> OTC Bull Elk, Public Land, CO 2nd Rifle Season 2017 – My Story

How it all played out on Day 5. We are red line, elk are green line. Truck is in top right.

Day 5, morning (last day):

Day 5. The other 2 guys in our cabin have been out here 4 years now and have never doubled. Technically this is hunt 8/10 – I can still go tomorrow morning if we can’t get it done today (because of the morning hunt we skipped so the guide to pack out the meat from the first bull). That would make leaving town interesting if I were to get one tomorrow morning though.

My buddy is up and decides he is coming. Haha, I’m worried his muscles are too tight and he drank too much the past couple days. But, always good to have your buddy. High 20s this morning, feels great. I love being able to see my breath (doesn’t happen too often in Houston). Everyday I’ve been talking to my rifle – and more specifically to the first cartridge that is going in the chamber. Maybe I’m weird, but I’m guessing there’s someone else out there that does that. Hell, it worked for Happy Gilmore – different sport, but same idea.

We go back to where we started day 1 morning. Full circle. I like where this story is going. This little piece of land is the outfitter’s chunk – no other guides are allowed in here. Hunters are good, it is still public land, only outfitters need to stay out. We park way off the turnaround at the end of the road since it is late in the season and some of these camps we pass on the way up might need to turn around their trailers and will need all the space they can get. It’s like 5:40, we sit in the truck BS’ng until about 10 after 6.

Different view of Day 5. Left is where we spotted ‘em, right where the shot was.

I think my pack is as light as ever. I’m carrying my 15x binos today – got these **** things for the trip and haven’t used ‘em yet (had some older 10x I’ve been using). Load up and head down the road. Lots of logging activities up here. It’s so dry we are kicking up CLOUDS of dirt/dust/powder. So much so that it is difficult to breathe. Road ends, trail begins. We stop at the same deadfall trees. Guide makes some calls again. Nothing. Just pure, sincere, utter silence. Which, if I’m honest, is a great sound – if you’re not expecting/hoping for anything in return. Peaceful.

Getting a little brighter, we continue further. This dang oak brush; I’m getting sick of it at this point. We make it to the same glassing point – we stopped a few times along the way and glass standing up as we go. Here’s the unbeknownst critical decision of the day – the guide takes my buddy to 1 side of the ridge, leaves him there, and the guide and I go to the other side. Not seeing much movement. I change spots some to get a different vantage. I’m a good 10yds from the guide when my buddy comes over to our side and whispers a few words to the guide. He gets up, calmly, and starts grabbing his pack and things. I’m thinking, from his body language, we are just packing up and moving to another spot. I make my way over there and my buddy says he see 2. Sweet! We go to the other side of ridge.

Looking for that last chance bull.

Find 2 elk in the binos. Ranged ‘em right under 1000yds. Can’t tell if either is a bull. They are on private land right now, but they are walking our way along the fence. We watch ‘em as they jump over. Game on! Looks like 1 is a bull – but not very big. Need to get a better look – and get closer for a shot anyways – here we go. Guide takes off down the hill. Where did this little ninja come from? Dude is turning 50 soon and you’d think he was in his 20s the way he moves – the mountains have been good to this guy.

Oak brush *smack* in the eye! Ouch. Well that’s just awesome – luckily the left eye (I’m a righty – well, lefty but I shoot righty). Keep moving around, up and down, up and down. Good thing he knows where we are. Didn’t realize there were this many cuts between us and where we saw the elk. We come around a big bend and spot them again. The 2 elk are walking our way up a draw in the shade. If they keep going up the draw they’ll come within about 100-150yds. They stop short, instead heading up the face of the canyon opposite us. This whole time we were watching them, trading binos and trying to field judge this guy. He looks like a 4x4. Then a 3x3. Not sure why it is so hard to see – although it’s not like this was going to be a trophy, we all knew that. Definitely only 3 points on the 1 side. Keep observing. I see a 4th point on the other side; the G2, just super short. Can only see it in the sun, and he rarely steps into it. Guide keeps saying he doesn’t see it. I’m like 85% sure at this point.

View from close-by to where the bull went down.

