AMK Sportsman

Spur of the moment

Bullshot

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Dec 21, 2018
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Two days into the rising sun
My morning of day two is half-hearted. I’m not ready for the top again. And I’ve written off the bull I encountered as too rough/far for me to tackle alone. I go down the road and try a lower elevation area accessed from a gas-line cut. I hike in but soon realize I didn’t really scrutinize the aerial maps properly, and end up on a shrubby /soon to be sunny/hot mountainside devoid of trees, not the kind of place to catch elk dallying on their way to bed. No tracks or sign of use of the area at all. Too low maybe? Too easy to get into certainly. I cut the AM short.

Now here is where I make the kind of erratic itinerary change that only a solo hunter can pull off guilt free, as you answer to noone but yourself. I just decide to break camp and try a different unit about 50 miles away, where I have previously taken a bull but which has also gone downhill with crowding in recent years. I have a sentimental attachment there as I also called in a nice bull for my late dad, who almost sealed the deal but for a yard or two of intervening shrubs. So I head out to hunt the afternoon there, and maybe the rest of the week. I sense the potential for my limited hunt window to spin out of control if this doesn’t work. I won’t lie, I shed some tears for my dad on the way over there, the memories of our only elk hunt together and of losing him are still fresh.
 

Bullshot

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Joined
Dec 21, 2018
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490
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Two days into the rising sun
When I arrive about 1pm, I see a couple other vehicles, a horse trailer, and a logging truck at the trailhead. Not looking good….

A hunter is walking out of the woods to one of the trucks so I go over to chat. He talks disparagingly of the fresh logging, but also mentions some elk encounters. Encouraging that there are still some despite all the use. At this time, my story swerves to:

A) That time I avoided getting raped and then murdered by a deranged serial killer, or

B) That time I stupidly refused a generous and helpful offer from a fellow solo hunter

So ….. “Billy Bob,” (to protect the presumed innocent until such time as any previous or future crimes come to light) after learning I was roving and had no camp yet, offered me the extra space at his cabin. “Extra bunk, warm shower, better than setting up the tent.” Very generous. So I quickly agreed. But the rest of the afternoon, I chewed on just how generous that was…. complete stranger…. just met…. knows I am solo…. no-one will hear me scream…. etc. You see, I am a cynical east-coaster, but we are good at not starring in bad horrer movie plots. Just our jaded upbringing, I suppose.

While pondering all that, I got going on the afternoon hunt. I started a hike up the mountain to between 10 and 11K and waited for the winds to shift down before getting into where the elk typically hang. I saw a little fresh sign on the way up, and some nice rubs too.

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So the elk ARE still here. With good wind for the last hour of the day I slowly worked the ridge, cow calling occasionally. Nothing came of it. But it was a good plan, I felt positive I’d get into elk at any moment. Just didn’t today.
 

OntarioHunter

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Sep 11, 2020
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2,226
When I arrive about 1pm, I see a couple other vehicles, a horse trailer, and a logging truck at the trailhead. Not looking good….

A hunter is walking out of the woods to one of the trucks so I go over to chat. He talks disparagingly of the fresh logging, but also mentions some elk encounters. Encouraging that there are still some despite all the use. At this time, my story swerves to:

A) That time I avoided getting raped and then murdered by a deranged serial killer, or

B) That time I stupidly refused a generous and helpful offer from a fellow solo hunter

So ….. “Billy Bob,” (to protect the presumed innocent until such time as any previous or future crimes come to light) after learning I was roving and had no camp yet, offered me the extra space at his cabin. “Extra bunk, warm shower, better than setting up the tent.” Very generous. So I quickly agreed. But the rest of the afternoon, I chewed on just how generous that was…. complete stranger…. just met…. knows I am solo…. no-one will hear me scream…. etc. You see, I am a cynical east-coaster, but we are good at not starring in bad horrer movie plots. Just our jaded upbringing, I suppose.

While pondering all that, I got going on the afternoon hunt. I started a hike up the mountain to between 10 and 11K and waited for the winds to shift down before getting into where the elk typically hang. I saw a little fresh sign on the way up, and some nice rubs too.

