It took three years, but at last, it was time to pack my bags. It all started three years ago, when my hunting partner, Chris, ask me if I wanted to go to Colorado for a bow hunting trip for elk and mule deer. I said, if I was going to pay money to hunt, I wanted more than a stick. He called the Outfitted and ask about a muzzle loader hunt and how many preference points it would take. The answer was 3 and that is why it took 3 years to plan our hunt.
The hunt would be five full days with a day for arrival and a day for departure. It took 1 ½ days to drive from Monterey, California to Montrose, Colorado. We did have to stop in Mesquite, Nevada for dinner and a little donation to the one arm bandit. We met Allen, our Outfitter, three miles out of town, on our way to the ranch. It was raining and every thing looked great. The 3 of us, Chris, John and myself were ready to go. We arrived at the cabin and unloaded all of our gear. It was a nice place, with a large sleeping room with nine beds for the three of us. We each selected a corner and made ourselves at home.
After unpacking our personnel gear, Chris asked if anyone wanted to drive the main road and look over the ranch. John said no, but, I was willing to go. It was raining and the deer and elk were everywhere. We were watching two small 2X2 bucks, when a lighting bolt hit just in front of my face, with an explosion louder than anything I had ever heard before in my whole life. I looked at Chris and he looked at me and we both had a look on our faces as what was that. That was the closest I have ever been to or want to be to lighting in my life. We continued on down the road and saw a buck in the 25 or 26 inch category. A little farther down the road, up on the hill were 50 to 60 elk with several good bulls in the group. That was enough for us and we headed back to the cabin for dinner and a long night of tossing and turning waiting for opening morning.
It was 4:30 am when I heard Allen getting coffee and breakfast ready. I though this day would never get here. When hunting with a muzzle loader, you have several steps that must be performed each morning, before you start the day’s hunt. First, I run a dry cloth down the barrel to make sure it is clean and dry. Second, I place the cleaning rod in the barrel with a clean dry patch and shot a musket cap off. This should remove any moisture from the ignition chamber and gives me a better chance of a discharge on the first try. Than, I poor in 130 grams of powder and set the bullet, I was using a 370 grain Thompson Maxie Hunters.
With Chris being the only one familiar with the ranch, Allen gave us are morning hunting directions. I was sent to what they called the blue barrel, Chris went to a pond above the cabin and John was sent down by the main road to a new piece of property that Allen had leased just for this hunt.
I made my way down this old road and after about 20 minutes found the clearing and the blue barrel. To my left was a tree stand in a large aspen tree. I climbed up into the stand and watched the surrounding area for what seemed like hours. During the first hour, a doe and yearling darted through the cleaning and entered the thick aspens to my left. After three hours, a small spike deer wandered down the fence line and also disappeared into the aspens.
Well, at about 10:00, Chris met me at the blue barrel and told me about the 6X6 bull, a rag horned, and spike, all in range but we only had cow tags, wouldn’t you know. So we headed back to the cabin to regroup.
After enjoying our morning break, Chris and I decided to make a little drive on the new property. We walked to the end of the fence line to drive some aspens, where we believed the elk have been staying during the day. I would work the middle and Chris would work the outside edge of the little valley, thick with aspens. I started down through some oak brush until I reached the edge of the aspens. There was a real good trail and I started to still hunt down the trail real slow. Just below me and to my left was a flash a brown going into the thick aspens. I assumed it was an elk. A little further down the trail was a large aspen tree that could be used for a rest and a good advantage point on which to watch the valley below. Quickly, I moved down to the aspen. Out of the corner of my eye, I cough the motion of a cow, moving down a trail, away from me, at a very crisp walk. I had only a couple of seconds to shot and tried the shot, but she was quicker then me. At the sound of the muzzle loader, elk were moving everywhere. I was trying to reload as fast as possible, but, by the time I was ready, the valley was empty. One thing about hunting with a muzzle loader, you get one shot at a time.
The rest of the day was uneventful for me. At dinner, John told us of the cow he missed at 40 yards. She was standing behind some oak brush and all he could see was her hind end and a small portion of her front shoulder through the oak brush. He tried for the front shoulder and hit the oak brush in front of her. He also saw five bucks, three good ones in the 20 to 25 inch category and a bear, that came in to his cow calling. At fifty yards he had to stand up and chase the bear away.
Day 2 was a lot better. It started out slow, but, after our morning break things started to change. Chris and I decided to hunt the lower portion of the property below the cabin. Chris has seen several real nice bucks over the years there on his bow trips. We worked our way through a lot of oak brush and chased out several does. We met at the bottom of the property and decided to split up and drive the oak brush again, this time back up to the cabin.
Working my way to a large clearing, I spotted a nice 3 pointer crossing a small opening at the far side of the clearing next to where Chris was. After a quick review of the opening in front of me, I noticed a clearing that continued to the far side of the hill. My guess was, if I ran up the hill to that opening, I might catch the buck before he crossed into the thick oak brush. I found a place next to a large aspen that gave me the best view of the opening I had just left and the one in front and to my right, where I though the buck may pass through. I sat down and started to wait.