He steps out in the sun again. Got it! Yes, I for sure see a point. “I still don’t see it, bud,” says the guide. Now, my eyes have been playing tricks on me all week – they know what they want to see and they try and make my mind believe. I say, “Guys, I’m 99% sure.” Of course I am. I want to believe. My buddy says he’s about 95% sure he saw that point – ok, I’ll take that. Guide says, “Bud, I think that’s his ear.” No way, I see a point. Now, I understand the guide’s position on this. Clearly there is only 3 on the one side, and it’s hard to judge 4” from 5” at 250yds, so that brow tine isn’t a good reference point. Killing an illegal bull is a costly mistake we’d rather avoid. The brow tine on the side with 3 points is clearly broken.

They get to a point where they’re out of sight – we move further around the side of the hill and find a good spot to stop. Guide throws up the sticks, I swing the rifle off my shoulder and steady it on the sticks. Standing, with my pack still on – not ideal. The cow he’s chasing starts up the hill and occasionally looks in our direction. He follows about 20yds behind. I bring the sticks down to kneeling level. My barrel is in some brush – I keep checking to be sure the muzzle is clear. Still have my pack on; tough to get steady. We catch a break while they are moving. I drop the pack and bring the sticks even lower – much too thick of brush to shoot from prone. I’m sitting with 1 leg crossed under my butt. Pretty steady and I’m happy. But, after another 10-15 minutes my leg is dead asleep. It’s my right leg with the knee brace, which was cutting circulation some on its own. I’m talking full dead – no feeling, no movement, no tingly, nothing. The cow has made her way to the top of the ridge. Bull is out of sight. She stands there and gives us the mannequin challenge for 10 solid minutes. We are making noise – not only the brush but all the super-dry dead leaves around. Range her at 350yds. “How good is their eye sight?” I ask the guide. “Don’t think she can see us, bud.” I move slowly, I have to change my position and lift my leg out from under me. I watch her as I move – she’s still just a statue. I manage both legs out in front of me, still sitting. It takes another minute for the nerves to kick back in and I get those painful tingles.

I get back up with 1 knee on the ground. We are still at the same consensus on this bull. The cow finally breaks form and walks out of sight to the right. Ok – where is this guy?

This was right after the shot(s). Follow the dark shadow in middle of picture up, and at the top of the ridge just to the left, in the sunny spot, is where he stepped out.

Finally, he steps out. He’s in the sun. I see the point; 4 on one side. Guide keeps cow calling to get him to stop. I ask my buddy, “Range?” “350.” “I’m shooting.” “If you’re confident he’s legal, go ahead.” Spoken like a true guide. Finger is off the trigger. Good cheek weld. I click off the safety. I double, triple, and probably even quadruple-checked the chamber while we were sitting there observing earlier. I can’t get steady. Bull takes a few steps. Guide cow calls to get him to stop again. I say to the guide, “Can you lean up against me?” He does. It helps. Crosshairs steady midway up the body in line with the back of the front leg. Bullet should kiss him a good 6” low from my point-of-aim. *BOOM* Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing! Dang – now my gun is doing it. I look up and see him buck/rear up from the impact and he runs down the hill toward us. Closes about 20yds. Guide stops him with a cow call. It was a solid hit, right in the shoulder, he wasn’t putting weight on it.

I quickly eject that round – but meticulously get another one in. I watch to be sure the bolt picks up the next rounds and chambers it – I’m not running into the same mistakes. Line up the crosshairs again. *BOOM* Look up – another solid hit. I can hear the thump. Dude just stands there. Doesn’t even move. Doesn’t flinch. What the …?! These are tough freaking animals. It was right below the spine in line with the front leg (found some nickel-sized bone fragments when we were in there cleaning him out). Reload again – taking the same special care this time. Now my nerves are catching me up. The crosshairs are a little shaky now. Adrenaline kicks in. I don’t want to lose this bull. Then, of course, my buddy starts saying things like, “Dude, what are you waiting for?” “He’s just standing there.” “Why aren’t you shooting?”

I think this is my favorite pic. Right after we knew MY bull was down and packed our gear to head over there.

