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by Joseph Richter a.k.a. 3dcadman Last updated: 2017-10-11 00:09:43
The plan forms...
I had been gathering my preference points for elk over the years, applying for and chasing the elusive elk area designated as Unit 2 in Northwest Colorado. By this time I had now racked up 24 preference points (as in not drawing a tag for over 24 years). Yes, that is a long time. My Father had been helping me apply for elk in Colorado since I was 14, which was the legal age to be able to apply at the time*(it has been reduced to age 12 since then in the state of Colorado). Finally, at age 38, the years of waiting were soon to be over.
As I prepared to apply for my tag in Unit 2 during January of 2016, my father (Gregg Richter, one of the moderators on this fine forum) studied the drawing statistics yet again. He explained that although hunters are getting tags, they had been drawing with over 26+ preference points (non-resident). He continued to explain that I was still a few years out with my 24 preference points, and may not ever catch up due to the number of hunters reapplying each year for that popular unit, as compared to the small number (5) of non-resident tags allotted each year. We had been tempted in years past to just apply for an area we knew we could draw. I had always convinced Dad that we should stay the course. We had been building up preference points for all those years and I really just wanted to accomplish our goal. This time however it was different. My father had told me about his good friend John who had hunted in the Uncompahgre National Forest the previous season, part of which was a trophy elk area. There was also the fact that his friend was going to get his son to apply for the same area this year. My dad convinced me to apply for this area explaining that we would be going with a hunter that had spent almost an entire month bowhunting there, and thus he would be the “perfect guide.”
The plan started to form. Gregg’s friend John was going to bring a camping trailer that we all could bunk in. We would all set up in the camp ground of the Uncompahgre National Forest where John had been the year before and thus be able to hunt right out of camp. John’s son and I would be getting an awesome hunt with our fathers, a cool plan indeed.
After hearing this great strategy and set up, I went for it. It turned out that I had just enough preference points to confidently draw this area Unit 61. But having those points was still no guarantee, non-residents have a much tougher time getting a tag. Plans nevertheless were set in motion.
One fine day in June my wife handed me an envelope from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. My hands were nervous and my heart rate quickened; this was the moment of truth! Opening the envelope I was hoping that it was not just another refund and preference point. Alas, I drew the tag! And that is when I started to get excited! Of course, that is when the perfect plan started to change. For starters John’s son had decided not to apply for this unit after all, so he would not be hunting with us. Which immediately raised the question as to whether or not John was going to come on the hunt and guide me? Granted, if John backed out my father is a very accomplished outfitter and guide. I was sure he would be able to figure out the area quickly and we would still have a great time, after all it was still a father son outing. This new wrinkle also translated into us needing to figure out a new camping plan.
When the dust settled we had found Weimer Ranch; which was a large cattle operation smack dab in the middle of Unit 61. Aside from providing cabins for rent, they also offered guided hunts, as well as pack out services for your harvested animals; under the name of “Weimer Hunting Camp.” So we arranged to rent a cabin from them. As it turned out John decided that he was still on board to guide me as he was also preparing himself for his upcoming hunt which was located in the same general area of Western Colorado. He had drawn a coveted tag for a ‘Ranching for Wildlife Trophy Mule Deer Hunt’, which started the day after my season ended.
It was dark as we arrived on the Uncompahgre Plateau and when we got to our cabin we were greeted by Jody and his wife Robbie of Weimer Hunting Camp. They were down to earth cowboys who were immediately gracious hosts! Generously shared his whiskey, Jody quickly gave us his advice on locating the elk. He exclaimed ‘All you're going to need to do is go outside and listen for the bulls as they will give themselves away.’ He continued to tell us that the bulls had just gotten very vocal and were bugling due to the cooler weather.
