Hunting is finally here. After months of planning and anticipating, we are finally headed into the fall hunting season. This year I was able to draw a cow elk tag for the muzzleloader season. Here in Colorado the muzzleloader season is the middle of September from the 10th-18th. This is usually during some part of the rut and so this is an exciting time to be hunting as the elk are bugling and moving much more than normal. The weather is warmer than later hunting seasons and overall conditions are usually more comfortable.
I was also excited about the location. I had the opportunity to go along on a hunt last year in this zone and while I didn’t have a tag then, I had a great time. We saw elk every day and on the third day of the hunt, my friend harvested a cow elk. Now it was my turn and I was really looking forward to being able to hunt this zone. I was eager to get out for the first hunt of the season and have the opportunity to fill my empty freezer with some elk meat.
The hunt didn’t start off the greatest. At the time of the hunt, the weather was definitely on the warmer side. Not only was it scheduled to be warm for most of the week, but it had been warm and dry for the couple week previous as well. Despite this warmer weather, I was excited to get out hunting. The aspen leaves had begun to change at the higher elevations, so I knew that even with the warmer weather, fall was progressing.
Friday evening, the night before the season started I got to camp and immediately noticed my first big problem…. the national forest land that I hunt on had a flock of sheep that were supposed to be moved off the land before the hunting season. Well, they were still there. And they were making a huge racket. I went to sleep that night listening to the incessant bleating of sheep coming right from the direction I was planning on going in the morning.
The first morning, I headed up the mountain early and got to the meadow I was wanted to get too. The sheep had indeed been there, but fortunately had moved away the day before. Still I wasn’t hopeful that elk would be in the area.
I had come on this hunt with a cow tag and had three other friends on the trip as well. One of them had a cow tag as well and another had a muley buck tag. As it always happens, that first morning I was by myself and spent the first 30 minutes of the season watching a mature mule buck feed through the meadow at about 75 yards. My friend with the buck tag hunted in another area and didn’t see a thing. Such is hunting.
After sitting at the meadow for a while, I stuck with my original plan and headed to higher elevations. It was clearly a different year. Things were dry and it was impossible to walk quietly through the woods. While I saw some limited elk sign, most of it looked old. There was little indication that elk were anywhere in the area.
Finally, when I was just over 10,000 ft. I came into some elk. As I was walking as quietly as I could over a little plateau, I saw a group of 4 elk through the trees about 60 yards to my right. I froze and observed as a spike bull walked through the trees and continued on up behind me. I could see that there was at least one more spike, but the other two looked like they might be cows. I got ready to shoot….just waiting for them to step out so I could identify and shoot. But suddenly the spike bull got spooked by something behind me and just like that the 4 vanished down the hill with pounding hooves and crashing branches. I hadn’t gotten a shot, but at least I had seen elk and they were in the area.
I continued along the ridge. The wind was at my back but I wanted to head that direction so I kept moving. After going for a bit, I paused and decided to turn and head up the mountain more. I hoped the wind would be better and perhaps there would be elk up higher. Suddenly the woods erupted about 100 yards in front of me. My scent had carried downwind and all I could do was watch at about 40 elk quickly vacated the area. Another missed opportunity.
The rest of the day proved slow. Besides being scared to death a couple of times by a flushed grouse or two, the only other elk I saw was a cow that suddenly darted in front of me at 40 yards as I was making my way down the mountain. Once again there was no shot.
I had hiked many miles over a lot of elevation change and I had seen elk….. but day one ended with my tag still tucked safely in my wallet.