“Shut the **** up, I can’t get steady!” Crosshairs still on him, wavering some. I go back to fundamentals and what works at the range. Concentrate on breathing. Inhale, exhale, squeeze. *BOOM* Another solid hit. Now he’s really staggering. Shoulder looks busted – but this warrior is still standing. Reload – again pay special attention. ****, this is the last round in the magazine. To my buddy, “Backpack, front pocket, front panel – there’s some rounds in there!” The bull looks like he’s going down – but he is still up. The guide says to shoot until he is on the ground. Again, line up the crosshairs. *BOOM* Finally, drops him. Pull back the bolt, buddy hands me some rounds. I load 2 in the magazine and close the bolt. Look back in the scope – he’s piled up. We watch him for another 20-30 seconds to be doubly-sure he doesn’t get up. Then emotions hit. Excitement, exhaustion, wicked adrenaline rush. I look through the dry leaves to find my brass – it’s so bad I can only find 3 of the 4. I keep looking but the guys are getting agitated and want to start over there.

He only bought those clothes so he could look more like me.

We take our time getting around. There’s a couple up and downs but for the most part we take the long way around and loop over there as opposed to taking the straight route. Guide didn’t say much the whole way – he’s freaking out inside and not completely sure we took a legal bull. The whole way over I’m thinking about the week. Super excited I got something; little sad that the hunt is nearing an end. Also thinking I’ll be processing the meat all day since we are due to leave early the next morning. I got totally turned around and thinking we were close when we still had to go around another couple bends. Things always look different from the other side.

Can’t say enough positive things about this dude (guide).

We spot him – in the shade too! That would be the most beautiful ponderosa I’ve ever seen – it was getting HOT! Go up and run my fingers through his coat. Pet his head and tell him thanks. What a beautiful animal. He’ll be used to feed me (and the family) and he didn’t die for nothing. He has 4 points on 1 side, and his brow tine is 7”. Guide breathes a sigh of relief. We grab some pics and give congrats. Thanks to the guide for the awesome week. Thanks to my buddy for coming back out today and spotting this bull with his cow. Just freaking awesome that we doubled! We each got 1 our first trip out. Awesome.

Only pic of the pack horses. Can’t thank them enough.

We get to cleaning and make short work of it. I try the gutless method to get the tenderloin (I watch this stuff on youtube, that makes me an expert, right?) – ended up letting the whole belly sac (and diaphragm) fall out since he was sitting on a hill and it was intact. Much easier. Crazy flies at this point – and these meat-eating yellow jackets. Never seen anything like it. They looked like regular yellow jackets but you could see them tearing off little pieces of meat. Weird. Got the game bags in the shade, dumped a bunch of pepper on them – seemed to keep the flies at bay. Cut off the top of the skull. Buddy goes and takes a nap. Guide sits in the shade. I get to work on cleaning the last bit of hide off the skull. Guide calls the cavalry – we are literally waiting for some horses, 1 of the biggest pluses to using an outfitter. Half-hour or so later my buddy wakes, I have the skull cleaned, and we go join the guide and reminisce on the week. Guide’s buddy shows up on horseback with 2 other gorgeous steers – Elvis Presley, George Straight, and Jonny Cash.

Beautiful walk out.

Got ‘em loaded up quick. The walk out takes 53 minutes, little over 2 miles. I carry the rack on my neck and just have a blasty-blast good time getting through the oak brush. It was about 7:30a when we spotted them, 9:30 when I shot him and 1:30p when we got back to the cabin. Our Pittsburg buddies got one too! No ****! 3 out of 4 is great! They were planning on still hunting in the evening. They found a meat processor that would have it done in the morning for an expedite fee. I’d much rather drink and relax than spend the afternoon de-boning (plus all the extra processing at home). We ran up to the processor.

Look hard, there’s 3 different racks in there. Front is buddy’s, middle is Pittsburg’s, back is mine.

That was about it. Back to the cabin for some celebratory cold beverages. Sat in the hot tub for the first time that week – not sure why I wasn’t doing that every night. Got all packed and ready to leave in the morning. Did some pizza that night; no one felt like cooking anymore.

Lessons learned:

1. Pack weight. I suppose I’ve been preparing for a backpack hunt for all these years and I wanted to feel like I was going on one. We only went out for 3-4 hours at a time. You don’t need a gallon of water, extra drawers and redundant everything in your backpack for ½-day hunts! I got it down to 1.5 liters of water, 1 extra jacket, and just the essentials in the backpack – knife, flashlight, headlamp, couple snacks, etc. Hell, that first morning I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner in there – don’t know why. You don’t need a $500 pack either – I don’t know, maybe they would hold up better to packing out 100#, but whatever, only needed a daypack for this style hunt. My Kelty typically retails for between $99-$125 on Amazon. I always put stuff in my wish list and watch if for a year. It dropped to $62 at one point and I snagged it up. I am a backpack whore. I have a couple internal frame hiking packs, and a couple external frame packs. This one is one of the most comfy, and offers good utility.

