This story was originally intended to be a two-part series but shortly after getting words on paper, I knew I would have to add a third or even fourth entry to really detail the season. There are just too many details and stories that I don’t want to leave out. If you haven’t already done so, make sure to read PART 1 of this series where I detail the ups and downs of my first archery elk hunt on opening weekend. Now let’s get back to elk camp!
By Adam Parr
I’ve been waiting for this day the entire year and finally, I am at elk camp in Southwest Colorado! It’s a beautiful day. The sky is blue, the clouds are white, the air is fresh, the leaves are changing, and there’s no other place I’d rather be.
I arrive at the cabin late in the afternoon and immediately get to work unloading supplies and organizing gear for the upcoming hunt. After I settle in and my gear is somewhat organized, I grab my bow and take a few practice shots down range but right off the bat I can tell I’m not sighted in. The weekend prior, the cam broke on my new hunting bow so I am now using my back up Hoyt Avenger for the week hunt. Due to the timing of my bow breaking, I was not able to get it fixed before the trip so I tried to get my back-up bow sighted in before hand but I obviously didn’t accomplish that prior to my arrival.
After 20 minutes of practice, I finally have some confidence in my shooting abilities and am starting to put together decent groups out to 40 yards. The rest of the evening was filled with hunting stories, good friends, and the anticipation of the morning hunt. It was great to have my buddies Dustin, Abdullah, and Thad at hunting camp with me!
If a tornado was to ever make landfall in the mountains of Colorado, I could have sworn that one did the first morning of our hunt. The gale force winds had the mature aspens and spruce trees looking like flailing toothpicks in the morning sun so we held tight at the cabin until things calmed down. Thankfully, at 6:30am we emerged from the walls of safety and we were able to make our way slowly through the north-facing dark timber. Our strategy for the first morning was to get further up the mountain so that we could glass the surrounding drainages on either side of the ridge we hiked in on. After a few hours of slow travel, we had made it close to 12,000ft in elevation. We picked a spot to set up and glass for but by this time in the morning the sun was starting warm the mountain so elk sightings were obsolete. After 45 minutes of glassing, we had yet to see a single elk but we were able to get a birds-eye view of the areas below which revealed grassy meadows. Time to get moving.
By noon we found ourselves in the drainage below after a steep descent over loose stones and sharp rocks. We stopped and had lunch next to a clear mountain stream as the beautiful landscape engulfed our surroundings. The game plan for the rest of the day was to still-hunt through fingered timber draws that lead to the avalanche meadows that we spotted hours earlier. Before we head out, Thad spots movement above tree-line but after a quick glance, we determine they are black bears in search of their next meal. Still pretty cool to see!
As we approach the meadows, the amount of elk sign increases ten-fold with beds, rubs, tracks, and the pungent smell of a barnyard; Now we are in elk country! Unfortunately, we hiked and hunted the remainder of the day with not a single elk sighting or bugle from the Colorado mountains but we now had a plan for hunting in the morning! As the sun sets, we hike back to camp and tell hunting stories next to the fire as the cool mountain air fills the night as we retire to our beds.
Come Tuesday morning, it was just Thad and I setting off into the darkness; Dustin and Abdullah, unfortunately, had to head back home. Although there is no “easy” way of travel in elk country, we determined the best way to access the remote area was to utilize the creek bed for its direct, yet rugged path. I’ll take rocks and water over logs and thick brush any day! After 30 minutes of slow going, we dropped down to the creek and headed South towards avalanche meadow. The brightness of our flashlights start to dim as we traverse the rocky river bottom. I start to rush my pace because I know we are late to the elk party and instead of slowly stepping off the log in front of me, I take a leap of faith and in an instant, I rolled my ankle on the rocks below.
Thad and I stop to take a break and assess the status of my foot and we determine it’s a sprain but nothing is broke. The pain is excruciating but it’s the second day of elk hunting and I’m not backing out now. Thad digs out a bottle of pain-killers and I down 5 to take the edge off. Although I know I should turn back and head for the cabin, I insist we press on. After another 45 minutes of slow going over the rocky creek bed, we arrive to our hunting area with hopes of bugling bulls in the nearby meadows.
Despite my ankle injury, hopes were high of locating elk due to the amount of sign that we located the previous day. With the clouds above getting darker, the rain moves in and the wind picks up. This should get elk talking! As we slowly make our way towards the meadow, a faint bugle carries through the trees and catches our ear. Alas, we heading in the right direction. As the morning rolls on, the sun starts to shine and by noon, we are at the top of the avalanche chute with zero elk sightings. After a short lunch, we both kick the boots off and enjoy a nap to recover but the pain shooting from my ankle doesn’t allow me to get comfortable. At 2pm I decided I’ve limped around the mountains enough for one day so Thad and I part ways. I leave him with a bugle and a water filter and I depart the hunting area and begin the two-hour trek towards the cabin.
The walk back is slow going and painful but luckily I was able to follow a decent game trail which made it slightly easier on my ankle. After two hours of hiking through the pain, I reached the river and set down my pack only to realize my quiver is missing from my bow. Damn! Part of me wants to go back up the steep draw to look for my $150 loss but the pain in my lower leg does not allow me to do so. At this point, I am still another 45 minutes away from camp and the entire route requires steep travel through nasty downfall timber. It’s a bear of a climb but after what seems like an eternity, I wander into camp and ice my leg for the remaining hours of the day. Thad makes it back to the cabin at 9pm and unfortunately, he did not see any elk despite many hours of hunting. We retire the night with a hot meal and confusion as to why we have not yet seen an elk. Tomorrow, I hope for the best but to be honest, my morale is low.