My son's 2023 Colorado OTC Public Land Bull!

npaden

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 3, 2011
Messages
4,648
Location
Lubbock, Texas
Might be a little of click bait in the title but it’s not untrue.

I’ve posted a few pictures and questions around the forum so some or most of you might already know the end result on this one, but I’ll try to write this up as one of my normal long winded posts. Not sure if anyone actually enjoys them or not, but it helps me to document it all and maybe someday I might go back and put some of these together in a book or something for myself to help remember them.

If you want to skip the long winded story and just go to pictures of the bull go to post 8 or click here -
https://www.hunttalk.com/threads/my-sons-2023-colorado-otc-public-land-bull.321865/post-3678562

So on to the long winded story….

Like most of these, I feel like I have to give some back story to help give a feel for where we are at. I’d been looking for a piece of land out West for almost a decade and never have been able to find the right piece of property for a price that I could afford. After looking for years I think I finally came to the conclusion that I wasn’t ever going to find a property that checked all the boxes in my price range and that I was going to need to quit being so picky. In 2021 with Covid being over and inflation starting to ramp up I got a bit more serious about looking for a place as much as a hedge against inflation as for a place to enjoy. I really wanted to find a place in Wyoming that might end up a retirement place but just never found it. This place in Trinidad, Colorado popped up that was intriguing but a little more than I wanted to spend and not checking all the boxes. I posted a thread here on HuntTalk asking for input.

https://www.hunttalk.com/threads/looking-at-buying-some-land.310299/

It took me almost 6 months to come to a decision but I ended up buying the place plus 120 acres adjoining it that came up for sale during the same time. Somewhat as an investment but more as purely a recreational property to enjoy.

One of the things that helped push me over the edge on buying it was the trail camera pictures and video that the realtor got of this particular bull.

IMG_4897.jpeg

We visited and stepped foot on it for the first time in July of 2022 a month after we closed on it. It was big and it was steep but pretty much what I was expecting. I put a couple trail cameras out and got a few pictures but nothing super exciting. As part of the closing I ended up with a landowner deer tag for 2nd season but there was nothing on the trail cameras that had me excited about trying to fill it. We did make plans to go up there for 2nd season OTC elk though.

We made it up there and spent 3 ½ days hanging out and hunting as a family. We got a trail camera picture of an awesome bull but just weren’t able to turn up anything at all in person. I'm fairly certain that this is the same bull that the realtor got on camera the year before. Lots of time on the glass, hiking and we just weren’t seeing anything.

IMG_6354.jpeg

Finally on the morning of the last day that we were there we spot a single elk about 800 yards away on a little patch of BLM but it is land locked by one of the neighboring properties. No way to get to it without crossing private property that we didn’t own or have permission to cross. Of course he is the big one that we had the trail camera picture of but as we watch he feeds away from us further onto the neighboring property.

IMG_2005.jpeg
 
Last edited:
One thing that I’ve done successfully in the past on other pieces of land that we own is check the appraisal district for who owns the pieces of land around me and then send letters to the owners introducing myself and asking if they would be interested in selling. After seeing the big bull on that piece of BLM that I couldn’t access I sent a letter to that landowner asking if they would be interested in selling but never heard back.

We didn’t make it to the property as much as I was hoping, but in April of this year instead of buying a small game tag to apply for my nonresident big game tags I spent a little extra and bought a turkey license because both the realtor and I had gotten a decent number of pictures of turkey on the place. I seem to always be short on time and ended up making a bonsai trip up there by myself with just the truck and slept in the bed of the truck. I explored the property a bit more and saw some turkeys but didn’t get it done. Still in the phase of just learning the property. I did find a couple shed antlers and one was pretty nice although it was old.

IMG_6962.jpeg
IMG_6963.jpeg

At some point after that I decided to send another letter out to the landowner who owned the property between our land and the little piece of BLM where we saw the big bull last year. I decided that maybe if I actually put a dollar figure in there that might make it seem more serious. I didn’t want to price it too high or low so I just offered $1,000 an acre and sent it off. The landowner listed in the property tax information was from Pennsylvania and a week or so later I get a call from someone in Pennsylvania. I answered and it was the neighboring landowner and they were actually interested in selling. We talked a bit and I worked up a contract and sent it their way. We ended up with some back and forth but just over a month later we had an additional 160 acres with access to another 40 acres of BLM that just happened to be where we had seen the big bull the previous fall. Pretty exciting!

This summer we made it back up there and were able to explore the newest piece of property for the first time. It was even better that I thought. I knew it had a small pond on it but it had more mature trees than I thought and it has a legitimate spring that was running all summer even when the seep that I have on my other property dried up. I put some trail cameras out and there were all kinds of different animals coming to that spring this summer. Several that got me really excited about the fall.

