I suppose I am at least half way recovered at this point, though far from anything resembling done! But thought I had better start jotting down my thoughts before they are gone, and especially since I did not remember to take along my journal this year (item # 1 of the 11 items we realized I forgot) …DOHHH!
As I had mentioned many times before, I felt very fortunate this year to draw a Ranching For Wildlife tag on the Big Gulch Ranches. …and incredible it did indeed turn out to be! ...though I must also be the first to admit, I was pretty worried on more than a few occasions.
The Tag - My license was valid from Dec 4th - 15th, but due to a new job, I was only able to commit from the 4th-12th. I also managed to get Friday the 3rd off, so we made plans to leave as early that morning as humanly possible after everything was packed of course... we would begin on Thursday the 2nd right after work.
Check-in for the hunt was at Craig sports store in town on Dec 3rd from 3-6pm. Our plans were to somehow get there, FIND A CAMPSITE (only had a couple of suggested areas to look at), set-up camp, and then run to town and check-in. Now check-in is a first-come-first-serve-basis, and it is partially for assigning you to the area you will be hunting. Yeah, right! Let's see how this one works out!
We made it to my house early evening and began throwing everything everywhere…if you know what I mean! LOL!
Cut to 6 hours later and it is 2am and we are ready to go! …Let's hit de road already! …on the road by 2:30ish…
I suppose I can preface all of this a bit with by providing some understanding to everyone that I am fairly familiar with the general area of the ranches, since I normally do hunt nearby. But by no means have I ever really checked out any of the land I could be hunting. So I can honestly say this was the least prepared for a hunt I had ever been. It was also the latest in the year I had ever hunted big game.
After a very long night of driving, and mostly though Wyoming, we finally made it into Craig a bit before 10am. Another top off of the tank, and we head directly out of town to find the camp spot suggested by one of the ranch owners Curtis Cook. It butted up against the southern border of one of the ranches just northeast of town. Found it easily enough, but drove on by to take a quick glance of the property we were attached to in the hopes that elk might be there and I might be lucky enough to be assigned to it for the hunt. We made a quick trip up the road a piece, but still had a ton of work ahead of us, and by quarter to eleven we were actually "throwing everything everywhere" once again! And I surely cannot thank Curtis enough for the great info on a super convenient and perfectly located campsite! THANKS!
In another unbelievable occurrence, we were actually done with camp & heading back to town by about 2:30ish for the second time in 12 hours! We arrived at the store a bit before 3 and I ended up being 4th in line. Well, after each of the first three groups took near a half an hour each, I was in and out in about 5min and was very fortunate and entirely coincidentally, lucky enough to be assigned to the ranch right where we were camped! "That's a bingo!"
So, strait back to camp to get ready, hunt starts at daybreak! YES!
Ok, now one of my "very important" superstitions is to eat some kind of pasta with some kind of red sauce the night before opener. So since we had not "really" eaten anything since Wendy's in Laramie at about 4am, that was the first thing on our minds. Pasta was ate and dishes done in short order, but after a bit of lolly gagging & much BS'n, I noticed it was near 10pm, So I began trying to get everything together for morning. Well, somewhere shortly after I started, I musta laid back on my bed, and instantly floated away into a somber snore fest.
The next thing I knew, the sun was up and I think Kiwi needed to "find the facilities" worse than I did! Burrrrr! Guess in all the BS'n we forgot to talk about our "Heating Plan!" LOL…first morning = 9 degrees on the ol thermo …BRRRR again! After Kiwi & I were done, "finding" the facilities that we really did not have, I managed to spark up the Big Buddy heater and also get some coffee started. I suppose after a 41 hour day a fella is entitled to miss his first opening morning hunt ever! I sure did need that snooze, and can't say I regret the missed opportunity.
After some rearranging, wood re-stacking and BS's on the heating arrangements…we had a quick brunch of what I call "Breakfast Tacos" (one of my specialties) and we were off to really give the property a looksee for the first time. The southern edge of the area we were assigned to was just over a half mile up the road, and from the map it looked like there were a couple of roads that kind of made a big loop around the approximately 5 mile by 5 mile square ranch. A general description of the property, would be that it has 1 large drainage, & 2-3 other main drainages, basically running in northwest/southeast directions. The drainages had large high plains hay fields scattered throughout all the ranch just like patchwork. PERFECT winter elk habitat! Now I remember why I live & hunt in Colorful Colorado!
