Name: Aaron P
Date of Hunt: October 23, 2017
Location of Hunt: Western Colorado
Animal Hunted: Bull Elk
Were you successful?: Yes!
Weather, Wind, and Conditions: Clear with snow in the past couple days, 40’s with light wind
Interesting Details of the Hunt: For the second year in a row, I headed out for bull elk during the 2nd rifle season in Colorado. The previous year had been unseasonably warm and according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, hunter success had been lower than usual. Fortunately, last year I was still able to find success with a legal bull. (See that story here).
This year the weather was cooler and I had high hopes for success. I arrived at camp Friday night with opening day the next morning. There were more hunters around camp than I had ever seen before and so I knew that there would be a lot of hunting pressure the next day.
Friday evening into Saturday morning it snowed 3-4 inches. It was a perfect set-up with the weather. A friend and I headed out extra early to beat the crowds and were on the trail by 4:30 am. We hiked a couple miles up to just over 10,000 ft. on the mountain in the dark. On the way up, we passed numerous elk beds where the elk had been during the night. With the fresh snow, we were excited about the opportunity for excellent hunting.
As it got to legal light, we worked out way across the side of the mountain. We found lots of elk tracks every way we turned…. but they were all headed down the mountain. We startled one spike bull that morning, but finally fell to the temptation and followed the tracks down the mountain. We saw tracks everywhere in the fresh snow, but didn’t see any other elk.
That evening, down at a lower elevation, my friend opted to sit on a meadow for a couple hours, while I hiked a bit around the mountain. As I worked my way up through a big grove of aspens, I stumbled across a herd of about 25 elk. They were crossing in front of me at about 100 yards and never knew I was there. They were mostly cows and spikes, but there was one that had the possibility to be legal. I had it in my sights a number of time and even had the safety off a couple times as I tried to determine if it was legal. However, in the end I could never confirm that it was legal and so I never pulled the trigger. As much as I wanted to shoot an elk, I wanted the shot to be ethical and legal.
Just 45 minutes later, I worked my way back to meet up with my friend and I came across another herd. This one had about 15 elk. This herd did have a legal bull in it, but it was as the back of the group behind some cows and I never got a clear shot. My first day ended with seeing elk, but not finding the bull I needed.
The next morning my friend and I decided to head down the mountain and follow the tracks to a lower elevation. The morning had us seeing a lot of hunters…. but no elk. Mid-afternoon my friend headed off to hunt with his dad for a bit and so I was on my own. I saw two different small groups of elk but they all were just cows and spikes. The evening I sat on a meadow for 4 hours, but never saw anything.
Monday morning I was on my own again and decided to head up the mountain. I got to a meadow part way up the hill a bit before shooting light and had decided to sit there for a bit before heading up the mountain. That plan changed when right at shooting light a hunter walked up through the middle of the meadow and said good morning to me.
With that plan ruined, I decided it was time for me to head up the mountain. I started working my way up the hill and came to a high meadow. As I worked my way east, I came upon a gut pile of a bull on the west side of the meadow. It looked like it was a day or two old, but with it being there, I didn’t have much hope of seeing anything else nearby. I walked east across the meadow and noticed a lot of single elk track crisscrossing the meadow. It looked like a bull or two had been there recently. My plan was to go to the east side and work my way up the mountain along the ridge. I was right at 9,800 ft. elevation.
Once I was across the meadow, I started on the east side of the ridge and was only about 30 yards into the woods when I glanced down the slope and saw a single bull elk down among the trees. I immediately could tell that he was a legal bull and I pulled up my 30-06 and got him in my scope. It was only 67 yards, but the bull had no idea I was there. I took a second, aimed, and pulled the trigger. At the shot, the bull jolted but didn’t move. I quickly chambered another round, aimed and fired again. At the 2nd shot, the bull reared up for a moment and then fell right over. It didn’t take a single step! It was 8:00 am and I had a bull down!
To say I was excited would be an understatement. I practically flew down the hill to the bull, but even before I got there, the bull was dead. I believe my first shot was a little forward and had gone through both front shoulders. My second shot had been perfect heart shot. As I got to study the bull for the first time, I was thrilled to realize it was a 5×5 bull. He was wide and quite a bit bigger than the previous year. While he was not very thick, he was symmetrical. I estimate that he was only a 3½ years old.
Once the shot was taken, the real work began! I spent the next 4 hours field dressing, skinning, and deboning the elk. I prefer the gutless method for elk and so I used this method to get all the meat I could off of the elk. Unfortunately, I was not able to get much meat from the two front quarters because of my first shot, but everything else was in great shape. I must admit that I struggled some with removing the head, but I also removed the lower jaw and skinned the head so that it was less weight carrying it back to camp.
I packed out all of the elk out in two trips. The first trip I took a hind quarter and the head. The second trip I brought down the other hind quarter, what I could salvage of the front quarters, the backstraps, and the tenderloins. I measured the distance and it was 2.7 miles from camp with an elevation change of about 2,000 ft. When I brought that last load into camp, I was exhausted beyond belief, but thrilled I could once again fill my freezer with meat.
I feel very privileged to harvest a bull this season. Not only do I have some excellent meat to feed my family, but I also have the great memories and experiences from another great hunt!