The 3rd time is a charm; a belief that the third time something is attempted is more likely to succeed than the previous two attempts. This quote is heard all the time and given the relevance of the past two seasons I felt going into this hunt that it would be true! On a vacation to Colorado in the summer of 2015 I came across a small 4-acre parcel of land for sale that gave me access to 3000 acres of BLM property. Some of that land was very inaccessible. I immediately set out to acquire this property as my own and put into motion a plan to hunt that September during archery season. That first year went unsuccessful with only calling in a spike. However, I realized that hunt had given me a lot to learn from. It had been more of a scouting mission than anything else. The following year put me back in Colorado for the 2nd gun season. Once again, I learned more of the land and came close on the last evening. I had a good bull come into some cow calls but the wind quickly switched and sent him off before I could get a shot. The bull ran up the mountain before stopping broadside in a meadow at 275 yards. At this point one might think this hunt could have been over, but you must always be aware of property lines! I had been using the OnX Hunt app this hunt as well as the year previous and I was able to quickly identify that the meadow was in fact on private land. That bull was simply laughing at me!!
Fast forward to this summer. After using the online feature from OnX Hunt, I was able to look at the BLM property maps on a computer to seek out new areas I wanted to explore and hunt. A game plan was then hatched for the upcoming gun season. The only thing left to do was keep up the weight training and increase my cardio. Both of these are very important to those who enter the mountains in search of elk every season. Being from East Tennessee, the elevation of the West alone can put a damper on your hunt if you are not prepared. Several years ago, I purchased an Elevation Training Mask and I haven’t looked back. I can attest that using this increases my VO2 max and will help you recover more quickly when gaining your breath! Topping off my workouts using both Mtn Ops Magnum and Ammo protein I kept my muscles in great shape for the hopeful haul out.
As mid-October rolled around, the anticipation was through the roof. After working my last day shift, I loaded all my gear into a BroncBox and into the back of my truck and geared up for the early morning start to my western adventure. Once arriving in Colorado five days prior to my hunt, I had plenty of time to keep up my cardio as well as lay out all the gear needed. My plan for this hunt would be to backpack in the day before, set up a spike camp at 11,000 feet then proceed North across the top of the mountain ridge to find some of the areas I previously scoured through with OnX Hunt. Friday came quickly and everything was packed precisely into our packs for the steep 2000 feet of elevation gain in 1 and ¼ miles to the top of the mountain. My wife and I set out early that afternoon and made it to the top in 3 hours. We set up our camp with plenty of light and started to enjoy the views while eating a warm Mountain House meal.
With the wind gusting at upwards of 40mph throughout the night, we got little sleep. On top of that when we did fall asleep we were woken up to the sound of small snow balls falling around 3 am. We eventually crawled out of our tent around 5:30am to a spectacular sunrise with a nice blanket of snow on the ground. Excited, we set out on our first morning and immediately came across fresh mountain lion tracks. We located some great looking ground, though we never found any fresh elk sign. Since there was no sign we decided to drop down toward a known location of water, also a place I had set a trail camera all summer. During the time the camera was out, we had multiple pictures of bear, cow elk, mule deer and several good bulls. The camera was wireless and we had not had any photos since mid-September (we assumed the batteries died) so we didn’t have any new information on if elk were using the trail, moved lower on the mountain, or if water was even flowing.
When we reached the small waterhole I was relieved to see there was some water still flowing down the creek. We made sure to use our Sawyer Mini handheld purifier to fill our water bottles. One of the biggest things you can do while hunting at higher elevations is to stay hydrated. We then proceeded to mix in Green Apple Ignite to help us push through the afternoon downtime and to set up our camp lower on the mountain. After situating our camp for the night, we headed towards the meadow where I had the encounter the previous year with a bull. We simply figured we could catch any elk coming down the mountain before they made it to the meadow for the evening. The evening ended very cold with not an animal in sight though we did see plenty of fresh sign.