View attachment 195509

So the elk ARE still here. With good wind for the last hour of the day I slowly worked the ridge, cow calling occasionally. Nothing came of it. But it was a good plan, I felt positive I’d get into elk at any moment. Just didn’t today.
Take a big knife into the shower with you and all will be well. Or a stainless revolver would work if you've got one handy. Send some family member the coordinates when you get to the cabin. And also the website for a local construction company with backhoe in case they have to come looking for you. :giggle:

I'm sure Billy Bob is a nice guy. If he has a cabin, he probably knows the local area. Sounds like it will work out better for you. Hope so. Thanks for the pics! Wish I was there.
 

Bullshot

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Dec 21, 2018
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Two days into the rising sun
So at the end of day two, I decided once again to play the erratic solo game and abandon now the second spot with confirmed fresh elk use. Because, why not? Plus, it gave me an excuse to text Billy Bob to thank him for his offer but to decline as I was going to be moving on. So I’ll just never know if I missed my casting call for the lead victim in “SAW - Colorado” but I’m just going to have to be ok with that.

It’s now dark, I am campless and spotless once again and looking over maps and OnX for ideas. I head down through Delta and grab some fast food before heading a couple hours to the east to an area I’ve never been. On the way in, I lay eyes on the first elk seen on the trip, a lone cow eating on the side of the road in a river valley. Confidence booster. I pull in around 11:30 and try to find a pulloff camp, easier said than done. The area is well packed, camps in most spots around where I was interested in hunting. I had to settle for a spot well away from what I considered the best bet. The morning hunt was going to be in jeopardy but I had to sleep so there I parked it and rolled out a bed in the SUV. Cramped like a coffin against my stacked gear but good enough.

With a few hours sleep accomplished, and before dawn on Day 3, I got up and grabbed a towel and strolled to a small stream next to my truck, stripped down and did a rapid dip/system shock, something I’ve done once or twice on most trips. Painful and re-charging. Air temp was about 29 or 30. Stream was about absolute zero it seemed. Dried off, got dressed for the day and into the truck to drive down the road to an access spot, which was occupied…. then the next area…. occupied…. Public land or not, I am not big on intentionally going in the same spot as other bowhunters if I don’t know where they are at, so onto 3rd option at least. OK, available. Looks good too, a beaver pond prevents easy access to the casual hiker. So in I go.

Within 300 yards, I find fresh elk sign, deer tracks, bear tracks, and mountain lion tracks. A secret wildlife honeyhole right by the road? Great! I head up and up through mostly aspens, mixed with patches of dark. Pretty area. But still maybe a little too low. Some pictures..

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Bullshot

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Dec 21, 2018
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Two days into the rising sun
I didn’t see or hear anything all morning on stalk up the mountain. I found good elk sign at the top of the hike as well, with lesser amounts in the middle. Unhappily for me, I discovered that there was a well used hiking trail that crosses the area at around 10K, just where I though might be good to begin focusing for the evening. Also, along that trail was evidence that domestic sheep had recently been on the upper slope and that probably the elk had moved to avoid the area. I re-ran my plan to focus on some of the lower feeding areas and well used paths parallel to the road for the evening. I investigated around some high beaver ponds as potential water sources and looked for the best ambush points in between all three, that would work with the evening wind. I took a nap in a meadow for a couple hours to wait.

