early Fall
Interesting Details of the Hunt: I steadied myself against a small aspen as I knelt and carefully lined up my red and green fiber optic sights. A cow elk stood perfectly broadside across a rolling clearing of knee high grass completely oblivious to our presence. I slowly eased back the hammer on my muzzlerloader but regardless it cocked with a frighteningly loud click. Deep breath in…exhale…and I squeezed down on the trigger…
I grew up hunting whitetails out east so after moving to CO I decided to try my hand at elk hunting with some friends. I managed to draw a cow muzzleloader tag and couldn’t wait till September to use it. September is a beautiful month in Colorado. The leaves have just begun to turn to the rustic yellows and reds of autumn and, while the nights and mornings could be a bit chilly, it is still fairly warm during the day. If you have never hunted early seasons in the Rocky Mountains, I highly recommend it. The weather at that time of year adds a whole extra memorable part to your hunting experience.
There were 4 of us in our hunting group. Two of us with tags, two along for the party. We spent the first 2 full days hiking, climbing, and sitting without my seeing enough of a cow to give me a chance to get a shot. We saw lots of elk and other other wildlife, but everything either had horns or feathers. I struggled to come up with a good explanation for taking one of those on a cow tag. If there were such a thing as a spike bull tag, I would have filled my freezer in no time. But I digress… On the 3rd morning, the 2 guys in our group who didn’t have tags graciously decided to let the two of us who did get up early and do the hiking and climbing while they stayed back at camp. My friend H. had also drawn a cow tag and I told him before we started out that if I shot at a cow and missed to be ready to shoot since either of us could legally tag it.
We hiked for a couple of hours, heard some distant bugling, saw another spike bull… Not seeing much action we decided to go back to a clearing we had hunted the previous day. It was a wet hike through dew soaked knee high undergrowth, but we finally broke out of the woods and started up the hill at the far end of this clearing. It wasn’t more than 2-3 minutes that I looked up and saw just over the crest of the hill the back end of an elk. I motioned quickly to H. and we crept ever so slowly to the top. When we got to where we could see down the rest of the clearing, what do you think we saw? You got it. Two spike bulls. Go figure. But… just behind them stood 4 cows. All 6 elk were headed away from us about 70-80 yards away but not presenting much of a target until one cow turned broadside and stopped. I quickly ranged it (maybe a little too quickly) and it said 120ish yards. That’s a little farther than I’d prefer to throw lead from a smokestick with open sights, but hey, it was the first cow I had a chance at after 2 days.
Kneeling beside that little aspen my hammer cocked with a jarring click. H. was steadied and ready to my right. I squeezed down slowly on the trigger and the boom ripped across the clearing with a bellow of white smoke. Almost before the smoke cleared, the roar of H’s gun exploded beside me. Wow was his loud! Why is it that you don’t seem to hear yours go off when you shooting at an animal but when someone else’s shoots you go deaf??
The group of elk had disappeared into the woods at the sound of our shots and I tried desperately to see through the clearing smoke for the cow we’d fired at. When the smoke cleared, there across the clearing standing exactly as before I fired, stood that cow. I couldn’t believe it! (not that I had missed…that was easy to believe). Why hadn’t it run anyway? “Reload! Reload! Reload!!!” I yelled over at H. We whipped out our stuff, ramrods flailing as we desperately rammed down another load. Boom!! I fired first as I finished followed immediately by H’s ear deafening boom. Smoke billowed then cleared. The cow was still standing!
“Reload! Reload! Reload!!!”
Powder flowed like water with the bullets and primers flying behind. Boom!! Boom!! This time the cow started very slowly walking to our left.
“Reload! Reload! Reload!!!”
At this point, ramrods, powder, and charge tubes lay strew across the battlefield. But before we could finishing loading, the cow disappeared behind a little rise in the ground across the clearing. We rammed home our 4th loads and hurried across the clearing. H. taking the low side of the hill and me taking the top. As we got close to where we’d last seen the cow, it jumped up from where it had lain down and Boom! H. dropped it off hand from 20 yards. Elk down!!
When we finally walked up to the cow, it was quite the sight. Including H’s last shot, we counted out of 7 shots fired 5 bullet holes. I won’t repeat where some were located since it would do nothing for our sharpshooting reputation, but a couple were nicely placed. It wasn’t until later as we were cutting out the meat, that we found a possible explanation for why the cow didn’t run after my first shot. High up in its back were the silver colored fragments from the coating on one of my bullets. My theory is that that was my first shot which must have stunned it enough to keep it from running. I did range the actual distance afterword and found it was farther than I thought. Total distance of exactly 152.3 yards.
All told, it was quite an adventure. I never knew elk hunting with a muzzleloader could feel so much like a civil war battle reenactment. But after the cloud of sulfur smell passed and we hiked out with the meat, it felt pretty good to be an elk hunter. I’ll definitely have to try it again. Just maybe at a little closer range where open sights don’t cover up half the animal.