Colorado Elk Hunt on Waugh Mountain
My name is Kevin Taylor and I live in Central Colorado. My elk hunt was from Oct 17 to the 25 of 2009. I am 39 and I have an incredible love for these mountains and the hunting opportunities it offers. This is the story of my hunt and also in dealing with the game commission in the field.
The day of my hunt I drop camped in the Waugh Mountain hunting area in Northwest Fremont County. This is unit 58 about 10,200 feet in elevation. There are massive areas of black timber that open up to sloping pasture land and have logging roads that cut through almost every part of the mountains in the area. I found a nice spot with lots of deadfall wood and made my camp getting all my gear ready. I love the idea of being right in the thick of it. Being by myself and having the freedom to move about at my own pace was exciting.
I was planning to hunt with my crossbow but I found after reading at the last minute I was able to use my father's 243. He gave me this rifle before he passed away not long ago so this was special to me. He used to take me whitetail hunting in East Texas when I was a boy and we were never able to fill a tag. These are some of the best memories I have ever had and my love for the outdoors comes from him. His spirit is still very much with me and using his rifle gives me a comfort that stayed with me through my hunt. I realize that this caliber is not the best for bigger game such as elk but it is legal and I had to even the odds a little. This is fair chase after all. I used a 100 grain Nosler and put a box and a half of shells through it sighting it in. This gun hasn't been fired in many years so I wasn't surprised it was a foot and a half off. I ended up bore sighting it. I finally dialed it in confident I was in my grouping at a 150 yards. I don't remember it kicking that bad though.
This is the first time I have elk hunted and I was excited to be right out there and study the areas looking for scrapes and trails. I use Mossy oak camo that's perfect for the color of timber I was hunting and a streamlined backpack. I was a walking tool chest and having to modify my equipment in the field was a process and fine tuning my equipment to not shake and rattle as I moved through the timber. I was carrying about 40 to 50 pounds with water and the other junk you think you may need. No matter how quiet and sneaky you are, the elk know you are there before you do and this is a constant challenge. They're just being sensitive because they are being shot at in all. They are hiding deep and stay in these areas during the day. I must have put 20 miles of hiking and stalking the first 2 days of my hunt just studying the aspens and charting on my GPS the areas that has the most damage on the trees constantly spraying my scents every so often. The squirrels were a bother since they would give you away and having to navigate around them was often being done. You sometimes want to unload on em'.
I ended up doing figure 8s and loops, taking 10 steps or so at a time irritated that every step was like walking on corn flakes. There was no moisture before my hunt so everything was crunchy. I did my best to gently step on the deadfall off the leaves rolling my steps. The deadfall in these areas is like spaghetti so you are always weaving and crawling through thick steep obstacles trying not to bump the rifle and scope as you move near the periodic open areas of grass within the thick timber and deadfall. Look for these areas because they are spots the elk and deer like to be so they have a vantage point on you. You can't see these areas on the roads driving to the hunting areas because they are so secluded and shadowed. I used Google earth to pinpoint the places that looked good and had pinch points just off the timber lines around 9500 to 11,00 feet. I stayed within this range looking for the water holes. There aren't many on the side of the mountain. The first 2 days I was bumped out of my spot by other hunters and was fed up. This made me have to fade back into the timber going into places not many want to go. Everyone else wants the same thing you want so the competition in the field is fierce and many times aggravating. I studied these areas for months anticipating my hunt and it was discouraging to have so many others driving and making noise in the areas I wanted to be in. I actually bumped a nice 6 point buck and 3 does to the hunter that set his stand 50 yards down below me when I was hidden above him. He wasn't in his stand 10 minutes when I heard his shot. I watched the whole thing. I was thinking, your welcome buddy. The deer were on the game trail I took to get to the place I was settled in and moved down the mountain. The view from here is awe inspiring. It opens up to the Collegiate Peaks and the time I was in this place was worth it just to sit and admire. This is beautiful and vast making this a great place to glass the prairies. I was hoping to catch an evening gathering of an elk herd.
I knew elk would be a little higher since the day's weather was mild. It was cool but not bitter cold so I had to layer for the hiking being that it was easy to get sweaty and overheated. I stayed mostly on the North facing slopes in the thick timber lines roughly between 9500 and 11,200 feet.