36AD41B3-A4D8-45CC-86D1-E684D28C16B1.jpeg
 

Bullshot

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490
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Two days into the rising sun
The second half of day 3 was set to begin as the sun lowered and the breeze started swirling. Earlier in the day, I had made my way from the FS road, up to the base of the high rocky slopes and a couple mile loop around a big block of intermixed aspen/pine/meadows that appeared to be getting frequently used by elk. I assumed that elk would be bedding up high and then drifting down in the evening to hit the meadows at night. My hope was to hear a bull moving his cows or just announcing and then move laterally along the slope to intercept, with downhill wind in my face. I explored around trying to find the right place for my initial setup and kept moving through areas with tracks, trails, and droppings. With no familiarity of the area or patterns of the local elk and human movements, I made what I think was the first really stupid mistake of the day. As I crept along, I got to a patch of dense pine with some blowdown and a deep ravine. It was the last impediment for me to get to the area I wanted to set for the evening but was tough to get through quietly, and wind was all over. Rather than go around, I went in. I didn’t truly consider that elk would be bedded at that elevation but I was wrong. As I snuck through the patch, I was definitely thinking how elk COULD use this, but then was met with the thumping of hooves and crashing of limbs telling me elk ARE using it. I had accidentally slipped into their bedroom at 4pm. Not part of the plan. I found their beds and their escape tracks through the ravine. I had been about 75 yards from them but never saw them run. I had no choice but to just continue ahead and hope maybe there were other elk a bit higher that would still come down tonight. Dusk fell, wind came down, coyotes began howling up a storm, but no other elk showed up, and so the evening ended with a hike down to the road (which incidentally was full of 1-3 day old mountain lion tracks along the soft shoulder). I pondered again my next move. I was frustrated with this spot due to the hiker day use, domestic sheep, and the amount of traffic on the only FS road through the mountain, so it served as a main town to town highway. I decided again to move on to other parts unknown….
 
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Bullshot

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Dec 21, 2018
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Two days into the rising sun
After a quick roadside dinner of instant mashed potatos and gravy, I hopped in the truck for another long nighttime drive to a new area I had never been to. This trip had seemingly become more of a tour than a serious commitment, although I had hunted hard each day, learned a lot of new country, and found elk or elk sign at each spot. I didn’t feel like I was necessarily hurting or helping my chances by jumping around, and was comfortable in the fact I was seeing more of Colorado in a couple days than some people ever see. This could only help me in the future.

In this drive, I went another 180 miles or so, again getting in late. I pulled up into the NF and found a spot to overnight in the truck again. Before sleep, I put a few OnX points on the map to try accessing in the morning. Sight unseen.

Day 4 dawns and early in the AM, I drove down the road to my planned access points. The country was way more steep than I had derived from the quick topo review and seemed literally choked with massive deadfall tangles. Crap! With no backup plan, I drove further into the NF, and higher. Running out of options and with dawn upon me, I said screw it and decided to hunt from a closed logging road. I get out of the truck and immediately hear the most majestic bugle echoing off the cliff walls of the peaks surrounding me. Impossible! Then again, and again. It sounds WAY too good to be a human caller but I begin to wonder. With no other plan, I dive down the hill to a stream ravine, cross it, and begin hiking up to the high country. The bugling seems to be moving away, I am simply going up, not chasing him.

I give a few cow chirps as I climb. Soon, I hear a stick snap just above me, and I ready the bow. Instead of an elk, a nice sized black bear comes to investigate me. I step out from behind a sapling so the bear stops. He or she sizes me up and decides I am not worth the effort, then makes a 90 degree turn uphill, paws at a fallen log briefly, and simply vanishes. I did not see it walk uphill or away, it just evaporated. They are sneaky beasts.
 
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Bullshot

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Dec 21, 2018
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490
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Two days into the rising sun
I keep climbing and now am seeing some very good elk sign. Tracks and dropping pretty much everywhere. The ground is churned up in places. I am enthused…. I keep going, and start seeing numerous rubs. The other sign increases. They spend a lot of time in here. Just then, a bugle erupts less than 200
yards away. I give a chirp. Response bugle. And another. This is great. But it’s getting a little bit late in the morning, I’m soon to lose my favorable wind. Should I get aggressive or hang back. I choose the latter (later wish I hadn’t). The bugling bull hasn’t moved, and then cuts loose with a simply terrible sounding approximation of an elk. Ah man, I’ve been fooled… it is people…..

Or not!

