The author of this Hunting Report is Glenn Rengo (GlennR).
It has been a long wait for that first elk muzzleloader tag in Colorado, four years to be exact, but it was well worth it. As a born and raised Minnesotan (aka flatlander), I often dream of hiking mountains and wilderness areas were every step literally takes your breath away. I have been fortunate to make several trips out west to pursue what I believe is one of God’s most beautiful and majestic mammals, the North American elk or wapiti, but this would be my first trip to Colorado to hunt elk during the rut.
Planning and preparation were the keys to this trip as this would be a do-it-yourself type hunt. Two of my hunting partners, brothers Jeff and Dennis, had made this trip last year. Their first trip was in August to scout the area and look for possible camp sites along with easy access and more difficult remote hunting areas. Their second trip would be in September to pursue elk with muzzleloaders. Without their knowledge of the area and advanced scouting we certainly would not have had as much quality hunting time as we did and would have spent half our time scouting areas and trying to find camp sites.
Our plan of attack for this hunt would be two fold; first to have a base camp with some amenities, mainly a camper with heat and pre-made home cooked meals, the second would be a spike camp where we would hike in a mile or more and set up a camp near the elk but not too close as to interrupt their daily activities. After eighteen hours of driving we made it to our destination to find out that our first choice camp site was closed due to logging activity. So onto camp site number two which was ok but less than ideal as we would not be able to hunt right out our back door. After setting up camp we prepped our backpacks for the hike into spike camp in the morning.
The hike into spike camp ended up covering two and one-half miles, some 800 feet in elevation, and two hours. At this point I appreciated the physical conditioning that I had been doing since late winter and early spring, but still realized that it wasn’t enough and next year I was going to have to do more. With the four of us working together it didn’t take long before we had our spike camp set up and then after a quick lunch we set out to find some elk or at least some elk sign. Since this was the day before the muzzleloader season Dennis and I would be scouting, while his brother Jeff and our other hunting partner Doug would actually be bow hunting elk as they did not get drawn for the muzzleloader tag and opted to chase the elk with the stick and string.
Finding fresh elk sign such as droppings, bedding areas, and larger trees that had been recently raked by elk antlers really uplifted our group’s tired legs and sore backs. Two things were missing though no elk sightings and no bugling. After a hike back to our spike camp and an early dinner we split up into two groups to cover more areas in hopes of seeing an elk or to here a bugle, but the night came and nothing was spotted or heard.
Opening morning of the muzzleloader season brought the same thing, lots of sign but no sight of elk or bugling. We were all thinking “hey this is the rut, why is there no bugling”? Last year the elk bugled all week long, but this year it was completely different, why? Because the elk were actually in the pre-rut, now what do we do? Cow Call! That evening each of us set up in elky areas and cow called. My cow calling must have been good enough as a 4 x 4 bull showed up within 20 minutes of my last calling sequence. He stopped at the edge of the meadow that I was hunting and began displaying his antlers and raking the long grass at the edge of the meadow. At this time I was seated facing away from him and each time he placed his head down to rake the grass I would move a little, finally getting myself into a standing position behind a large aspen tree. I estimated the distance at 125 yards and being a 45 degree slope up hill the shot would be a little further so I waited. He was a smaller 4 x 4 but as anyone who has hunted elk knows every elk is a trophy especially on public land. After several minutes he walked into the meadow looking at and around me for the cow that caught his attention. I estimated his distance at 75 yards which is the distance that I had zeroed my muzzleloader at before leaving home. The bull became nervous as he could not see the cow that had got his dander up, so he turned to walk up the hill into the spruce and aspens from where he came. This was my opportunity. I placed the bead of my peep sight on his lower left shoulder, cocked the hammer and squeezed the trigger. The muzzleloader erupted in a cloud of grey smoke, but the elk remained standing and continued to walk towards the timber. Did I make a fatal hit or had I missed? As fast as I could I reloaded, powder, projectile, and finally primer cap, I took steady aim at the elk which was now 100 yards away and squeezed the trigger. After the smoke cleared I watched in amazement as he calmly walked into the timber, briefly stopping to see what the noise was about. Had I missed him altogether, twice?