The first day I was scouting I spooked something large near the timber scrapes not very far from my campsite but I didn't see it. I just heard it. I've heard deer crash through timber since I came across many throughout the mountain. This sounded massive like a truck driving down the mountain through the trees and the adrenalin hit me. That has to be elk. I hit my cow call but to no avail. I waited for the crashing to stop and moved in toward the area I thought he was in and ended up hiking for miles doing my loops and 8's. This was a bad move on my part because I was the one making the noise tracking and looking for the hoof marks from where it was. It gave me the slip. Hours of hiking later, it was getting dark so I headed back to my camp and curled up with my hot rocks from my fire pit and managed glimpses of sleep. The night was cold and clear and dawn couldn't come soon enough. It's a long night by yourself in the middle of nowhere at 10,000 feet. It's a sense of lonely and my two baby boys were on my mind and I missed something terrible. But on the other hand I was completely at peace by myself with the mountains.
The next morning on day two I put many more miles of hiking the areas and beyond familiarizing myself with the mountain and came across many new areas I wanted to explore. There are more than you can possible imagine. The mountains as a whole are intimidating but you have to remember that you are only dealing with a small area at a time when you look at the scale of things. I had printed aerial maps and coordinates written to stay within my boundaries. This is an area of 15 square miles.
Tired and beaten I went back to camp and made ready for the next morning. The night was much colder and I had enough and got up moving around and made breakfast and coffee. I started down the trail back to my scrape area just before daylight and not 15 minutes into my morning I heard the crash again. In the place I started on day one. This was the hot spot. There was more than one by the sound. It may have been his cows but I didn't get a chance to see them for a second time. I went to hit the cow call again and at the last second I held off fearing I would just push it out further. This time I ran with the sound angling down the mountain laterally about 150 or so yards and hooked down slope to the left off the game trail and sat quietly. I listened and tried to tune into every sound and click within earshot. Even listening for the squirrels. Wouldn't you know it I landed just above his scrape area next to a small opening in the timber. There's my bull. The early morning sun lit up the ivory tips above the shoulder high brush? It's a thousand wonders we both ended up in the same place and it not see or hear me before I stopped. This slope faces North East with a mix of shadows and sunlit patches. This here, at that moment I feel is the biggest fascination a hunter can have. This moment makes or breaks you. It's almost indescribable to ones who have not been face to face with this incredible and elusive animal, especially one on one. The window of opportunity is small. I have a lot of respect for the bow hunters out there.
The trees and deadfall between us was thick and I had to move about 10 feet down to the left to get a shot between an opening of two trees split apart about 6 inches half the distance from the elk. This was roughly about 80 yards. He knew I was there but couldn't see me. He could hear me head up and very alert. You know that familiar goofy deer in the headlights look an animal gives when it's looking hard to see what is going on in your direction. I was in a free standing shot position trying to calm down. My heart was pounding from the sprint and adrenalin. This is actually kind of loud when you are trying to hear everything around you. I had to wait between heart beats and breaths for my shot all the while trying to control my muzzle that was bouncing to the pace of my heart. It put its head down and started to graze again, turned quarter to me and I could see the white of it back side. When he raised his rack and I saw the ivory tips again, I took this as my opportunity and squeezed off the shot through the trees. After the shot and from the smoke clearing from the muzzle, which seems to take longer than it should have, I saw the bull turn away from me to the left down the mountain so I sprinted after it re-chambering my rifle as I was running and crashing through the deadfall and brush taking shots as I closed in. This was more of a point and shoot thing since the scope was useless. Four shots in all from the rifle. I set my rifle down and finished it off with the 357. In the moment I forgot about the pistol on my side as it turned at me while I set the rifle down. The first shot I took straight at the chest area and had to flank around to its back side and put the last shots in with the last at point blank the back of the skull trying to avoid getting impaled and or damaging the rack. It was a quick ending and it dropped to its stomach. This can be a very deadly place to be since an animal like this with its size and being in the process of dying will kill you in an instant. They have bursts of energy in waves even after being shot and can be aggressive at whatever moves. This bull got up several times before finally getting the last shot which took some maneuvering around to get it. I saw that the first shot was dead on after it was down. This was the wound with the most blood at its lower shoulder where I was aiming. I wasn't letting it get away. It takes an enormous amount of power to take an animal like this down. I was always nervous about the 243 caliber since I have read so many mixed revues. It's about shot placement with this rifle. It has a lot of punch with a little bullet.
