We had a hard but successful hunt in Colorado this year. My brother had hunted the 4th season for the past 5 years and had always had good luck, the weather this year had the elk moving in places none of us had really seen before and it would take us a few days to figure them out.
We arrived on Saturday night after 1600 miles on the road. Sunday morning we set a target at 250yds, a gong at 500yds and found a nice small (6") bush at 712 and another at 1204. Brian's 7mmRM did a real nice job out to 500 and Dennis' 338Rum did a great job at all distances. I then grabbed the 338AM and after making sure it was on at 250, proceeded to get bored quickly (even at 700+yds). We then shot it 3 times at 1204yds for a group that was only about 6" !
Monday morning we started scouting near Douglas Pass and although we found plenty of elk, they were all on private land. Much of the Public land in the area is locked up by the private land owners, which can be frustrating at times. Brian and my brother were scouting the desert areas south of us with limited luck as well. Most of the water holes we've hunted in the past, were dry and the few resident elk that were usually around had been pushed out by the first 3 elk seasons. Monday afternoon, a hose on the oil bypass filter on Dennis' truck popped, leaving us stranded WAY down in a hole. Luckily, we had cell service, so I left my brother a VM and 3 hours later he and Brian arrived with oil and filter to save the day.
We decided to camp Tuesday morning in an area that ALWAYS holds elk (year around!). And decided we would then scout from there on Tuesday afternoon prior to the Wed. opener.
Although we say some fresh elk sign, the 50+ degree weather and 100% clear blue skies didn't help. We hunted hard Wed, we glassed pockets over an 8mile x 12mile section and never saw an elk.
We talked to 5 camps of hunters that had the same luck. I made phone calls to 6 friends that were hunting the same season (different areas), and they were having the same exact luck.
Thursday morning we noticed the heater core on the truck was leaking, so we went to Grand Junction for parts. We replaced the heater core and picked up my dad's quads (one ATV and one John Deere Gator) so we could expand our search.
Thursday afternoon and all day Friday, we hunted farther north and were able to get behind some private land via some challenging trails. We even talked with hunters that had access to private land, they were frustrated with the luck they were having as well.
Friday night we broke camp and after talking with several other friends about options, decided on an area that would be more than 100miles of dirt road one way. We arrived too late to hunt Saturday morning but after some quick scouting, I chose a ridge I could walk down to glass a couple of basins.
My brother was unable to hunt with us this day, so I would be hunting alone. I grabbed my 20lb's of support gear (Tripod, Spotting Scope, Rangefinder, Palm pilot, wind meter, rear bag, Bino's ...) in its backpack, and grabbed my 18lb 338AM and tentatively stepped into the oakbrush. For anyone that hasn't "tangled" with Oakbrush before, I'll tell you that its a challenge if you aren't carrying anything; just try it with a backpack and a 55" canon!
Well, 30 minutes later, I had made it down to the point, even though I was doing my best to be quiet, I'm sure I was making a considerable racket. The point was pretty covered with Oakbrush and Cedars, so it was going to be tough to find a place to shoot from. There were a couple small 4' wide openings that would give me a vantage across the canyon, but depending where I spotted the elk, I would be scrambling to setup in an opening that would work. I decided to just stand and glass; then move/setup once something was spotted (still optimistic after a week of no success). After about 30 minutes, I spotted a very old cow and 2 calves working their way across an aspen/pine hillside about 650yds away. I moved around the point and found an opening to shoot from. The opening I found was a sloping rockslide (30+ degree slope) and not even close to optimum. Luckily, the elk were working their way lower on the opposite hill, which would make it easier to get the rifle situated for the shot. I extended the bipods all the way and placed my backpack under the bipod to gain a few inches of extra height. I settled in behind the rifle, but had to pile 3 good sized rocks up in a pyramid under the butt of the rifle to get a stable rest. Meanwhile, all the blood is rushing to my head, as I am essentially standing on my head on this hillside and trying to find the elk in my scope. After a couple minutes, the elk came into view. I ranged the cow at 520yds which is 4.5MOA above my cross hair. She was standing with her vitals obscured by an aspen so I decide to shoot her in the neck; after all, its only 520yds and thats an easy chip shot for this rifle, even while standing on my head! I was just about to touch of the shot, when she started walking again. When she stopped, I had a wide open shot at her vitals and sent the 300gr SMK on its way. Since I was hunting alone, I would need to spot my own shot. At only 500yds, that would be tough, but I was back on her before she even took a step. she staggered 3 steps and I could see a dark spot right where I expected the bullet to hit. She was DRT within 2 seconds of being hit. I've always said there was no such thing as overkill, but a 338AM at 500yds gets pretty close. The bullet had cut the entire top of the heart off and had NOT exited the other side. The entrance wound was about 3" diameter and part of the heart had been shot out the entrance hole and was on the ground next to where she had been standing at the shot!
Brian and I made our way down to the cow in the dark. We wandered into a herd of about 2 dozen elk and were treated to an impressive chorus of cow calls and bugles all around us for about 3 minutes. I'm convinced that if I had found these elk earlier in the season, I could have managed a shot at one of the bulls (we all had either sex licenses).
The next morning, Dennis and Brian walked down the ridge that I had been sitting on; my brother and I walked down the next ridge. Just as Dennis and Brian got to their spot, they saw some cows climbing out the other side. They ranged them at 385yds and Brian got into position with the 338RUM. Unfortunately, the sun was rising right behind the cows and Brian couldn't clear the scope for a clear/safe shot. They tried repositioning 3 times before the cows where out of site. Brian later said that he saw the elk in the scope, but couldn't figure out exactly what part of the elk he was looking at. He didn't shoot, and that's a pretty mature decision for a 13yr old on his first out west hunt! I've seen much more experienced hunters make much worse decisions than that!
My brother and I got to our point and sat under a cedar tree and visited for about an hour (the highlight of my entire hunt). Then he noticed some elk crossing the hillside about 600yds away. The point we were on was actually steeper than the one I had shot my elk from, we set the rifle on the backpack, but there was no way to get behind the rifle for the shot. My brother laid along side the rifle (with his feet beyond the muzzle). I braced the recoil pad with my knee and he rested his cheek on the cheek piece and lifted the stock until it was aimed at one of the antlerless elk. I ranged the elk at 508yds and giving 4MOA over the crosshairs, the 338AM scored its second elk in as many shots. I wish I had a picture of us trying to figure out how to brace the rifle for this shot. Here we are, shooting a rifle with 7500lbs of energy, braced against one persons leg and aimed by the other!
The 300SMK hit a little high and took 4 vertebrae out of the elk (bull calf) and onto the hillside. Needless to say, he was DRT.
We watched some other elk at 830yds and thought about having Brian take one of them, but with 2 elk already down and a bunch of work ahead of us, we decided to pack them out first and then do a little more hunting on Sunday night (last night of season).
Brian did a man's share of the work on those 2 elk and I'm sure has some real memories for his first elk hunt.
On Monday, after we finished de-boning the elk. We setup a SMALL target on the hillside 1500yds from our shooting bench in my dads back yard. We tried several times with the 338AM and the 338RUM to hit it, but could never accomplish the feat. The 338AM shot a sub 1MOA group and the 338RUM did well but a little bigger group due to the wind.
All in all, it was a successful trip. 60 degree weather at 8000+ ft elevation in late November is more than a little odd and added to the challenge in finding the elk. We made it back to Michigan safe and sound to enjoy Thanksgiving with our families.