I waited for a half hour before Dennis came to see me and find out what had happened. We started looking for the bull in the direction that I had last seen him travel. We split up and started walking down one of the two trails where he would have made his escape. Finally after 25 yards or so some blood, but not much, then a little more, a little more, and then nothing. No blood and we had lost the tracks, it was dark and we decided that it may be in our best interest to stop and come back in the morning to look for him. Being that the bull didn’t run off after the first or second shot I had the feeling that I did not make a fatal hit and my worse fear was that I had wounded this beautiful animal and it may die and I would never find it.
Upon returning to camp I began to tell my story to Doug and Dennis when Jeff appeared and announced he had shot at a cow elk and it ran off with his arrow sticking out of its side. Jeff was concerned as his arrow placement was “maybe a little low” but he was hopeful as he could see the fletching of his arrow stick out from the side of the cow as it ran down the slope. With each jump he could see the fletching move up and down which usually means the broad head of the arrow was doing its job inside the elk’s body. While he did find some blood it was to dark to continue his search and he decided not to push the elk and to wait until morning. After we traded stories we made a search and recovery plan for the morning and everyone was off to bed.
After an hour or so sleep finally overtook me and I rested, but not peacefully. I relived the moment in my mind over and over again and came to the realization that I should have raised my aiming point at least half way up the body of the bull before pulling the trigger. I figured that one of my shots, most likely the first one must have nicked the animal low in the chest either behind or in front of the legs.
Morning came and we were all anxious to try and locate the two elk that we had shot the night before. Dennis, Doug, and I searched most of the morning finding very little blood and eventually lost the tracks and the bull. My heart was heavy with sadness and not because I had blown a good opportunity but for wounding an animal that I have the utmost respect and admiration for. As hunters I am sure that you know exactly what I am talking about, we would just assume miss a shot then wound any game animal.
Coming back to camp for lunch was a solemn occasion until we saw the note that Jeff had left for us. “Front shoulders and loins are packed out, going back to get rear quarters” Wow, talk about a roller coaster ride, one minute I am as low as I can be and the next my excitement is overflowing at the thought that Jeff recovered his first cow elk and his first big game animal taken with a bow. Jeff had found his cow dead just ninety yards from where it was seen last. Now it was just a matter of helping him with the rear quarters and packing it out to the truck and then to a local processor.
With the cow meat packed out and being processed we re-grouped at our base camp, cleaned up, ate a great meal, and were overtaken by exhaustion. The next morning we walked and hunted our way into spike camp and met up for lunch to discuss our plans for the evening hunt. Again there were no sightings or bugling of elk.
The following morning we all went to the drainage where I had shot at the bull on opening day. While walking in the twilight and fog Dennis noticed what appeared to be a cow elk feeding on the other side of the drainage some 180 plus yards away. It was difficult to tell if it was an elk or not until she lifted her head up and slowly walked into the timber. Yup that was a cow elk. Doug and I set up close to the creek above where we saw her while Jeff and Dennis slipped into a position below her in the same meadow where I had missed a few days before.
Once settled I began cow calling, softly at first and then a little louder with some pre-estrus whines. The cow responded and we could here her galloping down the slope toward the creek bottom. Doug recalls the cow elk coming down the trail on the other side of the creek and stopping just short of the opening where he could fully see her. Once stopped she began to feed and walked into the opening, as Doug came to full draw on his bow he realized that she was some 65 to 70 yards away, to far for a clean shot so he relaxed and started watching her feed in hopes that she would make her way another twenty yards closer, thus giving him a shot that he was more comfortable attempting.
I had ceased my calling by the time I heard the cow coming down the hill and remembered that an elk could come from any direction once I started calling as was the case a few nights earlier. As that thought ran through my head I turned my attention away from Doug and looked to my left and behind me through the spruce and aspens into the small meadow and there they were. Two elk, the one behind me I could not see clearly but I saw its legs and outline but could not see its head or identify it as a bull or cow, but the lead elk was definitely a bull with at least four points on his right beam. They had no idea that I was even there and I watched the bull feeding in the grass 70 to 75 yards to my left and nearly at the same elevation as I was.
