Why Do I Even Bother?
I take pride in having a good working knowledge of the area of Colorado that my group has hunted during 2nd and 3rd rifle season for the last few years. I've put in my time at the computer, over maps and on the ground and have learned the lay of the land. Normally members of the group approach me to get ideas of where they should go to get an animal. Where I send them depends on what tags they have, what season it is, what the weather is doing, hunter pressure and what the animals are doing at that particular time. I have sent people to areas where they took trophy animals and even to the site of their first animal.
On this particular hunt I was debating trying a new spot that I believed was a travel corridor for elk. I had never hiked in the particular area but had scouted it digitally and with maps. So when my dad asked me where he should go in the morning, I pulled out a map and put my finger down and explained how he should get into the spot. Little did I know that the spot where my finger currently lied, would be the site of my dad's next successful cow elk hunt. That next morning I would be sitting in my normal spot and would hear a shot from the exact direction that I had told my dad to set up and a bittersweet feeling would float into my noggin.
We got up early, put the coffee on top of the wood stove and geared up. It was a 40 minute drive to where we would be leaving the truck. My dad and I would be leaving from the same trailhead and then splitting trails about a quarter of the way down. I would continue my descent down the mountain but my dad would stay on a ridge for the next mile and a half. After which he would drop off a couple of steps and set up on a good travel corridor. The cold hit us hard when we opened the truck doors. It was pitch black, cold and early but it was time to get hiking.
We hiked together until our trails split. I continued on slowly as to not work up a sweat. I got down to my honey hole, pulled out my shooting sticks and seat cushion and set up for the long, cold wait for the sun to come up. Throughout the morning I had deer moving everywhere. But of course I only had an elk tag. Around 8:30AM I heard the shot... from the exact area that I had told my dad to set up on. Right then and there, I knew that I had made the wrong decision as to where to hunt that morning. I turned on my radio waiting for the call to come help him pack an elk out but it never came. So I decided to just do some glassing on a ridge that I had seen elk on in years prior. It wasn't long before I had some white rumps spotted. There were at least 5 elk on the same ridge that my dad was on but much further down the mountain; about level with me. I gathered my gear and set out for the aspen grove that they were feeding in. When I got into the area I noticed that there was a hunter sitting only 200 yards from where the elk had been. Emphasis on the "had been" because they were no longer in the area. I hadn't heard a shot on my hike over to the area though and figured that the hunter had either spooked them or that he had been there the whole time and the elk had caught his wind.
It was now almost noon and without any new prospects I figured I oughta be heading back up to the truck. I climbed to the top of the ridge and started heading on up to rendezvous with my dad. There were drag marks in the trail and I kept seeing blood and hair on every log that had fallen over the trail. While hiking I was straining my brain trying to figure out what had caused the drag marks and blood when I rounded a bend and saw it. On the trail ahead of me was an old guy carrying two backpacks and two rifles and his son who had stripped down to gym shorts and a blaze orange vest with nothing underneath. He had a rope tied around his waste and had been dragging a small buck uphill for the last mile and a half. And he still had another two miles to go. The deer had all of its hair on one side rubbed off and I told him it was about time he flipped it and worked over the other side. I would have never attempted a packout like this. It would have been a no-brainer to quarter the buck and carry him out in trips. These guys were from out east and insisted that their method was working fine. I wished them luck and continued on my way.
When I got up to the spot on the trail where my dad and I had split up that morning, I saw a hunter taking a breather on a log. When I got up to him I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was my dad. I wouldn't have to wait at the truck for him! But then I noticed the blood on his hands and the packframe with meat attached. He had gotten a cow! He took me back down to the site of the kill and I loaded up the remainder of the meat in my pack. Sure enough, he had set up exactly where I had told him to and a cow and a spike had funneled through a saddle and afforded him a running shot at 80 yards. With one shot he put her down. He explained that out of all the big game animals he has taken, none have given him the same adrenaline rush that she had. After the shot, he couldn't settle down. He said it took him ten or fifteen minutes to settle down enough to start field dressing her.
On the way back out we crossed paths with the deer draggers again. The old guy told my dad that he was making him look bad in front of his son. "I've been telling my son that I was the man all his life but now he knows that aint true. You count as a real man in North Carolina sir", he said. We left them to continue their death drag and made it up to the truck before 2PM. It had turned into a scorcher and we were glad to be done with the pack out.
The rest of the hunt was pretty tough due to the hot conditions but at least we had put some meat on the pole. And as you can imagine, I can't hardly get through a day of hunting without my dad asking me where he should go in the morning.