I then showed Jody my Encore .308 handgun and he exclaimed “You're going to try shooting a Bull Elk with that? You’ll need to borrow my 7mm mag rifle because when you find an elk you're going to have to shoot him from ridge to ridge.” After I politely refused his rifle offer, he was amused by the seeming impossibility of my task. Jody then exclaimed, ”Well if you find yourself in a hole we will dig you out!” It was getting late and as the cowboys and my father had polished off the whiskey, we decided it was time to call it a night and with Jody’s assurance in mind we hit the cabin.
Early that next morning I awoke to John and my Dad discussing the plan for the day. Their discussion was escalating into a hunting tactics debate. As we had entered the National Forest after dark the night before, my father wanted to go out on the ATV’s and do some scouting to figure out the lay of the land. John on the other hand, wanted to pick a spot and start walking into the forest. Both were good plans and they looked to me for my opinion. I did not hesitate to express that I preferred to get familiar with the area first, as was the normal procedure when hunting with my dad. Which meant that I was not up for hiking with firearms blindly into an unfamiliar wooded area just for exercise without further intel. As it turned out, our cabin was in a different part of the National Forest then John had hunted the year prior, so his experience was helpful but not necessarily spot on. Unit 61 is very large, and therefore if we had been exactly where John was last year, then we could have gone hiking right away with some degree of confidence.
John, clearly not happy with our decision, exclaimed that he did not know how to hunt off ATV’s. I retorted and explained that we were not ‘hunting off our ATV’s’, but rather traveling around on the main roads noting the terrain and drainage's as well as looking for points from where we could glass open areas. By using our binoculars I knew we could learn the layout of the land for strategic planning and possibly spot some elk. And, I suppose, if it made him feel better, we could just take the truck; although we could hear an elk bugle better from the ATV. And if we got lucky enough to spot a bull worthy of my attention, we would obviously park and then hike into the terrain after him trying to get close enough to put a stalk on him. I then wondered why John had bothered to trailer his ATV to camp if he was never actually planning on using it; also why there appeared to be some tension emerging in the group. I mean I had just met John the day before and already there was some strange conflict brewing.
As John and I headed out on his Ranger ATV I informed him that I have scoliosis, or curvature of my spine and neck, and therefore have multiple surgically fused vertebrae; asking him to ‘please’ take it easy on the bumpy roads. I know he heard me but did not seem to acknowledge it, let alone offer a caring glance. I started to get the impression that he was really upset with me; nevertheless it had been very ‘quiet’ at camp and I was anxious to scout out the area and find some elk. My dad followed us on his Yamaha Grizzly, carrying his video camera and other gear.
Driving fast and roughly along the rocky road we were about 20 minutes out from camp. Over the noise of the Ranger’s engine, we heard a bull elk bugling across the drainage in the direction of a series of mountain ridges. Success I thought; now all we need to do is find an open spot to glass for him. As it was, we were surrounded by thick trees and could not see much. It was at that moment I could tell John decided to take charge as guide and alter our agreed upon hunting strategy. He immediately had us pull over and park the ATV’s and then proceeded to guide us on a literal dive off the side of the steep rocky mountain after the bugling sounds.
I, as the hunter, thought that this was a very strange decision. But I glanced over at my father who just shrugged. For the first time ever in my hunting career, my father was not my guide. John was my guide and he was anxiously leading me on a chase. Fighting the intense thoughts running through my head that were screaming ‘That elk sure sounds like he is a very long ways away, he is likely on one of those far away mountain ridges about 1 or 2 miles out’ as well as, ‘We should continue riding the ATV’s up the road to see if we can glass the area with our binoculars, or at the very least get somewhat closer.’ After a few more yards down the mountainside, I continued to doubt as I asked myself ‘why are we just walking away from our rides.’ I buried my angst and doubt just as the memory of what Jody had mentioned the night before came flooding back to me. Jody said the bulls would give away their position, so I followed John and he was my guide.
But John’s tactics were very questionable as he had us scrambling down this steep mountain in the general direction of where we had heard the bugling sound without being able to see the bull or his herd; let alone know exactly which one of these surrounding mountains he had been bugling from. But I figured ‘Perhaps the bull will start bugling again as we get closer, so perhaps this could work after all.’