The bad bugle must have been a satellite bull that just succeeded in pissing off the big daddy. I hear crashing of limbs and thundering hooves and the 1st bugler comes my way, probably 150 yards now, straight uphill. There are elk churning about above me, I catch a faint glimpse of one through the trees and I can hear antlers banging on limbs. Then it gets quiet except for the main bull, who keep bugling just above me, for the next 1/2 hour or so. Finally, the bugles subside to chuckles, and all is mostly quiet. All through this, I had kept giving a few cow chirps but was too nervous to attempt a bugle lest I botch it and shut things down. As it stands now, I am pinned down and the wind is going to shift and it seems like the bull may have bedded right there, he occasionally chuckles.

I have not faced this situation before, but I don’t want to expose myself and scare the herd off. I am laying in the dirt. The wind has now shifted and the bull is still there. I figure this is where I should lay for the next few hours until they move or I get an opportunity. So there I lay. For over 8 hours. First freezing, then roasting, sleeping, passing the time watching flies, digging a latrine hole to pee in, eating, sleeping some more. Waiting for that sun to begin to set. It takes forever!!! Finally around 5:45, the shadows start lengthening and the wind gets shifty. Soon it will be GO time, I hope….
 

Bullshot

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Dec 21, 2018
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490
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Two days into the rising sun
I am watching the shadow of my arrow against some particular pine needles to gauge the pace of the setting sun. Anything to keep occupied, it’s been a long wait. Finally, the breeze starts flowing reliably downhill. I get my pack on and stand up, draw the bow back once or twice to stretch and ensure no squeaks. I am pretty convinced the bull is going to bugle and be in my lap any minute.

A little time goes by in silence. Not a sound. Beginning to realize the elk had silently departed earlier in the day somehow. So I decide to creep up the hill a little bit, shooting light is getting short, maybe 20 minutes left. I move pretty silently about 50 yards upslope to a really perfect ambush spot with good lanes in 3 or 4 directions. If the elk come back through where they were earlier, I’ll be in the money.

I hear a very distant bugle or two, on different ridges, not my guy. Down to about 10 minutes time. Off to my left in a dark ravine about 100 yards I hear a strange coughing sound. Like, oof…oof… oof. Faint. Then it happens again. Finally I hear a little whistly noise preceding the oof oof oof. It’s a bull trying to be as quiet as he can be while still feigning to bugle. I give a cow chirp and am met with silence. Down to about 5 minutes shooting light. I am disappointed and consider leaving the mountain for another day. But then I remind myself that these are a couple of the best minutes of the day and so I’ll stay to the end. Good choice! Just then, a bold bugle erupts from the ridge/saddle a few hundred yards away. I chirp. Bugle (closer). Chirp. Bugle (closer). He’s now about 100 yards above in the timber moving from my right to left. Limbs breaking, hooves hitting. Bugles. He passes me and continues to left. Still have not seen him. I can hear him raking trees now about 100 yards above and 100 yards to my left. He’s agitated but not closing anymore. In desperation, I cut loose with a pretty good bugle that sounds like a smaller bull. NO RESPONSE. I can’t believe it. Then, a minute later or so, bugles from about 300 yards to the left. He’s leaving. And shooting light ending. If I had simply been up the hill an additional 50-60 yards I would have had a shot perhaps, and seen a great show at least. But in this case, close but no cigar!

I hike out a little discouraged, but quickly realize I had a pretty awesome day. After all, I heard a ton of bugling, had relatively close encounters with a lot of noise and crashing, and legitimately had close calls both AM and PM. I checked the box on some pretty big elements of a fun CO hunt. My only regret is not laying eyes on the other participants.

Time to plan tomorrow’s hunt. This time I will NOT be changing locations!
 
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Bullshot

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Dec 21, 2018
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490
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Two days into the rising sun
Another night sleeping in the truck. There's been no time for setting up camp, with all the rushing around, changing locations and hunting all day. Honestly other than the tight quarters (which is my fault for bringing too much unneeded gear, as always) it is pretty comfortable. I stay warmer, it's quieter, and totally dry. I might adopt this tactic in the future by choice, it allows me to be totally mobile and not tied down anywhere, freeing up time for other endeavors.