One thing that I messed up on with this property purchase was my landowner deer tag. First I wasn’t that excited about it because this unit really isn’t known for big deer, and second because I hadn’t seen any bucks at all except maybe a forky. The deadline to turn in everything for the landowner tag is December 1st (I didn’t realize it at the time) and on December 3rd I got a trail camera picture of a real nice buck.
IMG_6475.jpeg

I thought it was just a one off passing through thing but then I got several pictures of the same buck this summer, older and bigger. I really wished that I had researched the landowner tag system better and known the deadline was December 1st!

IMG_8061.jpeg

I started looking at the leftover tags and checked around to see if I could buy a landowner tag from someone else but struck out everywhere I looked. We had been getting a few elk on trail cameras, but talking with the neighbor who is in her mid 70’s and has lived there her whole life she said the elk tend to hang out in the summer and then leave and then come back later in the fall. I actually tried to get a 4th season elk tag thinking that might give us a better chance at getting an elk and we could make it a Thanksgiving tradition or something like that. I tried for a tag nearly every week on the leftover list of one kind or the other but never was able to get things clicked fast enough.
 
Last edited:
Time rolls on and we are nearly to 2nd season. With my work schedule 3rd season just won’t work so 2nd season was going to have to be it. My son is a Junior in high school this year and he has some tough classes this semester so he wasn’t sure how much school he could miss. We decided we would just leave Friday after school. Get there after dark and hunt Saturday and Sunday and Monday morning and come home. It wasn’t as painful since the youth tag is only $114 vs. $740 for me, but I felt like we were going to be hard pressed to make something happen in 2 ½ days.

We completely struck out on hunting last year and didn’t end up shooting a deer or elk for the first time in 15 years. We shot a few pigs but they just aren’t the same. This year I was very blessed to already have 2 deer processed and in the freezer so we are already doing okay on meat, but our family prefers elk over deer and we were hoping to be able to top the freezer completely off with an elk.

Based on trail camera pictures we had been seeing over the summer our expectations were not very high. We had several elk occasionally coming through the property, but even with our place expanded to 860 acres it just isn’t big enough to really hold elk. The elk we were getting pictures of were not really that impressive. I actually looked up the regulations on what a legal bull was for our unit. It needed to have a 5" brow tine or 4 - 1" or longer tines on one side. Eli was ready and willing to shoot the first bull he saw that filled that bill.

One species that we were getting a lot of good pictures of was bears. We really need to dedicate some time in September which is the season for bears to try to get one next year.

Okay, back to the elk hunting. I was still messing around with the leftover list and let time slip away from me and didn’t buy the OTC 2nd season tag online soon enough to get it shipped. Not a problem, Trinidad has a Walmart and they sell tags and are open until 11 pm. Just to make sure they sell tags until close I call on Thursday and they tell me their machine is down and they haven’t been able to sell tags in 5 days. Crap! I check around and figure out that everyone else in Trinidad that sells tags closes at 8. If we leave after school on Friday we can’t get there until 9 at the earliest. I check around area towns and they are all the same. To get a tag on Friday night we may end up having to go all the way to Pueblo which would add at least 2 ½ hours to our day. The other alternative would be to not hunt on Saturday morning and go in and buy a tag then. Neither option sounded good.

Work is hectic and things are a mad house getting ready for the trip. I end up having to buy 4 new tires for our travel trailer and found out that it was sure a good thing that we had never had a flat on it because even the tire shop had a hard time getting the wheels off to change the tires. Friday is here and I work until 3 and head home and work on last minute stuff getting the machines loaded in the trailer and Eli gets home from school and we literally end up throwing the last few things in the trailer and are hooked up and headed North at pretty much 5 on the dot. 6ish hour drive and the time change means that 10 pm is going to be when we are going to get to Trinidad and now we might not be able to even make it to Pueblo before they close at 11. I had the number for the Walmart in Trinidad and we call to see if their machine is fixed and it is! We ask if they will sell licenses until close and they said that the guy who normally sells licenses goes home at 10 and they weren’t sure if anyone else would be around that could sell them or not. We make good time and pull into the Walmart at 9:50. The guy’s name is “Buddy” and he was getting ready to leave. Thankfully there was another employee that did know how to sell a license and as Buddy left we got the license bought. Back to the truck and headed to the property and pulled in around 10:30 pm. Got the machines unloaded from the trailer, talked for a bit about the morning hunting plans and hit the sack. Didn’t even unhitch.

