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Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Reality of the Mountains

No elk...and no beetle kill here.
It's well documented the difficulty of a Colorado OTC elk hunt. Our's was no different. We had scouted a new area we had hope had promise. As we pulled out of the parking lot on a Sunday morning...an 11th vehicle was pulling in. In 3 days, we managed to see 2 bulls, but the region was virtually silent of live elk and no elk that had any interest in being seen by any calling technique.

I learned several years ago that you need back up plans, so it was off to implement "Plan B". We drove to a nearby town to let the family know our change and that we would be in the back country with no cell service until our departure for home.

Pulling into the trailhead I was pleasantly surprised with the lack of vehicles. Our plan was to pack into an area we had previously hunted 4 years ago that had elk. As my brother and I were putting our packs together with the supplies needed for the next several days, a truck with mules parked next to us, and was later followed by an outfitter's rig. In our discussions with our new friends, it was clear everyone hunting in the area had there eye on one particular bowl that was not much bigger than 200-300 acres. Nonetheless, Jeff and I donned the packs and headed in. As we turned the corner to head up the creek, it was apparent that this area too would be too crowded for my taste...and my effort to haul a 60lb pack 3 miles in when everyone else had 4 legged animals and comfortable wall tents. I made the decision to turn around and try "Plan C".

Now, I will admit that I have been critical of outfitters...especially in my beloved stated of KS. Not so much of those that haul people into the back country. In Kansas, outfitters limit access...but in the western states, outfitters cannot limit due to the public land factor...you need to work with them in the western states...as we did. The outfitter validated my "Plan C" idea as we passed the pack stream on our way back to the truck.

Jeff and I shifted our truck position. Misplacing items was the theme for me and I had misplaced my map of the trail and the area we were about to hike into. I am thankful that I had to dismantle my pack, because the outfitter came back out, raced his horse up to our truck with 2 beers to apologize to us...hoping he had not chased us out of the area. I was very impressed with this young man and equally impressed with his willingness to help us out. I think he respected the fact we were walking in on foot with heavy packs.

After a 3 mile hike into an area it was apparent that no one would be in there. There are people that are happy about the Colorado beetle kill, but it's a tragic picture in reality. I would say that in the area we hunted, 1 out of 20 pines were living. It was a tangled mess of deadfalls.

The first morning in the new area after days of insufficient sleep, cold, and soreness from sleeping on the ground had me questioning everything about myself and my ability and willingness to kill an elk. It didn't take long before I remembered why I was there. Jeff and I hiked up the first tangled ridge and decoyed in a great non typical bull to 7 YARDS! My inexperience saved that bull's life. Needless to say I was devastated for my brother Jeff. We have put in our time, paid our dues. To see him at full draw with a great bull so close and not have a shot because I chose to stop the bull by moving the decoy was something I will not get over.

pretty much all those pines are dead from beetles
To compound my misery, later in the day as we hunted back to camp, we literally stumbled into a real giant bull. My first impression was the wrong impression. I did not realize exactly how close we were when my brother spotted the bull. There was no reason to attempt a calling and decoy set up. My second cow call note was not hit just right...at that time...Jeff had moved to 25 yards of the bull and was coming to full draw when the bull blew out of the area. I was and I am still sick to my stomach. These 2 bulls were truly wall hangers that even this flatlander could recognize.

The coming days were full of learning experiences with no close calls for me. In the final hours of our hunt, God gave us one more elk hunting lesson. In a day were there was little bugling activity, the evening hunt back to camp proved to be another frustrating event.

I managed to get a bull to respond to my bugle from across the valley. We made our way around a bend and decided to bugle again to pinpoint the bull before we headed down and back up the steep slopes littered with beetle-killed deadfalls. In doing so, a bull lit up directly in front of us on the same slope. I sent my brother ahead saying some choice words "Let's see if we can cow call this #@$!*^er in!"

Well, as fate would have it, my brother headed up the slope vs directly at the approaching bull that was answering my Elk101 issued "Temptress" open reed cow call. I knew the bull would smell Jeff before he had a shot so in an attempt to readjust my brother's position, I raced up the slope hoping we'd have time to send him down the slope before the bull emerged from the dark dead timber. I grabbed Jeff, sent him down the slope and I ran up hill to draw the bull upwind from Jeff's position...but the bull was too close and he spotted Jeff moving down the hill. The bull was in clear view of the decoy...50 yards broadside from Jeff who hung himself up behind the cover. As the bull glance back and forth between the decoy and Jeff...it was at that moment I knew that I could call elk using my Bugling Bull Game Calls and more importantly...Heads Up Decoy works. That bull would not leave...even though he clearly pinpointed Jeff 50 yards away.

Our 2012 Colorado hunt was a trip where I have never learned more about myself, my gear, and about hunting elk. Colorado hunting OTC units are difficult...and you can never truly prepare for the reality of the mountains unless you are in them. I look forward to a great fall full of heartbreak, close calls, and success. Be Mobile...Stay Mobile.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Here We Go... Finally!

Tonight is the eve of Kansas archery season 2012. It feels more like what I assume December 24th, 1992 felt like to me as a giddy five year old than a regular Sunday work night in "the real world". I know for a fact I've never been more ready or prepared for a hunting season. I've never scouted more throughout a summer. I've never shot my bow as much as I have going in to this season. I've never felt so comfortable and confident in the gear I've acquired. Yet I'm as nervous and doubtful as ever. I suppose that's just being a bowhunter. However, after the last two seasons I've had you have to figure the luck will run out at some point, but maybe with all that preparation luck becomes less of a factor. I hope...

With much of the corn and milo still standing in northwest Kansas my deer season will likely get off to a slower start than some. That's alright though, because this coming Saturday is my single most favorite day to hunt, period. It's the antelope opener in my home state. I've got the bow tuned, the knee pads tucked in to my Sitka pants, and the Heads Up waiting patiently to lure a mature buck from his harem. To say I can't wait is an understatement...    - Kaleb