Vanish and FireTiger's 2017 Hunt Journal - Season 7

vanish

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Yes, it is officially time to kick off this year's journal! If you missed it, here's the link to last year's journal - our most successful season yet! Can we top it this year? Who cares! It will be fun regardless.

After spending five straight weekends in the Colorado high country pursuing great experiences and our finned friends, last weekend I declared that season over and time to start scouting. Instead, I spent the weekend celebrating my mother's birthday but hey, got to take care of the familial relations before we're gone for every forseeable weekend over the course of the next four months. Besides, there was some good scenery.



While the calendar was looking a bit empty after the Colorado draws this year, things spiced up a bit after learning we drew Wyoming pronghorn buck tags. We started planning a Nebraska archery hunt, but were lucky with the Colorado reissue tags and will be doing a late season archery deer hunt, so the Nebraska hunt is once again on the back burner. Its one of the few plains units with good public access and a chance at both whitetails and mule deer. I couldn't be more excited.

Here's the current season schedule:

Wyoming Archery Pronghorn (FireTiger)
Colorado OTC Archery Elk (Vanish, Dad)
Colorado Muzzleloader Pronghorn (Vanish, FireTiger)
Colorado Early Rifle Deer (Dad)
Wyoming Rifle Pronghorn (FireTiger, Vanish)
Colorado 2nd Season Deer (FireTiger, B-Rad's first ever hunt)
Colorado Archery Plains Deer (FireTiger, Vanish)
Nebraska Rifle Deer (Dad)
Colorado 4th Season Elk (FireTiger)

We're usually "weekend warriors," but this year I have 10 vacation days available to use across the seasons. I'm so excited for so many of these hunts that I haven't been able to nail down where to spend them!

This weekend kicks off the season as we do an armed scouting trip into Wyoming. FireTiger has purchased her archery stamp because spot and stalk pronghorn looks like a great way to spend a weekend - even though we fully anticipate just making ourselves look silly. Also, I hear there's going to be some good eclipse viewing up there, and the totality zone just happens to pass through our unit. I have elected not to purchase the archery stamp at this time as this will most likely be the only chance I can go during the archery season. If we get ridiculously lucky and she tags out, I may just make the drive and buy my stamp.

Bucky's waiting...

 
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vanish

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Just about ready to roll - if only work was over. We'll load up the ice cooler and head to WY in about 3 hours!

 

vanish

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Spot and stalk archery pronghorn hunting is something you need to do. I didn't even have the tag and I'm addicted. With elk hunting, I believe the saying goes something like; you'll spend 90% of the time searching for elk, and 10% of the time killing one. I believe the exact opposite is true of this hunt, and that makes it incredibly fun. Its all about figuring out how to put one on the ground as opposed to just trying to find one.

Excitement really started to build on our drive in Friday evening. We counted untold numbers of animals just getting to our camping spot. This unit isn't known for its vast tracks of public land, and we'll see how it is come rifle season, but for archery there was way more than we could possibly hunt. We noted several bucks on public to take a closer look at later, but our goal would be to do a circuit of the main access in the unit while hiking in on each larger piece to get an idea of the terrain.

The little buck above was bedded across the way from our Friday camp - the back of the truck on a random two track on a piece of blm. He was a bit curious about the extra traffic, but not too concerned with our presence. We settled in to a beautiful sunset and a coyote serenade.

 

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Saturday morning started at a relaxed pace. Another nice thing about pronghorn; They are out, visible and active all day. Sure, you are probably best slipping into a water hole blind before daylight, but for spot and stalk it makes little difference. After some breakfast burritos and watching the little guy across the road, we headed north to scout new terrain. It was really difficult not to stop and assess every buck we came across, and when we saw several in a hilly area, the first stalks of the day began.

I thought I was doing a good job of photographing the bucks that FireTiger was stalking, but apparently I was lost in the moment. I cannot possibly recount every stalk that was made. The first one of the day was one of the closer stalks, getting under 80 yards before the gig was up. I couldn't say which buck is which at this point.



We find a secluded water hole with a group of does near it. After they moved off, FireTiger found a spot where she could tuck away and decided to sit there for a time. I climbed up on a nearby ridge about 400 yards away to watch for animals. This was one of several coyotes that came to water over the next couple of hours, including one that jumped out of its skin after passing within 15 yards of FireTiger.

 

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After lunch we decided we had better get back to exploring more of the unit. After hiking a mile to reach the top of a bluff with lots of walk-in land behind it, we were disappointed to find nobody home. We finally spotted two pronghorn off to the West, so decided to hike a bit farther to a different glassing point. We located a sizable herd (16 does) with a nice buck about a mile out, and for some reason both decided they were going to head right for us.