The mountains make things rugged and strong and always fighting the altitude makes for great endurance.
I have never been this close to an elk before and seeing an animal like this expire will always weigh on me. The sounds it makes. The helpless nature at its end was an emotional moment. All at the same time battling with the adrenalin rush of success with your first bull. I know every hunter has a place within him that this makes an Impression on. In essence this is an assassination. This is something that I will never forget. Elk are such large, beautiful, and majestic animals. I was surprised how clean and well kept animals they are. Pure and free of contaminants like steroids, pesticides and stagnant environments. Beef cows are nasty although I love a good steak. I'm not fond of the process of killing but I love to hunt. I always eat what I kill and will always go to elk meat before beef.
After I got somewhat still I was so tired and fatigued. I was dirty and gritty. I smelled like smoke and elk pee. My lungs hurt and my legs cramped. This animal ran my ass off. It's a constant up and down, sneaking over ridges and taking a peak trying not to make noise. Keeping to the rocks and taking routes that elk don't want to walk over. This in itself is taxing on you. You fatigue more muscles doing this for hours. Elk hunting is huge work and a lot of luck, incredible patience and stealth. I made a point of getting dirty and smelling like the mountains and cover scent. I like to boil the surrounding leaves and sticks, pine cones, and dirt of the area I hunt, spray down my camo and hang it outside for a few days before my hunt. Humans are a red beacon to elk in the thickest of brush and timber and best to take any creative advantage you can.
Every sense is alive when there is nothing but you and the elements. Outsmarting this elk in its own hiding places on this hunt gives me such a sense of pride and thrill of adventure I never expected.
I won. I beat every other hunter on that mountain with a trophy bull. My first bull. I ran this animal down. No guide. No managed property herds. No crop management. No baiting. Nobody, but me and a lot of hope, and a healthy stubbornness. Addicting, isn't it?
The walk back to camp was pure bliss and very emotional for me. It was about a mile hike up the mountain to where the camp was. Nothing is a straight line here.
I was ecstatic because I could now take this beautiful animal home to my wife and share it with my family, friends, and neighbors. I was thinking, "Man, this thing is big."
My wife doesn't like to hunt but loves that I can and do. She was just as excited as me getting ready to leave out for the hunt as I was. This meat will help so many good people during our winter which are very harsh here and work can be difficult to keep. I can't wait to share this wonderful experience with my 2 boys when they get older. I harvested my elk with my dad's rifle and pistol. And again, that has special meaning to me.
It was a 6 X 5 bull. It had a thick main and the ivory tines on its rack were pristine with just a little wear from scraping. I 'm a large guy at 6'4" and 200 pounds and this bull was just almost overwhelming to me. I certainly am no match for moving it other than in pieces. If this bull made it a little further down the mountain would have been bad for me since there was a drop off and I would have had to make other plans for recovery.
I tagged the elk and set the coordinates on my GPS and headed back for the truck since I couldn't get a signal and drove down the mountain to the opening towards the Collegiate mountain valley to make a call to my brother to come help me get my elk. I pulled to a stop at the Collegiate Mountain valley opening and stepped out of the truck at one of my most favorite places to call my brother with the excited news. This was about 30 minutes or so after my score.
All of a sudden a truck drives up so I step over and at the same time I see the logo on the door. I waived and said hello as he pulled to a stop. He said, "was that you I heard?" I said," yessir!". It was no problem for him to pinpoint 7 shots let alone the cheering in the end zone with his first touchdown standing over my bull. It resonated all along the valley. I'm sure every hunter on that mountain heard me. I had to hang up with my brother and handed the officer my tag all excited with smiles. He was a few miles down below me in the valley at the crossroads. Not far from our cabin. He said, "where is the elk?" I said "Up there".
So I pointed up the mountain not far from us and he followed me in the truck with my GPS back up. It took a while to get his truck down to the bull so I had to move logs, broken brush and rocks out of the way for him to navigate and back down closer to the bull.
