Happy Birthday To Me
I know everyone has their own opinion about in-laws, but let me tell you how mine helped me kill a monster bull elk. I was sitting at home one evening with my wife after putting our daughter to bed when I received a text message from my wife’s stepmother. It was a long message so I just glanced at it at first, but then I saw something about elk hunting. It was in fact telling me that she and her mother wanted to send me to Colorado to hunt elk as an early birthday present. They knew it was something that I had always dreamed of and wanted to do something nice for me. Yeah, that was pretty nice.
As it turns out, they once went to church with a friend that ended up moving to Colorado to guide and now helps hunters find guides that would best suit their style of hunting and desires. You now know him as Gary Ellis, creator and owner of TheColoradoHunter.com. He and I spoke on the phone the very next day and he didn’t have to tell me he was from Texas; he had not lost the accent. After a few fun filled conversations, I decided to go with an outfitter that he knew well for a 3rd season rifle hunt. Now I had to get into shape.
I consider myself to be in shape having ran a marathon, multiple half marathons, and 5 and 10k's as well as being an avid Ultimate Frisbee player (you’ll have to look that up, it’s not what you think it is). So, I took my training seriously due to that fact I live at about 600 feet above sea level. And the range near my house had a 400 yard target for me to work at, to do my hand loads and learn my ballistics. I also had plenty of time to stress about forgetting something important.
Finally my day arrived. My equipment got there and was waiting on me. I was met at the airport by my guides Greg and Eric, and another hunter, Bud, and we made our way back to camp. Once at camp and assured my rifle was still sighted in, I sat back and tried to gather my thoughts. I had no idea what to expect the next day. I was told that we would drive out early and hike up to a point where we could glass and maybe get a shot.
I woke before my alarm went off that first morning. I was the first in the mess hall too. Even before breakfast was ready…or cooked. Needless to say, I was excited. After breakfast, our two guides, Bud, and I loaded into an old suburban (that will be from here on referred to as “the burb”) and took off at a whopping 8 mph down the roughest dirt road in the state. It was a long 62 minutes later when we pulled off to the side of the road. Greg took me up the side of a canyon, set me in a place he had previously scouted and told me what I should look for and expect. It was a beautiful sunrise overlooking some beautiful country. I spent that quick morning ranging hillsides, thinking of big bulls that had to be just around the corner, eating the good snacks my wife had made for me, and wanting to get a better look at the elk shed I had found on the hike that morning.
Shortly before lunch, Greg made his way back and we headed for the truck. It was hot now. The elk weren’t moving. We didn’t hear many shots. “They’re probably in the dark timber,” I was told as I stripped off my polypros and ate lunch. I had no idea what dark timber was, but it sounded good to me. I have hunted the Tennessee woods for deer, squirrel, rabbit and turkey for thirty years, so I was pretty sure of the tactics in theory, but it was the finer points and vernacular I was getting a crash course in this day.
The four of us loaded back into the burb and headed up to another access road for the evening hunt. This hunt took us up a reclaimed road to overlook a watering hole. This time I sat with Eric, while Bud and Greg broke off the trail early to watch a different part of the same canyon. We heard a little bit of bugling and cow calls from across the canyon, but instead of coming to us, they stalled out and only offered a glimpse of a cow’s rear end in the last minute of shooting light. We met back up with Greg and Bud on the hike back to the burb and they told us how they had seen the herd that we were listening to and said there was a decent 5x5 with them as well as a couple of smaller bulls. We made a plan that night to work back up into that same area so I could get a shot at him since Bud was after a larger bull.
Sure enough, as things usually go, our plans changed and we hit a different area the next morning. Eric and I set up and overlooked another canyon with lots of sign and promise. But after several hours of glassing nothing but oak brush, we met back up with Greg and Bud and made our way back to the canyon we watched the previous night.
Eric and I picked our way up through the ridge where they saw the elk the night before and glassed one side of a sphinx while Greg and Bud went up the next ridge over to watch the opposite side. Again, the hills were quiet and Eric and I made our way back that night to our rendezvous point scratching our heads. Back at the burb, Greg told us that they saw the same herd again. The decent 5x5 was still with them, but there looked to be a bigger bull with them too. But they were too far off to make a stalk on them so they had to back out.