Just up the road a spell from camp, we passed the first gate, and went to what ended up being the only decent "glassing spot," that we had of the area from the road. Fortunately it did give a very decent 50% view of the main drainage and the high hay meadows on the adjacent property to the east. We parked at that glassing spot and after about a half an hour of not seeing anything, we headed out. Over the next couple of hours, we basically cruised around the loop of the ranch and tried to scope out as much as possible, which ended up being not much, especially FROM THE TRUCK! By now I was pumped and needed to get my feet pounding the bushes! Back to the first gate just north of camp, and out of the truck with everything, including spotting scope to make a quick hike into the property and have a closer look. Not a half mile in, I run into a hunter, which turns out to be the son of a father/son group also hunting the same ranch. We chat for a second, where he lets me know that he had been chasing a nice 6x6 since 10am, but chased it right up onto the private ranch to the east. They had hunted all day, with the father coming from the north, while his son pushed through the ranch from the south, and saw only the small herd they were chasing.
I decided to push on as I barely had over 2 hours before darkness fell. Huffing & puffing all the way, as best I could I pushed hard, but the old crusty snow from weeks past was up over the ankles and made the hike a bit more difficult. I trudged on for an hour or so and found a decent spot to glass from, on the highpoint of a finger, that ran down a larger ridge. It had a big bush on it to help break-up my profile, so I parked it. Soon after I sat down, I spied a small herd on the very top of a high ridge to the east that was surely on the adjacent private props. From near two miles away I could make out two bull through the Burris, and one was a big 6x6 too. The two bulls were a good 300-440 yards below the ~2dzn or so cow/calves they seemed to looking out for. I returned my focus to the ridges on the property where I could hunt, along with the abundant hay fields that the property had laid out like a buffet for wintering elk herds. As it neared 4pm I made out a couple of bulls peaking out of a hidden pocket far above and again on the private to the east. They worked into a high pasture and began grazing to their heart's content. Within minutes they were joined by two much larger bulls who also seemingly appeared from nowhere out of that hidden pocket. Both very large 6x6 bulls, and both looked to be nice & heavy too. I tried to focus on looking over the ground that I could hunt, but the fresh sight of fat & content grazing monster bulls kept drawing my scope back to them. Now I know what the owner meant when he told me "don't get tempted" when he spoke of that private property!
I was on the south/southwest side of the main drainage and the rolling hills on the opposite side were large hay fields that stretched as far as I could see in both directions, and I could see for near a couple of miles in all directions except up the hill behind me.
Vid is actually taken the next day, while talking about this night!
Everything changed at right about 4:30 when I had already packed up the spotting scope and already contemplated heading back to my pick-up/drop-off point. I spotted some elk running down a hill and into the hay fields furthest to the northwest. As I lay on my pack to steady the binos, I was treated to a sweet sight when the first few I had seen where followed closely by well over 200 more and all quickly feeding into the hay field. I could also make out several really nice bulls near the end of the herd, that I would be tickled pink to bag as my first bull and the adrenalin got kicked up a notch, BAMN! I watched as the lead cow begin moving to the southeast right down the middle of the hay fields, and just like kindergarten children holding hands on a field trip, they all followed suit and filed in line behind her. I took a second to contemplate what to do, and quickly decided that I would slip down the small ridge I was on and work down a couple of small gulches to try and meet up with them if they continued to funnel through the hays fields in the direction they were currently headed. …So, I left my optics and pack, and high tailed it down the drainages in an attempt to get in front of them. I had near a half mile to hump in order to get where I wanted and they had nearer two miles to get to the same point, so I knew I had to move out fast. Huffin & a puffin I finally made it to the far end of the drainage and started peeking up out of it and into the hay fields…good…no sign of them yet. I am also still assuming that they are headed my way, since from down in the valley I cannot really see the higher hay fields on the hills above me. As I start to walk out of the drainage and into the narrow patch of sage brush between there and the hay, I spy the first of the herd coming down a funnel less than a mile away. I try to stay as low as possible and crawl the remaining 50 or so yards to the edge of the hay. I even managed to get there in enough time to calm down before they get near, so it all looks perfect at this point. …perfect, that is except for the failing light that is fast approaching. And as it nears 5pm! The hay fields at the point at which I am posted, is only about 300 yards wide, and the elk are coming right down the middle of the hay. They also look as if they are going to be working directly in front of me too. I am set up on a sage brush rest and ready as the first elk start moving in front of my muzzle at about 300 yards. Unfortunately for me, the wind was as bad as it could be and was taking my stank right to them. The first few winded me at about the same time, and stopped dead in their tracks. They milled around for just a minute, but the steady pressure from the herd behind, forced the hand of the front, and they pushed on through. The herd was only a few head wide at the herds widest as they were passing by, and as the minutes continued to tick away, still not a bull in site. Many, many spikes were seen along with the hundreds of calves & cows, but I had 8 days, and I had an either sex tag and an extra cow tag. Therefore I am waiting for those monsters at the back of the pack. Yikes, I still cannot see any bulls with only minutes of shooting light left. Even as the massive herd continues to rumble on by. Quickly I now realize that the 200 or so I had first seen, had now been joined by many more, and with at least 200 already passed me, I can still make out elk into the distance as far as I can see! A few more minutes go by, and only one decent 5x5 that is actually quite large, worked on the far side of the line of elk and I never really got a good enough bead on him to remove the safety. The minutes had ran out now, and I was now out of light! I am forced to sit there helplessly as a couple hundred more elk feed through within 300 yards of me. They were, in my conservative estimate, a herd of 500+. All in all, it took more than 15 minutes for the herd to work past me, and they were moving at a pretty decent clip too. I waited for the last bunch to get out of range, before I got my sorry butt up out of the snow and made haste for the scheduled pick-up. I had more than an hour hike if I were to go straight to the truck, but if I go after my optics and my pack, back up that ridge, I know it is going to be nearer two hours of hiking in the darkness. I elect to leave them for morning and head to the waypoint marking the road and my pick-up point. My buddy was to be there at 6pm, and it was already near 5:30 and I had over an hour hike back out of the drainage to get there. No problem, he did not have to wait more than a few minutes as I humped outta there just like I was still a grunt back in the late 80's!.