FireTiger had two choices for ambush positions, and chose the rightmost knob in the image above. The other spot we called "two-rock" because it looked like it had two larger rocks. I have no idea why, but the pronghorn did exactly as we expected and over the course of an hour, walked straight to us. The plan was somehow working perfectly as I watched the does file right past FireTiger. Then, at the last moment, the buck turned, walked up on "two-rock" and stood there for a good 15 minutes. Then they all just walked away.

 

vanish

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We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around more of the unit, and found a lot of pronghorn. The terrain, however, was less conducive to archery hunting. Much more wide open flatland rather than than slightly broken terrain we hunted in the morning. We found some good looking spots for my I return with the rifle.

Sunday morning we headed back in to the water hole area. Our friends were coming up to camp with us for the eclipse on Monday, and they would be looking for our vehicle, so we wanted to be relatively stationary. The area was surprisingly quiet for an hour, when finally a buck appeared out of nowhere, headed for the water.



He was at least a half mile out when I spotted him, but he was on a collision course with FireTiger. Over the next hour he worked his way in, until he finally took an abrupt turn and went to water. Somehow, FireTiger did not see him until he was leaving. The buck started up a small ridge, and she crept up the other side. I really wish I'd had my phoneskope on at the time because watching them close in on one another was a real highlight.

At about 35 yards, she spotted the buck and made that fatal mistake that is so easy to make - dropped to her knees. While he couldn't see her, the motion had caught his eye and he was now staring holes in her direction. She got the range on him, but he busted as she drew.
 

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We lost much of Sunday helping our friends find camp in the totality zone, but made it out for a couple of hours in the evening. We were hoping animals would come to water, but we must have missed prime time. FireTiger put a stalk on one buck that was close to a mile, but decided to pass when getting a closer look at him.

 

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Monday morning was also a hunting "bust" - with our friends in camp and the eclipse excitement, the closest we got to hunting was glassing up the pronghorn from our camp. There were a surprising amount in the hill country of the national forest where we were camped, and we even spotted a group of 7 bucks, but they were lounging on private. At one point we could see 52 pronghorn spread out in the hills from camp.



Just after the eclipse, I looked up to see a buck feeding across the public to the south. He slipped behind a hump and FireTiger grabbed her bow and took off. He had two options - continue to feed behind the hump, or move over the saddle to the east. I continued watching and did not see him pop out. I worked my way to the saddle while keeping and eye on FireTiger, and wouldn't you know it, there was more of a ridge there then we could see; enough to conceal him slipping toward the saddle.

He nearly walked into me at 18 yards. Too bad I didn't have my stamp! :D
 

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After the eclipse, we wanted to show our friends a spot where we had found an arrowhead earlier in the trip. As we pulled onto the BLM and parked, I spotted 4 bucks on their feet. FireTiger grabbed her bow just in case something stupid happened, and it nearly did.

The bucks trotted off and crossed under a fence about 600 yards out. All except the last and largest. He didn't seem to be able to convince himself he could fit under the fence there, and raced toward us looking for another spot. At 100 yards, he stopped and started trying to get under, and once again gave up. Seemingly confused, he started walking towards us along the fence. A more practiced archer could have taken this buck as he stopped at 60 yards.

Finally, he realized the danger he was in, and raced past us, passing within about 30 yards. That's ok, as it would have been kind of a lame success anyway. :D
 

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We're really glad we didn't drive home after the eclipse - our friends did and we beat them home ( how did that happen? ). Instead we were back out in the field, locating 3 bucks within 2 miles of the water hole but none of them appeared to be in a hurry to go anywhere. FireTiger wanted to wait them out, but at 6:30 she decided it was time to go for a stalk or we were just going to run out of daylight.

There was a buck high up on the ridge above her. To me it looked like a good route up the side of the ridge, but its tough when you're looking through a spotting scope as the terrain just flattens out.



I watched her climbing and she reached the plateau where the buck was bedded much more quickly than I anticipated. There was a "gully" behind the buck where I suggested she stalk in, and just before she reached the entrance, for no particular reason, the buck, to her right several hundred yards got up and walked down into it.

As she approached the gully, I saw her knock an arrow and slow way down. Excitement built! Minutes went by, when I suddenly see a buck running in from the left. He stops and through the scope all I can is his horns between her legs ( weird... ). To me it looked like they were about on top of each other.