It wasn’t five minutes when I saw a set of large velvet antlers on top of the oak brush. Then 2 sets and then 3 set of velvet antlers moving in my direction just on the inside edge of the oak brush, about fifty yards away. What a sight, three large bucks in velvet, walking in my direction and only being able to see part of their heads and all of their shiny velvet horns glowing in the morning sun light. I knew right then, that I would be seeing that picture over and over for the rest of my life. I raised my gun and figured I would have a 50 yard brush shot, but, to my surprise, they just keep getting closer and closer. Before I knew what was happening, the first buck, the largest 4X4, was within 20 yards of me. I waited until he stepped out of the oak brush and passed through the only clearing between me and his freedom. I aimed low on his front shoulder and squeezed the trigger. I waited until the smoke cleared and saw the buck still running, but looking a little wobbly. Right behind him was the other 4X4 and then the 3X3 decided to stop right in front of me, as I was reloading.
I got up, not believing what had just happened and looked for any sign of a good hit on the big buck. It didn’t take long to find a good blood trail. That’s when I really got excited. We found the buck about 75 yards from the point of impact. He had four evenly match points on each side and measured 22 inches wide and 20 inches tall, that we estimated to score in the high 140's. Not bad for a muzzle loader hunt. That evening, when I returned to the cabin from my evening hunt, John had a nice hard horned 20 inch 3X3 with nice eye guards back at the cabin. Chris returned a little later with his story about missing a 4X4 with a 25 inch spread on two separate occasions. The first time, he jumped the buck at 10 yards, the buck jumped up and started to run. Chris tried a quick shot as the buck was about to disappeared. At the sound of the shot, the buck stopped and looked at Chris. Again, with a muzzle loader, you only get one shot at a time. By the time Chris was reloaded, the buck had seen enough and left. Not 30 minutes later, Chris jumped him again, but this time he didn’t stop to look back.
Day three was also a good day. With no rain and getting hotter each day, the deer and elk were bedding at sunup and rising at dusk. So, that morning, we all went our different ways and met back at about 12:00 for lunch without any success. About 3:00 p.m., Chris and I decided to go out and hunt some more heavy brush. We headed to an area that we hunted the first morning. This area has an old wallow in it, where Chris has seen elk in prior years. Just as we could see the wallow, a cow elk exploded about 50 yards to our right and headed to no man’s land without us. Being in the lead, I found the only semi clear spot to shot, about 50 yards directly in front of us. I knelt down and aimed on her front should as she plowed through the thick aspens. The shot went off and when the smoke cleared, to our surprise, she had stopped dead in her tracks. Another shot by both Chris and myself, and we had a good cow down. After further review, my first shot had broken both front shoulders and pierced the lungs. After two hours, we had her back to the cabin, with a little help from Allen and John.
The next day was still warm and Chris had the only opportunity and missed a 100 yard shot. The last day was even hotter and we were all getting tried. Being the last day, Chris was concentrating on finding a good buck. John invited Chris to accompany him that morning, as he was seeing several good bucks in the area he was hunting elk. I decided not to join them and walk the rim around the valley they were going to hunt. It only took them about 30 minutes to find a real good 3X3. I heard the shot and though Chris had scored his buck or John ran into a cow elk. When I finished walking the rim, I dropped down to see what had happened and found Chris looking for the buck he shot at that morning. He said the shot appeared to have hit the buck but was a little high and there was no blood trail. John, Allen and Chris had looked for 3 hours and I helped for another hour, but without any blood, it was literally impossible to find the buck. We all ended back at the cabin for lunch.
Chris wanted to hunt the same area, that afternoon, in hopes of running into the buck he shot at that morning. I agreed to accompany him in hopes of finding the buck. It was getting close to the end of our five day hunt and we had no luck in finding either Chris’s buck or an elk. We did jump about 15 does and one small 2X2 that Chris passed on.
With the sun getting lower and time running out, we decided to walk back to the pond were Chris hit or missed the buck that morning. About 500 yards prior to where the action was that morning, we spotted a nice buck, seventy five yards directly in front of us, just standing there. I told Chris it was a good buck. He said he couldn’t see horns and I said shot and just trust me. It was at least a real good 3X3. Off goes the shot and through the smoke, I could see the buck disappear into the thick aspens. By this time, Chris was beginning to wonder about his new Thompson 50 caliber. When we reached the area where the buck was standing, we found a good blood trail and a smile started to show on Chris’ face. I said lets find this buck before we celebrate. Following the blood trail for about 75 yards, we found the buck. Chris looked at the nice 3X3 buck and said it looked just like the one he shot at and looked for all morning. With a closer look, sure enough, there were 2 fresh wounds, one from his morning shot and one from the shot he just made. We decided to call this buck the “one that got away, that didn’t get away”.
Well, all good hunts must come to an end and we were all petty tired but happy hunters. We had 3 good bucks and a cow elk. We picked up an U-Hall trailer, loaded up and headed home. I am going to start saving my preference points once again, and hope, in 3 years, we can get drawn for and have a hunt just as good as this one.