From my position I did not have a clear opening from which I could shoot through so each time the bull put his head down to feed I would move just a little to get into a better position. He was now 60 to 65 yards away and slightly quartering towards me. With a clear opening I raised my muzzleloader and cocked the hammer in one motion then I put the bead slightly above where I estimated his heart would be and gently squeezed the trigger. Once again the muzzleloader erupted leaving a cloud of grey smoke lingering in the air. This time it was different as the bull bolted slightly up hill paralleling the drainage, he didn’t stand there and wonder what had happened and certainly didn’t stay around long enough for me to reload and attempt another shot. As I watched him run through the meadow and into the timber I heard him crash through what ever was in his path then another jump and a crash and silence. Had he just collapsed or stopped to see what had startled him just a few seconds ago?
Since Doug and I were only 30 yards apart he came over to find out if I had shot at “his cow”. I told him what had happened and he told me his story as well. Apparently after my shot the cow across the creek had ran back up the hill on the other side of the creek and the other elk that was with the one I had shot at ran up hill through the meadow and then down across the creek. Doug said he was sure that he heard the bull go down just as I had, but I wasn’t going to get my hopes up to high. After waiting for an hour we slowly walked to the area where the elk was standing when I shot. The long grass of the meadow made it difficult to find hair or any blood so we started up the hill along the path that the bull had taken. Once we started entering the timber there were two trails where he could have escaped through. Doug took the upper trail and I took the lower trail, but something didn’t seem right as neither of us could find any blood. We each walked 20 to 25 yards down our respective trails without spotting any blood and then backed out to the edge of the woods to try and find tracks, blood, or some sign of where the bull actually entered into the timber. After a brief discussion and no real signal of which way to go each of us followed our respective trails again and went a bit further. After 35 plus yards down my trail I said to Doug “I can smell him” and after walking 5 or 6 additional yards there he was, slumped over a fallen log and some brush that he had crashed into upon his demise. “He’s here, he’s here, he’s right here.” I said to Doug.
I was overwhelmed at how magnificent he looked. Doug and I both paused to look him over before I actually put my hands on him. He truly was a trophy, at least in my book anyway. I backed out of the timber and crossed the meadow to retrieve Jeff and Dennis and bring them to the bull. After a brief congratulatory hand shake and some pictures the real work had just begun.
Jeff, Dennis, and I stayed behind to de-bone the bull while Doug went back to our spike camp to retrieve the pack frames. Doug, with a hand full of fanny packs and extra gear made his way back to camp. Along the way he encountered another bull on the other side of the creek. With his hands full and his bow in a carrying sling all he could do was watch the bull through the brush on the other side of the creek disappear into the timber.
It took the three of us two hours to completely de-bone and stuff the meat into game bags and then tie them onto the pack frames. It was another 2 ½ hours to get the 210 pounds of meat and the antlers back to the trail head and truck. Then it was off to the meat processor and back to base camp for a fine dinner of fresh elk tenderloins.
The remainder of the week was spent in and out of our spike and base camps with some additional encounters of both cow and bull elk. By weeks end we finally encountered one bull elk bugling and tried to work him within shooting range but were not successful.
I can’t began to thank my hunting partners for the all the effort and assistance they gave me throughout the hunt. Without all the preliminary work that Jeff had done and the prior trips that both Jeff and Dennis had made I am sure we would not have been as successful as we were. When the week was over we were all thankful for our good fortune and to be living in a country that still has wild animals and wild places such as this where the average guy can hunt and enjoy the wilderness. I can hardly wait until next year’s elk adventure.
More photos of Glenn’s trip:
1 – The road to elk dreams
2 – Base camp
3 – Spike camp
4 – Cow elk meat in game bags with Jeff and Dennis
5 – Packing out the cow elk meat
6 – Rainbow
7 – Jeff contemplates his next move
8 – Elk Country
Awesome read Glen! Thanks for sharing with us.
Thanks for sharing. Fantastic Story and on the bucket list for sure
Sounds like a great trip Congrats
Great read! Getting me pumped for planning my daughters next trip
Awesome read the pics are amazing! I hope to make the trip out west for a hunt sometime!
Way to stay after em Glenn 2 for 4 is awesome for a DIY hunt Montana again next year for me, like you said, the Greatest animal I hunt too
BTW, my young nephew will be going on his first deer hunt with the huntin’ gang this fall(he can’t wait)… he will be using your dads 30-06 I got from you
Excellent read Brad.
Brings back memories of bowhunts past near Steamboat Springs…
Congratulate Glenn and not me.
Thank you Glenn for sharing your elk adventure with us. Very well done – your story, the pics and of course your big bull elk!
Nice job Glenn
Sweet read! Congrats!