The plan for the morning was a 6:00 am alarm and try to be leaving the trailer by 6:15 or so. My wife Cathy is a saint and goes with us on these trips (she does it more for our son that for me I think) and she makes us breakfast while we are getting dressed and ready to go. We are running a little late and don’t leave the trailer until close to 6:30 and we are going somewhere we haven’t ever gone before. We decided to stay up on top and come onto our property on foot from one of the community roads. Part of this property is part of a kind of road HOA type deal. There is a gate and the roads are on private property but maintained by the road association. I probably should have checked to make sure it was okay, but one of the roads runs right along the property line of the newest piece of property that we bought. We drove the Rzr over there and pulled off on the shoulder of the road and there was actually a fence line for our property and we parked right up against our fence line and climbed over the fence. It had looked on the map like the road was right on the property line and I’m not sure the fence is the property line or not, the fence is pretty much as close to the road as it can be.

Anyway, we were running late and it was nearing shooting light already. We get to a spot where we can at least glass a little and don’t see anything. It isn’t the best spot and we had intended to be one ridge over by shooting light so we hiked down and then back up to the ridge. We found a pretty good spot to glass and sat and looked. And looked. Nothing moving. We both thought we heard something moving below us at one point but weren’t able to pick anything out. There were 2 really good glassing spots and we kind of moved back and forth between them. I did pick up 2 mule deer does about 800 yards off but that was about it. After not seeing anything I bugled and cow called a few times just for grins but nothing responded. After a couple hours we called it and headed back to the trailer.

IMG_8596.jpeg
 
Last edited:
Not wanting to quit, we stopped off at the trailer for a second and then headed back out on the Rzr. We drove to a few places with good spots to glass and did some looking but weren’t turning anything up. After a while we decided we might as well head back to the trailer for lunch. After lunch I started getting antsy and decided we should go set out a couple more trail cameras that I had purchased. We live on 74 acres and have another 160 acres that we hunt on in Texas and a couple trail cameras do a good job on those places, but on this place it takes a few cameras to get a handle on what’s moving around. Eli whines a bit and asks if he has to go and I tell him that he has the tag and who knows we might see some elk. We pack stuff up and head out.

We get the first camera set and head up to the very top east part of the property where I want to set the other one and on the way we spook up a black bear about 75 yards in front of us on the trail. He actually was one of the smaller bears that we had been getting trail camera pictures of but he looked relatively big in person 75 yards away. For sure had some healthy fat on him. We go on down the trail to where I thought I wanted to put the camera but now having just seen the bear back a couple hundred yards we were discussing maybe we should try to put the camera back there somewhere. I pull out on a little spot that was perfect for glassing and he decides he needs to go pee and walks off behind the Rzr.

I’m sitting there and start looking and right in front of us are 2 bull elk out feeding! And one of them is really nice, very likely “the big one” that we had trail camera pictures of the year before! We hadn’t gotten any trail cameras of him since October of 2022 so I had pretty much decided that he was either dead or had just passed through randomly that one time. I get out of the Rzr and tell Eli that I spotted 2 bulls and we start trying to figure out the best plan of attack.

They are just over 400 yards away and they are actually on a little 40 acre piece of BLM that sits between me and my neighbor. This isn’t part of the new 160 acres that we purchased this summer or the 40 acres of BLM that gave us access to where the big bull had been the year before, this was 40 acres of BLM that we had access to last year as part of the original purchase. I’m shocked that they are just out feeding at 2:00 pm and that us driving this close to them in the Rzr hasn’t gotten them high tailing it out of there. The Rzr isn’t very loud but I would have thought they could have heard it. We were back in the trees for the most part but I was pulled out onto a look out and if I could see them then they should be able to see the Rzr for sure I would think. Oh well, I’m not going to complain.

Eli is a good shot and has a good rifle but I had pestered him a few times this summer to shoot and with all his other activities we never got around to it. The last time he had shot the rifle was last November when he shot a pig with it at 130 yards. There is no way I’m letting him take a 400+ yard shot. We look at GoHunt and measure where the elk are to the ridge line we can go out on and it looks like we can get to about 260 yards from them. We leave everything in the Rzr except his rifle and shooting sticks and start the stalk. They are out feeding and seems like they are looking right at us about half the time. We move slowly keeping trees and brush between us and them. The wind seems right, but every once in a while it will swirl a bit which has me a little concerned. We are probably far enough away to be okay, but who knows.

We close to 360, then 320, then 300 but there is some brush in the way and we pop out on the ridge at 260. He gets setup and the second he gets ready the bull walks off behind some trees! The other bull that is with him is still visible but in some oak brush where all you can see is the top of his head and his antlers. My son discusses whether he should just shoot that one instead of holding out of the big one. I think he quote was “he’s big enough for me”. The other bull is feeding and moving around in the brush for probably 15 or 20 more minutes but never presents a shot opportunity before moving over the ridge. We wait a little and then decide to move around trying to keep our elevation to see if we can intercept them on the other side of the ridge. I’m a little concerned about the wind direction but for the most part it is still coming toward us. We start skirting around and I keep my eyes peeled glassing the ridge that they had been on. We make it probably around 200 yards or so and I spot the big bull bedded behind a tree! We drop in place and get everything setup. I range him at 292 yards.

