The Last Minute Elk --- The Story Of “Ole Crooked Horn”
By Allen Jones
It was around 1985, I think, when I had this happen. I had scouted pretty hard the 2 weekends leading up to the opening day of the Colorado archery elk season and found several bunches of elk. The bulls had just started doing a little bugling and were starting to feel their oats. I have always liked archery hunting because of the challenges it provides you in pitting woods skills and hunting savvy against your quarry. Elk are my favorite quarry to pursue.
Being from the deep south, I had always loved turkey hunting and I equate hunting elk in the rut a lot the same. Even though my hearing is not the greatest there is something about using all your senses to your advantage. The sound of an elk bugling through the clear air of the Rocky Mountains is something to behold. It will certainly send shivers up your spine.
I had backpacked into this remote area in hunt unit 86 that was approximately 6 miles from the trail head. I had set up a dry camp with no fire the night before the season opened. As I lay in my sleeping bag under the stars on a bed of aromatic pine bows, I heard several bugles throughout the night. The one luxury I allowed myself the next morning was a cup of scalding coffee and the pastry from my MRE that I had saved from dinner the night before.
My preferred method of hunting at the time was to backpack away from the crowds and to where the elk were. I could carry approximately 45 to 50 lbs of gear in my Cabela’s Alaska pack frame pretty comfortably back then....before old age crept into my knee joints. I would usually splurge on weight going in and carry a thick steak and a pre-baked potato, figuring that would be weight I would not have to carry out. Then I would allow 1 MRE per day that I planned to stay, along with a pound of rice or so and a few packages of dry ramen noodles. This always seemed to carry me through with a little left over for emergencies.
As I drank my coffee that morning the elk started talking a lot more and pretty soon , as the sun started tingeing the eastern horizon pink, I could distinctly make out the sounds of at least 5 different bulls. I left camp with high hopes and circled downwind and down hill from where the elk were. I was hunting at an elevation right at timberline and the elk had fed out above timber during the night. My plan was to get between them and dark timber and work them as they were going to bed up for the day.
I was treated to quite a show as the sun came up. There was a herd of approximately 20 cows all out in the open and one huge 6X6 bull that was without a doubt the harem master. He was riding herd on those cows as if he were a sheepdog and they the sheep. There were also 7 different satellite bulls, all 4x4's and 5X5's that were vying for position to maybe sneak a cow out of the herd when he wasn’t looking. The big bull was having none of that and the younger bulls were not quite up to the task of taking him on. I hoped o ambush one of these satellite bulls around the periphery of the herd.
As I moved into position I noticed one of the smaller bulls had a distinctive set of 5X5 horns that turned forward at the top instead of the usual swept backward direction at the 5th point. I christened him “Ole Crooked Horn”. I set up with the wind strong in my face blowing directly downhill from the bulls and took out my call. I made a few chirping cow calls then bugled loudly, hoping all the elk would think I was another herd bull coming through the timber to join the crowd. I also hoped that they would come to challenge me with the advantage of height.
Well, the plan worked......almost. They all came running as if they were the Lipizzaner stallions. They lined up beside each other at about 45 yds , right on the skyline. I would give a thousand dollars for a picture of those 7 bulls all lined up with the pink morning sky behind them. They were a beautiful sight, but way out of the range of my recurve bow. Try as I might I could not get one of those elk to come down into the timber. For 20 minutes or so we talked back and forth and called each other all sorts of names in the elk lingo.
I would do my best impression of "yo momma was a skunk" and they would come back with stuff that sounded like "well then bring yo bad self outta them trees so we can kick yo ***". “Ole Crooked Horn” was the one doing most of the talking as he was the biggest of the satellite bulls. After a while they tired of this and seeing my plan wasn’t working I started a sneak on “Ole Crooked Horn” as he had split off a little way from the rest.
I had good cover with some smaller spruce trees between us and closed the distance down to a range of about 15 yards where I was comfortable shooting my 65 pound Bighorn take-down. With arrow knocked and ready I slowly raised to my feet from behind a bush and started to draw. That is precisely when the wind shifted and hit me in the back of the neck. Before I could finish the draw, anchor and release he smelled me and was off. The jig was up. Elk have more vocalizations than most people know and one of them is an alert 'bark'. He started doing this and elk stampeded in every direction (except toward me).
Well that was the highlight of that trip as I never got close to any more elk for the next three days. But I still did not consider it a failure. That’s another thing about archery elk hunting. Just being out in the woods and seeing the beautiful scenery of the Rockies in the fall is worth the effort. If you are lucky enough to harvest a little venison, that’s even better. But that is not where this story ends. Here is the rest of the story...
My work had been very hectic that particular summer. I am a water well contractor and at the time I had three rigs and crews working and could never seem to get caught up. It is either feast or famine in this business and you have to make hay while you can. Time just flew by until one day I realized that it was the last day of the season and I had not filled my tag. I called my wife and told her not to make plans for me that I was quitting at noon and going hunting. She said my younger brother Dan had called and said he wanted to go if I went. So I had him meet me at home and we made a bee line to my hunting area.
We had picked a spot a little closer to get to and rode our trail bikes in as far as we could go. It was still a long way and we only got there about an hour before dark. I made one call and got an immediate response from a ridge about a mile away. There was no other recourse but to try for him we took off at a trot. As we went I explained to Dan what I wanted him to do when we set up. I would call and he was to rake a big branch against a spruce tree and stomp and grunt…basically act like a bull that is pissed.
I never called again until we got to where the bull was close and then I bugled. The response was immediate and HAIR raising.....the best I can describe it as the sound of an African lion roaring, and HE WAS COMING!!!!
I hastily set up under a spruce tree with drooping limbs at the bole of the tree. Dan backed up about 30 yards and started his horning act. This time it worked. The bull came like he was on a string. As he came through an opening at about 20 yards I could see his horns. Yep you guessed it, “Ole Crooked Horn”!!! His eyes were red as devil himself and snot was drooling out of his nose.
I knew if I didn’t get him brother Dan was in trouble!!! As he passed by my tree at about 3 paces, oblivious to me, I sent a two bladed Rocky Mountain Razorhead right through both lungs. As he lunged away I grabbed my bugle and screamed at him. He stopped at 50 paces and we were able to see him go down and then tumble down the hill. There wasn’t even enough light left to take pictures. He was indeed the last minute bull!
Allen is a water well contractor in central Colo. He has lived and hunted with gun and bow in Colorado since moving there in 1975. He is a former state champion and all-American trapshooter and also loves long range shooting, varmint hunting and Texas hold'em poker.