Elk Hunting

San Juan NF

Colorado Hunt September 1999

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Finally, the year long wait was over. We were heading to Colorado again to hunt elk. This time we would be hunting public land in the the San Juan National Forest. We had rented two cabins just north of Dolores and would base there and plan to camp in tents after we located some elk activity. We arrived in Dolores on Thursday evening 9/9/99. Friday morning we travelled up to Black Mesa to have a look around. We spent most of the day familiarizing ourself with the area between there and the cabins. Saturday, we spent unpacking, relaxing and shopping for groceries. Sunday we took a trip to Durango to ride the train to Silverton, what a scenic ride!

Train to Silverton

Monday we hunted the area behind the cabins and saw a minimal amount of sign, so Tuesday we travelled up to Willow Divide. We heard at least a half dozen elk bugling but most were down low in the creek bottoms. We setup several times and had elk within a couple hundred yards of us but they appeared to have cows and felt no need to detour toward us. We spotted a spike bull as we walked the road trying to position on a bugling bull. The bulls seemed to bugle all day long but after hiking up and down the mountainside and across all the blowdowns we had pretty much "bugled" out for the day. We set up camp and prepared to await the next days hunt.

On Wednesday, after a stormy, uncomfortable night's rest we arose to hear four-wheelers travelling past our camp. We quickly dressed and made our way down the ridge toward where the activity was the previous day. We called and followed two bugling bulls for a couple of hours before settling in on a hillside overlooking a bottom where they were. By now typical cow calling would only raise a bugle occasionally. I decided to resort to some hyper cow calling to coax the bulls in. They responded but only the lesser sounding bull began heading our way. I finally caught a glimpse of the bull at about 400 yards and he definitely was heading our way. I told Dad to relocate down the hill a bit and to my left in hopes of calling the bull by him for a shot. Instead of coming straight in, the bull travelled down the creek and then came straight up the hill. When he was in Dad's shooting range, he was on a quartering angle, not a good shot. He drew on the bull twice but just didn't have a good shot. He passed and the bull came right by me broadside within 15 yards. He was a nice satellite bull and appeared to be a 6 X 6. At first glance I decided to pass hoping we would get more opportunities. He bugled and at that distance it just made you shivver. After he gave me a better look, I thought to myself, "He's better than the two elk I have to date" and decided to try and take him. He had walked past me, so I cow called to bring him back. Well, it worked, but at this time the wind was blowing directly toward him. He came back within 10 yards but would never turn for a shot. He finally winded me and the gig was up. We continued to pursue the other "herd" bull until a muzzle loading hunter shot just ahead of us. We assume he had taken the bull, but never saw him.

Colorado Sky

We hunted the lower side on Thursday across Fishing Creek. We were basically trying to determine how we would get an elk out if we were fortunate enough to kill one. It wouldn't be easy from the lower side either, but at least we were getting familiar with the territory. We did stumble across the largest pine I have ever seen.

Colorado Pine

We travelled to town and purchased a couple of air mattresses which we hoped would be the answer to our camping misery. We travelled back up and moved the campsite closer to the lower road which we had found to be closer to the bugling bulls. On Friday, we made our way back in to the area we had found two days before. With each trip into the area we found better ways of approaching the bulls. This was rugged country to say the least, but when that bugle rings out it gives you the added drive necessary to tackle the worst. He bugled and off we went down the mountainside. Every morning the wind current was moving directly down the mountain towards the bulls we were hunting. We had to circle to get even or below on every occasion. On this morning the bulls seemed to be across fishing creek on Black Mesa so we travelled down the mountain for a long period without calling. When I did call, we realized we must have gotten too close to the old bull, because he bugled and growled and sounded intimidated. This might be our best opportunity I thought. We quickly set up and called for about an hour primarily with cow calls. I once glimpsed an elk but they never came within bow range. As the bull moved away, I told Dad we had to stay with him. We stayed with him for the next hour when finally we got close enough to intimidate him again. After realizing we were close enough to set up and call, I positioned my Dad about twenty yards up the hill and above the trail and I would drop off below and to the right of the trail. Hopefully this would lure the bull back down the hill on the trail he had been travelling. As my Dad took his day pack off it slipped and went tumbling down the hill. It's weight made it sound like an animal running as it travelled about 50 yards before coming to rest on a log. All I could think of was to try to follow it up with elk sounds in hopes the bull would not be spooked. I grabbed the closest wrist size limb that I could find and began raking and rubbing the nearest tree. I had thought of this since we had just seen a large tree the bull we were chasing had shredded. I bugled and he answered. A couple of times and we knew he would soon be there. When I spotted the bull coming down the path, I thought, "this is it" . He was huge, heavy wide antlers and his head swayed from side to side as he was coming down the path. He couldn't have been more that 20 yards from Dad at this point. I could tell that Dad had drew his bow as the bull looked right at me at about 30 yards. I froze awaiting for the release of the arrow. The bull had stopped and there was no shot, this was bad. There must have been some obstruction, I thought. Then the bull turned and started directly toward my Dad on an upper path which we had not seen. The bull came broadside to him at about 10 yards but he didn't have a clear shot. A few more steps he thought. I was able to ease the call up and make a few cow calls, but by this time he had sensed foul play. He bolted back up the path and stopped momentarily as I bugled. Dad had held the bow for as long as he could and had to now let down. The bull still seemed interested but did not present a shot. What a trophy! We let him wander off until we could gather our nerves. He continued to bugle and we chased for a little while before finally giving up. Our hopes would be to in a day or two.

This was the highlight of our hunting trip. We had called two bulls within 10 yards and had still not taken a shot. "If only they were on video", I thought, then the hunts would have been successful regardless of a kill. Nevertheless, we had accomplished a tough goal.....Calling a good bull up on public land. We chased bulls a couple more times the following days before heading back to Georgia to match wits with the wiley whitetails. Until next year............

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