Imagine--it is a beautiful fall day with the aspen changing, the sun just coming up over the horizon and a gentle breeze is blowing with just a hint of fall crispness. You are standing at the edge of a clearing and you spot a monster bull just exiting the trees. You steady yourself against a rock, the crosshairs resting just behind his shoulder. You slowly squeeze the trigger and he drops in his tracks. Well--this is how I imagined my first elk but as pretty much everyone reading this story knows events like this rarely exist. My first elk was pretty much the opposite.
I grew up hunting antelope in Wyoming and small game here in Colorado. Well, in 1999 I moved to the western slope and decided that since I now lived on the side of the Grand Mesa, I needed to be an elk hunter. The next fall I took to the mountain with no experience but a head full of knowledge gleened from reading multiple books on the subject. I thought I was an expert. Needless to say--I found out rather quickly that I really didnt have a clue about anything regarding elk and you can guess how that season went. Over the next 10yrs I basically started at zero and worked hard, learned from every experienced elk hunter I could and slowly I started to notice a change in my hunting seasons. I started seeing elk almost every time I went out but I still was working on getting a shot and killing one. Well, in 2008 I finially managed to put it almost all together. I got within shooting distance of a cow, placed the crosshairs on her and BOOM. I watched as the 30 elk with her went sprinting through the forest, looked at where she was standing----and saw nothing but dirt. It then occurred to me that since I was on such a steep slope that maybe I should have compensated my aim somehow (dont laugh--started from zero remember!!) I spent three hours looking for any sign I hit her but found nothing and went home as always--empty handed.
Well-fast forward 365 days to 2009. Another 1st season hunt and this year I was confident that things would be different. I got up opening morning, drove to the parking area. Hiked in a few miles to the site of the fiasco of last year and set up. Then I heard it, the breaking of a twig, the footsteps through the leaves---and then the voice asking me if I had seen anything yet. It was another hunter. I was irritated, I had hiked in all this way to get away from people and here was this other hunter ruining my day. Turns out the trail I took to access the area actually circles back on itself and ends up aproximately 1/2 mile from the road I drove in on but of course I had not been intelligent enough to actually check a map (yet another hard lesson learned in the education of elk hunting-maps are your friend). Well-- I went home to lick my wounds and formulate another plan.
When I got home I was a litte dejected and at a loss how to proceed. My wife said maybe I should go to that area where we always saw cars parked on the bend in the highway. I had nowhere else so I figured I might as well try it.
The next morning was beautiful, warm, a slight breeze, not a cloud in the sky. I parked and started hiking. I made it in a mile or two and found the breeze was beginning to be a pain. It was swirling around making it impossible to hunt into it. I was in the middle of an aspen forest in october so no matter how slow and delicately I tried to walk I sounded like a herd of elephants from all the dried leaves on the ground. I was also busting deer almost constantly so my hopes of even seeing an elk were floating somewhere near zero. Then I heard it. The incredibly loud crashing noise that elk make when running through a forest (I had heard that sound a lot in the last 10yrs oddly enough!!). I almost threw my hands up in the air in frustration figuring I had spooked up a heard. Then I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and to my surprise it was 4-5 elk about 30yrds from me with a bull chasing them. The lead cow stopped broadside. I brought my gun up, steadied against a small aspen and BOOM. The whole thing took probably less that 10 seconds. I just remember seeing those 4-5 elk sprinting away over the small hill they were on and thinking I had just repeated the fiasco from last year. I walked up to where the elk had been, I looked down and saw a puddle of some sort of strange red substance. It took me a minute to realize that my aim had been accurate and the elk drought had finially ended. I still had to find the elk but when I looked to my right, about 50yrds away, I saw a strange looking rock. I threw up my binoculars and there lay my elk. I then learned the last very important lesson an elk hunter has to learn--elk are really big, really hard to clean by yourself and really dang heavy when you have to haul them out on your back the 2miles in steep terrain that you hiked in to find them in the first place. I dont think I walked right for a week but it was the sweetest pain I think I have ever felt.
So, my first elk was definitely the perfect story I had originally imagined and it definitely was not the end of my learning process about elk hunting. It was, however, an incredible experience and one that I will never forget.
(by the way, a word about the two pictures below--that is actually an exit hole, it was a good shot not a gut shot. Also, my daughter for some reason wanted me to hike out a leg for her so that is the other picture--she wouldnt let me get rid of it either. It finally started to stink so I had to wait until she went to school and it got "lost"--kids are kind of strange sometimes but you gotta love em!!!)