We get to camp, stoke the fire, eat some eats while I am telling my tale, then hit the hay like a ton of bricks with visions of billions of elk dancing in my head.
Since they ask that you do not go into the properties until light, I got to sleep-in, in terms of normal elk camp awakenings that is! Light isn’t until 7am this late in the year, and being only a half mile from the gate, I get to sleep until 6am…boy these Ranching For Wildlife hunts are "rough!"
Just look at the beautiful properties! …seems like all of them look just like these that Kiwi is running through…
…and of course all the evenings look just like these!
Day 2 I decide to hike in all the way to the point where I saw the elk come over the hill and into the hay the previous night. Which is situated another good mile beyond where I went the night before. I could make it a shorter hike by getting dropped off further up the road, BUT…I had left my pack and optics out all night in the freezer of another single digit night. I did decide on a different drop-off point and it made the initial mile much shorter than from the original gate. I snagged up my pack full of frozen water and optics, and made off for the hay fields in the distance a couple of miles away. I easily found a sweet ambush point in some bushes, on the edge of a small ridge right above the spot where I had first seen the elk the night before. Almost perfect it seemed, I had a real nice view, and a 360 degree firing lane.
From this point, I can also again see the high hay fields on the eastern private ranch, and sure enough there are several hundred head of elk grazing away at the hay, while basking in a super bright and warm December daybreak! I said to myself right then, early on that Sunday morning, that those elk sure looked content, and they ain't goin anywheres, anytime soon! How prophetic this proved to be, because through the 8 days I was hunting these properties, there remained at least 200-250 elk in these private hay fields each and every day. The same band of bulls remained hanging around the edges too.
Well, I sat there glassing for a good part of the day, save for a couple of short treks up over the adjacent hills to take a look see into the other drainages. …Sadly, I found no elk at all on the property. I as long as possible in hopes of the same scene repeating from the evening before, but alas, darkness fell and not an elk in site. So I again made the hour & a half hike back to the pick-up point, in the crisp darkness of another chilly evening.
Ok, so I will not make you read two more days of the exact same thing…Of, me hiking in all over the property and seeing nothing, all while watching those same elk working on their suntans high up on the private hay fields to the east! The weather was just too darn nice, and the elk sure did not need to move anywhere. Progressively each day, more snow melted, and the hard crusty snow that made it so hard to hike, now turned to mud and slick slopes, making it just as hard to get anywhere. It had been couple of days straight now of humping all over the endless high prairie gulches with only blisters and aching muscles to show for it.
As Tuesday evening ended, I made up my mind I had had enough, and needed to move. I called one of the owners and asked about moving to different properties. He quickly agreed and said I was welcome to hunt either of the properties to the west and to the east. (The east property was just on the other side of the private I had been seeing all the elk parked on) So up early on Wednesday morn and heading out to scout new lands.
We actually headed west to "the Maybell ranches" to try and give them the once over, but from the map I was not able to tell that there was only one access road to this property, so we ended up driving around all morning and seeing tons of elk, just not on the ranch I could hunt. In fact, we really could only scout a small portion of the ranch. We did run into a couple groups of hunters that were assigned to that property, and they were saying the same thing that I was saying about the ranch I was on, "elk all next door on private!"
We then made a b-line back east for that ranch just east of the private which was holding all the elk. We could actually cover this property fairly well scouting from the road. We cruised around for a while trying to get the lay of the land, and I marked a couple of points on the GPS that I might like to try hiking into over the coming days. We did see a few scattered small herds of cow here and there, but not the size of herds we had been seeing everywhere else, in the hundreds of head!
It was now getting into the afternoon, and we were needing a top off of petro, so we started working east towards Hwy 13 so we could head into town and top off the tank once again. Now not too far east of that large section, was another area ranches that were also in the Big Gulch program, so we decided we may as well give them the once over as we drove around them.
