Day One of the Hunt found HERE.
While I had only seen elk on my first day, my hunting partners had experienced even less success than I did on day one. Besides a few small muley does, their only opportunity came at the end of the day while they sat in the meadow I was at that morning. Per usual hunting luck, the one with the buck tag had the cows walk by at 40 yards while the one with the cow tag sat on the other side of the hill and saw nothing. I’m beginning to see a trend here!
Day two I joined up with one of them and decided to try a new area where we had not hunted before. It’s always hard to hunt an unfamiliar area, but the lack of fresh sign from the day before helped make up my mind to try a new area.
The hunt did not start well. 15 minutes down the trail we ran into the sheep. We backtracked a bit a took a wide loop around them and continued on. Hunting in a new area always entails a bit of guesswork and you are never quite sure what is around the next corner or over the next hill. Thanks to our OnX maps, we had some idea of trails and topography but we still found ourselves struggling with a good place to sit.
At about 8:15 am, we came to the end of the trail we were on and decided to break off to the left down to a shallow valley. Suddenly my friend stopped dead in his tracks and whispered, “Elk!” Down through the trees at about 60 yards we saw a group of elk crossing right in front of us. We quickly identified that it was a cow elk followed by three spikes.
The wind was blowing from right to left and so we knew that scent would not be an immediate issue. I pulled up my open-sight .50 muzzleloader and waited for an opening to appear.
It wasn’t really thick brush, but through the light aspens we did have to wait for an opening to appear. It was probably only 20 seconds or so, but it seemed like forever. Finally, as the cow stepped forward, a clear shot appeared through the aspens. I took aim right behind the shoulder with the open sights and fired.
I barely felt the kick of the gun and hardly heard the report, but the smell of sulfur immediately filled the air. We both strained to see through the smoke at where I shot. All four elk immediately turn and ran back the way they came. I didn’t notice any reaction from the cow I had shot at and I had a sinking feeling that I had missed. The shot just didn’t feel right….I felt it had been low.
I reloaded (as quickly as you can reload a muzzleloader) and we headed down to the location of the shot. My friend though he saw the cow flinch like it had been hit, but it had run off with the others. We didn’t see any blood at the shot location but we wanted to do due diligence and so we headed in the direction the elk ran.
I was looking down at the ground looking for any blood sign when suddenly my friend spotted the cow just ahead. He saw that it was indeed shot, but it was in the lower front left leg. I saw just a glimpse of it through the trees before it ran off again. However as we got close we saw we had a blood trail!
Following a blood trail in Colorado in the fall can be challenging and this situation was no different! Not only was there not a lot of blood in this case, but the changing aspen leaves added enough red tint everywhere to make spotting the blood very challenging. Time and time again we would lose the trail….and then find it again, just to lose it 10 yards later. At times it was only a drop here and there and other times there seemed to be a good amount. I knew it wasn’t a strong kill shot at all but had a hope we could track it and get another shot at it.
We followed the trail for over 2 hours. Finally, we came to a place where it looked like the elk had laid down for a bit. There was a good amount of blood in the bed, but then there was nothing after that. We spend the rest of the day looking for that elk, but we never found it.
Any hunter who has wounded an animal, but was not able to harvest it knows the horrible feeling that it is. You would rather just completely miss the animal and leave it for someone else to have the opportunity to hunt than to injure and animal and risk losing it. But after many hours of searching and looking, I felt I had fulfilled my ethical duty to try and harvest the animal. We knew the shot was not a kill shot and so my only hope was that the elk would survive for someone else to harvest later.
The afternoon was calm compared to the excitement of the morning. After lunch my hunting buddy and I split up…..I went back to the area from that morning to check again and he headed back to camp to take a nap before the evening hunt. Once again, as he was on the trail, he had 4 cows walk right in front of him at 10 yards……oh the cruel irony of hunting.
That evening I set up in a meadow and had my second opportunity to fill my tag. A group of cows crossed a small opening about 80 yards off to my let and I had a shot. This time I clearly felt myself jerk as I pulled the trigger and saw my bullet hit the ground right underneath the elk. Once again, I had missed a golden opportunity to harvest a cow elk.
Coming up…..day 3 and conclusion of the hunt!