After months of training and a long road trip to Colorado, we wake up at 4:00 am for the first of 5 days hunting. These early morning wakeup calls provide us 3 hours to hike deep into the woods before sunrise. Each morning we arrive to a pre-planned area on the property where instinct collides with luck. The first task is to find a spot and hunker down. Often we elect to place ourselves inside the dense canopy of a large pine tree or in a scattered aspen grove. Here we patiently wait for any signs of early morning movement. Some days we sit for 4-5 hours and hear hundreds of elk bugling in stereo. Some mornings we hear nothing.
Day 1 was the most fun I have ever had in the wild. We chased elk all day long and moved up and down mountains with light feet and open hearts. It felt as if the wildlife was so dense that there was a good chance our hunting trip would end on the first day. On multiple occasions we came within 15 feet of these large animals but never pulled the bow back to take a shot. I will admit that we were overconfident and perhaps subconsciously not wanting to end our trip early. We were loud, made big movements, and smelled too good to blend into the surrounding ecosystem. Today marked the first time in my life that I saw a elk in the wild.
Day 2 was full of contrast. Unlike our first morning, the darkness was quiet and still. It felt as if we had been so clumsy the previous 24 hours that every elk in Colorado knew what we were up to. After a slow morning, we decided to bunker down alongside an intersecting game path. Here we patiently sat facing an opening in the trees 30 yards down hill. In what I can only attribute to instinct, after 3 hours of staring in a single direction, I suddenly felt the urge to turn my body 180 degrees and look behind us. To my surprise, there stood a large male mountain lion slowly walking directly our direction. The mountain lion is an elusive animal that has a special connection to my spirit. Although some people spend their entire lives seeking encounters with mountain lions in the wild, this would be my third! Instead of fear, I felt a deep connection with the large cat and took this as an omen of good things to come. Not only are mountain lions the most dynamic and skilled hunters in the woods, but they are also Katie's spirit animal!
Day 3 was characterized by intense fog and elusive encounters. The dense mist reduced our vision to less than 10 yards and we relied heavily on our hearing. We would often spot an "elk" and spend up to an hour stealthily approaching it only to discover that the large animal was actually a bush. Time after time these amazing creatures would vanish into the fog and leave us second guessing our tactics. After 6 hours of fumbling around in the mist, we decided to call it a morning and retire for a quick afternoon nap. On our walk back to camp I spotted the antlers of a monster elk only 15 yards from our trail. This was a confirmed sighting and we quickly strategized on using the fog in our favor. It was apparent that the bull elk did not see us and I was certain that this was the animal we were destined to shoot. After 20 minutes of tactically approaching the elk, this magnificent animal had vanished!
Day 4 felt like a national geographic documentary. I saw over 150 elk, coyotes, mule deer, and hawks. What was most impressive, was watching a very large bull elk joyfully rolling around in a mud pit for 10 minutes. As we slowly approached, the bull trotted off to a nearby bugling noise and began fighting with another large male! The practice of determining mating rights is genetically encoded into these animals and the battles are long and ferocious. The sound of their antlers clashing was reminiscent of thunder clapping in the mountains. Towards the end of another long day immersed in the wild, I spotted a large 10 point elk rack in the distance. This large set of antlers was different than those I had seen on other days. As we slowly approached the rack, it was clear that the antlers were attached to an elk skull! The beautiful pair of antlers was a powerful omen. It was the first time I would hold a pair and due to the weight (over 20 lbs), gave me a true appreciation of this powerful creature. A partial victory, we returned to camp with an impressive memento of our time in the wild.
The atmosphere back at camp was somber. Tomorrow would be our last day hunting before we had to return to Austin, TX. After spending 4 long days in the wild, we hadn't even been able to draw the bow back on an animal! Through the accumulation of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion, those adventurous four days had also come at a price. We were utterly humbled by this amazing animal that had evaded us with ease. With unbelievable speed, instinct, vision, and hearing, it was very clear to us that the mighty elk was better equipped than us to survive in the wild.
With less than 24 hours remaining, we committed to hunting harder and longer than all previous days. We vowed to not rest, eat, or come back to camp until we had found the perfect elk.
To be continued...