Alright, Day 5. Down to the wire. My plan is to just before dawn to rush up the mountain to the top for any AM action rather than stalk up. This is not a trivial thing, I have to hike up to about 11,600 or 11,700 feet. I am in better shape already after a few days of it, but still, I've only been at it a few days. If I could be here for a couple weeks I'd feel great and be a damn mountain goat. But it's tiring me out in the moment.

My reason for just hauling to the top is that I feel I keep ending up just below the action and a little late. So maybe today that will change. Up and up I go, it's not too bad when you are not working so hard at being quiet. Watching for every twig and pine cone really slows you down. I make it up to elevation in good time, with spare time to cool down a bit and catch my breath. I am positioned in the heart of the action area from yesterday, biased perhaps to the upper end, since I figure the elk know I have been there and may respond by shifting their routes a bit. Downhill breeze is perfect. The squirrels are not even trying to give me away**

** A note on the squirrels. They are everywhere in the mountain west and they are suspicious, nervous, loud, and obnoxious. They raise the alarm at the slightest movement, and can go on... and on... and on... and on. Here's what I have learned over the years.

1) Don't get frustrated. These things chatter at every bobcat, bear, bugle, hawk or raven they hear or see. They are ALWAYS seemingly alarmed at something.

2) Squirrels are constantly making noise by dropping sticks and pinecones onto logs below. Clunk! Bang! Bonk! This provides cover to you when you occasionally make an unintended noise.

3) The elk are used to a certain amount of squirrel chatter, and although aware, learn to ignore it to some degree unless it seems REALLY adamant or they confirm it themselves with hearing you, seeing you, or smelling you. If elk ran away every time a squirrel chattered, they would never stop running.

4) You can reach a temporary truce with the squirrels if you let them know you are just a big gentle giant are not trying to catch and eat them. If you are caught by one, drop your guard a bit, make some obvious and deliberate movements with your legs, arms, or whole body that the squirrel will see and often they will stop the alarm. This lets them know they have won the battle of wits and that you can't catch them. I have also gone so far as to pick grass or leaves from shrubs to feign as if browsing. It works. When is the last time a squirrel was harmed by an herbivore? Often, the squirrel will then just go right back to foraging near me if they think I am "just one of the good guys".

Ok, back to the hunt... I am in position and waiting for anything to stir. And I wait the entire early morning. The elk never showed.
With the uphill breeze about to commence, I figure I should get as high as I can so that anything later will be below me. I climb to the base of talus and enjoy the view, taking some pictures and expecting to settle in for a slow late morning and afternoon. I am standing on some rocks when I hear a light bugle from the woods. It sounded like it was in front of me. I quickly cow chirped and headed torwards the bugle, which I assumed was about 200 yards ahead. To get into position, I had to walk the base of talus to get to a patch of trees where I would wait. About `1/2 way across the talus, I hear some clinking noises from above me and I look up and there is a raghorn bull in broad sunny daylight, walking parallell with me about 100 yards up with nothing in between us! There was a small patch of trees up in the talus that he was in (which I had just been taking a picture of a minute earlier). He must have been the bugler and my assumption that he was in front of me was wrong, he was right uphill! I don't know how, but he doesn't see me, and is heading for a finger of trees next to the rocks. I drop down off the rocks to the forest edge and ready myself. The bull hits the trees and starts working his way down the slop on a more or less beeline to me. I can see he has one good antler with 5 or maybe 6 points, and one antler that is ether broken or deformed, I can't tell. I range some openings. Shots will be 30-40 yards. The bull is unaware of my presence and he is DEFINITLEY coming to find this cow (me). Down he comes, 75, 65, 55, 45.... then he stops. I am ready to draw. A few more steps and it is done. I am not even nervous, this is all coming together perfectly.