Looking ahead at my surrogate guide, John started to get more and more excited as we descended down the mountain. My mind and heart kept racing; I told myself 'Well John’s my guide, I guess I will have to trust him and give this tactic a shot, although it is different than any other hunt I’ve been on.'.
Absolutely no joke, the side of this ridge was steep. As we proceeded to slip and slide down the mountain, I found myself grabbing onto branches; there were trees both fallen and in all manner of condition, as well as various stages of life. And not very consistent; some were strong trees, some looking strong until you grabbed them and then they gave way. ‘This is slightly insane,’ I thought. ‘How are we going to make it back to the ATV’s?’ I wondered as we continued our descent as we were basically tumbling down the ‘getting more treacherous by the minute’ mountain. This may have been a good idea except for the topography of this particular square mile of Colorado.
After stumbling and falling a few times I half shouted to John, who had gotten way ahead of us, “Do you see anything ahead?” Visibility was only out to about ten feet due to the dense thickness of the trees. In fact I could barely see John, just his hat through some branches down the hill. His quiet answer was ‘no’; I also wondered why he was not by my side ‘guiding me’. So then I raised my voice again and asked him “Do you know where we are going?” He just ignored me, perhaps he was annoyed with me breaking the silence. I, on the other hand, continued to question the wisdom of our reckless plan of action. You see, every foot we descend, we must hike back up, right?
Aside from my voice breaking the silence begging for communication from my guide, being quiet was impossible due to the slippery and unstable footing. So unless there isn’t a better way to get to where the elk are, or there is a case of ice cold beer and three Filet Mignon steaks grilled medium rare at the bottom of this frickin’ Black Diamond ski slope, this is unnecessary punishment. It was on the verge of being foolishly dangerous as my father and I both have physical limitations. When you consider his bad knees (having both been replaced, one multiple times) and my fused back and neck we should be avoiding situations like this.
I fell a few more times, as the ground was moist and the grade was at least 45-65 degrees everywhere. By the way, that is the actual amount of incline, as I am a Drafting Instructor and that number is no exaggeration; in fact, I’m being a bit conservative about some of these areas. About halfway down the slope, we tried to take a rest break. In our attempt, my father, who had also fallen several times, (and in the process breaking his video camera off of the tripod), sat down on a big fallen tree. After several seconds it rolled out from underneath him. He fell backward, landing flat on his back as his feet had just been removed from the ground due to his unexpectedly mobile seat.
I raced over to his side to check on him; he seemed more embarrassed than actually hurt or experiencing any discomfort. He assured me that he was ok. I then decided that I needed to put a stop to this little journey before anything else like that happened again. As I hurriedly made my way down to John, I slipped and fell on my butt for the umpteenth time. ‘This is ridiculously crazy’ I thought.
Confronting John I exclaimed to him “This is futile, what are we doing?” He gave me a deadpan look and replied; “I’m hunting, what are you doing?” My response was that I thought we were hunting but stressed that it was not worth getting hurt chasing after an invisible elk that we have only heard bugle once. He then presented me with these options: We could go back up the hill, or “hunt” the rest of the way down the mountain to the trail. I was relieved to hear that there was a trail, and I thought to myself ‘Great! If we get there in one piece we can regroup.’
After another 15 minutes of stumbling and falling a few more times, we finally reached the bottom of the mountain without any serious injuries. And we did indeed find a trail which followed a little creek. But instead of stopping to speak to me or my father, John charged ahead ‘leading’ us down the trail towards where he thought the elk were. ‘Well, alright, at least the trail looks manageable, I’m ok with this for now.’ I figured I would give John another chance. But before long John had left us in the dust as we lost sight of him. ‘Wow, what is his hurry, I thought he was supposed to be guiding me. What is he going to do if he finds an elk, he doesn’t have a tag!’ He did not exactly fill us in on his plan, and there was not much communication from him, just his body language saying ‘you had better keep up.’ I was not impressed, so I decided that my Dad and I should just stop right there on the trail to rest. This gave us the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful turning aspens and the gentle rays of warm and welcome sunshine. I figured John would eventually realize that he had lost us and would have to come back for us.
