In the barren, vast void known as off-season, a hunter’s mind dances with visions of the animals that captivate him most. One cold winter’s evening, I imagined the green and gold of elk country and the whistles of bulls on the make. So I made the proper arrangements, and the following September found myself, bow in hand, in that green and gold of Colorado. I always record what happens on my hunts, so that in the next wasteland of off-season, I might relive hunts. These are my impressions of that incredible elk hunt.
Guide Eric Stark and I make our way up the mountain in predawn stillness. Elk, a 5 x 5 among them, are leaving a waterhole. We try to cut him off, but he eludes us. Still-hunting through aspen and serviceberry, we locate a smaller bull and call, but he hurries upslope, uninterested. We build a blind at the track-laced waterhole and I sit in it that evening, but see nothing.
Bulls are bugling before dawn just south of the ranch, and we head out to mix it up. I call a cow elk into range and watch her walk. We climb long and hard. Suddenly, there’s a small bull in front of us, 15 yards through the brush. We look him over hard, but he’s gone before we can tell if he makes the 4-point minimum. I settle in to watch a river crossing and am nearly stampeded by a herd, but only after shooting light has faded.
Back at the river crossing post, I see nothing, but a mulie fawn. In the evening I horseback deep into Forest Service land with guide Mark Garcia and hunter John Matter. Mark calls in a bull, but the setup is foiled by a muzzleloader hunter.
We try the Slater Creek bottom, where a lot of elk have been spotted. There are muzzleloader hunters everywhere on the adjacent neighbor’s property, skylined on ridgetops, coughing and talking, making “elk calls” that sound like a cross between a sick hereford and a stepped-on cat. It’s time to try something different.
Brush Mountain, part of the ranch and within easy spotting-scope distance of the house, is one of the most “elky” places on earth. We’ve been watching herds of up to 75 animals for several days. Mike Henricksen owns the mountain; he comes along with Garcia and me. We locate a hot bull immediately, bugle and cow-call him part way in, but he ditches us.
On our way off the mountain, we spot a nice bull heading into a thicket, and go in after him. Garcia bugles, and the bull appears, heading toward us with determination. He keeps coming. And coming. He stops, 10 yards in front of me. The wide open spaces of the West, I suddenly find, are not so wide open once you’re on your knees looking to get an arrow through. Dead limbs and serviceberry block the path to the bull’s vitals. Finally, his eyes focus on me, and he dashes off, not knowing what he saw, but not liking it, either. Garcia calls, and the confused bull comes back, this time to 20 yards on the other side of me. Still, too much brush, and I can only sit and watch him vacate.
Back on Brush Mountain, Garcia calls in two big bulls from one-half-mile away. As they approach, thunder drum-rolls across the golden peaks, playing up the suspense. But the elk see something they don’t like and move off before we can get a shot. That evening, still-hunting through the quakies, the smell of elk hangs so heavy I can taste it. We spot elk and Garcia calls. A bull trots in and stops, 25 yards away, broadside, in the open. It’s the first really good shot I’ve had, and it’s the first elk I’ve seen that I legally can’t shoot. A spike.
Stark and I start the morning mixing it up with elk in timber south of the ranch house. We’re cautious, but aggressive as we dog the big herd that will answer, but not approach our calls. A bull is bugling just the other side of a small hill, and when I peek over, I feel my eyes grow big as saucers. It’s a very nice bull, maybe a 6 x 6, and it’s lit up in the sun, distracted as he rakes a sapling pine, in a clearing just the other side of shadowy timber. My blood pressure rises as the realization strikes: I can walk right up to this thing and kill him! I stalk quickly through the timber, anxious to get there before the situation falls apart. But as I crawl around the last tree — less than 20 yards from the bull! — I am shocked to find a thick bush covering his vitals perfectly. I search desperately for a hole I can get an arrow through. Finally I find one, but it required too much movement too close. The bull fixes a momentary stare on me, then whirls into the timber. My heart is broken.
The morning is a bust; for the first time we encounter no elk. In the evening, feeling the pressure of hunt’s end quickly approaching, Garcia and I climb the mountain, spot elk, and cow call to them. A bull, a nice one, spins on his heels and heads our way! He hesitates in the clearing, the string comes back as if by itself, and the arrow finds its mark.
Later, as we make our way off the mountain in moonlight, on meat-laden horses finding their own way home, I have a quiet moment to reflect, already imagining my next visit to the green and gold country of Colorado elk.
*Author’s Note: Since this article was written a few years ago. The details of the archery and rifle hunts have changed. Check the Brush Mountain website for current information, or call 970 326-3189
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