Our Old Haunt

Fall arrived with a vengeance. Temperatures where we hunted for spike elk went from a hot 78 degrees the prior week to a freezing 25 degrees opening morning; including a fresh 4 inches of snow on the ground. The soggy weather made reaching our camping spot a muddy treacherous 4-wheel-drive-mandatory feat.

 elk rub 

     One of the many rubs we found while scouting

It had been years since we had gone after spike elk with a rifle and for whatever reasons the elk patterns had changed significantly at our old haunt. Maybe it had to do with the increased number of hunters afield because everywhere we looked polka-dotted orange covered the hills like a swarm of flies. Try as we might we failed to locate elk in the areas where we had frequently found them in years past. After 2 days of hunting, we had seen a total of 2 elk, with one of those sightings being a quick one second flash of a bull as it darted into the trees.

 sunrise elk hunting 

                           Sunrise -- by day two the snow had really started to melt off

However, Monday turned out to be quite different. Instead of 4 wheelers, side-by-sides and trucks buzzing along every existing dirt road, there was an unusual quiet along the mountain paths this morning. I had noticed a mad exodus off the mountain on Sunday but was shocked at the extent of the departure; although I was grinning from ear to ear at the lack of pressure. In fact, I didn’t see one other vehicle on the way driving to my spot.

 elk tracks in the snow  six point bull elk, 6 point bull elk

      Followed fresh elk tracks hoping to find a spike         Walked up on this 6 point bull, only elk spotted today

Once I arrived and cut the engine of the RZR, the next sound to break the early morning silence was an elk bugle just up the hill. Of course I couldn’t see the bull because dawn was still 15 minutes away but my thought was where there’s one elk there could be more. I waited until it was light enough to see and then began my ascent. A half mile later I reached the saddle without seeing an elk but was hopeful that I’d locate elk once I crested the ridge and peered into the valley below. Just a couple of days before my son Dallas and I stood in this exact location and all we saw was hunter’s orange everywhere. But on this morning it seemed I had the entire area all to myself.

Just over a quarter mile down off the top was a big rocky outcropping where I planned to sit overlooking the whole mountainside to the west and the entire valley that lay below. If I failed to locate elk before noontime, I’d pack up and head home. Once I reached the cliff I perched myself atop the highest rock and began glassing. Only a few minutes later an elk bugled from the aspens below. It didn’t take long before I saw an elk meandering through the quaking aspens (quakies as we locals call them). Soon an impressive 6 point bull eased his way through the trees and began to feed as he reached the open hillside. Minutes later another bugle sounded from the quakies. Soon an even bigger 6 point revealed itself as he pushed a bunch of cows through the timber. Just as the bull did before, they too slid into the opening and began to feed. I had my optics on every single elk searching for a spike among the herd but saw none. By the time the first bull disappeared over the ridge, the herd bull with his harem of 19, all stood in the wide-open clearing. At least five separate times I scanned each individual elk hoping that I somehow missed seeing a lone spike -- but I hadn’t.

 herd of elk feeding 

                    Almost all of the herd now feeding out into the open

While it was exciting to finally see elk, it was disappointing that not a single spike was within the group. I had been watching the feeding elk for several minutes when, at 60 yards below the herd, a single elk strolled into the opening. It is common for a spike to be at the back of, or trailing, a herd of elk so I hoped this would be the case here. Without hesitation I shouldered my rifle and immediately saw spires jutting from the bull’s head! For a minute or more I thought the bull was a small 2 point (not legal for my spike tag), but as I cranked up the magnification on my scope I could see that there was dangling velvet on the tip of the antler that caused my confusion. The shot from the 6.5 Creedmoor rang out and the herd scattered, but my spike was down for the count!

 spike elk with velvet on antler  packing out elk

         Velvet on antler looked like another point                        Finally reached top of ridge with last load

The saying “now the real work begins” couldn’t have been more accurate in this situation; it took almost 9 hours to pack the bull out. I shot the bull at 8:23 a.m. and finally had the last load out to my RZR at 5:10 p.m. And just in the nick time, by the time I got back to camp it was snowing and ½ inch of snow had already fallen. I quickly packed up camp and was safely off the mountain before the big forecasted snow storm hit.

 elk loaded onto RZR 

 Day's about over, quartered elk loaded onto RZR