After about 30 or 45 minutes John finally returned to find us. He was obviously dismayed that my father and I were just hanging out enjoying each other’s company and becoming one with nature, unconcerned with where he had been. We asked how it was going, and he said that he had been up on top of this hill and although he had not seen any elk, he had heard them. He then asked me what I wanted to do, his demeanor desperately trying to convince me to blindly follow him back to the top of the hill on his ‘expertly guided’ hunt to investigate the sounds that only he had heard. However, after having chased noise for the last few hours, and coming up empty, the thought of continuing on this same path went against my better judgment, as I did not have any confidence that we were hunting in a manner I deemed was conductive to handgun hunting. I knew that I needed to be able to see my target long enough to set up my Bog Pod for a steady hold and make a clean shot. Rushing in and stirring up the wildlife was not going to provide me with that opportunity. I then told him that I wanted to head back toward camp and slowly hunt along the way.
Is it counterproductive to walk away from the direction that the elk had bugled earlier that morning and instead hunt toward camp? Well, yes, maybe. But you see, even though John had hunted this unit just a season ago, as mentioned before, we were in a completely different part of the forest that he had never been in. And as such, I thought we were wasting time as we clearly did not know the area, or exactly where the bull might be. Let alone where the local elk herd would typically hang out, or their migration patterns throughout the area.
Again I felt strongly that without at least more bugling from the bull, (he had now been quiet for a couple of hours) we might as well be walking around blindly ‘shooting in the dark’ so to speak. Besides, if we continued pursuing this ghost Bull Elk at John’s Mach 1 speed and being as noisy as we were, the elk would most likely disappear before we even got close.
Per my wishes, John unhappily lead the way along the trail back to camp. Speeding ahead of us instead of trying to guide me, John missed seeing 2 mule deer that I spotted, off the right shoulder of the trail down in the gully. He had overlooked them in his haste as he again left us behind on the trail.
The scenario went something like this: John would lose us by speeding ahead, and then we would eventually catch up as he would be sitting on a rock or standing next to a tree and waiting while angrily stewing. He must not pay much attention to those around him, let alone attend to anyone that he is supposed to be guiding.
The last time John lost us he thought that he would try to make me feel bad by claiming that he had just seen a herd of about 20 elk (running through the trees) and that we had been too slow to see them. Talk about your ghost stories. Proceeding to berate us, he claimed to have guided Handicapped hunters as well as overweight, in his words, “400-pound hunters that could keep up with him.” The question as to whether or not his hunters shot anything was not rhetorical, as I still do not know the answer. Then he said that we were slower than anyone he had ever guided before.
My father, not having my patience, jumped down John’s throat: “What difference does it make if you saw twenty or a hundred elk if your hunter is not there in position to take a shot?” They started to argue. So I jumped in.
I tried to diffuse the situation with cool headed logic. Being a teacher, I explained, that in the classroom it is not about me and whatever skills in Mechanical Engineering and Design I may have. Success is instead measured by what I am able to successfully share and can teach or pass onto my students effectively building their skill set; then in turn what they ultimately are able to accomplish with what they learned. Yes, the goal is to make sure that your students can surpass you one day. So juxtapositional speaking it is not about what John can do with his skills as a hunter busting through the woods and seeing game, but rather what John can do as a guide by providing opportunities for his hunters to be successful.
Which means, in my opinion, he needed to be more aware of where his hunters are and make sure that when the game is spotted, that he is able to choreograph the situation so that his hunter is in a position to get a shot. Continuing to relate it to my own experience, I described that every class I teach can only go as fast as the slowest learner in order to be effective for everyone.