FullSizeRender.jpeg

FullSizeRender.jpeg
I know the bull was just up feeding and it is over 3 hours until sunset so I know we are going to have a bit of a waiting game on our hands. I text a few people the picture of the bull bedded and say we just are going to wait for him to stand. Well, we wait, and we wait, and we wait. We discuss the angle that he is laying and the fact that his body is concealed behind some brush. We watch him snoozing and he even lays his head down on the ground at one point. We’ve lost track of the other bull and have no idea where he is.

We have some quality bonding time sitting and watching the bull. After both of us being on high alert for a while we decided that wasn’t going to work for much longer so we rotated back and forth with him taking a little break from being on the sticks ready to pull the trigger while I watched closely through the binoculars and then him being on him through the scope while I took a little break. We discussed the option of taking the shot on him bedded. We recalled last summer when I pulled the trigger on the bedded Sable in Africa and ended up not recovering it until after we were gone. The way he was laying just didn’t seem like a bedded shot was a very good idea.
IMG_8598.jpeg

TWO HOURS later (all caps intentionally because it seemed like forever) and we are really contemplating going ahead and taking the shot on him bedded. We discussed options like me calling and getting him to stand (ruled that out because I felt all that would do is let him know exactly where we were and probably wouldn’t get him to stand), me sneaking off to one side or the other and calling where he wouldn’t be able to see me and that might get him to stand. None of the options seemed very good other than continuing to sit and wait for him to stand. We were approaching one hour from sunset and if we were going to shoot at him bedded we probably should do that sooner than later as it would give us time to try to find him if he was able to get up out of his bed after the shot.

I actually have a box of shells with me and it says the drop at 300 yards is 12” if the gun is zeroed at 100 yards. I was pretty sure we had it zeroed at 100 yards. We discuss where he should be aiming at the bull assuming the drop and how much 12” on the bull is and he doesn’t seem really confident on a hold over. His rifle has a nice Leupold VX-5 HD Firedot on it and my Leica rangefinding binoculars have the ballistics for his rifle programed in and it says to click 15 clicks at that distance. We discuss our options and he feels much more confident clicking the scope so he can aim exactly where he wants to hit. I’m still not 100% confident we were zeroed at 100 or 200 yards so I click his scope for him and only click it 14 clicks.
IMG_8599.jpeg
 
Last edited:
As we were approaching our deadline for him to stand or we were going to have to take some kind of action, he starts to shift around a bit. He starts to gather himself and I whisper to Eli that he is going to stand. He stands up and is facing directly away from us with part of him covered by the tree he was behind. I have a cow call in my mouth and I blow it.

An aside here. I am terrible at saving stuff and not throwing it away. No idea why, I grew up poor but still that doesn’t explain it. I’m not a hoarder, I just hate throwing things away that I might be able to use later. Evidently that includes worn out latex calls. I had 2 orange cow calls in my bino harness and I had one in my mouth. After I blew it and it let out an awful squawking noise I realized it was the old one that didn’t really work anymore, not the new one that I had been using earlier in the day. Too late to change them out now. I blew harder and it sounded awful. Dying rabbit? I blew louder and whatever terrible sound it made was enough to get the bull to turn his head and look at us. His butt was still directly facing us and Eli is asking if he can shoot him in the butt. I tell him no and blow harder. It is unbelievable the racket that is coming from my call. Squeeky and terrible but the bull is starting to turn to look. I blow harder as the latex on this call is almost completely gone and get at least a loud noise to come from it. That last hideous noise evidently was enough as the bull turns nearly completely broadside to look at us. “Now” I say to Eli and the gun goes off.

At the shot the bull takes off. The other bull is back behind him and it takes off too. I can’t even tell if the bull was hit but Eli says he hit him for sure. We had also discussed that he needs to keep shooting as long as the bull is on it’s feet. He racks another round but the bull is moving fast and is out of sight before he can get back on him.

WOW! That really just happened! I tell him to put the gun on safe and we start to move over briskly. It’s a little bit of a circle over instead of dropping down and going back up. We get to where the bull was at the shot and can’t tell much of anything. It looks quite a bit different than it did when we were sitting and looking this way. I had tried to mark the tree he was bedded under but now that we were over here it wasn’t looking right. I had the picture we had taken of him when he was bedded but it really didn’t help either. We went over to the edge of the ridge and it dropped off pretty quick. I started glassing the adjoining hillsides thinking I might catch a glimpse of the other bull running off but don’t see anything. Right at the top of the ridge it is fairly open but as it drops off the oak brush gets thick and is only interrupted by the occasional juniper and pinion pine. Thick stuff.