The next morning we woke at 5:30am once again. This time we decided we would leave our tent, sleeping bags and sleeping pads to save some weight and our backs. We quietly and slowly crept toward the dark timber and the waterhole just as day was breaking. After our short trek into the timber we picked out a location with a longer range of views plus an additional break in the trees that showed the side hill across from us hoping we could catch the elk moving through that morning. After the sun rose we decided to brew a little backwoods white chocolate mocha to warm us. As my wife and I sat and enjoyed the beautiful morning and the refreshing brew, the sound of rocks tumbling caught our attention. We waited patiently figuring that the elk were moving up the mountain toward us. After several minutes I noticed the body of a mule deer on the hill side. Further inspection showed it was a good mule deer buck. Two younger bucks also appeared as well as a doe. After the mule deer moved away from us, we stood to get a little blood flowing through our bodies. I stood there studying the terrain, picturing elk moving through the timber speaking to my wife about how we would react if elk came from certain directions. We even ranged a few marked distances to know beforehand if it happened quickly. My wife sat back down to drink more of our fresh brew. It was then that I opened up to God, saying how this hunt was all in his hands and things would happen as he wanted. That I was just grateful for the opportunity to be healthy and be there on the mountain enjoying everything he had created. I stood there for another minute or two looking through the forest when I glanced to my right. All I could see was a head and elk antlers swaying between the trees. I whispered to my wife not to move, and explained there was a bull to our immediate right. In what seemed like forever I slowly grabbed my Bergara rifle and got into position below my wife as she was between the bull and myself. I feared at any moment the bull would spot me and be gone, but he simply fed toward us. As I leveled the rifle I could tell he was a legal bull and worth shooting, so I got ready for the shot. Just like that my wife whispered there was another bull to my left. I looked past my scope and saw nothing. Again my wife said, do you see the other bull to the left. Again, I peered over my scope and still saw no other bull. The bull I was seeing stepped forward another few steps clearly into view. My wife for the 3rd time asked if I could see the bull to the left. So I completely turned my head from the scope and the bull, even looking downhill to attempt to locate this bull she was speaking of. At this point I turned back to look at the bull in front of my rifle only to find he was staring me down. He then took one step forward, as I feared he was about to leave I put 1 single 143 grain Hornady ELD-X 6.5 Creedmoor round right through the vitals. The bull took a few steps forward not knowing what happen. I then moved into position for a possible 2nd shot and it was then that I saw the 2nd bull, still standing there confused as to what was going on. My bull then collapsed which sent the other bull on his way. I turned to my wife with a big smile on my face and she asked if I had hit the bull, she could not see the action go down since she had literally laid on her back to get out of my way. Several trees obstructed her view of the bull I shot, but gave her a view of the 2nd bull that had she kept informing me of.
Though I saw the bull go down, I wanted to give him a few minutes. As I also wanted to gain my own composure. After some cheers, and smiles (and maybe a photo or 2) we gathered up all of our gear, and headed toward the bull. Being from the east you sometimes forget the magnitude of how big a Rocky Mountain elk truly is. As I walked up to this elk, the sheer body size alone made me feel very small in this world. My wife then snapped a few celebratory photos and we began the task of quartering and cutting up my bull. Without the help of a second person, it can be a challenge to attempt this task on your own. My wife held her own and assisted me throughout the entire process. Once we quartered and cut up as much meat as we could get and put into game bags we decided to gather up all the gear we could and place individual front quarters in our packs, along with the tenderloin and back strap in her pack and any extra meat into my pack. We then started off the mountain to get the first load out and half way out my wife’s father text us saying he was headed up the mountain and would meet us at the meadow above my property. His simple lending of a hand (or his back and legs) was a blessing. We were able to get the first load off the mountain and head back up for the last and final load of meat as well as the tent, sleeping bags and sleep pad we had left that morning all before the sun had set that evening.
Photos and story by Brandon Confer