… Now for the true grit.
Our hunt this year begins in the third week of September. It definitely starts off with conflict as we wait at the airport here in Key West for 4 hours due to one small rain cloud… I’m not kidding; sunny and beautiful I tell ya!! This glitch in our plans causes us to only make our connecting flights by mere seconds. Thankfully all of our gear made it and we arrive in Denver and start the close to 4 hour drive out to Jim’s. The weather is damp when we arrive to Jim’s, with some rain on the forecast, but in all 60’s and the rain shouldn’t last too long. The time frame in which we show up this year comes just after the massive flooding in the Boulder area, which claimed peoples lives and left many families homeless just before fall and winter. Our hearts go out to all those affected by this catastrophic disaster.
As usual we don’t get into Aspen until late at night, so we give ourselves a day in between traveling and packing into the mountain for some last minute prep and groceries, ect. This is also good for us as it gives us an extra day to get used to the change in elevation and the thinner air. It also gives us some time to joyride around the area and check out the Mule Deer, which are seemingly everywhere, and a few private land Elk which all graze in the confines of the lush cattle farms.
The rain is all day and finally by almost dusk it quits. Waking up to almost clear skies is a relief to us all as a lot of work has to get done today before we ever make it to camp. Being that this is a “do it yourself” hunt, the work involved to make it all happen doesn’t always go that smoothly. Once we round up the horses, and all of our gear, we make the 45 minute drive to the base of the mountain. The horses are unloaded and we pack all the gear and make the slow trek up the mountain 8 miles. Our forecast for the week was to be beautiful and crisp with lows in the upper 30’s. Perfect for my liking as the crisp temperatures gets the animals moving. We arrive to camp mid afternoon and begin our set up. First on the list is firewood, then the tent, water (which we pump through a filter as to not contract any illness or disease), and finally a fire. Jim leaves with the horses in tow to make it back to the truck before dark. Believe me its a long day, and by the time dinner is finished some well needed rest comes quickly.
The Hunt Begins
The first morning in the mountain is brisk starting off a little below freezing with a light breeze. I grab my binoculars and walk to the south a few hundred yards and immediately spot a bull above me on top of the avalanche slide. A fine animal indeed, looking to be a 5 by 5 satellite bull. I go back to camp and grab my gear. As I head up the mountain to the west I see many signs of fresh tracks, bedding, and droppings. In this area, finding which one of hundreds of animal trails they are using can take days. Broadcasting a call here and there, I get no reply. Trying to cover a lot of ground here is taxing as every step needs to be met with caution, because it could be your last. All the rain and weather has left the ground on the mountain side soft and easily disturbed. Slipping and sliding are inevitable on the loose soil. Playing the wind in my favor I follow a well used trail deep into the timber. My hunt for the day ends very quietly as I see nothing and hear nothing for the rest of the day.
Day two however was a completely different story. The morning starts off the same as the last weather wise. This day I decide to hunt an area across the creek that I have never hunted before. Three years prior I tried to hop, skip, and jump across the whitewater rapids of the creek with a tremendous FAIL! Soaking wet and freezing I limped back to camp to get warm and avoid hypothermia, also noticing my bow had suffered breakage in my fall. This was not one of my better days as you can imagine. So obviously I was a little apprehensive about this time as the creek was rushing slightly harder. To cross this time I made a bridge out of some of the fallen timber nearby and made it safely and dry. Expecting to hunt with my buddy this day I turned to see him walking away telling me he was going to hunt the opposite side of the mountain to the southwest of me. On my own I began the steep hike up. The Elk tracks as I climbed were everywhere. This area was definitely a well travelled part of the mountain. Once up 800 feet or so in elevation from the creek, I glassed with my binoculars across the valley to the other side of the mountain. I spot numerous Elk high above where the pines stop growing and short aspen patches only remain. Above the Elk are Mountain Goats standing on the steep rocks of the cliffs. With their long white hair the goats stick out like a sore thumb on the cliff. I judge them to be about a mile or so from me as the crow flies. Above me I happen to hear the faint sound of a bugle. Now my excitement level is raised and I head higher up the hillside. Not far from my last stop I start to see other animal tracks as well. Mountain Lion, Black Bear, and tracks from who knows what else grace the trail I walk. Knowing these animals are in the area is always important because nobody wants to have a run in with either of these two. As I hike farther up again I hear the faint sound of yet another bugle. Wanting to get a better direction of this bull I bugle towards the last sound. Immediately my bugle is met with a rebuttal. Now I’m close. I put down the bugle and give a “mew” and again am met with a bugle back. My wind is perfect as the bull is upwind of me. Wind direction on the mountainside is rarely consistent and swirling breezes can alert the nose of an Elk faster than you can move. Scent blockers and sprays can work… but being downwind of your prey is the best plan of attack. As I work closer to the bull I come up to a swampy area that plateaus for 50 yards or so. Bedding and droppings are everywhere and the smell of Elk is apparent. ” He was just here,” I tell myself. All the hiking prior to this swampy area was in very thick timber so a shot would have been almost impossible had I come across a bull. This area however was great. Plenty of places to kneel down and a few open shooting lanes. Now all I needed was a little cooperation. Oh and maybe some luck.
My first instinct is to bugle and see how far apart we are. I call and am called back in an instant. Less than 100 yards I assume. A mew or two and immediately I am met again by a loud bugle. Now to see if I can get him interested enough to come step into the open. Bulls that are in a herd sometimes are reluctant to leave the herd in search of a female who is far from the herd, and if there is another bull nearby, if they feel threatened will leave and take the herd in the opposite direction. This being said sometimes your great bugle can push the animals away. The cow call is used to bring the stubborn bull closer once the bull is located. This bull however was not this way…