I go back and try to find exactly where he was bedded and where he was at the shot. I’m pretty sure I find it but I’m not seeing any kind of blood or even any noticeable tracks of the bull running off. We discuss the direction he was headed and I had him going off the front of the ridge a little more and Eli had him going off the side of the ridge. We split up and start working somewhat of a grid search. He is still very confident that he hit him good. I still haven’t seen a single drop of blood so I’m not so sure.

The shot was at 5:00sih and sunset is at 6:05. We are not finding any sign or any bull. I leave Eli up top working a grid while I go down to the bottom to try to get another angle and see if that helps see through the brush any. The new angle helps a little but I’m still not seeing anything. It is rapidly approaching darkness and we have no clue where to even begin looking.

I’m at the bottom with maybe 5 minutes of shooting light left and glassing the opposite ridge and I spot the bull. He is standing in a small opening in some junipers maybe 100 yards from the top of the ridge. STANDING. I look closely and can see the entry hole and it is pretty far back. More than halfway. With him standing there and darkness less than 5 minutes away there is no way I’m going to make it back to Eli and get him to the bull in time for a finishing shot before dark. I’m afraid if we went after him about the only thing we could do was push him and increase the chance of losing him. I thought the best thing to do would be to do something I have never done before and that would be to leave him overnight and come back first thing in the morning.

The problem was that I had no way to communicate that to Eli who was still up above the bull searching for him. I was down in the bottom with no cell service and we didn’t have any radios or anything like that. I watched the elk until dark and then went back to the Rzr and drove back to the top of the ridge to get Eli.
 
We had been having a little issues with the tires and had a flat earlier in the day and put a plug in it and now the other rear tire was a little low but I didn’t think much of it. On the way back up to the top to get Eli it is one of the steeper roads on the property. 4wd low type steep. I was spinning the tires a bit and about 2/3rds of the way up it starts to feel squirrely and I look back and the left rear tire is off the rim. Crap. Eli is on his way down toward me and within 100 yards of where I end up with the wheel off the tire. I tell him about seeing the elk and that I think the right thing to do is to leave him overnight. I have a little air compressor and I try to air the tire back up but it isn’t going to go back on the bead. We were right at 2 miles from the truck and trailer and it was good and dark.

I sent Eli back to the top of the ridge to let my Cathy know we were going to be late and she said she would ride the ATV down to pick us up. Cathy doesn’t mind riding the ATV on flat ground but I had asked her earlier on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being not at all and 10 being super excited about it how she felt about riding the ATV at some point to drop one of us off or pick us up and she said it would be a 1. So I was very surprised she was offering to ride the ATV down the mountain in the cold and dark to pick us up. We decided we would head that way. We made it a little over a mile before we see her coming our way. Essentially we were walking faster than she was driving the ATV. But that last mile has a little over 400’ of elevation to gain so it was nice to not have to walk up that.

I shuttled her back to the trailer and grabbed a ratchet strap, a jack and a tire tool thinking that we could hopefully use to get the tire back on the bead of the Rzr and picked up Eli and we headed back that way. The ratchet strap trick would have worked but the little air compressor just didn’t have enough oompf to get the tire back on the bead. I wasn’t thinking straight on the tire tool either because the wheel lugs on the Rzr are way smaller than the smallest socket on the tire tool.

FullSizeRender.jpeg
With essentially nothing accomplished other than knowing I needed to come back with a normal socket set the next day we headed back to the trailer.

Back at the trailer we ate supper and talked about the plans the next day. I was pretty excited about seeing the bull right before shooting light and seeing for sure that he was hit. I was a little concerned that he was still standing more than an hour and a half after the shot, but he hadn’t gone more than 200 yards or so from the shot and I think Eli must have been within 100 yards or less from him when he was doing the grid search so I felt that meant that he was hurt bad and if we just left him alone we were going to be able to find him first thing in the morning.

The forecast had been concerning us all along with anywhere from 1” to 3” forecast but the newest forecast was for it to hold off until late morning and the overnight low was going to be 18 degrees. Not perfect, but if I had to pick the conditions for the first time to leave an animal overnight that didn’t seem too bad.
 
