“It turned white overnight.”
Those were the first words I heard that early September morning. I lay back on my cot in the tent and pondered just what Paul Brown meant. Then I studied the sagging roof of the tent and knew exactly what he meant. It had snowed. We had scouted hard yesterday and found plenty of elk sign. Now, I knew it did not mean a thing.
I swung my aching, aging legs over the side of the cot and sat up. At 58, the climbing we had done yesterday had reminded me I was no longer 25 and bulletproof. Even though we had been able to drive the truck to the tent camp, yesterday involved plenty of up and down walking. Snow was not good, aching legs or not. Snow would move the elk down and we were up. Our tent camp was at 10,500 feet and smack in the middle of elk country. But that was yesterday and yesterday was gone.
The storm had blown in overnight, dropping about four inches of the lovely (cussed) white stuff. Today we would have to hunt down and across a wide valley to get into the no snow country where the elk had surely gone. First, we had to make sure that was what happened.
Breakfast over, such as it was, we slung packs and bows and started out in the dark. At daylight, we cast bugles in all directions. Not a sound. Yesterday, the Colorado Rockies had been golden and green with the just changing aspen leaves and elk had been on ever knob and in every meadow. Today, we figured they were below and across from us, feeding in the patches of oak brush and browsing on the open side hills. No way to drive to them. No horses to ride to them. Time to go footback, down, across and up. Sheesh!
In an hour, we were still in the snow but it was not as deep, mostly just a heavy dusting. We had not shed much clothing. It was still in the 20’s even down that far. We stopped on a rocky out cropping and Paul set up the spotting scope. I get nauseous when I use one, so I just started working open areas with my 10X Binoculars. We picked the open slopes to pieces where we had expected to find elk. No elk. None.
From far below us but on the same mountain, a bugle floated in on the rising thermals. Faint, just a whisper but definitely a bugle. We quickly got back in the snow-covered aspens. I pointed where I thought it came from and we discussed strategy. We both thought the elk would move up and stop short of the snow. How far up we did not know. Then it came again, closer and followed by a lot of chuckles. Time to pick up the pace and get under the snow.
Thirty minutes later panting like a dog in hot weather, we broke out above a beautiful lake. It was a mirror in the mountains with aspens standing snow free on the far side. It was time to take another break and see if we could coax another bugle. Paul bugled and I cow called and broke some branches. When you are elk hunting, sometimes you have to make noise. Elk are not quiet animals. Bang! Pow! A bull bugled behind us and another fired off in front of us. We were between two bulls. It does not get any better than that.
I took the bull in front of us and began trotting and sliding around the lake. There was a fresh trail muddied with dozens of tracks. Once on the far side of the lake, I set up. In a grove of aspens on a sight rise, I picked my spot and went to work. With each cow call, the bulls answered and challenged each other. The air was ringing with bugles.
Mine was coming in and coming fast. Then, I heard an elk running on the far side of the lake and he was tearing up anything in his way. My first thought was that Paul had stuck him.
Then, I did not have time to think. I had a bull 25-yards to my left, coming at a trot. When he hit a small opening, he ran right into my sight pin and I let the arrow go. Time to rendezvous.
I had blood, plenty of it on the ground and on the trees. Paul had hit a branch and the arrow slid over his bull’s back, just smacking him with the shaft. We started trailing my bull. I felt sure the shot was good but the trail kept going. An hour later and a whole lot closer to camp, we found him, piled up in the aspens. The shot was perfect. He was just a tough animal.
Time to go to work. We shed another layer of clothing and went at it. With two of us skinning and quartering, it didn’t take long to get him naked and on the pack frames. The snow was gone but for some reason, the mountain seemed a lot steeper than it had yesterday. Two trips and we had everything back at camp.
Dinner that night was elk fillet mignon with macaroni and cheese and green beans. Under the front seat of the truck, Paul found a nearly full bottle of Wild Turkey and we toasted our success. The next day, as I cut and wrapped elk meat, Paul killed a fat cow and the hunt was over.
Back at the main camp, Carl, the owner, asked us where we found the bulls. The answer was short. “Under the snow”.
Contact JOHN L. SLOAN /