Until.... yep.... wind swirls just ever so slightly. I mean barely at all. But just like that the bull wheels and begins hustling up the hill he just came down. I immediately suspect he is going to run his backtrail across the rocks. I sprint back to the rocks and get there first, and run out and up into the open talus. I am wrestling to get my rangefinder out of my pocket, and ranging random rocks with readings all over the place. Not much for perspective. There is a single fallen log up in the rocks that I range that is 75 yards. I sprint uphill towards the log. The bull has now cleared the trees and is crossing the rocks, just as I thought. I don't know if he sees me or doesn't care but that is the way he is jogging. I stop on my sprint. No time to range the bull. He stops DIRECTLY behind that damn log I had ranged a moment ago. I figure I had run 25 yards up the slope in the meantime, and the bull is still some distance behind it, so maybe he's at 60 yards I estimate. I have the bow up and drawn, with a 70 yard pin just on the bulls chest line. One step. C'mon! One step! He does it! I let the arrow fly and it is perfectly straight off the bow, perfectly in line with the vitals. And seemingly FEET low! Right into the rocks. The bull runs off to my right. Heartbreak! What the hell??!! I run up the slope and start to understand... the perspective of the bull and the log was just impossible to determine and there are no other landmarks on this open talus.... except for a trail across the rocks. I assume he was standing on it. It was 85... yes EIGHTY FIVE yards from where I shot. I never would have taken the shot had I ranged it. But I thought he was closer, around 60. 60 is a far shot, regardless, but I made it every time while practicing, and the arrow flew as true as it could.... just can't defy gravity when the archer makes a serious range blunder like that. Given the alternative, I find myself relieved. The bull just got a free education on why you don't expose yourself like that. And I got a free education that bull/buck fever can and will strike and cause a complete mental meltdown when you have only a couple seconds to process a situation like that. I am disappointed but appreciative still that I had an opportunity and the experience. And the day is still young.
 

Bullshot

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Dec 21, 2018
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490
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Two days into the rising sun
After missing the bull, I loitered about on the talus rocks for a while to collect my nerves. Then I decided to sideslope for a while with the uphill wind and see if I could get a bull to respond to a cow call from below. I found some good elk trails up high that gave me quiet movement opportunities. It seemed like a good enough plan.

I need to stop trusting my optimism.

I worked along a small bench that had a heavily used elk path next to a small cliff, overlooking some of the seemingly favored timbered slope that the elk were in yesterday. I would walk 50 yards or so and give a quiet chirp. Then repeat. I did not get very far before blowing it up.... At about my 3rd or 4th stop, I heard the dreaded BARK BARK. I froze and hoped that a chirp would calm them. Then I heard breaking limbs and saw elk bodies running up the hill across a small ravine from me. I could see the antlers of a big bull and parts of his body as he crashed uphill. Several cows paused in openings and looked over my way at about 75 yards while the bull stopped in the dense thicket. I supposed you would refer to the bull as the herd bull, but I am not sure how many cows he had with him, I saw 2 clearly, and a few others less clearly. But he was definitely an OTC shooter based on the mature antler tips I saw over the saplings. I don't think they ever smelled me, but something didn't seem right about my approach and they just seemed confused. They continued up the hill slowly as I watched but did not seem inclined to bust out of the county, besides that, there was a legitimate cliff uphill from them that I doubt they could go over.

With that, I decided to leave the elk where they could find some peace for the afternoon and retreated from the mountain as best I could. I made my way down the ravine that the elk had departed and out of the "preferred" habitat as quickly as I could. On the way down, I found some of the only high water originating from a spring seep just below their stomping grounds. It was obvious that they used this water source heavily, which explains why they never seemed to come down as far as the only stream in the area. There's always a reason!

Down off the mountain to cook some lunch. While doing so, two hunters came up the road and we briefly chatted. I was pretty open about my missed raghorn but I may have held back on seeing the bigger bull (sorry guys). They told me some stories of their own. I sensed they held back some as well. All's fair in elk hunting! I forgive!
 
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ThunderNocked

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462
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North Pole, Alaska
frustrating but still an awesome experience. I hope your soaking it all in! I want to elk hunt so bad, but I totally feel your pain. My Sheep hunt was 10 similar days last year trying to get within 70 yards!
Keep at it.
 
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