Some of you may remember my account of my Colorado elk hunt last year in which I hit and lost a bull elk. Our recovery efforts were hampered by a snow storm and I have been haunted by that lost bull all year.
This year found us in the same area of western CO for the first rifle season and I again had a bull tag. My two friends again had cow tags, same as last year. We arrived three days before the season started to do some scouting. We saw a few cows and I heard a bull mew and bugle to some cows to call them into the timber. Mostly all we saw were cattle. There were at least 200 head in the basin we were scouting. I know the ranchers have right to use the land also but this essentially shut down the hunting in that entire valley. We saw only a fraction of the elk we have been seeing the last 3 years in that area.
We saw just a few elk all day opening day Saturday but our friend Joe who lives in Grand Junction spotted a bull in the oak brush a little before sunset and his wife Beth made a good hit behind the shoulder at 350 yds off a rest. She followed up with two more shots to anchor him and her first bull was down. He was a beautiful 7x6 and according to Joe was the largest bodied and antlered bull anyone in the group had ever shot in that unit. My friend Devin and I helped them pack him out of the thick oak brush the next morning. It wasn't too bad of a pack out by western standards but I was wishing I could trade in my 1000 ft lungs for some 9000 ft ones by the time we were done!
The next two days we saw almost no elk and the evening of the third day we elected to ride over to another basin a couple of miles away. We got to a good vantage point at about 4 PM and Devin immediately spotted an elk feeding in the oak brush. I ranged it at 500 yds, but a closer look through binocs showed it to be a spike bull, not legal for either of us. Devin and Lynn left just before sunset to head back to camp to get some dinner but I elected to stay until dark. A little after sunset I spotted a 5 point bull bedded in a small clearing out in the oak brush. I couldn't get a range on him with my Bushnell Elite 1500 but I ranged a pine tree a couple hundred yards in front of him at 1166 yds. Definitely out of my range but there was a knob 900 yds out from me that probably would have provided enough elevation to take him. I spotted six more cows feeding out in a clearing farther out. I decided not to attempt a stalk on the bull as it was getting dark and I was alone, but the elk sightings were encouraging none the less.
The next morning Joe graciously offered to take us to another area that had been productive in the past. We followed his Dodge dually 4x4 in our GMC 4x4 a couple miles down a rough road and then parked the GMC and got in the back seat of the Dodge. It was getting rough and the GMC would have to get us 1000 miles back home! We went farther down a very rough rock strewn steep road with me mostly not looking out of the truck and finally arrived at a parking area.
We walked out to a rock pile overlooking an oak brush basin just before legal shooting light. We had been there about 15 or 20 minutes when Devin spotted a cow elk out in the oak brush. I ranged her at 504 yds then Beth spotted a second elk behind the cow and identified it as a bull. The elk were working towards us and Devin and I were scrambling to find a steady rest. Devin was using a set of Stoney Point sticks and I rested over an oak brush branch. The elk worked in to a little over 300 yds below us and we were finally able to identify the bull for sure as legal. I could see five points on the right and a broken main beam on the left. That area required four points on one side or a five inch brow tine.
I was shooting my 338 RUM 225 gr AB at 3050 fps with a 4.5-14x Burris ballistic plex with the first crosshair zeroed at 350 yds. I knew that my bullet would land within a few inches of aiming point after a quick glance at my drop chart to verify. Joe had ranged 320 yds and the bull turned broadside. I finally got steady on the bull's shoulder and squeezed the trigger. At the shot the bull's front quarters buckled and then he stood back up. He turned quartering towards me and Joe said "hit him again!". He did not want the bull to wander off in the thick oak brush. I settled the crosshairs on the bulls neck due to the quartering to angle and sent another Accubond downrange. This shot folded him for good.
As this was going on, Devin got a good rest on the cow who had stepped into an opening. He shot her with his 300 WM loaded with 200 gr Accubonds at about 2950 fps. She went down but was thrashing around so he hit her again and finished her. Devin does not have a muzzle brake on his light weight Savage and got a scope cut on the nose from the second shot. He vows to put on a muzzle brake before next year!
After some high fives and back slaps we stripped off some layers in the sub 40 degree weather and shouldered our packs for the hike down to the elk. By a stroke of luck another of Joe's friends showed up just after we got down to the elk and brought down a 4 wheeler on a trail that eventually led down to the elk. We did not need to field dress the elk since we skinned and quartered them right then and there. Of course you can't forget the inside tenders! Joe and his friend rode the ATV back out around the valley with all the boned out meat and Devin and I made the 400 or so foot climb back up the steep hill with just our packs and antlers. It was slipping and sliding and grabbing on to oak brush to keep from sliding back down the hill, but we eventually made it back to the top. By the time we got the meat back to the trucks it was 2 PM. We had shot a little after 7 AM.
My bull was a small 5x2 with a broken off main beam just above the G2 on the left. I knew he was broken off before I shot and I couldn't have cared less. This was my first bull and I had taken him cleanly. The first round entered beind the left shoulder and shattered the right shoulder bone just above the elbow. You can see the broken shoulder in the photo. My second round entered through the neck and angled down into the chest cavity. I didn't search for the second round since we didn't field dress and I only recovered small pieces of bullet from the first shot. The shoulder bone was completely shattered with large and small pieces of bone all around the bullet path.
Cleanly taking this bull doesn't erase the terrible experience of hitting and wounding the bull last year but it does make me feel good to cleanly take a beautiful bull in some beautiful country with some wonderful friends. Thanks Joe and Beth!
This is looking back up to where we shot from. Beth is up there wearing orange on the outcropping up near the top of the hill just a little right of center. I don't think you can quite see her in the picture. She looked like an orange dot to the naked eye!