There was a problem. My tag was valid since I was hunting on the dates specified. It was invalid because I was in the wrong unit. Unit 58. My valid unit was 581. Just 22 miles away. I was in a limited unit just next to 581. Now, I know what limited units are. I just didn't realize this was a limited unit. It said except for limited units on my tag. This was something I should have not overlooked and missed. I felt when I first met the DOW agent that something was amiss when he didn't go away. Not really elaborating other than this was a limited unit.
It's like the police. You appreciate what they do and respect the authority they have, but you don't want to talk to them. I wasn't concerned he was interested in me at first since I thought I was abiding the law. I was going by the rules. I studied and read everything I could get a hold of before my hunt. I was making sure I had everything I needed. A valid license, gear, hunters orange, the right rifle and ammo, Etc. I took my hunters safety course and was confident I was ready. I aced my test. Colorado has strict hunting laws and it's confusing to the newcomer. Being Me. Lots of codes and structures that are different than that of what I learned when I was a younger hunter, plus learning the rules in another state. There is much to be aware of.
I had a triple 0 on my tag and I couldn't find it in the brochure. I called the DOW office in Colorado Springs 2 weeks before my hunt and asked if I could hunt unit 58. Since I didn't see this sort of code I was still unsure of what it meant. I got a yes and didn't think much about it. Cool, I'm good to go. I was happy because our hunting cabin is about a mile and a half away from this hunting area and I wanted to base from this unit. I know the area well and we have 47 acres that are good to hunt with a fresh spring beside the cabin. I just wanted to be in that area but out in the trenches seeing if I could do this all on my own with just my survival gear. And I did it.
The agent that found me was an incredible gentleman and was completely aware of my emotions when I found that I had made a mistake. I knelt beside the bull and quietly lost it. I was visibly broken and he checked and asked me if I was OK as I began to field dress my elk. He was genuinely concerned as he could see this elk meant my winter, family and neighbors. He was a younger fellow and had a gentle patience and assured me it would be worked out and that we needed to talk to his supervisor. Again, he never really elaborated on what was going to happen but I knew then I wasn't going to have this animal. My wife wasn't going to take this well.
I had set my pistol well aside and started to field dress my bull. I didn't have my equipment since I left it at the truck so he handed me his pocketknife. It was just a few inches long and I was thinking, " Your kidding, right?'. That, On this?
I was crushed. I have to dress this elk and I don't get to keep it. That hurt. I was a bloody mess, literally. But the knife was sharp and did the job except for the chest cavity. I couldn't reach the heart and lungs at the breastplate so he gave me his bone saw and I was able to finish up. The only way I was going to enjoy the taste of this elk was to lick my fingers.
He worked with me like a long time hunting buddy. He'd been here before. This was my first time on dealing with moving such a massive animal. We had to get this bull off the mountain and he was a team player being very patient and very respectful of my time and emotional space. He never once treated me like I was breaking the law and less of a person. He worked with me trying to get this bull up in the truck with a battery powered winch. It took a little while. This would have been a little easier if there wasn't a smaller spike elk already in the back. Mine had to go on top of this one and it took considerable effort on both of us to get it up there killing two batteries in the process and tying it off. I learned some neat things from him as we secured the animal down. It was shot by mistake taking another elk earlier from another hunter. My elk was a monster beside, atop this other bull. It hung out of the back of the truck quite a bit with a lot of weight. We both were pretty winded getting under the bull and helping the winch with our legs each having a little grin about finally getting it in the truck. These guys are hunters too and they can relate to the emotions I was feeling. It was bitter sweet for me though. I've never experienced the range of emotions in such short order so quickly. Pure bliss walking down the mountain after the kill and pure sorrow just minutes later knowing I lost my elk and possibly losing so much more. My guns, my hunting privileges, my meat, a lot of money and my buddies Chevy truck.
