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Second Chance Elk

By Donnie Morris

So the day had finally arrived for me to go on my 2nd  season Over The Counter public land elk hunt in Colorado. I have been waiting for this for over two years. The previous three hunts over the past five years have not produced an elk for me. Just like any DYI hunt it all depends on the weather, the first hunt we had tons of snow and the elk had all moved down to private land. The second hunt the weather was so hot you could wear a tee shirt at tree line and we never could find them. The third hunt there were so many hunters you were lucky to find a deer let alone an elk.

After the twenty five hour drive I finally arrived in Westcliffe Colorado at my hunting partners house Duane Foster to find him sleeping on the couch. After a short greeting I got much needed sleep as we were going to sight the rifles in and pack the trucks the next day and head up to the mountains. The next morning came very early and we headed to the range and got the rifles dialed in. We went into town and bought the rest of the supplies for the hunt, packed the trucks and loaded the quads. That following morning we were off to the mountains. A quick stop at the Colorado DFG office to get the tags purchased we were on our way.

We were going to hunt area 551 in the Gunnison Basin and was concerned about hunting pressure. When we arrived to our hunting location we were shocked at the lack of hunters in camp, it was only two days before season and we thought there would be more hunters. We parked the truck and unloaded the quads and went to locate a camp a few miles off the main road. After a couple hours we had located the perfect camp about 3 miles up the mountain in an aspen grove and didn’t see any other hunter camps on the mountain. After many shuttle trips up the mountain with our gear we finally had camp set up and was ready for a fire and a much needed meal. That evening we went for a hike right out of camp just to take a look and found fresh elk sign within 200 yards of camp. The next morning after breakfast we got on the quads and went looking for sign. We rode the quads for miles and everyplace we went we found fresh elk sign and to our surprise we saw no other hunting camps. With opening day starting in the morning we had decided to hike up the ridge from the bottom well before light and hunt the ridge to tree line.

Up and out of camp at three am we started up the ridge. We hiked for about two hours and decided to split up. About an hour after sun up we heard quads coming up the mountain. Thinking no way they are coming up our way here they come. After they had past Duane and I decided to go back to camp and plan an evening hunt as the weather had already reached 65 degrees and we figured the elk had bedded down for the day. That evening we went back to the same area and didn’t see anything. The next morning we stuck to the same plan. At sun up we found elk sign once again. Tracks everyplace, they were on top of our tracks. We hunted that ridge to tree line and found nothing but a flock of turkeys. We stayed on the mountain till dark and didn’t see one elk.

Back at camp I was getting discouraged thinking here we go again another year with no elk. It was day two and I thought I just need to push harder. At camp we decided to come in from the top of the ridge and let the elk come to us. We were up at two a.m. and started up the trail on the quads. We started hiking up the ridge at about four a.m. and had got into some thick lodge pole pine at about nine a.m. and we decided to stop for some lunch. Duane was off the side of the mountain doing some glassing while I started to prepare the food when all off the sudden the elk just started to pile over the mountain. I was so taken by surprise I was shaking like a leaf. I couldn’t say anything to Duane because I didn’t want to spoke the elk but they were moving so fast I didn’t I had to do something. I then hear Duane say big bull and all I could see was what I thought was a spike. I said no it’s a spike and then I saw the bull, he was about 170 yards away and was walking through the trees. I grab my rifle and try to into position only to realize I left my shooting sticks behind and the elk are now moving away from us. I have one shot and I took it. There was no reaction from the elk and I thought oh no I missed. The elk were gone as fast as they came. The next thing I hear is Duane asking if I hit him, I said no I think I missed. He came up to position I ran the whole event down to him and he wanted to give it some time and we would go look for any sign of a hit. After the longest 30 minutes off my life we went and looked for sign. We found nothing but tracks going back down the mountain. We looked for any sign off a hit for at least two hours and we finally decided it was a clean miss. I was beyond disappointed in just what happened, I just had a very large bull in front of me and I missed. We decided to call it a day and go back to camp. When we arrived back at camp we decided to go into town for a shower and some supplies. While in town we hear there is some weather coming and it might snow.

We made a plan to go back up to the top of the ridge the next morning and see if we can locate the elk again. We woke up that morning to freezing rain and decide to stay in camp for the day. Well the weather lasted all that day and through the night which kept us in camp. The next day was Wednesday and we woke up to everything being frozen solid so we planned on an evening hunt. We hiked out of camp a couple miles and didn’t find any sign at all. Back at camp that night I told Duane we need to split up in the morning and hunt the ridge from the top and from the bottom and meet in the middle. If we came up with nothing we had planned on throwing the backpacks on and going as far back in as we could and just stay on the mountain for the rest of the season. The next morning we were up at three a.m. and went our separate ways. The plan was come in contact on the radios at nine a.m. and make a plan if we hadn’t seen anything. At sun up I was glassing a beautiful meadow that should have had elk in it but it was empty. I started to climb the ridge were we had seen the elk 3 days earlier. The morning as perfect, quite, cold and dead still. About 20 yards up the ridge I stepped on stick and it snapped so loud I thought every animal on the mountain just heard me. I stopped and made a couple soft cow calls and to my surprise I got an answer. I started glassing up the ridge and about 180 yards up I saw movement, it was elk. I dropped my pack broke out my shooting sticks and started glassing. There were about 15 to 20 cows feeding down the ridge and I just knew there was a bull with them. I continued to glass and could see a lone elk standing in a stand of pine trees and I knew it had to be a bull but all I could see was its hind quarters. After what seemed like a lifetime time he turned and started to follow his cows. I got settled on my shooting sticks and waited for him to clear the trees. As soon as he cleared I see could see he was a solid 6x6 and I fired a shot. The cows busted off the other side of the mountain and he just walked down my side of the mountains into the aspens. My first thought was did I miss a gain? No way did I miss, so I watched the trees there was no way he could exit them without me seeing him. I waited for about 20 minutes and nothing moved. I gathered my gear and started into the trees to look for him, about 80 yards into the trees I find him bedded. I drop to my knees as he started to stand and he presented me a broad side shot. One final shot and he was down for good. I looked at my watch and it was 7:05, I had been hunting for less than an hour.

The bull was a solid 6x6 and it was the same bull I had missed on Monday. He was within 280 yards of where I missed him the first time. Knowing I wouldn’t hear from Duane for at least 2 hours I started the process of breaking him down. At about 9:15 Duane contacted me on the radio and I told him I had killed the same bull I missed on Monday. I told him to go to camp and grab the pack frames and come up and help pack him out. We spent the rest of the day getting the elk back to camp and had him hung on the meat pole by sundown.

The next morning we went into town so I could call my wife and let her know I was coming home with a bull. We had a good lunch while in town and got a much needed shower. The following day Duane went out on a solo hunt while I capped out my bull. He came back into camp that evening and said he hadn’t seen anything. We had decided to call it quits we had shot a very nice public land bull and it was time to go home. To say the least it was one awesome hunt and to see the same bull twice within 3 days and harvest him on the same ridge was a bonus.