Alarm was set and we planned to be where the elk was pretty close to shooting light the next morning. We were up and moving just before shooting light and doubled up on the ATV heading to where I had seen the bull. We parked the ATV and headed up to where he was going to be right at shooting light. It was foggy with some freezing mist but nothing too bad. Coming up from the bottom the oak brush was more than head high. There is a cliff on the front of the ridge and we skirt around that and the rocks are very slippery with a thin layer of ice on them. We get up to where I was expecting to find the bull laying dead and he’s not there. At least I think he’s not there. Again things looked way different when we were actually there than when I was looking at it from below. Back to grid searching looking for anything that would indicate a bull had been there. I had a picture on my phone from below and I was looking at it trying to match up the junipers he had been standing near but the angle was off and still wasn’t 100% sure.

We have spent a couple hours by this time just gridding around and haven’t found any sign of a elk or any sign that an elk has been there. How can this be? I leave Eli to continue to look and I go to try to get the tire back on the Rzr. Actually I end up taking the wheel off and load it on the ATV to take back to the truck. I had unhitched it from the trailer the night before and Cathy had lined up the Walmart tire shop to see if they could get it back on the bead. I drop it off for her to haul it into town and it starts snowing. She heads to town and I head back to check on Eli.
IMG_8602.jpeg

I can’t make it all the way back up the hill on the ATV with the layer of ice on the bigger rocks so I hike up to the top and meet up with Eli. He’s been looking for almost 4 hours that morning by now in a spot not much more than 10 acres or so and is pretty discouraged. I go back and do some looking and talk through where the elk had been the night before and where it might have gone. We are a little worried about the bears we have been seeing on trail camera and that they might have pushed him during the night. We look another hour or so and decide to head back to the trailer for lunch and Cathy should be back with the wheel soon as well.

We make it back to the trailer just as Cathy pulls up with the tire back on the rim. They said it had a slow leak too but they didn’t fix the leak, they just aired it up and it popped right back on the bead with a real air compressor. They didn’t even charge her. We eat lunch and discuss the morning and our options. It is really starting to snow now and racing back out there to continuing aimlessly looking around isn’t super appealing but it’s really all we can do. We go back and I get the ATV about 1/3rd of the way up the steep icy hill and carry the wheel the rest of the way to the Rzr. Get the tire on and figure out that we had left the ignition on and the battery is dead. Thankfully we have a jump starter with us and we are able to get it started. The Rzr has better tires than the ATV and it makes it up to the top of the ridge.

FullSizeRender.jpeg

We discuss how we are going to get the ATV back to the trailer and Eli isn’t very excited about driving up and down these steep icy trails on either machine. We decide that I will drive a big loop around and down to the bottom, then over to the ATV on the side of the steep hill and then I will drive the ATV back to the trailer and he will drive the Rzr. We get up to the top of the ridge and head west and I notice the squishy feeling of a low tire and the right rear that we had put the plug in the day before is now pretty much totally flat. I’m not about to run it off the bead so I stop it immediately.

Of course the air compressor is in the saddle of the ATV! I hike back to the ATV thinking I’ll drive it around the big loop to the top to get back to the Rzr. I make one more attempt to make it to the top of the steep icy section and with a little bit of luck and some determination I actually make it up and get to the Rzr. Hook up the air compressor to the flat tire and turn it on and it just runs and runs and nothing happens. Eli says something about jacking the Rzr up to see if that will help and I told him that wouldn’t do anything. After a few more minutes I decide it might be worth a try. The air compressor is still running and we jack the Rzr up and the tire fills almost immediately. Still not sure why that worked but it did.

With both machines on top and air in all the tires I lead the way in the ATV and had Eli follow me on the Rzr. The machines really did amazing in the snow. I thought these trails would be too steep for them to maneuver in any kind of slick conditions but they proved me wrong.

IMG_8609.jpegIMG_8608.jpeg

We make is down to the bottom and head back to the trailer. The snow is still coming down, it was supposed to have a short window with a break but it didn’t seem to happen. We get the ATV back to the trailer, switch over to the Rzr and head back out.

Since we had spent so much time looking in that small spot where I had seen the elk the evening before we decided to move around a bit. Drove around looking in the bottom areas, dropped Eli off and had him go through some other bottom areas where a wounded animal might go. I checked out the ponds on the property and the spring. We weren’t seeing any sign of anything in the snow. No sign of a dead elk either.
 
Last edited:
We had discussed how long we were going to keep looking and decided that we would look until noon Monday when we needed to head home. We decided to go back to where I had seen him the night before and look one more time that evening before going back to the trailer. It was steep and slick in the snow and everything looked different again. We start gridding again and I go one direction and Eli goes the other. After about 30 minutes I hear “I FOUND HIM!”

He found him!! He was covered with about 2” of snow and laying in some oak brush. Eli said he must have walked within 10 yards of him several times. I get over there and we are a whopping 50 yards from where I had seen him the night before. How in the world had we missed finding him for how many hours we had been looking. In my head I had pretty much given up already. I was thinking thoughts of hoping we might could find the rack this summer after the bears had chewed it up and drug it around.

