Location: Colorado game unit #59 - Victor, Colorado
Weapon: Winchester Model 70 in 7mm mag
Optics: Burris 3-9x40
Ammo: Hornady factory custom 162 gr BTSP
Well, I guess 2007 is the year. After 6 years of archery, muzzleloader and rifle hunting here in Colorado, I finally connected on my first elk (a big, fat cow) at 8:03 a.m. Thursday morning, October 25th.
It was a beautiful, cloudless, classic Colorado elk hunting morning with temps in the mid 50's and just the slightest of breeze coming out of the South-East. We were hunting with Ray Marchini of Cougar Country Outfitters around Victor, Colorado. We had been hunting hard for 5 days with numerous elk seen but no shots taken so far. Three guys in camp had harvested nice Mule deer bucks earlier in the week and one guy had taken a cow elk a couple of days before but so far the three of us were empty handed.
Melody and I followed my twin brother, Rick, and our guide out to an area of the ranch lease where we had seen a small herd feeding the evening before. My brother and our guide climbed to the top of a large rock formation and played sniper while Melody and I headed South into the breeze (as Huck and Bruce have taught us) down a long finger ridge. We really prefer to get out and go after them, so right from the truck we were in stealth mode and just took our time glassing the meadows on either side of the ridge. About a half mile down from the trucks we heard a cheesy little bugle from directly in front of us so we slowed it down to one step at a time, moving from tree to tree (just as Charles had taught us). Just as we were reaching the end of the finger ridge, Melody spotted the herd across the meadow at the bottom and starting to work their way up the next ridge to our South. It was a perfect set up:
We were downwind, in the shade, behind good cover and moving silently. The elk had no idea we were there and continued slowly grazing their way uphill while we slowly and quietly found good vantage points. I ranged them at 272 yards and decided to try to get a little closer. Melody stayed put and kept her eye on them while I worked my way down to the very last cover between us and them. When I would lose sight of them, I would look back at her and she would use hand signals to vector me back on track. I settled down under the drooping branches of a large Lodgepole Pine, took up a sitting position and raised my rifle. This being my first opportunity ever at any kind of big game, I was getting tunnel vision and breathing deeply and could not hold the scope steady on anything.
COOL!!!!!!!!!! So these are the infamous Buck Fever jitters I read and hear about! I took a series of deep breaths and tried to find a "calm place" and the rest of the world came back into focus. I looked around me and there was an old tree stump just behind me and to my right so I quietly skooched backwards uphill to it and rested my rifle across it and it worked perfectly. It was just soft and rotten enough on top to snuggle the rifle into and the right height to act as a bench rest from a sitting position without having to stretch or crane my head to get a good sight picture. Thank you Lord!
The elk were still oblivious to our presence and in no hurry to move on so I had plenty of time to take some deep breaths and stay calm. I took a few moments to pray that the Lord would bless me with calm nerves and a true shot. If it were His will, I wanted either a clean kill or a clean miss. As it turned out, Melody was praying the same thing for me from her front row seat behind me and further up the slope of the ridge. I picked out the cow that I wanted and then went down the mental check list: make absolutely sure it's the right sex, thoroughly check the "backstop" in case of a pass through, shell in the chamber and safety on until ready to fire, etc. etc. etc. There was just enough of a gap between all the trees and branches between me and the elk that I had to settle in and wait for "my" cow to turn a bit to her right and then take 1 step uphill. It seemed like it took all day (and then some) but was really only a few minutes. I just held the scope steady on her and waited while resisting the urge to just start flinging lead and hope for the best.
What a sight! That amazing golden Colorado first morning light was shining on the hillside the elk were on and lighting them up making them absolutely glow with that rich palette of cream, tan, brown and black colors that come out of a healthy elk's thick coat of hair. We've had a really wet year and the grass has been thick and rich so these guys were fat and shiny. The sunlight was practically sparkling off their hair coats. As I said earlier, it was one of those spotless, clear, warm, perfect Colorado fall mornings and the beauty of the scene before me was getting mesmerizing.