John was unphased by my lecture and continued to insist that we were still too slow. I really started to get annoyed so I confronted him and asked: “What is your problem!?”
He then explained that he had been an accomplished guide, and that most of his hunter clients had never seen an elk, and that when they hire him to guide them, he “scares them to death on the first day.” My dad and I looked at each other; unsure of just what he meant.
After pondering this ridiculous statement for a moment, I said: “Yeah, after you put them through a chase like what you just put us through, I’m sure that they ‘shoot the first legal animal that they see so that they can be finished hunting with you.’“ My father burst out laughing.
To end our conversation John said that we were incompatible as hunting partners, and that he was not going to guide me anymore. I obviously struck a nerve with him, and frankly, if he had no intention of being a guide that was going to take care of me then perhaps he was right; I no longer required his services.
At this point, I was getting very upset. I then decided to take the lead on the trail and headed back to camp. In my blind hurry, I stepped in some deep mud in the small shallow creek; my foot got stuck and I started to fall forward. I then lunged so that I would not fall in the water, but rather land on the bank on the far side. The momentum dislodged my foot, but in the process, I heard the loud snap-crackle-pop of nearly every vertebra in my spine stretching out. Ooooof, I landed on the muddy bank; and suddenly my fear of that visceral sound was replaced with a feeling of relief as tension had just been released from my back. It felt good, but I was still deeply concerned that I may have just injured myself, as I have many fused vertebrae in both my back and neck. After that, the rest of the walk back was thankfully uneventful.
We got back to camp and drove John’s truck out to retrieve the ATV’s. I actually ended up apologizing to John because it is unlike me to get so upset; let alone verbally yell back. I may have had good reason to, but it goes against my nature. Despite the rough day, due to all the hiking, we had accomplished learning where some of the landmarks were.
As John was not going to guide me, and now that we were more familiar with the area, we came up with our own strategy. Gregg’s plan was to slowly and quietly walk out of camp to the Upper Bench Trail to hunt/spot and stalk, hoping to hear bugles. Since we now knew where the trail went, I was confident that it was a great idea. About then John showed up and we shared our plans with him. I figured that he would just give us his blessing as he appeared to have washed his hands of me. But instead, he insisted, once again, that we could not spot and stalk; as “it was not the way to hunt this area.” Instead, he advised us to go a couple miles up the road, “walk” down the side of another mountain and acquire the trail back towards camp because we would jump some elk along the way. He stressed that he knew exactly where the elk were. Oh and by the way, John reiterated that he would not be joining us as he was going off hunting for Grouse, so we were on our own. You read that right: he bullied into our plan, changed it, and then ditched us that quickly. But he was the “experienced” hunter for this area, so we half-heartedly agreed to take his advice.
We jumped into John's truck and he took us up the road to the spot he wanted us to start from. As we gathered our gear up for the trek, John showed us his map; pointing out several landmarks and explaining his sure-fire plan; even marking where the elk were. He wished us luck, and we were off.
As he drove off, we hiked 50 yards down off the road and Dad put up his binoculars to study the terrain ahead. Almost instantly, he spotted our camp; but technically camp should have been over 3 miles away according to John and his map reading skills. But instead, it was a mere half-mile away which means John was a bit off on his map interpretation. As we headed towards camp along the trail per John’s advice, we saw no elk. A decision was required when we reached the fork in the trail; left to camp for breakfast or right to continue on to the Upper Bench Trail. We decided to continue to the right to hunt the Upper Bench Trail which had been my Father's original plan that morning; as being the natural and experienced hunter and guide that he is, he had figured out the best way to hunt this area in just a little over a day.
