From on High

Hatchie Dawg

Active member
Joined
Jan 2, 2011
Messages
560
Location
West TN
I was in my forties when I decided to start hunting out west. At that point I had never been further west than east Texas and had not hunted any big game other than white tailed deer. Elk caught my attention first and I still dream about them now at age fifty two. I really don't have a long list of western big game hunts either, that being elk and pronghorn, but I do have plans. As long as my health, finances, and support from Madam Chairperson hold hold out, I plan to be out west somewhere each fall. I've done two solo trips, killed my first bull solo, and taken a couple of different guys with me on these western adventures, but I really don't have a long list of people sitting around that I either want to hunt with or that are capable of hunting how I hunt. About ten years ago I started crunching harvest numbers for different units in CO then overlayed features from the old NDIS system and finally looked for the worst places on the map where certain elk habitats overlapped all to narrow down a few places to hunt. My system has worked well, but it definitely limits who can hunt with me. I get asked about going all the time and hear, "I want to go" regularly but I choose my partners slowly. Hell, I look at it as my hunt and at least three things come to mind. First I have to think they won't drive me crazy. Second, they have to be able to do the work and third, I don't want complainers. My great and good friend Pat made three trips with me out west but was unavailable for this year. So over time I approached two guys from my CrossFit box about going with me, Matt and Bobby.

Both these guys are top CrossFitters in their respective age divisions and their physical capabilities far exceed my own in the gym. I knew they could do the work and over time I came to believe they checked all the other boxes as well. So over a couple of years plans came together for us to go out west and give the elk a go. In the end they were both solid partners and we made a solid team. They geared up, prepped in all appropriate areas including some significant range time, tolerated my OCD tendencies when it comes to western hunts, and overall proved to be the good choices I thought they would be.

Here's a picture of Matt completing a thruster

71115412_2485314098174752_973872886496362496_n by Hatchie, on Flickr

and Bobby on a box jump

69692677_2465021793537316_7963489018895663104_n by Hatchie, on Flickr

We went through the draw process and thankfully we all drew our tags. With the discount I also added a bear tag. It was painfully slow at times but our hunt dates finally arrived. We left western TN very early on Wednesday October the 9th headed for CO's First Rifle season. I'm the skinny guy in the middle

72426909_10156226980501504_4405710940373254144_o by Hatchie, on Flickr

Our trip was largely uneventful. We would spend the first night in Salida where we would once again pick up llamas from Antero. The only hiccup was a little difficulty finding a room as Salida was full of fire fighters there for a couple of fires in the surrounding mountains. We ended up having to pay for a suite but it wasn't too bad. Those fire fighters looked as you would expect them to look, and that was solid.

I'm a creature of habit so we were sitting at the front entrance of the Patio Pancake House just before they opened. If you are ever out that way I highly recommend their breakfast which is great and delivered with good service.

About 7:45am we met Tom of Antero Llamas. I reserved two llamas for the trip and we were to pick up Tippy and Pete. I knew Tippy from my 2017 hunt and requested him specifically. Tippy is a bit ornery and has tried to kick me on multiple occasions but when the rubber hits the road so to speak, he is a beast of a llama. By the end of the trip Bobby would say that "Tippy is a straight up asshole" and I would have to agree. But if I lived out there, I would also make an offer on him. On the trail, doing what he is bred to do, he is just that good.

The continental divide was a little exciting. There was some slippage going up and over but not too bad

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Here are the guys at the trailhead. Tippy is the big black one with that arrogant look on his face.

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Temperatures were supposed to plummet and I wanted to get to camp before dark. We just barely made it. The rapid change from 432 ft above sea level to 11,600 ft above sea level took a toll on all of us and we were a bit slow going up the trail. A tendency to pack a little heavy also hurt us. By the time we made camp the wind was up and the temp had dropped decisively towards zero. Bobby actually started cramping and eventually showed some signs of hypothermia, I think from sweat soaked clothing. Matt, ex military, was quick to recognize things and went right into action getting Bobby into the bag and getting some food into him. I whipped up some hot chocolate and Bobby turned the corner rapidly with good spirits which is his way. The dependable team I wanted, sharply addressed our first challenge.

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Friday was a scout/water day. The sky was brilliantly clear and the air was bitterly cold. We glassed a lot of country, got water, saw very few elk and very little sign. We also saw more people than the four previous trips combined.

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Ended up getting about 20 gallons out of this little spot.

