This is the story of my 2004 elk adventure out side of Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
“Wait for the bull! Wait for the bull!” That was the excited, whispered scream of my friend Denny as he sat behind me in the scrub oak watching the two cows and a bull walking down the fence line toward us. I was now down on one knee, contorted into the smallest ball I could manage to make myself get into. My prosthetic leg stopped me from getting any smaller.
In less than thirty seconds the extremely peaceful day of sitting in the thicket of scrub oak in quiet anticipation burst into an adrenaline rush that had every once insignificant sound magnified and the slightest movement exaggerated. I glanced down at my Savage .30-06 and positioned my thumb over the safety switch and pushed it forward until the red warning circle was in full view.
I was locked, loaded and ready to go. Or was I? Did I have one in the chamber? I know that I checked for a round waiting for the firing pin to set off the charge at least a half a dozen times throughout the day, but should I check one more time? Every detail of this hunt for the great wapiti raced through my mind and it was going to climax in the next few seconds.
That morning we left the cabin fifteen minutes later than we did on the day before, which would enable us to get to the property at first light. We had been waiting a bit longer because many times the elk are in the bottom at daybreak and we would have a better chance of seeing them. The elk had not been in the bottom for the past two days.
We decided that we would have to go to where the elk were. This meant getting to the rim of the bowl on top of the mountain. We thought it best to get moving up the trail before legal light. The trek up to the top was laborious as usual, but we got there probably a bit late. We did manage to hear one bull thrashing its way to the top of the rim through the oak brush. We managed to spot him at the top, but a shot was not possible.
I spent the entire day at the top of the rim. I nestled into the oak brush and did not wander far from my vantage point for the whole day. Denny left for a while to check on the meat from his bull he got two days ago.
While Denny was gone nothing had happened on the mountain. He returned about 5:00 pm and I was having second thoughts about traveling down the mountain after dark, especially with no moon to provide even the slightest light. I had put fresh batteries in my headlamp so I was not too worried about the dark, but still the prospect did not comfort me.
The minute hand was getting near 6:00 pm, which meant an hour until it would be dark. As any hunter knows the closer to last light the more the anticipation builds and your patience is put to the test. It is the time of the day that puts every hunter on full alert. All of your senses are brimming with excitement. I was by now constantly looking at the break at the top of the hill for some sign of life, a twitching ear or the glint of an antler, but nothing yet had appeared. Denny was positioned behind me in the 10-foot tall oak brush. The leaves were dry and crunchy.
Here They Come
He said that he would give the all clear to the elk and let out a medium sounding bugle; nothing fancy. Before the sound of the bugle faded I spotted the head of a cow elk as she came over the ridge in our direction. I alerted Denny to the cow as I saw a second one following behind her. At this point I crouched down on one knee and began peering through the grass. Denny’s whisper raised an octave with excitement as he announced that there was a bull in the mix also.
The trio of elk moseyed around the top at about 150 yards, a doable shot indeed, but they still had to get on this side of the fence. The bull circled the lead cow trying to get in the last of the rut. “Come on! Jump the fence!” my thoughts were getting louder, at least about whisper level. Denny thought hat he would get their attention with a quick cow call. Get their attention indeed. The bull responded with a bugle and that big cow came trotting toward our hideaway still on the other side of the fence. As she got closer she began to disappear behind the small grass covered hill to my right.
I strained to see through the grass, careful not to expose myself the bull and the other cow still near the top. I could just barely see the top of her head when she stopped about 30 yards in front of us. You could feel the tension mounting in our little thicket as we strained to maintain our silence.
The smaller cow and the big bull started down the fence line after momma cow and they too went out of my sight. About this time I took a long, deep breath, probably my last for a few minutes as they romped around just on the wrong side of the fence. We were positioned at the entrance of the elk’s major trail from the dark timber on the other side of the hill to the aspen at the bottom of the bowl. The wait was on. The shadows grew longer with each passing minute. Soon the sun went behind the top stand of oak brush standing between us and the very top of the rim.
I clearly had an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage was that the elk were really close and the disadvantage was that the elk were really close. This was archery distance. I slowly cranked my head and looked back at Denny and he appeared to be embedded into the trunk of an oak brush tree relaying the actions of the three elk to me trying to whisper like a ventriloquist.
I had two choices for a shot after the bull jumped the fence. One was to get up where I could see the whole animal and the other to stay close to the ground and take a shot through a two-foot opening in the grass in front of me. I did not know how much of the animal I would be able to see through the small opening.
I prayed, thanking the Creator for showing me the animal I might take and praying even harder for a swift and merciful kill. My prayer was interrupted by Denny telling me that the first cow had jumped the fence. Shortly after, the second cow was on our side of the fence. I raised my rifle and pointed the business end in the shooting lane between the tiny clearing in the tall grass. This is when Denny told me in a panicky whisper to wait for the bull. I was intensely looking through my scope as the two cows went side by side as their heads and the top of their backs passed through my optics. I took another deep breath as they passed and flipped off the safety. Again Denny’s whisper informed me that the bull was on the right side of the fence now. This time his whisper was a little more excited.
The bull would have to go about twelve yards until his head filled my scope. The anticipation was nearly unbearable. I exhaled as he slowly entered my view in front of my cross hairs. I could not see all of his antlers. As his neck filled my view he stopped for a very short second and I gently touched off a shot.
The 180 grain Winchester Super-X Power-Point left my rifle at 2700 feet per second and delivered a blow of 2650 foot pounds of energy. His neck snapped to his right and his knees buckled and he fell like a piano. He did not take another step. He was down!
I clumsily stood up and chambered another round just in case, but there was no need. The bull that was in Denny’s full view was now out of his site, lying below the small mound that once blocked my view. I heard him shout out “Where’s the bull!” to which I replied, “The bull is down!” The cows took off for the cover of the aspens in the bowl.
I paced out the shot and it was an impressive 31 yards. The day, the hunt, the long two mile treks up the mountain, the year long anticipation vanished instantly as I stood over the prey that I worked so hard to get. He was a 5x6, not really big antlered, but impressive enough for me.
By the time we caped the trophy and headed down the hill darkness had fallen. We would have to come back in the morning to bag him and pack him out. I was looking forward to climbing the mountain one more time this year.
I strapped on my headlamp and slowly descended down the mountain, reminiscing and savoring the day spent on top of the mountain. The walk down was not as treacherous as I had imagined as I am always looking where my next step is going to be placed anyway. The only difference was that it was now lighted and there was a delightful spring in my steps.
To read more of my Handicapped Hunter visit my web site http://handicappedhunter.lovelandnet.com/