We sneaked along the Upper Bench Trail hunting slow and steady; basically “still hunting” (walk little, look much, listen more!) From this trail, you would come to vantage points along the way where glassing could be productive (ie. spot and stalk.) And as stated, we also kept sharp ears out for bugles. Unlike the day before, when we had rushed headlong into the area potentially spooking the squirrels, which would spook the birds, which spooks the deer, which alerts the elk to our presence; who quietly leave the area long before we would have known they were there. Finally, after about 2 hours we stopped along the trail at a vantage point to have some lunch. It was a beautiful fall day with aspens bursting in full fall colors, and suddenly during our lunch, we heard one raspy bugle! Naturally, we hurriedly packed up our lunch and sneaked closer towards an open area from which we could look for the elk that we heard bugle. My Dad identified the deep-throated bugle as an older bull and coming from an oak-brush choked ridge just across the drainage some 900 to 1000 yards distant.
He quickly surmised that our best plan was to sit patiently at our new vantage point facing that ridge and bury our faces in our binoculars; tearing apart the oak brush leaf by leaf searching for “pieces of elk,” and hoping for more bugles.
After about an hour one more raspy bugle suddenly rang out, and Gregg was on it instantly with his Zeiss binoculars. But try as he might, not even an elk ear or some brown/tan hide could be detected. A half hour later the sun was dropping towards the mountain crest ready to go to bed; it was around 6 o'clock and there were no more signs of the elk. We knew that we had a good two and a half hours hike out, and at this late hour part of it would be after dark, so we decided to head for camp and return here before daylight the next morning. We proceeded to pack up our gear in order to head back towards camp.
As Dad stood up and grabbed his pack, he took one more glance back to that ridge and he burst out: “Joe, there’s elk!”
Like flowers popping out of the ground, more and more elk were rising up from their resting/hiding spots deep within the oak brush and starting to appear as they moved into the open areas of the ridge, feeding their way downhill towards the creek where they could also quench their thirst. It was like magic. Dad, his face glued to his binoculars, tried to whisper but half talked in his excitement, exclaiming: “There's the Herd Bull! He’s a beauty! YOU BETTER NOT PASS HIM UP!” As I looked at him through my binoculars I saw him arch his head back and his antlers went well past the halfway point on his back, 'AWESOME, he is perfect' I thought. Gregg quickly ranged him with his laser rangefinder and calculated him at around 530 yards. We knew we needed to get much closer.
So picture this; we are on one ridge, and the bull was on another; darn it Jody was right!
We started stalking towards the bull which meant going down the mountain we were on to close the distance, trying to stay hidden somewhat despite wearing blaze orange. As we got further and further down the mountainside, the parallax or perspective of the opposite hillside was changing. So it was a tricky balance between closing the gap and keeping the bull in sight due to the thick aspens we were in as well as the fact we were losing altitude. As we were rapidly moving downhill zig-zagging between the aspens, Gregg was judging all of the above as well as how much we were closing the distance and finally but quickly found a good spot on the side of the steep hill where I could get a shot from; and then he instantly ranged the distance at 356 yards. He knew that my .308 with his “hybrid” loads would do their part if I did mine. Besides that I was running out of options fast as we were not likely to get any closer without losing sight of the bull. Not only that but the herd was moving downhill towards more thick oak brush. It would be only a moment before they disappeared out of sight.
So I hurriedly set up my Bog-Pod with the Portable Shooting Rest and peered through the scope as the sun reached the crest of the opposite ridge the elk were on. With the sun glaring in my eyes, I was watching the herd through my scope while my father was coaching me where the bull was within the group as they kept changing position. Once I finally found the great bull in the scope Gregg told me that I needed to hold 3 inches above his back to accommodate the distance. So I rested the crosshairs on the ‘Great King of the Uncompahgre Forest’ shoulder as he stood broadside and then moved my gun upwards to what I estimated to be about 3 inches above his back at that distance. It was a little tricky as I was aiming at air, nevertheless with expert advice, I gently pressed the trigger, and I don't really recall hearing the shot report from my gun. I mean I felt the recoil, but I was so intently focused on making a good shot that I failed to register the boom. Instead that wonderful sound of a solid “thwack” reached our ears as the 165 grain Nosler Accubond from my .308 Encore smashed into my bull. I quickly reloaded as the bull turned to look towards us and then started walking to the left. Snapping my Encore closed on a fresh shell I again settled my crosshairs on his shoulder and raised about 3 inches above his back and squeezed off a second shot; and yet again we heard a solid smack; and as we watched through the binoculars the big bull did a death lunge and slammed into the ground. So we knew he was down, yet his limp body continued sliding down the steep ridge and disappeared into the tangled oak brush.
