What a trip and an experience. I think if there were two words to sum it up I would have to go with horse shoes and Hand Grenades.
I was humbled, amazed, frustrated, exhausted. I could go on.
We left Friday Sept 16th about 1pm from Mckinney Texas. I drove to Salida Passed out in Napa Parking lot about 2am. Got some decent shut eye. I have never slept well in a truck. Drove on over to Buena grabbed Breakfast and a shower then headed on our way.
Got to where I set up base camp at about lunch. Set up my large Cabelas Tent etc then unloaded the RTV and headed up the mountain. Took us an hour to go the last 15 miles or so. Then got out put on the packs and headed to do some glassing. Did not really see anything but fine tuned my route for the next day going for 6 days.
Went back to camp ate a good meal then TRIED to catch some shut eye. Turns out I sat base camp about a 1/4 mile from what I believe was a rave party.
Hows that for luck. So I did not fall asleep good till 3am as I am a very lite sleeper at home or abroad. We did not get up at 5 like planned. So we were a little behind getting up the mountain on day 1 of the hunt.
We got to what would become camp for a few days. After talking to a few guys with camps set up along the road everyone was saying the Elk were quiet and hiding. SO we went high to do some glassing after working some timber during midday. About an hour before sun went down the hair on my neck stood up at the sound of a Bugle range off from the next meadow over. My partner who was on his 1st trip was convinced it was 3 miles away or another hunter. But after the 3rd bugle I said nope we are moving on that bull. Grabbed bows and calls and took off. We came over the slight ridge over looking the meadow I believed him to be in and put out a cow call. He did not hesitate and said what I believe was "come on over here sweetie".
I had told Jason that because of the fact that I live in 900 sqft with 8' ceilings that he would set up on good bull encounters. I would not pass a bull but if given the chance he would be the one to take a bull. So I looked at him and said your up. He took off like a Jack rabbit getting the wind right and heading in that direction. I do wish he woulda waited on me but he was gone. The lack of communication and his none ability to call likely cost him a shot at a giant 6x6 that anyone would be proud of in an OTC hunt. He got to 61 yards and got rushed in turn making a mistake. But his words were "that was like being in a primos video I could see the air coming out of his mouth when he bugled at you.
Day 2 we wake up eat some mountain house and go to take off. As I round the tree that we are stashed behind and look up I see a herd of elk on the ridge we are heading to. So we had to sit and wait for them to feed down out of sight. As soon as they did we took off trying to gain on the 3/4 to a mile lead they had on us. When I topped the ridge I spotted them heading for the timber on the opposite side of the meadow. I got down below them and started trying to get in front of them. (No news to anyone reading this. Feeding elk move quicker than you think) I got another glance of them I had cut it down to probably 100 yards. I keep going. Getting all the way to the timber and the meadow is empty. I look through binos. scan scan scan. I am out of breath and frustrated I let out a Sigh and click my release lose. When I do, about 20 yards from me what sounded like 2, 3 cows bust lose and take off down into the timber. I get to a vantage point near me and I had only seen the tail end of what was a decent sized herd. The cows mewing then the bulling letting them know where he is. I was instantly upset that I had sighed instead of letting lose a couple cow calls. The herd settled in to the timber and eventually the bull got quiet. I figured since I only startled a few of the cows that the herd may still use the meadow and I opted not to go push them out of their living room. (one of the things that if I had to do over I would def do differently)
I dropped down into some other timber closer to camp I had a few bugles lower than I was in the drain I was working nothing to really move on. Sat in that meadow that evening where we had our 1st two encounters. Learned that if you booger up elk twice in the same meadow. You may as well move on to greener pastures.
Day 3. I woke up and headed to the meadow once again. Of course it was dead. So we hiked up to over look another area. When we got to the top it was about 8:45. We had 4 different bulls bugling below us. because of the wind I made the dumb decision to go in from where we were sitting. Boy dumb is a real light word. I literally got down on one knee and prayed about the remainder of the hike. When I got about 3/4 of the way down I came to about a 2, 3 hundred foot sheer drop. I had very little interest in hiking back up at this point so I found my way around it. I eventually got to the bottom and the water was moving pretty good. I took a little break and let the sweat stop dripping then started up the draw. I was walking adjacent to the creek as I was working up. Beautiful timber not too much dead fall. You felt as if you could sneak up on anything. I did a few cow calls as I moved along but very little even of that. Never heard a bugle or came across elk. They were higher up on the ridges and quiet now.
I got to a rock where my buddy had said go there and I will stay here and we can communicate through the binoculars. I sat and looked. Looked and looked. Went to the creek filled my water up. Went back looked and looked at where he should be. Now I am worried. Did he make a move on elk? Did he fall? He should be there. I waited about an hour then decided it was time to head up to find him. Uho whats that 200 yards up crossing the meadow. Cow Cow Cow Cow Bull. Drop run to pack get bow call and make way up meadow. I came to where I believed they crossed then looked up and saw the last cow getting up. I checked the wind made the adjustment to move on them. Checked wind. Adjusted again. Wind was whirling bad. About that time Bull decided to bugle. I adjusted 3 times trying to get the right wind and decided to back out. SO now I am back to cursing my buddy for not being at the rock. I go get my back on and head on up. It was a bear of a climb and I was going to let him have it when I got to the top. Well I got to the rock and quickly realized he was about a mile away. Straight up hill. I was not at the rock I was supposed to be on and was looking at the wrong rock peak all together. I set off to get to him before he dropped down to find me. I was double timing it and Worn out at that. Thank goodness he saw me climb out and started towards me. I just laid down and let him come to me. Wrapped up the day with some glassing and figuring out how we were going back down into the draw the next day.
We dropped in the civilized way and thank goodness the wind allowed for that. pretty quickly we heard a few bugles far off. We started working the timber ever so slowly. He was up so I was about 20 yards behind him. He would tell me if he wanted me to cow call. I made a few calls we sat for a few minutes then off again. All the sudden he dropped down. I followed suit he signaled me to call. He would pick up his bow and half draw then pick up range finder. this went on several times. Then he got up. I saw none of what was going on but I guess he and a cow locked eyes at about 30 yards. heading for a collision. She ran up the hill he had her at 60 yards but in some brush. He could not identify her vitals so make the right choice to pass. We got within couple hundred yards of another bugling bull but the rain had the air lifting and falling swirling bad really could not do anything with them. Rain seemed to be setting in so we high tailed it. Got back to tent about 1. the last forecast we saw showed rain Wednesday storms Thursday. We had realized it would take us 12 + hours to get an elk out so we said Thursday evening was cut off for putting one on the ground. As I sat in the tent I realized that I under packed clothes was wet cold and of change of clothes. I came to the realization that the hunt was over. We discussed it and as the rain let up we high tailed it out of there.
My buddy whom had never even been in the mountains was heads over tails. Surpassed every expectation of the trip he had set. Rightfully so. I was no doubt disappointed to get close and not get it done. When in all actuality someone from Texas on his second DIY OTC elk hunt should be extremely pleased with the progress from Hunt 1 to hunt 2. I guess it is mainly the naysayers. The "next time take a rifle" "My cousin paid 15K and shot one his first year" etc. I guess they are the ones splashing gas on the bonfire that burns inside. But if waking up at 11k looking at that beautiful sunrise and listening to elk bugle all day is not enough you should really find a new hobby.
Thats all I got boys