Posting here because I kind of felt like I owed it to the forum given how helpful everyone on here has been for me while I learn the ins and outs, highs and lows, of elk hunting.
After another unsuccessful archery season, but tons of fun, I turned my efforts to my second season cow tag down in the southern portion of the Sangre De Cristo Range. I went down last weekend with a friend from work and his brother, and got totally shut out. Hot, dry, loud crunchy forest, and not a drop of fresh sign.
So last week I headed down Wednesday night to a more southern zone in our unit, and we immediately realized we had made the right call. Saw elk everyday, and the zone we were in was damn near perfect. High alpine basin with a ridge around 12,400' feet, so the elk were basically sandwiched in about a 1,000 vertical foot window from a bench above the basin to the uppe reaches of the timber.
We hunted hard for two days, seeing lots of animals, and damn near the biggest bull I have ever seen in my life. Monster 6x6 with a gorgeous white body and dark, dark mane. Huge rack. But alas, only a cow tag. But always great to see beautiful animals.
After two days of lots of miles, it all came together. The day before one of our partners chased some elk in a clearing he saw, but his approach was too loud with all the crunchy dead leaves and such. We saw them flee uphill from the opposing canyon wall, and kept a close eye on them for the next day's hunt. The next morning brought nothing, so that evening we returned to where we had seen them the day before, after giving them time to settle down and hopefully get comfortable again.
One friend was gracious enough to offer to climb the opposing canyon's trail and get eyes on our zone. I set up around 445pm and glassed an area that is pretty much ideal elk habitat. Sat patiently...then heard a few cow calls. Looked around, saw nothing. But kept hearing them. Wanting to stay quiet and not alert them, I stayed put, and waited to hear from our friend on the other ridge.
A few minutes later, I am about to press on, thinking I was having auditory hallucinations driven by both excitement and dejection. But I was not. He raises me on the radio - elk, 300 yards behind me, above this little scree field. I turn around and I can see a nice young bull, maybe a 4x or 5x, and a few cows. He tells me there are more than 30 working their way into the opening to graze.
I range them at 302yds, and I do not have a great shot, nor do I want to take that shot with my 270. So I put on a stalk. I am not the quietest or slowest human out there, and my heart was pounding out of my chest.
I stay in radio contact with my buddy on the other wall of the canyon, and eventually get to about 150yds from the clearing they are in. All I can see is the hill I have to climb to get a shot, but I have lost sight of the elk. I put down my radio and pack, and start the very slow approach, which thanfully happened to be relatively open and on quiet ground.
The last 20yds or so are all uphill. I know they are there, or at least I think they still are, and I am terrified one will crest over the rise and spot me, or I will make some noise. I get closer to the bottom of the rise and start climbing, taking maybe 2-3 steps per minute.
I finally start to get to the crest of the hill, I take my beanie off (sue me) and get real low behind a tree. Out of the corner of my eye spot a cow in the open, head down. I wait to see if she has a calf with her, and when I realize she doesnt, I decide this is the one for me. Also, she was the only one I could see, and I didnt want to risk alerting the herd being picky. Turns out this was a good call - there was a 5x5 no more than 10yds from where I took my shot, I just couldnt see him.
It was a very surreal moment. I've had so many ups and downs hunting elk, and I have drawn my bow, aimed my rifle, but never had a legitimate shot like this. It was weird, almost like - ok, you have done it, one last step and it is over. Hit or miss, this is the chance I worked so hard for.
Once I decide I want to take the shot, I fumble around for about 2min trying to get a good rest, good position. She raises her heard and looks when I make a tiny sound, but the wind was with me and she quickly went back to grazing. I try to calm my breathing to no avail - I am literally shaking with excitement. This is two years of hard work, maybe, possibly, finally coming together.
Once I realize my only good, and quiet, shot is standing, I slowly rise up. My crosshairs are like a merry-go-round and I cant control myself. I take a deep breath, try and zero in on her vitals - and squeeze.
She goes down immediately, not one step taken. I rise up more to get a view to make sure she is not just wounded and about to run. She stays down. And this was the hard part for me. I felt like I could not look away. I had to watch her die, because I had done this. I love animals, and it is not easy for me to watch one die, especially at my hands. But I felt this was necessary to fully appreciate what the hunt was really all about. I had done this, and I owed it to myself and the elk to fully appreciate my actions and their consequences.
She passed quickly, which I was very happy about. The rest of the elk scattered. My friend told me after the fact the monster 6x6 was only about 100 yards from me. Maybe next time...
I walked up to the elk, and I am not a very relgious man, but I knelt over her, placed my hands on her body, and said a little prayer of thanks to whatever god is up there, and thanked this beautiful, majestic elk for her sacrifice. Corny, I know. But honestly, I was a bit overcome with emotion. The emotion of two years of backbreaking effort, seeing an amazing animal die, and then the excitement of knowing I would have nearly 200lbs of the best meat on the planet to tide me over for the next year or so.
The funny part is, after all the miles and work we put in - over 10 miles per day, thousands of vert, bushwhacking, frustration, dejection - I ended up shooting her no more than 500yds from a trail, and my car was a half mile below. The entire pack out was downhill. She was on the ground at 5:30pm, and we were in camp, beers in hand, meat hanging in the tree, by 8:45pm.
Thank you to all of you that have given my guidance the past two years and shared your countless years of experience with me. I look forward to being able to do the same in the future.
Cheers to elk!