At this point it was around 6:25 pm and the sun quickly disappeared as darkness settled in. We excitedly hiked down the super steep mountain; Deja-Vu from the day prior but this time with purpose (there really were steaks waiting at the bottom!) Once we reached the bottom of the gully there was a small creek and we found a crossing point. That mountain, as described above, was covered in oak brush and walking up it was near impossible. We therefore were forced to crawl up towards where we saw the bull go down. It was rough getting through the oak brush as darkness was now complete. We were about halfway up the mountain, and it was pitch black with no moon. My dad had a couple of headlamps we put on that freed up our hands to help make the search a little bit easier as we needed to grab onto trees and oak brush in order to crawl and pull ourselves up the mountain. At one point I looked down and saw a flash or a glint of light. I investigated it and apparently my father had just lost his watch but I found it. We decided to stop and rest a moment as we were getting fatigued and very frustrated trying to find my bull in the dark in this thick oak brush where you could not see more than two feet in front of yourself.
The wind started to pick up, and it was getting colder. Anxious to find my bull and running out of alternatives my Dad fired 3 shots with his .475 Linebaugh as a call for help. Not hearing a reply to our call for assistance we instead said some prayers. After some discussion, we decided that unless we wanted to spend the night on the mountain we needed to head back towards camp. We knew that was the smart choice as it would drop below freezing and the time was already 9:45 in the evening. Thus we would return in the morning to find my bull.
So we headed back down the mountain through the oak brush by sitting down and sliding on our butts because it was so steep that it was impossible to stay standing up. After getting tired of fighting the oak brush I spied an aspen grove in the light of my headlamp and we headed towards it.
Now we were out of the oak brush and could very carefully “walk” down the mountain but in doing so Gregg tripped in the dark on a branch lying on the ground; falling and tumbling head over heels, literally all I saw in the darkness was his head lamp doing a summersault. Luckily he was unhurt. Big guy but he seems to “know how to fall!”. Needless to say, the going was pretty dangerous, especially in the dark. When we finally got to the bottom we located the same crossing point to get over the creek which was shrouded by thick willows. Following the creek, we found the Lower Bench Trail. We were both exhausted and emotionally drained. I then debated with with my dad about which way along the trail was towards camp. I insisted it was to the right but my father, the ultimate guide knew it was to the left. So I reluctantly followed my guide. I trusted my dad even though my mind kept nagging me that we were headed in the wrong direction. After about 2 hours of plodding along this “foreign trail”, I started to recognize some familiar rock features and trees in the dark. I was immediately relieved as I realized we were actually near camp. We finally made it back to camp at 12:16 am. The bed never felt so good, but I could not get my amazing bull out of my mind. I hated having to leave him on the mountain, but there were no good alternatives in that dangerous and pitch black situation.
We contacted two cowboys from Weimer Hunting Camp. They got four of their horses out and began to saddle them up, and my dad and John pitched in to help. After they were done, my dad re-checked his and mine (he was in the trail ride business for many years) and had to re-do the cinch and breast strap on my horse that John had attempted to rig. The two horses my dad and I rode in would become the pack horses for my elk later. Our small pack train then headed up the trail.