I will also add in a bit of irrelevant info, but due to now near a week of warm days melting all the snow from previous weeks, we had basically been driving around all morning through a 300 mile long mud bog! Anyone who has hunted near any of these areas, will know what I am talking about! Basically, with little to no gravel in the mud, it makes for one sloppy & extremely slick mess! Very fun much of the time, but gets pretty hairy more often than not, especially when you are literally in the middle of F'n nowhere!
This property too, was a fairly large area, and contained multiple square miles of rolling high plains and hay meadows. On the outskirts of this property however, are a few more scattered qtr, half and section sized pieces of land that somewhat surround it also included in the ranch. Not really checker boarded, but scattered around randomly. As we are driving past a couple of those smaller patches stretched along either side of the road that passes through the heart of the main section of this property, we instantly spot a large herd on each side of the road! Now, the property on the west side of this north/south running road is the smaller of the two, and is a half of a section strip ( 1/2 mile wide and one mile long), of spaded hay fields that is now dirt and lies in the middle of a much larger valley. You can see the entire piece from the truck, and stalking it does not look very promising. Plus the fact that the elk seem to be working slowly towards the adjoining private props to the south just a few hundred yards in front of them. The herd of 250ish does contain some decent bulls (5x5 an up), but nothing sticks out. On the east side now, is another herd a bit smaller at more like 150 head or so. In this herd too, are several bulls that are lagging slightly behind the rest, and one is respectable 6x6 too! Hmm, they are almost into a private strip of land that is only a 1/4 mile wide, but directly on the opposite side of that strip, is several square miles of the ranch! …by the map, that area looks to have two nice sized drainages meeting up in the middle of it. To access it though, there is an east/west crossing road a couple of miles up the road still, which also marks a high point for the surrounding valleys. So I punch the ol' mule in the arse and get there as quickly as possible.
Now this crossing road actually runs along the top of an east/west ridgeline, and gives great views of the valleys to the north and to the south. They are valleys that are about 50% patchworked with that famous northwestern Colorado hay meadows! As we near the road, we catch a great view of some hay fields to the east that are part of the ranch and still south of the crossing road. There we see two separate large herds, each near 250 head! Well, if you haven't figured out yet, I had been on the phone since we saw the first two herds a couple miles south, trying to get one of the owners on the line to confirm I can hunt this property. Messages left everywhere as I patiently awaited a reply. …yeah right, not too patient, I was sure biting the nails! We are near the crest where the roads intersect and there is a small gas well there and looks to be a great glassing area for the north valleys, and those to the west. We sure parked with a screeching halt as we top the hill and see three more separate herds . About 1.5 miles directly to the east down the east/west ridgeline road, is a small herd of maybe 75 head. It was just north of the road, and had no bulls that really stood out. They were heading quickly across the road to the south side, and likely going to be meeting up very soon with one of those two large herds we had just seen. As we turn our gaze to the north, about a mile away and coming in from the northwest, and just to the west of the road we are on, is a big herd of ~400 head that are cutting across the property. Directly to the west of them another mile or so, is a smaller herd of about 50ish. (If possible, see short video I made from this vantage point)
As you can imagine, I am not patiently awaiting the return calls, and make 2nd & 3rd attempts to all the contact numbers I have. As I am doing so, we spy a truck coming in from the east along the ridgeline road that have spooked that herd of 75 back onto the northern slope. We watch as the passenger jumps out, runs right around 50ft off the road and opens firing in the standing position. We watch as he takes a couple of shots at the herd, but we see nothing down or looking hurt, The herd is quickly a mile and a half to the east down into the northern valley of hay. Not sure what the two large herds to the south have done as we cannot quite see them from here, but the herds to the north and northwest haven't actually paid much attention at all and kept going about their business as usual. At this point I certainly won the mud bogging event, heading east down that ridge road while driving past the failed hunter getting back into his truck. We again caught a glimpse of the two herds to the south, who had also only moved a mile or so further away from the shots, and were peacefully grazing in the vast hay fields stretching across the valleys to the south.
As we are heading back to town, I explain the rules of road hunting to my buddy who is a non-hunter and whom at times asks questions like a 3 year old. He still doesn't get the fine lines between everyone's differing opinions on hunting ethics. He thought like we all do, that it should be much clearer lines! …but I did my best to help him understand why, what that hunter was doing was perfectly legal, as long as they got far enough off the road before shooting. Heck, EVERYONE road hunts to some extent…some are just willing to get out, pack-up and go hiking after those herds you see a couple of miles off the road, and some aren't willing to get much further way from the truck than the 50ft minimum. …to each his own, as long as they are legal. I do think, that now he better understands why so many are successful at road hunting, since we saw no less than 6 successful hunters bag elk while right about the minimum distance off the road. Heck, we had several herds cut across our path over the week, and I cannot say I did not consider it on more than a few occasions when bigger bulls were included in the herd!