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Opening morning dawned clear and cold. I tried to send Matt and Bobby to the best spot I knew but sight unseen so to speak. I didn't want to blunder in there prior to season so we just discussed how to get there without them really practicing it. They did a good job but middle of the morning I went over to check on them and moved Matt over just a little. We all hunted hard that day but saw very little other than mule deer and one large bear that I just missed getting an opportunity at. There was very little shooting in the area, like one or two shots maybe. No bugles were heard. Spirits were a little low or at least willingness to hunt the meadow again was flagging. Matt and Bobby planned a change with a look up into the tundra but I was headed back to the meadow which lies between two trail systems and has been good to me in the past. I went to bed with the plan set but by the am Matt and Bobby had come around to giving the meadow one more try. The tundra would have been a solid choice but I was happy to see that willingness to stick it out mentality from both my friends. Our elk country doesn't really lend itself to spot and stalk. Seeing an elk is one thing while getting to him is another. Sitting those long hours in a good spot can be the difference between success and failure. Sunday morning we spread out along the meadow, Matt and I near where the bear had been seen and Bobby across the way. Things were again slow with zero shots heard and zero elk spotted.

Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

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Hatchie Dawg

Active member
Joined
Jan 2, 2011
Messages
560
Location
West TN
About 9:00am Matt and I did hear a cow bark or chirp or whatever they do followed by a very distant bugle. I hit the Hoochie Momma every now and again, but a few minutes of excitement eventually faded as the hours passed. At about 1:00pm Matt and I decided to walk over to check on Bobby. My spirits were dragging a bit and I hoped for a little charge from the activity and getting the group together. We all sat in the sun and conversed quietly. I don't know about the other guys but the gathering certainly helped me. We were only a day and a half into the five day season but we had been on the go pretty solid for five days including travel. About 1:20pm or so we thought we heard another cow and maybe a very distant bugle. I hit the Hoochie Momma a couple more times but nothing really responded. I thought maybe some cows were in our drainage but couldn't really tell on the bugle.

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Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

Matt moved over to the other side of the Christmas tree and I leaned back to nap a bit. I was in that half conscious state soaking up some warmth when a very loud, very dominant sounding bugle tore the air and ripped me back awake. We could hear every part of the sound including a guttural growl at the bottom of the thing. As a group I think our minds focused, ratcheted into high gear from the dulling monotony of long hours of dull work with little to show for it. I told Bobby, "He is right on top of us somewhere and in our basin". A couple of minutes later Bobby kinda jumped and said he saw animals across the meadow in the edge of the timber. Bobby got on his rifle. I got on my binoculars and we communicated to Matt what was going on. Two cows walked out into the base of our meadow. With either sex tags I think all of our hearts were racing.

That gap in the trees at the bottom of the meadow is where everything was happening.

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The cows were pointed at us and at about 350yds. I told Bobby as long as they were pointed our way to let them come. As we glassed, the group grew to six, then nine, then a dozen or so elk. A small three point appeared and we worked to make him legal but just couldn't do it. The cows were still kinda milling our way when back in the edge of the timber I glimpsed a very large bull moving right to left in our gap. I told Bobby "there is a big one back there" and my heart shifted into yet another gear. We whispered at Matt, and Bobby practiced getting a bead on the animals in sight. I can't really say how long it took but eventually a massive elk started appearing from the trees. Dark ivory tipped horns swayed back and forth as the animal stepped into a bit of light. I was taken back to the very first bull I had ever seen, a much smaller animal but with that same sway. I think we all thought hey he is going to walk out into the meadow with all the cows but that is not what the old bull had in mind. He rushed out and herded his cows back into the timber. Suddenly there was one elk in our view and he had turned to head back into cover as well. The bull was at 350 yds, a long shot and one I loath to take. Bobby was on his rifle and kept saying "I'm solid". We had consistently practiced to 400yds with our respective rifles so I eventually not so quietly whispered over to Matt " we are going to give it a go if he turns". As the bull ambled a bit, I could hear Bobby saying, "just turn, come on turn", and then he did. The bull turned to the right to give us a good broadsided look. I said "take him" and heard Bobby exhale slowly.

Bobby's old Interarms 30-06 thundered, sending a 165gr core lokt from a $15 box of Wal Mart shells on its way. The big bull hunched and jumped forward looking like he was hit hard. At that point I could only see his butt. All I knew was that he was still on his feet. I didn't think Bobby had any better view than I did so I started yelling at Matt to shoot him again. I think I hurried Matt and he sent one on its way. At the second shot the bull jumped behind a tree and the herd exploded. Matt took a shot at another cow as it paused, which is what I should have let him do in the first place. When it was over Bobby felt good about his shot, but in truth I wasn't so sure. We could say for sure the bull had not left with his herd though. We didn't take long and started down.

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Hatchie Dawg

Active member
Joined
Jan 2, 2011
Messages
560
Location
West TN
As we got to the place of the shot I started looking for blood while the guys went on down the hill where it looked like the bull had disappeared. I couldn't find any blood, hair or sign of a good hit other than some kicked up dirt. I started gridding the spot and long minutes passed. I didn't hear from Matt or Bobby and my heart began to sink. The country was severe and I dreaded a wounded animal. But then Bobby appeared around a tree and said, "I got him!" They had found him just below, I think hushed by his size and beauty. Bobby took me down to an animal bigger than anything hoped for other than in a public land grinder's dreams

As he lay

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Bobby with his bull

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Bobby and Matt

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and finally my favorite

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Of course our hard work had just begun. That is cliche but no less true. We cleared Matt's shot on the cow and determined it was a miss. The bull was wedged in the bottom of a frozen creek as tight as a cork in a bottle. Bobby and I went to work as best we could while Matt went back to camp, a two hour round trip, for some items we forgot.