OK Larry, back to the task at hand! And that's when she made the 1/4 turn to the right and 1 step uphill that I was waiting for. I checked the backstop one last time, set the crosshairs where I wanted them, clicked off the safety and squeezed the trigger. BANG! I've heard guys say that you never hear the shot go off. Maybe. But I sure heard my shot!!!! I recently had a muzzle brake installed on my 7mil mag and it sounded like a howitzer going off!! As I recovered from the recoil (and ringing ears), all I saw was a stampede of cream colored butts heading uphill and into the dark timber at full throttle. Did I hit her? Did I miss her? What happened? I turned around and looked at Melody to see if she saw what happened and all she did was shrug. I stayed put while Melody worked her way down to me. I mean, I don't know what I expected, but seeing an empty meadow in front of me where I had just shot at an elk was a bit demoralizing. All I could think was that I missed her. As Melody joined me we could hear the elk up in the steep dark timber to our right calling back and forth while the bull was doing that "get your butts over here" whistle-bugle that they do when they're trying to organize the harem. We played it safe and sat and waited just like you're supposed to after taking a shot until the elk talk commotion subsided and then started walking down off our ridge over to where the elk had been. I figured we might as well go see if there was any blood on the grass and kept praying that I had not simply wounded her.
It was 246 yards from where I had taken the shot to where that cow had been standing and it seemed to take forever to get there with all the thoughts swirling through my head. Did I miss? Now what do I do? We crossed the meadow that had been between us and them and then started climbing the ridge. As we came around the shoulder of the ridge I began to scan the area from where "my" cow had been standing up to where they had gone and there was a big cow elk, laying in the grass. Seriously, my first thought was, "Oh man, somebody shot an elk and then couldn't track her. I wonder how long she's been here? I wonder if the meat's still good?" Then it dawned on me........ that was MY elk!!!!!!!!!!! It was a perfect double lung shot that just nicked the heart. She had run uphill
about 30 yards, dropped and then rolled right back down to just about where I had shot her. I can't describe the thoughts that piled into my head but I can say that my head was spinning. After 6 years of trying, there was my first elk right in front of me. I walked over to make sure she was dead and then Melody came over. We knelt right there in the grass and thanked God for a clean kill, the bounty of meat that was heading for our freezer and for the chance to do this together (Melody had been in and out of camp keeping up with things back at work).
Well, now what? I have never field dressed a big game animal and this big, fat cow looked like an elephant laying there. So we took off our packs and stuff, took some pictures, and started walking back to where my twin brother and our guide were. We signaled to them and they went and got the trucks. As they pulled up and Rick spotted the cow lying there, he jumped out of the still moving truck and hit me on the run. He was pounding me on the back and hugging me so hard that it just about squeezed the life out of me. Anyway, once the celebrations were over, Rick took out his knives and went to work. An hour later she was gutted, loaded on the truck and then hung from the meat pole back at camp. We went to breakfast where my "elk hunter initiation" took place and I got to tell my story to the guys around the table. We drove back out to the camp and got her skinned and quartered and then took the meat home and put it in the walk in cooler. A retired butcher friend of ours came up Tuesday morning and between the 4 of us, we had the 2 elk cleaned up, cut up, wrapped up and in the freezer by mid afternoon. What a blessing to see that bounty of clean, delicious meat filling shelf after shelf in our walk in freezer and know that many wonderful meals are to come over the next year.
That evening, Melody brought some of the backstrap steaks back up to the little diner in Victor where we had been eating. They very graciously agreed to let her use their kitchen to cook up an elk meal for all the guys so we feasted like kings on grilled backstrap steaks, scalloped potatoes, salad, garlic bread and blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream! Rick had had some commemorative T-shirts made up back in Florida for our hunt together this year so the three of us wore them that evening to celebrate. I will also included a photo that I took earlier in the week of a mountain lion track. Ray, Rick and myself had put the stalk on another small group of elk that we had spotted feeding through a clearing up on a mountain at first light. The stalk was unsuccessful, but on the way back out we discovered mountain lion tracks OVER TOP of our boot tracks. As near as we could tell, a mountain lion and her cub(s) had crossed our trail soon after we left the trucks and then followed us all the way in that morning. A pretty eerie feeling as the hunters are being hunted though I wasn't all THAT worried since Rick was tail-end-charlie on the way in and Ray was in the back on the way out. Ha! The next day one of the other hunters was set up under some trees in the same area and saw movement in the grass in front of him. Out walked a mountain lion with a dead coyote in her mouth followed by 2 kits (or cubs or whatever you call young adult lions).
A couple of years ago I went around asking my hunting buddies what their opinion was on how much of being a successful hunter depends on skill and how much depends on "luck". Most guys seemed to say it's about 50/50. I don't know if I would call it luck or Divine intervention that that herd happened to be right where it was under perfect conditions on that particular morning when Melody could be with me. But I will say just one more time:
Thank you Lord for Your blessings and for the "little gifts" that You delight in giving Your children. Amen
Edited by Larry $, 01 November 2007 - 10:56 AM.