We get back to town and head to the sports store and hangout a while waiting for the owners. Of course it is this evening that they are stuck someplace, and cannot make it in. As well, no phone service, so I look to be out of luck. I wait an hour or more while the store's staff also make several phone call attempts, but all to no avail. As 4pm approaches, I give up hope of anything happening tonight, and we take off. Still inspired by all the elk milling around that ranch, we head back to watch what we can spy on before darkness falls.
As we get there, we find that the herd of 400ish is now down at the east end of the north valley where we last saw the 75 run to after the shots across their backs. The small herd of 50ish is still where they were to the northwest, however a hunter that is parked right where we are is stalking up behind them hidden by a small hump. (yes, we watch as he bags a large cow out of the herd! Good job man! …whoever you are!) The bigger herd is now splitting up as well, with about half looking to go over the ridge to the southern valleys with the other two large herds of 200-250, and the other half looking content to stay put it seems. It is at this point, that I realize how many elk I have been missing! In all the surrounding sage prairie to the east and the north of this northern valley, are many hundreds more elk scattered throughout! So really, we have well over 2k head working within 2 miles all around us, and I can't hunt a one of them!! OUCH!
At 4:19pm one the owners calls back and wishes me the best of luck and gives me the go to hunt! It takes me only and instant to get the Weatherby loaded up, orange on and head down a drainage after the half a herd that decided to stay on the north side valley now much nearer to, two miles to the east. Now, the only problem is that all the hundreds of elk scattered throughout the surrounding prairie, can see me! The elk in the hay I am after cannot, but I am certain the other elk will send them a telegram letting them all know that I am sneaking in from the drainage below them. It is right at the end of shooting light when I finally sneak up the last hill overlooking where I had last saw the herd, when I spy them cutting across the drainage and into the sage flats to join the other herds grazing the prairie instead of the hay! Dang it! Darkness falls once again with likely a good hour and a half hike back up hill to the truck in the cold darkness of yet another perfect Colorado evening.
Beings this was now the first time my buddy had spent the whole day out with me hunting, he couldn't be more excited, especially after seeing several thousand elk during the day, and a few thousand of those were available to me to try and harvest.
Uh oh, running out of days now! It is now Thursday, and I am running out of days to harvest and animal. Sunday is blown with having to pack-up and make the long drive home in order to get to work on Monday morn. So I now have Thurs-Sat, and desperately need to close the deal on some meat for the beast! Arriving at the same general area as the evening before, sadly I am greeted by the headlights of several trucks hunting the same locals. Being a little frustrated at the sight, I just set-up camp in the glassing spot by the gas well, and bring out the spotting scope. In the next couple of hours, I watch three hunters, bag their meat, all cows while basically hunting from the truck. Good for them, they are surely eating good this winter…congrats to any that may read this! There were tons of elk moving around everywhere, and I watched as many moved off into the distance to the north and east. So there still looked to be plenty to go around!
Since all of the seven other vehicles I am seeing are focused on the valleys just to the north and south, I decide to head down the road to the north a couple of miles and try and find something else. After a couple miles of some serious muddin, due to yet another bright & sunny morning, I come up to a gate and decide to park my little mule, and pack the gear on my back and head to the northeast a couple of mile from the road. After a couple of hours of easy hiking in that general direction, and while glassing everything I could, I find myself on a highpoint overlooking even more valleys to the east and north. All containing moving elk that also look to be chased here by all those hunters we all just left a couple miles to the south. I do not find anything animals near me that I can really go after, so I just find a good spot to do some glassing and take a break in the sunshine under a good sized sagebrush. Basically straight east of me another mile or so away, are several hundred elk stretched thinly across the prairie grazing away in the warming sun of the morning. I spot one particular area where there are a couple dozen bulls scattered around several hundred square yds of a small plateau. And they are located just a hundred or so yards above a small drainage that I think I can use to work under them. I am going to have to work down into the drainage in a big loop though, making over a 2mile hike in that drainage before I will find myself under them. Back on with the pack, and off I go.
