Tim in Texas pretty much said it all ( and said it very well ) .
If you hunt these things can and will happen .
BTW , that part of Colorado has a bad habit of sneaking in a big snowstorm at the drop of the hat . I have hunted where you were and had it happen to me more than once .
Something to think about , there is no waste in God's creation . That elk you shot is probably dead , but absolutely not " wasted " .
A coyote will feed on it as may other predators including hawks and even the Bald or golden eagle . Even if none of these use it as food it will enrich the ground it dies on as fertilizer for new grass and other food sources for the next generation of elk .
Sorry about your luck sambo, I live here in beautiful Unit 61 and might be able to follow up and see if there is indeed a dead bull from your efforts if I had a little more info on the locale of your shot etc.
Have you thanked a soldier today?
I sympathize with you on losing the bull, been there, done that. Just remember hunting is a two participant, competitive sport; predator/prey both seeking opposite outcomes. You did your part well; you use the correct equipment & proved its integrity, lethal shot placement as confirmed by the blood trail & the diligence & effort to follow-up. Iím sure the elkís priority was to hole-up & hide away. Give him credit for the stamina, instinct & determination to do just that. Had Mother Nature smiled in your favor you would have your trophy, but the cover of darkness & snow shifted the odds his way. The sorrow & concern you feel is a trophy in its own right, it proves your respect for the game & the hunt. When the possibilities of evasion & escape are artificially taken away from the animal, there is no longer any sport or competition. Be proud of yourself & be proud of the bull, you didnít lose & he didnít win; sort of a stalemate between two worthy adversaries. Best of luck with you future hunts.
I know this is no consolation but some times %$#^ happens. I have shot a Rairoad car full of elk. Sometimes the drop from a single lung no bone hit in 50 feet, sometimes you absolutly shoot them to pieces with multiple great hits and chase them for a mile. I wouldn't be to quick to turn your nose up at your bullet cartridge combo or your shot placement. A solid bone hit that anchors on the spot is great but not always possible. Shootng for the heart/lung shot is a good shot and not one to pass up. The snow did not do you any favors. Try not to get to bummed out, it is unfortunate but sooner or later it will happen to everyone that hunts long enough. I have only lost one hit animal and it makes you sick but it will happen to everyone at some point. If you have taken a 100 animnals and never lost one it just means your "one" is just around ther corner. Keep your chin up.
"We woke up the next morning to a heavy snow just starting, so we hastily cut up a bunch more fire wood and stayed in the tent all day keeping the stove going and knocking snow off the roof of the tent. We ended up getting about a foot of snow all together."
Some snow should have never kept you from looking that next day right at sunup. One guy could have tended the stove and tent.
With the blood being bright red it sounded like lower lung hit which is good, better than a high which will show pink.
Doubt that elk went that far.
I feel for you also and your sick feeling shows what kind of a guy you are and that you are a true sportsman who cares about the game and you give elk hunters credit with your philosophy. I've killed a lot of bulls and I wish there was consistancy to them just all dropping over but it just doesnt happen. Quick story to make you feel better. About 12 few years ago I was hunting right under the Lolo Trail in the Lochsa country in Idaho when me, my F&G buddy and another fellow ran into 5 branch antler bulls and I made a good shot at 75 yards and knew I made a good hit. I was using a 200 SGK at 3,000 FPS and had no snow and couldn't find blood, nothing. A full week later my F&G buddy shows up in my office and tells me he found my elk and it was still alive after a full week! He accidently ran into it driving the Lolo trail which was about 1/2 mile uphill from where I hit it and caught up with it and finished it off. He had seen blood on the road and followed the tracks and the elk was only about 50 yards off the road. I had actually clipped one lung and it had survived a full week after walking uphill 1/2 mile! As you know elk normally don't go uphill when hit either. All I can say is it happens to the best and you are a good man for being honest.
I know how you feel, literally. A couple of days ago I had some cows run out into a clearing (I have a cow tag for the area). One stopped long enough for me to take a comfortable shot from 250 yards. I heard a resounding thwack of a good hit, and was half waiting for her to fall over. I couldn't get off another shot before she hobbled back into the freightened herd. They made their way out of my range and got to a fenceline. The herd crossed the fenceline but my elk was floundering around and I was convinced she would fall any second. Not wanting to take any chances I started sprinting through a treeline towards her. That cow managed to jump the fence despite my having blown up her front quarter, totally destroying her ability to walk. I tracked down the landowner who came out with me to what I tought at the time would be drag an elk a few yards off his property. I found where she bedded down, a basketball size pool of blood, but not too much. I tracked her all day (I shot at first light) and the blood trail became thinner and thinner until there was maybe a drop every 20 feet (in the snow). The landowner told me to give up but I kept looking and finally had to pack it in at dark, went back the next day hoping to find the whole herd, which she stayed with according to the tracks, couldn't find them. They were in really thick timber and I don't doubt that I was as close as 50 yards to that wounded elk. Makes me sick to think about it. I've been trying to hunt those same elk hoping I get a chance to kill the one that I wounded but I saw them tonight and didn't see anyone limping. Probably wolf food.
I was shooting a .300 win mag, with a corelokt 180 grain. I shoot the corelokt because it papers the best out of my gun and I did feel like a well placed shot with an inferior bullet is better. I'm rethinking that theory right now, I think I'm going to start shooting a 220 gr. bonded bullet of some sort. If I had a bigger hole I would have drawn a lot more blood and had a better trail to follow. I hit her too far forward, right in the shoulder, no vitals, she was slightly quartering away. Would that shot have killed better with a better bullet? I think it would have but I'm not sure.
Nothing gets wasted in nature and a lot of people can't retrieve elk. You're definately not alone, but I do know how you feel and it sucks.