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It took a while but we got him broken down

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We ate the inner loins at camp that night.

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It was great night with fresh meat, good fellowship and a lot of retelling, a ritual as old as we are I expect. The next day we would get the meat out to at least the trail. I think we all dreaded it and weren't sure how it was going to happen other than a lot of straining.

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Hatchie Dawg

Active member
Joined
Jan 2, 2011
Messages
560
Location
West TN
Headed out with the boys to get the meat.

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Into the hole

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Tippy the SOB

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Let's just say it was just as hard as everyone thought it was going to be and this process was the only point where patience frayed a bit. Working up and through the deadfall was the worst. Tempers flared slightly as the morning went by but we got the job completed in a few trips. That good team came through again. We really, really tried to get the head and cape out but in the end Bobby came to his own decision and we had to give that up. Here is a last pic of Bobby and the cape.

72965557_10156250610306504_5247266385674895360_o by Hatchie, on Flickr

We all worked hard but Tippy is the guy that bailed us out. He hauled two bone in hind quarters from a very large elk first up out of the hole, then over to and eventually down the trail to town. It was more than 6 miles of work with probably close to triple an average llama load. By the way those droopy ears are a defect and almost led to Tippy's destruction as a baby.

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So it was Monday. Bobby and I were in town with the meat and Matt was still on the mountain trying to fill his tag. To make a long story short, Bobby and I de-boned the meat in town the next morning, got it into coolers and over at a friends house. We did not go back up Tuesday afternoon as my feet were beat up and the the llamas were tired. Matt hunted hard, got another couple of brief encounters but wasn't able to fill his tag. We did an up and down Wednesday getting camp and Matt out, a round trip of 14 miles. We were all tired but celebrated our hunt with good bourbon and good steaks in town that night.

Heading down

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So we are near the end of this report. I must say that my trip evolved over time from a self oriented endeavor to more of an effort for my friends. I'm not crowing, just relating my personal experience. By the time we left for CO, I fiercely wanted my friends to have an opportunity at an elk, and I take great satisfaction in the outcome of our hunt. Bobby got a 340 class bull and Matt got a shot. They are good guys, solid and dependable in and out of the field. When the chips were down Bobby made one hell of a shot on the bull of a lifetime. It would have been easy to miss, but Bobby drilled him. When it didn't work out for Matt, what did he do? He kept on going, took time away from his hunt and helped with all the grunt work that the group needed to be successful. His spirits remained high until the end. I must say it is deeply satisfying to go with good men into an OTC wilderness unit and have the result we had. Do I miss not getting a shot at that bull myself? Maybe a little but those thoughts are fleeting. They don't remain. In truth I never even grabbed my rifle. What stays is a deep sense of contentment and pride. I've killed a few elk and I am not burning for it like I once did. What I was hoping for was that my friends were what I thought them to be and that they would get a chance. It all happened and I would change very little. Bobby and Matt came through in spades.

We hunted rough country, dealt with severe temperatures, met some challenges in finding animals and then getting meat out when we were successful. For my part, I found two good hunting buddies and I do not use that term lightly. Am I being a little dramatic or overly sentimental? Probably, but I accepted that tendency a long time ago. It is what it is. Bottom line, I would go back any time with these guys and do what we do in hunting animals from on high in the backcountry of the American West. It was a damn good trip.

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cahunter805

Well-known member
Joined
May 27, 2014
Messages
902
Awesome write up and congrats to everyone on a successful trip and hunt! Great bull!!
 

fishing4sanity

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 9, 2011
Messages
4,106
Location
eastern Washington
Thank you for sharing that great report and the photos. If you start a GoFundMe to rescue the head let me know, that has to be a heartbreaker to leave behind. Congrats to the team on a beautiful bull!
 
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Mtnhuntr

Well-known member
Joined
Sep 26, 2017
Messages
760
Loved reading about your adventures. I look for the same things in hunting buddies because hunting is tough and you don’t want to be doing it all for someone else that doesn’t appreciate it. Congrats to all of you!
 

CU93elkstalker

Active member
Joined
Dec 6, 2013
Messages
127
Location
Easley, SC
awesome write up, one of the best I have read. thanks for sharing. I feel your pain in getting the bull out of that hole. we had two in a similar situation last year. it took me a few days to recover from that. congrats
 

kansasdad

Well-known member
Joined
Jul 30, 2011
Messages
4,122
Location
Wichita
I seem to remember your story of nearly freezing your tookus off on your first Colorado trip, then coming home and saying that you were done after one success on a later trip, and now you have become a master guide and enabler of more western hunters........well done sir.

Congratulations to your group
 
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