A couple hours later, I am basically right below them, though I cannot quite see up onto that plateau, I can see that there are still many elk surrounding it and looking calm & content, so I am confident they are still there right above me. I drop the pack and began (mostly crawling) working slow and as quiet as possible up the hill in the mud. After I make it up out of the drainage only about 50yds or so, I can see the bulls scattered about . Closest to me are a handful of raghorns, most within 200-250yds. On the far side of the small plateau I spy the one I think I want to try and work a bit closer too, as he is a big ol grandpa 6x6! …but he is still nearer 500yds out. There is a small depression to my right that I might be able to crawl into and across, that may allow me to cut a couple hundred yds from the shot. That is if none of the hundreds of elk surrounding me, spot me or walk up on top of me while I am trying to do so. I return the rifle to my back and start slinking down the hill between the sage and into the depression. After about an hour of moving low & slow as a fat 300 pounder can, I find that I have barely cut 100yds from the shot, and I now have half a dozen elk up above me to my right that I am in plain sight of. Stuck in the spot for now, I take a needed rest and scrape away some of the mud that has worked into every crack I have on my front side. After a half an hour or so, the elk that had me pinned down have worked far enough away, that they allow me to now resume my slow crawl towards the big bull I spotted near two hours ago. Since I had not spied him in over an hour, I took a chance and got on my knees for just a second, to take a peak. To my great pleasure, the bull I was after had now beaded down with a couple other nice bulls just past where I had last saw him grazing. Still more than 400yds away, and in not the best angle for a shot on him laying down, I needed to get back on my belly and crawl through the rest of that depression before I could get a shot closer to 300 yds and at the right angle. Down in the mud I go, and slither onward. 5 minutes or so later and only a few yards closer, I can start to catch a peak of a few dozen elk a couple hundred yards to the side of the beaded bulls. In plain sight of them in my bright orange hat and vest, I get a bit nervous they will catch me. With my eyes glued closely on the couple that can see me best, I creep forward ready to freeze at any moment. A couple minutes pass by and I was just about to work out of their sight, when we ALL hear a couple of shots ring out from the south. Though they sound much closer, they are still quite far off it seemed. Though the elk in front of me sure took notice. I sit and watch them closely for a couple of minutes as they continue to mull around some. Then as if they were gangsters, and just got an anonymous call that the cops were at the door, they were all instantly on their feet and their eyes frozen on the hillside behind me. The one I had just spent the last few hours coming down! I turned to look up the hillside and found several hundred elk coming quickly over the hill, and from the general direction that we had just heard the shots only moments before. At this sight, every last single elk within a mile of me, pointed their heads to the north and off they went onto the private lands beyond! Sad days indeed!
Already being after 3:30, and more than 3 miles from the truck, and downhill some 1000ish ft into the large and DAMN muddy drainage, I wasted no time making it back into the bottom of the drainage to retrieve my pack and head towards the truck. Two and a half hours later and an hour after nightfall, I finally make it to my truck, smeared with mud and basically frozen stiff. I warm the truck while I peel off the muddy stuff and then drive back to camp in my t-shirt, socks and underwear! Sure glad I did not get pulled over and have to explain myself, I am sure it was not a pretty sight! LOL!
EXHAUSTED! …another tough day in the books, and still two tags eating a hole in my pocket..only two days left too!
Friday morning again finds me back in the truck early and headed back to where it felt like I had just left. I guess it was only hours ago wasn't it? …I arrive in the general area just before sunrise and today to my surprise, I only find one set of headlights coming up behind me a mile or so. I head north down the rough riding, frozen mud bog and make my way to the un-crowded locals I was hoping the elk had not moved completely off of. As I am making my way down one rough freaking road! …I am surprised by a large herd of at least 150 elk running across the road right in front of my truck, and once again I am powerfully tempted to jump out and run off the side of the road and at least drop one of the cows that are staring back at me from only a 100 yds away! I trudge on though, and make for the parking area. Not a qtr mile down the road, I hear a shot ring out! The truck following me was pulled off the road right where the elk crossed in front of me, and both hunters were running across the hay after them. I cocked the truck a bit and watched as the one hunter a couple hundred yards in front of the other, emptied his gun in the standing position, only to reload three more rds and let all three of them fly as well! Amazed yet again that I had not seen anything hit, I jumped in my truck and headed out. Delayed a half an hour while watching the feeble attempts of the two hunters, I am a bit late now and it is well past sunrise before I get to pounding the bushes again. After just a few minutes I am cresting a hill top and able to spy the valleys I had stalked through all day the day before. To my great pleasure, I am treated to the sight of what I would guess as 2500-3000 elk scattered about EVERYWHERE in sight!! Wow, which way to go??!! I keep out of sight for the next mile or so and almost an hour later, I find myself at the top of a large drainage parallel to the one I had worked down the previous afternoon. I took a seat behind a bush to scope out the vast amounts of animals spread out in front of me. Basically where I am at is the far northern end of the ranch, and it is private lands on the opposite side of the drainage to the north of me where they all headed to the prior evening. Strangely, as I looked at the entire picture in front of me as a whole, it felt like the entire mass of elk in the valley was working towards the north. So I felt like if I worked down that drainage in generally a northeasterly direction, that I might work in front of those that were way out in front of me to the east and southeast, so off I went skirting down yet another drainage while trying to stay hidden from thousands and thousands of eyes all, on the lookout, and just for me.