FullSizeRender.jpeg

He was obviously bloated up and had been dead for a while. My thoughts immediately went to whether we could recover any or all of the meat. We took some quick pictures and I got to work.

IMG_8618.jpegIMG_8631.jpeg
Looking at him I knew I was going to have a taxidermy bill and I started caping him. On the first cut along the back of the neck air blew out like I had opened a balloon. Never had that happen before.

Looking at him on the side he was on there wasn’t a visible exit wound. I kept working him up and got the hind quarter off and it smelled a bit but not terrible and I had just accidently cut a slice in the diaphragm that was spewing nasty smelling dark blood so I thought I couldn’t smell must other than that anyway. I loaded Eli up with the hind quarter and sent him back to the Rzr while I kept cutting.
IMG_8642.jpeg

Eli found him at 4:30 and it was going to get dark at 6:30 so I was hoping we could get him cut up and out by then. Eli took longer than I expected going down to the Rzr and back and by the time he got back I had that side completely done.

IMG_8644.jpeg

I loaded him up with the shoulder and he said that he thought it would be easier to go up to the top and not have to fight the oak brush as much than it was to go down to the Rzr through the head high oak brush down in the bottom. I had him help me turn the bull over and loaded him up with the shoulder and kept cutting.

He was back a little quicker this time and I had the other shoulder off and loaded him up with it and it was getting close to dark. It was going to be the last trip. He made another pretty quick trip and I’m done with everything except getting the head off. I have him help turn the head while I cut and get the satisfying sound of the head spinning off pretty easy. It is now pretty much full dark and neither one of us has a headlamp. (To clarify, neither one of us THOUGHT we had a headlamp. Turns out he had a headlamp in his jacket pocket and I had one in my pack).

We talk it through and decide to move the last 2 bags of meat and the head off away from the carcass in case a bear finds it during the night. We get that done and decide that we are going to just hike back up to the ridge then drop down on the steep icy trail and then back to the Rzr. It’s close to a mile around in a big loop but Eli swears that is going to be easier than the head high oak brush in the dark. It really isn’t that bad of a hike and neither of us fell going down the steep icy part so that was a win. We get back to the Rzr and head back to the trailer. We had fired off some pictures and Cathy already had the news but we are still ecstatic getting back to the trailer. We are beat and after supper all of us are in bed a little early.
 
We didn’t set an alarm for that morning and around 7 am it is getting light outside and I get up to get things going. We had been setting the heat on 50 at night and even then the heater was running much of the night. It got down to 15 degrees overnight. I went to fire the generator up and the battery was too low to crank it. Thankfully I had the jump starter so I was able to go out and jump start the generator. With power and heat we ate breakfast and we headed out to get the last load while Cathy packed things up to get ready to head home.

Things went really smooth that morning other than needing to air up the tire on the Rzr a couple times that morning. We got to the elk and it was untouched overnight. The crows had just found it and were making a bit of a ruckus as we got there. We each loaded up a load of meat, I took a hind quarter and he took the loose meat. It really wasn’t bad going up to the top other than the elevation. It really wasn’t a bad pack out at all. Eli has shot 2 elk now and his first was the shortest pack out of any elk I’ve ever been involved with (we pulled the truck right up to it) and this was the 2nd shortest pack out I’ve ever been involved with. It was only about 200 yards but uphill through oak brush in the snow. Still nothing to complain about compared to most elk pack outs I’ve been involved with.

The last load was the head. I had expected the cape to freeze solid overnight but it wasn’t. I contemplated caping it to take it out in 2 loads but didn’t really want to spend the time and effort since I was going to be taking it to the taxidermist anyway. We tried carrying it between us since it was such a short distance but we figured out that wasn’t going to work pretty quick. I decided I would just suck it up and haul it out. I actually weighed the last time I hauled my big bull out with the head and cape and it was 105 pounds. This seemed just as heavy but it was also wet from snow and there was ice accumulated on the antlers. I didn’t ever end up with it on the scale but I can attest that it was a pretty heavy load.

IMG_4134.jpeg

The way it loaded up wasn’t the best for going through the oak brush but I didn’t feel like messing with it for such a short haul so I just pushed through the brush. It wasn’t too bad and the brush going up was much better than the brush going down. About an hour and a half after leaving the trailer we had everything back to the Rzr and were heading back.
IMG_8649.jpeg
IMG_8654.jpeg

Back at the trailer we get everything loaded and throw some ice on the meat. It is still below freezing but the sun is out and things are starting to melt. We are a little concerned about hauling a 8,000+lb trailer out on the snowy roads but think we are going to be fine. We get hooked up and head out and everything goes super smoothly. No issues at all. I would be hesitant to do that in much more snow but the couple inches we had was already starting to melt off pretty quickly.
IMG_8655.jpeg

Got a few looks and thumbs up on the trip home. One car from Florida slowed down and took pictures as they drove by. We dropped the head and cape off at the taxidermist and had already asked if we could hold onto the antlers once he got it caped so that went smoothly other than the sticker shock at the price.