I followed him down the mountain to talk to his supervisor about 10 miles toward town on the edge of an emotional wreck watching the other hunters getting ready for their hunt just off the road practically breaking their necks at the rack sticking out of the bed of the game wardens truck as we drove by. Me, right behind. I was bitchin' the whole way down as I snapped pictures of my elk in his truck. We pulled up to his supervisor and he stepped out of his truck and my heart sank. I whispered, "oh God I'm done. " He looked like a very important man with a lot of power. This is where the fear set in on me. Ignorance is no excuse and I wasn't blaming anyone but myself and I knew I had had it. I told the first agent that I don't blame the man I spoke with at the Springs office. I even remembered his name. The agent said that usually people lie and tell me things like this and don't give a name. His supervisor said, people say they aren't hunting while covered in blood. The agents name in the Springs office happened to be the same first name as the officer who had me. I will keep the names for privacy of the officers for this story.
When his supervisor came up to me he was very friendly to me giving me great respect and let me explain to him as I did to the officer helping me with my elk. He patiently explained to me the rules to me using my elk as a table at the back of the truck that this was a limited unit and made sure I understood what he was telling me. You bet I was listening with full attention. Agents in the field are human lie detectors and they could sense from me that I was honestly mistaken and wasn't in this unit with dishonest intentions. I bought the license online and didn't catch this simple restriction. I should have. I've heard the horror stories of the DOW and they have been made to be monsters. They do have that kind of power but they use discretion when dealing with us in the field. Be honest, and you will be treated fairly and with respect.
I was up front from the beginning. The two of them went off to the front of their truck and discussed my fate for several minutes while I was still admiring my elk all massive in the truck. I was feeling the sharp, lengthy tips of the ivory tines. I just wanted to touch it one more time.
I was devastated. The officer who helped me with getting the elk down the mountain was, I'm sure, a big part of why I got to go home that day. He let me jump up in the truck and take a few pictures of my elk before I went home.
I had to get my license back out of the truck so the supervisor followed closely to me the whole way. I understand his caution and I made sure my weapons were in plain sight, unloaded and chambers open. He looked in the back of my truck and saw my crossbow and asked me about it. I told him I was planning to use it from the beginning but I found I could use my father's 243. I'm sure I looked rough to him. I have long hair wrapped back in cloth and a quite beat up and dirty from the days of roughing it. The typical mountain man look, all gangly.
They looked at me and said, "You know, this could have been a 15,000 dollar fine and jail time." I'm like ... What?" "That's a Sampson Bull." I knew what Sampson bulls are from my hunter safety course but didn't make the connection on mine. There was a lot going on. They ended up citing me for 70 dollars and 5 points off my record. I paid this with pride. This was lenient fine and could have been so much worse for me. They were very fair and treated me as an individual who made a mistake and not a criminal. I thanked them for going easy on me before we parted.
The hour and a half drive home to Cripple Creek was the longest trip from this place I have ever taken. I have been coming to the cabin about 15 years now.
The agents told me to come to the field office down in Canon City and they would have an elk or mule deer for me. The DOW has a donation program for animals such as mine. This was kind of like going to the principal's office after such a big and embarrassing blunder. When I called the agent who helped me with my elk after a few days I went down there and they gave me a complete elk fully dressed and quartered. Not mine but a sizeable equal for me. I could tell because my bull had a pistol round through its back hoof when it turned at me I fired at it. I think that one was a miss. The officer was like, "what's this?" I answered, "?Pistol"
Now that I reflect on that time I see that you can really get mangled out in the field at the heat of the moment.
I was totally happy with the meat the DOW donated to me. They couldn't give me my bull. I can understand why and I respect it fully. I now know my bull went to the same good cause. We needed this for the winter. Hundreds of pounds of meat and I could not be more grateful. The best part of all this is that I got to go home the afternoon of my hunt and hug my wife and children. Not sit in jail.
We sometimes are put off by government ordinances and their power but the system does work. They are fair and generous if you let them. What the agents do in the field is very dangerous and many people steal the privileges we have to hunt in this amazing place. I took this awesome animal in a place designated for another person who drew and earned the tag for this unit. The agents in the field are there so we can be. After all, we are all armed out there. Please be safe and do your homework and hopefully my experience will be of value to others. I learned the hard way and was given the best outcome I could have and ended up with the gift that this hunt gave me despite my mistake. Obviously, I just wish I could have been able to keep my bull and its incredible rack.
Dreams are made here and Colorado has been more than I ever imagined.
Happy, Safe, hunting!