Heads Up Decoy

Heads Up Decoy
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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Breaking the Seal

"Bow season for elk is simply too short and the distance too far for a flatlander."

"The opportunity to elk hunt with a bow is both a blessing and a curse."

"Is the idea of bowhunting for elk better than the actual act itself?"

These are some of the things running through my head during every CO OTC elk hunt. Let's face the reality...hunting elk in Colorado is hard to do as a non resident. I've eaten a bunch of tags...including this year. But, I always cross the state line with optimism, hope, and confidence that this is the year to break the seal.

As Heads Up Decoy continues to grow my time during my day for other things gets smaller. My brother Jeff joined a team and  entered a weight lost contest that started on March 1st of 2014. It was a life changer for him. I can remember talking to him over the years that physical conditioning for an elk hunt needed to start early in the year at the least and should be a year long endeavor. As Jeff was shedding the pounds, I was doing what I could to try to keep up with his exercise regimen. When the dust settled, Jeff had lost over 40 pounds and was in top physical shape.

Now, there are always several angles to approach a Colorado elk hunt depending on one's personal beliefs. Here is a retrospective look at the 2014 hunt.

I thought I was in manageable physical shape. The key word is "thought". I came into the hunt with a respiratory bug and on the first hike in, I knew I was going to struggle. My legs were dead and my lungs were struggling to recover from moderate climbs in the thin air. So, with my physical conditioning on the ropes, the confidence in a the mental component was sinking fast.

Brother Steve glassing and brother Jeff crouching.

So, make sure you go into an OTC elk hunt in the best possible physical conditioning. Eliminate the that component of the hunt so you can focus on a strong mental game for the grind that is OTC Colorado elk hunting. You cannot understand the ease of a topo map at the dining room table...and real topography at 11,000 feet. You can get any where on a map, but can you get there when you show up?

Aside from the physical issues I was having, there were people in every place we hiked into. Another part of the mental game that you have to prepare for. We were blessed with fair weather and comfortable nights. The mountain thermals were cooperating...but the elk were not. It's a grind for someone that does not live in elk country. Be ready and don't give up hope no matter how bleak it's going.

The week soon turned into a rodeo and the optimism gone and a new focus of being home with the family was in the head. Choose your hunting partners wisely. When you are down, they need to be up. When they are down, you need to be up...and for me, my hunting partner who had worked his *ss off to be ready for this hunt was focused in the final moments before we sacked our bats and headed for home.

A sequence of aggressive cow calling and a bugle triggered a response in an old spot that was our last resort. Jeff did not hear the bugle and as he continued his calling sequence. I knocked an arrow, put the cow elk decoy in the bowmount, and scanned the open bench and waited for the bull to appear.

Tiptoeing undetected was a small bull that busted when Jeff shifted his calling position. The bull was not alone on this mountain. Multiple bulls were bugling in the waning minutes of shooting light. Guess we were in for the next day. The optimize meter trended up as we circled the mountain in the truck hoping to find our old camping spot. On the way, we were pleasantly surprised to find the area was basically absent of hunters considering it was the last weekend of the CO muzzleloader season.

A quick lesson here was....don't be afraid to make something happen...and stay focused until it's truly time to call off the hunt because things can and do happen quickly in elk country.

The next morning came quickly and we were ready for the hunt as we sneaked up a small brushy washout under the cover of darkness as to not be detected by passing hunters who typically focus their attention on the mountains on other side of the road. With shooting light upon us, the calling set ups came and so were all the satellite bulls. Folks, it is amazing the stealth of a 500-600 lb animal. Small bull after small bull came into our sets undetected. It was frustrating since the moto for the day was, "If it's legal and brown...it's down." The calling and the decoying was working, but we couldn't catch a break on a shot.

Over the past several years of being in the archery industry, I have come to realize one characteristic of great bowhunters, those that I have known for a long time and those that I have met because of the decoy business.  The best bowhunters fail a lot. They continue to place themselves in a position for an opportunity. The best bowhunters are always giving themselves a chance by being in animals. You cannot rely on luck (although there is always a component of good fortune in every successful hunt) or develop any proficiencies without giving yourself multiple opportunities. Eventually, you will get a good shot with repeated opportunities. And that is what I told my brother on a several occasions. What I learned this year is, hunting elk is far easier than finding elk.