After a half an hour or so I find that I have worked down below a group of 4 bulls that had just about made the top of the ridge a half mile or so east of where I had started down this drainage. In no time they would be over the top and out of sight, so I returned my focus to those I was trying to cut-off on their push to the north. Maybe another half an hour later, I found myself frustrated as ever with the sight of a jeep driving in on that road at the top of the ridge above me! We were not supposed to drive into the properties to hunt! They only allowed access after 2pm and only to retrieve downed game! Troublemakers! Well as I sat there yet again in utter amazement watching them skyline themselves driving across the top of the ridge, I was also disappointed by the site of all the elk in the valley taking notice and heading a bit quicker to the north and that private land protection. Frustrated yet again, I moved on in the hopes that I might run across some wayward beasts that I might have the opportunity at. Not long after the jeep had headed out of sight, I took a break to scope out things a bit closer. To my surprise I found that with the departure of the jeep out of sight, the elk seemed to calm a bit and though still somewhat moving northward, they were lolly gagging a bit in doing so. I pressed on and kept moving down this drainage that skirted along the northern most border of the ranch. Another qtr mile later a took a second to peak around with the binos, and just happen to glass up the hill behind me. Where I had just can from another surprise mine eyes did behold! …apparently the jeep had spooked the 4 bulls who I assumed had gone over the hill, back to the north side, and they were working their way down behind me! YES! I quickly let out for an ambush spot a few hundred yds below me that I felt they should feed down to if they proceeded in the direction they were heading. Making my way behind a small hill, I prepped myself for their arrival and half hyperventilated myself trying to calm my breathing a bit quicker. I knew if they were coming my way, that they would be here in minutes!
And within a few minutes, there they were! Leisurely strolling down the hill without a care in the world. Now, unfortunate for me, I was only a few hundred yds from the property's boundary, and they would be crossing over into private in mere moments. In the group of 4, were two twin looking bulls on the smaller side. The third was a nice matching 5x5, but kind of small compared to the last one, which was only a 5x4, but much larger than all the rest. For me, it was a no brainer…I steadied my .340 mag on another sage brush and waited for only a few seconds for him to broadside for me at right about 325yds. As the Weatherby shattered my eardrums, the crack of the round was followed almost insatntly by that unmistakable "SHWACK" of the round finding its mark! The elk lunged forward and took off straight north towards the other side of the drainage and the private lands!! NOOOOOO! Knowing I hit him, I got worried on how well, since he was still moving fast and I had never had that happen before by something hit with the ol hand cannon! Sadly, in a desperate attempt to stop him before he crossed the property line, I took aim at his left side rump and let round two go! …again the thunderous pop of the big round was followed by yet another "SHWACK" of a round hitting the bull as he moved directly away from me. Thinking he surely went down just out of sight, I was extremely disappointed to see him moving across the drainage and onto the private property dragging his leg up the hill on the opposite side of the gully. DANG IT! I sat there solemnly watching him stagger & limp several hundred yds up the hill before he finally vanished out of sight for good. Moving to the property line, I marked the point on my GPS where I last saw him cross over, and started heading for the truck….and town to figure out what to do next.
Once in town, I headed to the sports store hoping by chance that one of the owners might still be sticking around, but wasn't so lucky. Though the store staff was again quick to help out and started making the calls for me. First owner said to call the other brother, the other brother said to call the DWM, who helped me out with the name of the owner using a plat map on his end and me explaining where over the phone. After then looking up their number in the phone book, I made the call to their house. The message stated to call yet another number, where I was greeted by a friendly voice on the other end. After my brief explanation of the events to the nice lady, I was handed off to her husband to recount the situation yet again. Very understanding of my predicament, the owner of the property explained to me that they were wintering in Florida, but their grandson was watching after the place and I needed to contact him. I left messages on both of his numbers, and headed out to wait for the call.
I Had Kiwi with me, so while I again "patiently" awaited that return call, we played some Frisbee over at the Walmart property! We got done playing, topping off the tank for the umpteenth time, and even grabbing both of us a cheeseburger at Mickey D's place, when the tele rang! It was the grandson, who after my explanation graciously allowed me to try and go access the downed animal! Even offered to help me out in the afternoon if need be. I thanked him profusely, but let him know that I already had an able body to help out and we would go right then to retrieve the animal. I speed quickly to camp to tell my buddy the tale, and solicit his back to haul a load or two! YES! Time for the real work eh?
Picked him up and headed back to the ranch without delay as a storm was actually supposed to be moving into the area in the afternoon, and by the skies around, it looked to be coming sooner than later. We were able to drive back in most of the way, and cut nearly two miles off the hike which was a tremendous added bonus due to how exhausted I really was. We found a parking spot as close as we could get, packed up only water and the cleaning gear and the three of us headed out to find where he had laid himself to rest. Using the gps, we made it to the general area where I last saw him, and within only a few minutes were able to locate him!
