Elk Hunting in Colorado – The primitive weapon elk hunting season this year was going to be a good one for me; I had an archery tag for an either sex elk in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, and my best friend Rich had an either sex muzzle loader tag that took him 8 years to get since he is out of state.
It had been quite a while since I had seen Rich, and when he came into town on September 9th to go on our trip, I was so excited to get into the wilderness for our hunt. I spent the week prior to his arrival cooking food and getting things ready, and when I went to pick him up from the airport it was so good to see him and know that our adventure would be starting in a couple of days. We spent that first night finalizing our packing and catching up with each other, and the next morning we left for Meeker, Colorado. No matter how long the time spans between when Rich and I see each other, it seems like it was only yesterday every time I see him.
The next morning we packed the coolers full of ice, got breakfast sandwiches at Watts Grocery store (fresh-made ones, not the frozen ones like the nasty things we’d had from the convenience store in past years), and headed to the trail head. It was a beautiful drive as the sun was coming over the mountains, and we saw deer feeding in the Milo fields along the river. When we turned off of County Road 8 onto the gravel road, we caught up with the Sable Mountain Outfitters horse trailers ahead of us, and the dust from the road was so bad that I could hardly see the road at times. We all pulled into the corral at the same time, and began packing the horses for our trip to camp.
The hunt began with the familiar steep climb up to the Big Ridge in the Flat Tops, Click here to see a video with a series of switch backs on the dusty trail through the aspens, alders, and scrub oak that covered the south-facing mountain side. Mason was in the lead, and he would stop every ten minutes or so to let the horses catch their breath and eat whatever was available on the side of the trail. When we crested the mountain at Saddle Park, I saw the 15 foot tall wooden cross that was erected at the top of that mountain, as I have seen many times. With stones dragged from nearby stream beds to keep the cross erect, piled high into a mound, the cross was always there standing tall every year. In all the years of seeing that cross, I never asked why it was there, but as always I had my own thoughts when I saw that cross as I passed through some of the most beautiful country in this world.
We went down into the Dry Fork Valley, and then up the south side of Big Ridge to reach Red Springs Camp at 8,990 feet in elevation. Along the way Rich called out to me and said “Bear! Your sight fell off your bow!” I had felt something tugging on my bow that I had slung over my back the whole trip, and amazingly after my sight had been pulled off by the saddle, it was sitting on the back of the horse when Rich saw it. I reached back and grabbed the sight and put it in the saddle bag. That would have been the end of my hunt if Rich had not seen that before the sight fell off of the horse, it would never have been found. Yes, I had to re-sight my bow when we got to camp, but that wasn’t too difficult, and I felt pretty confident with my ability to shoot.
When we arrived at camp, it was a nice area, with a lot of good looking elk habitat all around it. Mason and Lauren had to make a repair on the tent caused by the wind; a broken seam in the corner that Rich decided would be my spot in the tent. They fixed the tear in the tent, and it held up for the next several days of high winds and thunderstorms that battered our tent constantly.
As we prepared for our first hunt, Rich realized that he left his powder measure at home. So between my sight falling off and Rich not having his powder measure, it was not starting off to be a good hunting trip. I had an empty .308 shell in my gear bag that I thought might help with measuring the gun powder for Rich, but as I was walking around the camp area I found a spent .38 shell that I thought might work better for Rich to measure his powder. Using the line he had cut on his ram rod, Rich was able to estimate an accurate load of powder using the empty .38 shell; hopefully it would be accurate.
To say it was windy would be a gross understatement; it was brutal gusting wind almost the entire time. Day and night, it was stiff winds of 30 mile per hour gusts or more, popping the sides of the canvas tent like a flag waving in the wind. The only time it stopped was for a brief period Monday morning, before the sun had crested the mountain side. After an evening hunt the night before, seeing no elk, but two deer, Rich and I got up well before dawn and went south of camp towards a valley where we had heard elk bugling all night long. The moon was half full, and the elk were active at night.
We quietly walked down the valley to the trail that we had come up on the horses the day before, and began to work our way along the trail. We could hear elk bugling below us in the pre-dawn light, and then suddenly Rich signaled me to stop. There were two bulls, a 5×5 and a spike about 100 yards ahead of us, just to the right of the trail. As we crouched down in the brush surrounding us, we inched our way forward towards the elk. At one point the 5×5 looked straight at us, and I thought it would be over then. But he turned away, unalarmed, and continued feeding.
We continued to move quietly towards the bull, crouched down on the trail. When we got to about 70 yards, the bull presented a good shot opportunity; standing, facing uphill and his body was broadside to Rich. I was looking at the bull through my binoculars, and Rich turned to ask me if it was a 5×5 legal bull, I said “Yes, he’s giving you a good shot.” Rich stood up and fired a perfect shot at 70 yards, click here to see a video of that shot.. The bull didn’t react much to the shot, but I could tell that he was hit. He took a few steps, and then fell to the ground. It was an amazing shot with a muzzleloader at 70 yards, and a very merciful kill; the bull did not suffer at all and expired in less than a minute.
There was another bigger bull still bugling below us in a deep ravine, and even after the shot from the muzzle loader he continued to bugle. I was thinking this was going to be the perfect day and that I would have a chance at a bull as well. I walked down towards the sound of the bugle while Rich stayed at the elevation from where he shot his bull, and he bugled. The bull answered a few times to Rich’s bugles, but he would not come any closer. That was my last and only chance at getting an elk on this trip, but that’s OK, it was still an amazing trip.
After we spent two hours skinning and quartering the elk, we hung the meat in a pine tree that would provide shade and keep the meat cool. It was an arduous process, and not one that either of us enjoyed, but I wanted to have that hide. Our knives dulled during the process, but we got it done. It was a struggle because of the steep slope of where the elk had fallen, and I got stung by a yellow jacket in the process, but we got the elk skinned, quartered, and hung by 9:00 AM. On the way back to camp we stopped by the spring flowing out of the mountain side into a wooden tub about five feet in diameter. I couldn’t wait to get a drink of that cold water flowing out of the spring, and then we cleaned our knives and hands before we made the final hike back to camp.
We went back to camp after taking care of the bull. I made bacon and eggs for us, and then we took a nap for a couple of hours. It was really hard to nap with the wind constantly blowing and popping the walls of the big canvas tent, but we got a little bit of rest. Rich made a video after our hunt that you can see by clicking here.
We went out on a hunt that evening to the north of camp through some thick timber and aspen groves, but we didn’t see anything. The wind was so strong the entire time, and with the moon being half full and rising, it was clear that the elk were active during the night. Click here to see a video of my hunting. We went on a few more hunts during that trip, but never saw any more elk. One day we went over the top of Big Ridge, and then followed a trail down onto the north side of that mountain into a very nice looking area, but we didn’t see any animals. That day a thunderstorm was moving in, so we headed back to camp before we would be caught on the top of Big Ridge with lightening crashing around us.
It was a great trip for many reasons; Rich got his is elk, we hunted together in the wilderness, we lived in the wilderness, and we had a lot of fun together playing Cribbage at night and just being together. It was so nice just to spend the time together with Rich, and the experience in general was amazing.