Made it back to the house just after dark and get everything unloaded. Of course the tire on the Rzr is completely flat. We get the meat all iced down good. I’m still not sure how much we are going to salvage out of it but I really think most of it is okay.
 
The next day Eli was able to pick up the antlers from the taxidermist and it was Halloween. He dressed up as an elk hunter for our trunk or treat at church and passed out candy with the antlers strapped to his pack. Not the way I would ever expect to carry out a set of antlers but he thought they looked cool that way.
IMG_8663.jpegIMG_8664.jpeg

After Halloween we got the antlers and did a rough score on them. I was thinking he was somewhere in the 340” to 350” range but wasn’t sure. I just wasn’t sure how long his main beams were. At the trunk or treat I had stuck a piece of paper up to his right G3 and was shocked that it was exactly 2 pieces of paper long. 22”! Putting the tape to him it seemed that everything was just a little longer or bigger than I was expecting. Gross score was 368 1/8”. He had an oddity where his inside spread was actually widest near his tips so I posted a thread asking for help on that and think I’ve got another 3 4/8” to add to him there now so that puts him at 371 5/8” gross. His left G2 is almost 5” shorter than his right G2 and he broke off about 4” on his left G3 so he doesn’t net minimum awards but I’ll see if I can stretch the tape a little.

We asked for the jawbone as well and looking at it, I feel confident that he is 8.5+ years old.

IMG_8665.jpeg

How much older I don’t know but I am 99% sure that this is the same bull that was on trail camera in 2021 and 2022 and he is smaller this year than either of the others. Not saying that he regressed because of age this year, but maybe conditions were just not as good this year compared to previous years. There is no doubt that he would have netted book last year with close to an extra 5” on each of his main beams and at least a couple inches more on his G5’s.

I think that is about it. A very long winded novel of a story but we are SUPER pumped. I’m not sure but I think I’m more excited about him getting this bull than I was when I got my big bull back in 2013. Going to be a hard one to top for sure.
 
Last edited:
This is great. Thanks for sharing all the struggles of the hunt as well, I think I would have lost my patience with the equipment… what a stud bull. Hope you get a few more brutes owing up in the cameras!
 
The next day Eli was able to pick up the antlers from the taxidermist and it was Halloween. He dressed up as an elk hunter for our trunk or treat at church and passed out candy with the antlers strapped to his pack. Not the way I would ever expect to carry out a set of antlers but he thought they looked cool that way.
View attachment 300077View attachment 300078

After Halloween we got the antlers and did a rough score on them. I was thinking he was somewhere in the 340” to 350” range but wasn’t sure. I just wasn’t sure how long his main beams were. At the trunk or treat I had stuck a piece of paper up to his right G3 and was shocked that it was exactly 2 pieces of paper long. 22”! Putting the tape to him it seemed that everything was just a little longer or bigger than I was expecting. Gross score was 368 1/8”. He had an oddity where his inside spread was actually widest near his tips so I posted a thread asking for help on that and think I’ve got another 3 4/8” to add to him there now so that puts him at 371 5/8” gross. His left G2 is almost 5” shorter than his right G2 and he broke off about 4” on his left G3 so he doesn’t net minimum awards but I’ll see if I can stretch the tape a little.

We asked for the jawbone as well and looking at it, I feel confident that he is 8.5+ years old.

View attachment 300079

How much older I don’t know but I am 99% sure that this is the same bull that was on trail camera in 2021 and 2022 and he is smaller this year than either of the others. Not saying that he regressed because of age this year, but maybe conditions were just not as good this year compared to previous years. There is no doubt that he would have netted book last year with close to an extra 5” on each of his main beams and at least a couple inches more on his G5’s.

I think that is about it. A very long winded novel of a story but we are SUPER pumped. I’m not sure but I think I’m more excited about him getting this bull than I was when I got my big bull back in 2013. Going to be a hard one to top for sure.
Congrats to you and Eli!!! You just can't make up stories like this!! You guys had patience and perseverance before and after the shot! Cathy is a real trooper also! Real nice Halloween costume Eli. Now back to my cold coffee. Thanks for sharing your long novel with HT!!
 
Congrats - such an awesome story and shows how they can be tough to find at times. Awesome experience and lessons there for any elk hunter and for your son.
 

Latest posts

Forum statistics

Threads
110,439
Messages
1,920,368
Members
34,745
Latest member
desertwren
Back
Top