I could not be more pleased! Bull down! ..and soon to be meat in the freezer, YES!
We quickly got to work as the storm was fast approaching. After working on him for a minute or two I found the damage… Unfortunately, my desire to try and stop him with the second shot before he crossed into private, resulted in almost the entire loss of that left hind qtr! Shoot!
So I suppose in hindsight, I now feel like it wasn't the best decision. My reasoning, since I only had a few rds of the 250gr Nosler Partions I normally use for the elk, and having several boxes of the 200gr Nosler Ballistic Tips I normally reserve for deer, I decided to hunt with them. My thinking was that this way I could hunt with the same round that I was going to confirm my zero with at the range. I can now say that I will never again use the ballistic tips on elk! Despite a perfect first shot that entered just behind the shoulder and passed through him, it did not slow him down, which convinced me to take the second shot in the attempt to stop him. Yes, though the rounds did work, I did not like the fact that he was able to go so far after such a good first hit. Also, those darn tips sure do some damage, and that hind qtr was an utter mess! I was only able to scavenge a few small chunks of sirloin from the entire butt cheek. Live & learn I suppose.
After about three hours we had him deboned and sitting in the back of the truck in game bags!
At long last, my first bull down! All went extremely well, and I felt that I really earned it, which I am very happy about. I must admit, that even though it was on a RFW property, as advertised, it was no canned hunt! I worked harder than ever before, and was rewarded with some great memories!
Also content with meat for the freezer, we decided to skip the last day and forego trying to fill my extra cow tag. Instead, we packed our fishing rods and headed out to try and find some soft water to throw some hardware into! We headed west and found most of the Yampa frozen up pretty hard with tough access, so we kept on going west.
The Little Snake wasn't much better, so again we trucked it a bit further west and closer to the state line.
Ending up on Dinosaur National Monument at The Gates of Ladore on the Green River, we were only greeted by a sign explaining that due to bear troubles, the surrounding river was closed!
We headed yet further west and finally found some open water on Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge and got out to try our luck. After an hour and half of casting with only one strike, I simply felt drained, so I packed up the pole and decided to just let Kiwi have a good swim chasing her ball around.
The week was wrapping up, as Sunday was going to be entirely dedicated to packing up camp and driving home! One last thing needed to be done, so since we were so close, I decided I better at least touch base in Utah, so I could say I had done been in all of the states on our sides this year. So before Utah, I had touched into OK, NEB and Kansas on my deer, pheasant and dove hunts, as well as few times into Wyoming and New Mexico on my fishing and turkey hunting trips. Now, I finished with Utah since AZ doesn't really count since you can't hop the corners like that! LOL!
Whew! What a week it was too! Fine weather evident by the many orange sunsets in my pics, but not so good for hunting elk as they mostly seemed content to stay right where they were. Not much real moving around, that is except that huge herd the very first evening that was hauling rear-end through the ranch. The elk basically seemed contented to bask in the warming sun that filled the better part of most of the days. The lack of wind throughout the week was by far the biggest surprise for me, as it was near non-existent! A slight breeze on only a couple of days was it, and obviously far from the norm for this area, and especially this late in the year!
We ran across both deer and elk in the tens of thousands, as we seemed to be amazed around each and every corner. Big elk, baby elk…monster mulies, and humongous Golden Eagles were abundant throughout the lands we wandered.
We were greeted nearly each morning and evening, with the perfect orange glow of the sun that far too many of us Coloradoans seem to take for granted due to how frequently they actually do occur around these parts…
I will try to ensure that I do not ever take an opportunity like this for granted, nor may I ever overlook the graciousness of so many strangers…
Though some heartfelt public thank you's are surely in order for more than a few… I promise that I am missing no one intentionally.
The biggest thanks obviously go out to the Cook's brothers and their consistent effort to communicate quickly and effectively! And to all of the other ranch owners, and especially to those ranch owners where I undoubtedly left behind some footprints! Andy Peroulis, Cook Brothers Ranch, Raftopolous Brothers Ranch, Smith Rancho, & Murphy Ranch! BIG OL THANK YOU for this opportunity!
To Nadja, Jeff, luv2, Ed, Mark, and a few others who provided me much needed answers to my questions on everything from where to shower, where to camp, where to get water, to where they had seen elk before! Because we sure saw the elk like I never had before!
To all the guys at Craig Sports. And even to my work who already provide several comp days to me after being there only a few short months. The DOW is in line as well, providing us residents with the ability to hunt on these private lands. What a wonderful gift it is for those of us normally without the means…
…of course lastly to my tag along team, Kiwi & Gio for toughing out one LONG week!