He eventually blew out of there. It was 7:30 so she waved me to head out. When meeting up, I was like, what the heck happened, you were right on top of each other? Aside from the fact that she deemed him not old enough for her tag, when he had stopped at what to me looked like 20 yards, he was 280 yards away! :D She had never been all that close to him. Oh, and that "gully" I mentioned earlier was really a valley almost 500 yards across.
 

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Got to camp around 6:30 on Friday night. I would have liked to glass for that hour, but I wanted make sure we had a place to sleep for the night. There was a small spot I had been interested in possibly hunting Saturday evening and on the way to my camp I saw another guy glassing it anyway, oh well. Hung out with Dad for a couple of hours before hitting the sack with a 4:20 wakeup.

The plan for opening day was to hunt an area we've identified as a pressure funnel - all the guys heading in on opening weekend push the elk through this area towards private land. Its worked two years in a row so why not this year? Dad and I set up about 400 yards apart on two parallel trails. I unfortunately had lost the coin flip and had Hank tethered to me - not ideal for archery elk but would have been worse for FireTiger who was back in WY stalking pronghorn. I nested out a spot in a cluster of pines and settled in.

By noon I couldn't take it any more. :D "Whitetail style" is far from my preferred way to hunt elk, but it can be effective. I radio'd Dad to tell him I was going to explore some new terrain and assess whether elk were in the area. He agreed and decided to do some walking, too. Unfortunately for me, this involved a half mile hike through the sage, and the temp was pushing 80 - a bit warm for my personal tastes.

Another mile hike uphill and I was finally exploring new terrain. I was inside a large mature aspen grove. I like aspens a lot but it was a bit too open for my tastes. I could tell the cattle had been through, too. I busted a few nice mulies before stalking up on this one.



( I apologize for the blurry photo - its not my #1 priority when hunting )

Bedded at 45 yards, he was lucky I didn't draw this year. I figured out why he was there as not far away was a spring. In the next little drainage, I spotted a cow and her two calves moving towards the spring. They were coming around a hump and I hoped to intercept if for no other reason than to take a photo. Turns out they were moving faster than I had anticipated and next thing I knew they were 80 yards on the other side of me, looking back at the fool sneaking in the wrong direction.

I continued my hiking for another mile or so without finding any fresh elk sign, and I was starting to get low on water. Silly me hadn't really prepared to be hiking this much as it was not the original game plan, and certainly not at this temperature. Looping back on a slightly different course, I found two ponds hidden under the canopy. It was hard to tell if they were being hit by elk, or just cattle. Oddly, I only saw one moo cow even with sign all over.

Hank got very excited when we found this guy and a couple others.



I was drooling over grouse as I had failed to grab our pre-cooked lasagna packs out of the freezer in my haste to leave on Friday, but alas the season does not open until September 1st. CPW is a cruel mistress.

The light faded with no additional excitement and another opening day came to a close.
 

vanish

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Lostinthewoods let me know he's having trouble seeing the pics on one of his devices - is anyone else having trouble?
 

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As we hiked back in to the same area the next morning, I was really questioning our judgement for returning. There was no fresh sign, and I really don't like hunting an area that doesn't have fresh sign, but we had a reason for being there and decided to stick to the plan. I set up within 100 yards of where my Dad got his cow on the second day last year, and my wife get hers the year before. If I'm going on past results, why not go all in?

I set up my Slip decoy about 30 yards past me to hopefully give a mistake buffer if an elk were to come in. It certainly fooled Hank.



About half an hour ( I honestly have no idea how long it was ) after setting up, I thought I might have heard a wimpy bugle. It could have been cattle, but I decided to make a few cow calls anyway. Within minutes, I saw an elk quickly moving my way through a couple of pines. She was already in shooting range but still coming at a good clip.

I ranged a tree at 18 yards, and she caught sight of my movement. Upon looking at me, her head twitched a bit as she caught sight of the decoy ( It worked! ) and she went back to doing her business. I stopped her broadside at 20 yards and drew, but decided I was not ready to end my season.

A few hours passed with no more action, so I decided to move to the next funnel. I wasn't quite in position when I caught movement in front of me. A herd of 20 was coming through the trees up ahead!



Unfortunately, I was caught out of position in a fairly open spot, and they headed off to my left. There was at least one legal bull in the group. After they passed, I sprinted around a ridge to try to intercept them at the next likely saddle, but they never showed. All I can figure is they picked up the pace after going out of sight and beat me to it.
 

vanish

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Car is almost packed. We head to the hills for four days of elk hunting after work!
 
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