That night we made another plan. Eric would have to stay back and help with chores, so Bud decided to go solo while Greg and I made our way back up the canyon to find the herd again. It was still hot and I had only seen one cow for about a quarter of a second, so I was getting a little nervous...kinda. I really didn’t know if this was normal or not, but it didn’t seem good.
The next morning rolled around and the three of us loaded up into the burb for the long trip back to the canyon. The light was starting to filter into the canyon as we made out the final details for our day's hunt and split off into the thick hillside. Our first stop on the ridge was where Bud and Greg had observed the elk the evening before. We sat in a couple of different spots as we worked our way up. As the day heated up, we took a little break for a nap and lunch under some shady trees. As the sun began to shift toward the west, we picked up and made our way over to the opposite side of the ridge to glass the shady side of the canyon.
As we crossed the spine, we worked our way over to an outcropping to glass a little before moving on further up the canyon. As I was pulling the glasses away from my face, I caught a glimpse of a cow standing up. I was able to tell Greg where she was and we settled in to find the rest of the herd in the thick brush on the other side of the canyon. Finally, he made out another cow bedded down and decided to work his way up the ridge to see if he could find a better vantage point to glass and shoot from. My job was to continue to glass the hillside in case the elk decided to move.
As I was glassing, I noticed another elk bedded about ten yards above the cow under a tree. It was a bull! It looked like a pretty decent bull, but I could only see about half of one side of his rack. About that time, Greg made his way back and I told him the good news only to find out that he had already seen him too. We packed up and moved another twenty to thirty yards further up the ridge for a clearer shot. I set up on my sticks and Greg confirmed only that he was a legal bull and that he was in range, and gave me my hold-over for the shot.
As we were waiting, I noticed a couple of smaller bulls starting to filter into an oak brush thicket a little further down the canyon. They were about 50 yards closer so I asked Greg to check them out for me thinking that if there were a good bull with these others, I would take one of them instead. Again, the only thing Greg would tell me was that one was a legal bull and he was in range and that if I want to take him I could. I swung my gun over and was immediately convinced that the one I was on was the biggest. The waiting continued.
It was then that the problem became evident. I was facing west into the setting sun and it didn’t look like the bull was in any hurry to get up. The more we waited, the more the sun became a problem. Greg finally made a sunshade with a stick and his jacket and solved the issue.
Finally, the bull stood up and I sent my first shot down range. The bull just stood there. Did I miss? I racked another round and squeezed the trigger only to find that my rifle had misfed the round. I racked it again, dropped my sticks and sent another round and watched the bull dart into the thick cover. Greg and I discussed the shot as the smaller bulls looked on in curiosity. About five minutes passed when the bull came running from the thick cover into the oak brush and stopped. I settled the cross hairs again and sent another round his way. I was amazed when he took off again. The doubt began to run through my head. Is my gun not powerful enough (400 plus yards is a long shot with a 270 win.), is my gun off, am I holding too high? I lowered my cross hairs to lessen my holdover on the now running bull and squeezed off a final desperation shot. I was amazed to watch him tumble head over heels to the ground never to twitch again.
It was only then that Greg looked at me and said, “Dude, that is one monster bull!” We covered the distance to the bull very quickly and were even more impressed with our closer evaluation. We evaluated the shots and realized that the first was a gut shot; the second a miss. When he came back out, the third shot was dead in the vitals while the forth hit him low in the front leg which produced the amazing cartwheel. Daylight was running out, so we quartered him out and hung the meat to cool over night and came back in the morning with reinforcements. The six mile hike in the dark back to the burb went by quickly. We were both amazed at what had just happened.
Back at camp that night, I was greeted with a lot of excitement and questions about the hunt. Being a rookie from out East, I was still not fully aware of the accomplishment I had achieved. The bull green scored 385 6/8 gross and 375 4/8 net. And, to make things even better, it was an over-the-counter tag on BLM (public) land!
Happy Birthday To Me!