2. Dialing the range on your scope. Look, it’s what all the [email protected] do on youtube, and typically I like to do it at the range, but realistically under 300 yards it is silly. Now, I had a much better scope that I intended to use for this trip, but a last-minute change (2 weeks before hunt) to the 6.5CM rifle left me with a crappy scope since I didn’t want to break apart my other rifle. KISS – keep it simple stupid.

3. Clothing. I spent a bit of money on rain gear and didn’t end up needing/using it. But that’s something I’d rather have and not need than need and not have. I’m a frugal guy, more so than most. All I have to say is, wait for sales. Kuiu has big black Friday sales, July 4 sales, and stuff on outlet clearance throughout the year. I was super impressed with the quality (as was my buddy whom bought it on my recommendation). I don’t feel you need all the $80 gloves and $40 hats to go with it though. There’s nothing wrong with mixing & matching patterns from different brands. The only camo I use in TX is either cotton or waterfowl print – neither good for the mountains.

4. Since we are on clothing – polyester drawers. Wow! I don’t know why I’ve never had these before; always had cotton. We all know cotton kills when it’s cold out, so I purchased some of these and don’t know how I’ll ever go back. Great moisture wicking abilities, love ‘em.

5. Online apps – GoHunt Insider and OnXmaps. So, this year and last year GoHunt ran a free month around Aug/Sept. I think the code was “Randy” for Randy Newberg of On Your Own Adventures. I went in there and got all the info I needed, and then decided not to pay for the year. No harm no foul. I did that last year, and again this year. I can see the benefit if you are applying to a ton of tags every year, but it just isn’t something that I have the use for. OnXmaps – I don’t have it, but I could definitely see where the benefit would be. I have a freebie CO topo map from GPSdepot from 2011 that seems to have mostly correct property lines still. But that’s something that you would definitely benefit from if going on your own – I had the guide to rely on, so I didn’t feel the need for it.

6. Boots. Like the tires on your car, that’s the only thing between you and the land. If you’re not going to some extreme rock cliffs or wicked snow, don’t overlook regular hiking boots. There are some superior brands better than the hunting specific stuff sometimes. Expect to spend at least $200 and get yourself something good that you can try on first and have proper time to break in (if required). I ended up with some Cabela Meindls on sale for $175, normally $220.

7. Dinners at camp – might not be as easy if you are tent camping. We each made a dinner at home and froze it before making the trip. Had some great, hearty, home cooked meals every night that only needed to be heated up. I made a baked mac ’n cheese with a pound of bacon and pound of sausage. Buddy made probably 5-quarts of Scimitar chili. Pittsburg guys made dumplings (chicken? can’t remember) and big pot pies. Great idea and highly recommended!

8. Conditioning. Guide said if we could walk/hike 10 miles with no pack we should be good. I’ll be honest and say I definitely should have done more. I work on the 7th floor in an office building and never take the elevator. Usually go up the stairs 3x per day, sometimes 4. I would walk 2 miles everyday on my lunch hour, and then another 1 mile either in the morning or afternoon. I went on a couple runs, only 3 miles, when we were closer to the trip. My buddy and I went on a couple 6-7 mile hikes with full packs. We should have been doing that for at least 10 weeks leading up to the trip. Outside of walking, I only do some pushups, pull-ups, squats, sit-ups, planks, etc., and lots and lots of stretching. Put the kiddo on the shoulders, she’s about 33 lbs, and do squats that way – she LOVES it! I don’t believe in gym memberships, you can do everything at home. Swing the axe/chop some firewood, stand on 1 leg and shake a gallon paint can over your head, whatever. If you think you are ready, do some more!
Chris Gardner lives in Cypress, TX with his wife and two daughters (3 and newborn). His passion for chasing game began as a toddler when he got his first Red Rider BB gun. He skipped the tree stands in the Midwest and started hunting when he arrived in TX a decade ago. After a few trips hunting over bait from a blind he longed for more challenge and set his sights (pun intended) on pursuing free-ranging animals out west on public land. He's a stickler for precision, incredibly frugal, and more inclined to make something rather than buying it. Chris is a mechanical engineer and has been designing subsea oilfield equipment for global projects since moving to TX.