It had been quite a few years since I had been on horseback but it was very peaceful. The horse I was riding was named Vladimir Putin. He was a beautiful white horse and was well-mannered. As we rode the trail we located the spot where we had lunch the day before. Gregg and I dismounted and finally found where I had taken my shot from. We described the area to the Cowboys where we saw my bull go down. They took our horses and lead them while they rode theirs down and around to where the elk should be. My dad stood from where I took the shot and I stumbled down the mountain to the bottom. The plan was that I would trudge up the side of the other mountain and look back with my binoculars and he would guide me to the spot to where we saw the bull go down. Luckily as I approached the bottom I heard the cowboys shouting “we found him.” So I excitedly and with great relief made my way over and checked out my bull. He was a sight to behold! My dad had called it, as he was a fine heavy symmetrical 6X6! I then flagged my father over to have him join us.
When he regrouped with us we took a lot of pictures. Then the cowboy’s field dressed and packed out my bull. My father commented to them that “It sure is nice to have you guys do all the work instead of me!”
They used their pack horses (which my dad and I had ridden in on) for carrying the elk out; therefore my father and I needed to hike back. But our walk out on foot wasn’t that bad; in fact it was nothing like the evening before as we could see where we were going and my bull would be waiting back at camp for us! When we got back to camp the Cowboys invited us to dinner as we celebrated a short but hard and successful elk hunt!
The following day we broke camp and headed back towards Grand Junction. We stopped in at Cabela's and purchased a few shirts with the Rocky Mountain Elk on it. After tooling around all day we headed home.
After 24 long years of building up preference points and waiting to hunt a bull elk, my goal of taking a nice mature bull with my Encore .308 had finally materialized. The taste of this successful adventure, especially being able to share it with my Dad Gregg, was oh so sweet!
My bull is a beautifully symmetrical 6X6 and he will go high up in the Safari Club International Handgun Records Book. I had his skull and antlers mounted European Style, and he proudly resides in our dining room in Mesa, Arizona.
A FEW NOTES FROM GREGG
Hello fellow handgun hunters, I wish to add some personal input.
First of all, to say that I am proud of my son is an understatement.
Since Joe’s cervical fusions include his neck as well as spine, he permanently holds his head at an angle to one side; having very limited movement of his head. Consequently he is unable to tilt his head/neck very much and therefore cannot “get down” on a rifle stock to aim through the scope without experiencing great discomfort. A handgun therefore is an excellent as well as obvious choice for him.
Joe was born with even additional handicaps over and above what is mentioned here (all of these problems are a result of doctors mistakenly prescribing narcotics for pain during his mother’s pregnancy) and has overcome them through a boatload of courage and determination. For the first twelve years of his young life he wore an upper body brace made of fiberglass and casting material starting at his hips that even encompassed his neck and chin. Even more than the discomfort, awkwardness, and negative aspects of hygiene of wearing it, he of course also had to endure the cruel and many times off color comments of his young “peers” who constantly made fun of him. As I said Joe has overcome all of this through tenacity, pure guts, and Faith in The Lord; and today has an excellent career which includes teaching and he is looked up to and is well-respected by his boss, co-workers, and students.
When Joe found out that he drew his elk tag, he contacted Ernie and asked his advice on a shooting rest set-up for this hunt, knowing that it could entail taking a shot from a standing position. Ernie recommended the equipment Joe describes and Joseph took it upon himself to practice with his rig even during the hot Phoenix summer; shooting well over 100 rounds in many range trips. It paid off handsomely as he made two great long range chest shots on his bull.
Joseph, as your father I am extremely proud of you son, and love you very much!
As far as the events described here, the negative facts detailed out in this story regarding my friend John are just that: FACTS. To be exact, they are actually DOWNPLAYED rather than exaggerated. Since the planning of the hunt was really set in motion by John from the beginning, they are a major part of this story and meant only to help the reader experience the real tone of Joe’s hunt. They are not meant to criticize John, but rather just depict the reality of what actually transpired.
Secondly, and maybe even more importantly, let me try to share with you what the true meaning of this hunt really was to me. In my hunting career of some 55 years, and my guiding career of some 30 years, no hunt has ever meant more to me than guiding my son Joe to hunt his beautiful Rocky Mountain Bull Elk. To me it was literally the culmination of both careers; a high point in my life that I will relive many times and remember forever.
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