The action had slowed a bit later in the morning so it was time to take a break, have some food, determine what the thermals were going to do, and then devise a plan for the remainder of the day. After choking down a protein bar and a swig of water, a cow mewed from below. We grabbed our bows and set up and called. Nothing emerged from the dark timber...but a distant bugle. I had complained earlier in the morning about the fact that we hadn't turned up a herd bull. Multiple encounters with small bulls...there has to be a "big boy" around here somewhere. The distant bugle was followed up with another bugle from the other direction. An obvious mature sounding bugle. Then another bugle. The bull was moving our way, but he was well above us.

The thermals had a consistent upward trend by now, Jeff and I followed our wind up the steep slope...sometimes gagging from the smell of our own 7 day musk. The objective was to cut the bull off and get at his level to increase our chance to call him into bow range. The bull was bugling regularly as well as the other bull that was at our opposite side. Once we reached his level, We set up and things got serious fast.

A small rock slide blocked my ability to move ahead of the caller. I was forced to stay behind a beetle killed pine otherwise I would have been in full sun. Aggressive name calling type discourse was coaxing this bull closer our way. The bull was slightly below us...which was great. I gambled thinking he would approach from the lower end of the slide giving me multiple shot opportunities at varying distances.

There was a lull in the exchange, before I noticed a very large animal emerging from the timber and into the middle of the rockslide. A cow! 20 yards with a very large bull in tow. I shimmied over disregarding the cow and her focus on me. Unfortunately, the bull's first pass was well above the slide before he closed from above. Once in bow range, his vitals were covered with a small grove of sapling aspens presenting no shot and only 40 yards away. At this point, I was shocked by 2 things, the size of the animal...well over 300 inches and the fact that he could not smell my 7 day, no shower, aroma.

I was very comfortable with my set up. The bull was either going to come below the slide or above it. I had a shot at either position. However, I was not anticipating the bull angling up the slope as far as he had. As I reflect on the sequence, I am embarrassed about the thoughts rolling through my mind...and probably the reason that fate did not turn out in my favor. I was thinking about hero shots and articles and all the "post game" discourse rather than staying in the moment. Shame on me. Never count your chickens before they hatch! The bull finally angle above me enough to get into my wind and he eased off with his cow in the direction they came.

The hunt was not over, there were several bulls sounding off on the mountain in our opposite direction. After a quick, "What the hell happened?" conversation with Jeff, we quickly descended down the mountain a 100 yards and sat up again on the bull bugling below us. The timber was dense and our set up was not ideal, but fine for the cover.

It was evident this bull was not a big bull so I quickly exchanged my bugling to sweet cow sounds boosting his confidence. The small bull bugled from a comfortable distance away while other sneaking 600 pound ninja's came in. One ninja/satellite bull appeared at Jeff's right at a mere 10 yards before he was detected. Slowly swinging his bow in his direction sent the woods a blaze with crashing timber. A short moment later, another bull slithered his way into the set up. Using multiple cow elk sounds and the decoy well in view of any approaching bull, a shadow gave away the presence of a small bull.

Calculated steps finally led the bull into a shooting lane a short distance from Jeff. TWHACK!!! Not being able to see Jeff. I was grateful to hear that familiar sound. I waited a half second before easing down the slope to find my brother sitting there calm and cool as a cucumber. "Don't tell me you miss!" I said. Jeff says "No, I am pretty sure I made a good shot"...and moments later we heard the bull expiring a short distance from us.

His demeanor is a little different than mine. I have a tendency to show emotion. Jeff acted like it was his 100th elk. Jeff had the mind set months ago that he was going to kill an elk and to do whatever it took to do it. I am so proud of him for finally breaking the seal for us. We've been so close on several other trips. But this day, we failed enough before we finally got it right.

The authors gear:
Hoyt Carbon Spyder
Grim Reaper 100gr Hades Broadheads
Rocky Mountain/Bugling Bull Game Calls
Tenzing day pack
Lowa Boots
Sitka Gear Optifade Clothing
Tru Fire Hardcore Release
GoldTip Kinetics Arrow
VaporTrail Limbdriver rest
Black Gold Vengence bowsight
Tight Spot Quiver
Benchmade HUNT knives
Heads Up Decoy Cow Elk and Bow Mount