After two months of scouting public land in Western Colorado, my hopes were high for getting the opportunity at a 300 class bull in an OTC Archery Unit. During the summer I spent countless days hiking, glassing and studying Google Earth and topographic maps. I finally found what I refer to as the “hole.” This was a well-used wallow and spring frequented often by bulls throughout the summer and in the days leading up to the hunt. My trail camera displayed a few 300 class bulls visiting the spring and wallow consistently. This “hole” would make a great opening weekend spot to wait the bulls out as they were not talking much this early in the hunt.
The summer was finally coming to an end, as an archery hunter summer seems to last forever! When the opener finally arrived and I was making my way down the narrow trail to the wallow that first morning I felt like Christmas had come early. Even in my youth I looked forward to the annual elk hunt with my dad more than I did Christmas morning!
The trail was covered with tall thick aspen which made the path dark and hard to see where I was walking. After being startled by a couple of bears busting off the trail I was able to calm my nerves and make it to the spot. The wind was moving downhill as I had expected so I set up 30 yards downwind from the spring. The wallow was another 50 yards up from the spring and I knew if a bull came in I had a 50/50 chance at a shot opportunity. The bull would either visit the spring to drink or the wallow to cool down and I chose the spring thinking the elk would be ready to drink this early in the morning.
The sun began to rise and warm my hands and face when I saw the first movement. The same two bulls that had visited the spring and wallow for the past two weeks had started their way in. My heart began to pound. They were both shooters in my book. My goal for my second Archery Elk Hunt in Colorado was a 300 class bull.
I nocked my arrow and tried to breathe calmly. All the time and hard work put into scouting, hiking and patterning these bulls was about to pay off…and at that moment the bulls turned and moved up to the wallow instead. I guessed wrong! My shot was now going to be 80 yards through the trees but I had to pass as that was outside my comfort zone.I sat by the “hole” for another five days straight but I just couldn’t it right. The bulls came back a few times but would move to the spring or wallow, always opposite to where I set up. My frustration started to mount and I needed a break from this damned “hole”. It was time for a change.We decided to load up our larger packs and hike eight miles in to a mesa known to hold big bulls for a four day bivy hunt. On our hike into the area, we heard the bulls bugling on the mesa and felt confident in our chances at calling one in to bow range. Our spirits soared and we went to bed with the sound of bulls bugling close to camp. They kept us up all night and we didn’t mind one bit!
The next morning was very cool and the bulls continued their vocal battle. We were confident this would be the day. As we made our way down the trail in the dark we decided to stop and listen to the chorus surrounding us. We were only ten minutes from camp and we had three bulls screaming at each other, all within 100 yards of us. It sounded as if they were only a few feet away. We got ourselves into position. I was the shooter and Travis set up 60 yards behind me and called. We worked the bulls for what felt like hours to no avail when finally, one committed. He was a good bull and a shooter in my books, but he decided to hold up behind some brush and felt the shot would be risky. Then suddenly it became silent. The bull had moved on!We woke up to six inches of snow the next morning. In contrast to the previous day the bulls were quiet and for the next two days heavy rain followed the morning snow and seemed to dampen the bull’s activity. The weather was relentless and after four days of heavy rain and snow it was time to head back to base camp. The end of our hunt was getting close.Back at base camp, we were able to get some good meals in us, recharge our batteries and focus on getting the job done in the last few days. After checking the weather report we learned another major storm was headed our way in two days and the forecast called for a foot of snow and then heavy rain for a few days. Our window was closing and we made the decision that we would have to settle for a satellite bull.
We knew a set of heavy pine slopes that held a few smaller satellite bulls and felt that was our best option for success. I’d been planning and preparing for this hunt all year, I did not want to go home empty handed!With the wind blowing as if we were in Kansas, we moved into the pines in the early afternoon. The wind was making it hard to hear or call and after making our way through the pines for a few hours and after several close calls with falling trees I found a good spring that had fresh sign and rubs. I knew the bulls were close. We had seen several small bulls work through this area just a few weeks before.I set up just above the spring and let out a bugle. Before I could finish my first bugle a bull hit me back. I had hunted for nine long days and knew we would be packing up within two days to beat the storm out. I had passed up several small satellite bulls already but it was time to settle for a good legal bull. As any good hunter knows, sometimes you just have to adapt to what Mother Nature has in store for you.The bull hit me again. I let out a quick response but he was coming in fast.
Before I could nock my arrow there he was, a small 6 point at 80 yards. My heart pounded as though he was a 400 class monster! I let out a couple soft chirps and he moved in to 50 yards but was still facing me. I wanted a clean 30 or 40 yard kill shot.
Just as he was about to move in, another bull bugled mere yards away. I responded with a bugle of my own. He turned and gave me a 50 yard broadside shot. This was it. As I drew back and placed my pin, time slowed and seconds felt like minutes. My mind replayed all the hard work we had put into this hunt. Our entire focus and goal had been to harvest a large bull but at that moment, after all we’d been through up to this point I knew that “success” could be measured in more ways than one. I let the arrow fly and it found its mark, the bull was down within 60 yards. My hunt was complete.
As Tyler and Travis caught up to me we celebrated as if I had just shot the largest bull on the mountain. We had hunted hard for well over a week, in some of the wettest weather we’d ever encountered. Did we harvest the 300 class bull we’d hoped for? No, but we were beyond grateful for the opportunity to hunt bulls on public land with over the counter tags.