Traditional Elk Camp
Posted on November 15, 2012
This bowhunter tells about his favorite hunt of the year and the experience he shared with good friends last season.
The cow came down the trail, from the top of Jackson Ridge just as I had anticipated when I selected the stand a day earlier. I wanted to be within 20 to 25 yards of two heavily used elk wallows but my tree stand had to be far enough away from the base of the ridge to avoid the swirling thermal air currents. The morning air was still flowing downhill as the sun was touching the eastern horizon.
With an either-sex elk tag and a cow tag in my pocket, the cow was in trouble on opening weekend. As she passed the first wallow at 25 yards, my arrow sped an inch or two under her chest and she simply walked over to the second wallow and started drinking water.
I was a mess; I couldn’t believe I missed a chump shot—all that practice, what the heck! She drank safely behind a half dozen aspens, screening my view. With another arrow on the string, I was talking to myself about picking a spot and completing my shooting sequence.
Then movement caught my eye to my right. Coming down the mountainside at 60 yards was a heavy beamed elk with great G-1 and G-2’s and thick G-4s. My world shifted as I analyzed the bull’s rack.
I had the whole season to hunt this year, I had a goal of taking a “big” bull, a cow and a bear.
I really didn’t want to miss those days of calling elk on the high mountain meadows. Then I saw the bull was missing a G-3 on the left side, but still, he was so heavy and the beams were long. The bull stuck his mouth in the first wallow and drank in earnest, broadside at 23 yards. The morning light shined on his tan yellowish hide andÂ Â Â Â 5×6 rack, a perfect situation, one of the best I’ve ever had.
The longbow came up on autopilot as I drew back the handcrafted arrow.
Living to Elk Hunt
Millions of bowhunters dream and long for hunting camp during the month of November to pursue the rutting whitetail bucks. The majority of advertising and TV shows highlight the annual pursuit.
In the mountains of Colorado we load 4-wheel drive trucks with food, back packs, bows and gear and head into the hills for our annual pilgrimage to elk camp. In September we live, breath and bleed elk hunting. Throw in an occasional deer or bear tag and a hunter has the makings of another dream hunt in the high country.
I’ve had the pleasure to share elk camp with James and Greg for several decades, on private land. It is a real luxury to walk the same ridges, inspect familiar wallows and glass well scouted aspen forests on an annual basis. Every year is different, but it’s also the same. We have a history and familiarity with elk herds and geography, we sit in “Nate’s wallow,” stalk past the “bear cave,” and glass from the top of Jackson Ridge. It’s the best part of the year and the most temperate month in the mountains—30s in the morning and 70s by noon.
Clear blue sunny skies are the norm as are sore muscles, late suppers and evening campfire talks to relive the day’s hunt, we are lucky!
Last Year’s Experience
In 2011, I had the whole month of September to hunt. Well actually, every weekend and then the last week would be a vacation to hunt in the rut. Somehow a few clients expect me to be in the office during the week.
I started on August 7th, hanging stands and cameras. My hunting buddy Greg Jouflas and I had a plan; we were going to hunt exclusively from tree stands for the first three weeks so that we wouldn’t run the elk herds out of the area. When we were younger we’d have four to five guys stalking all over the mountainsides, with daily elk encounters and then noticed that by the time the last week of the season rolled around the elk were nowhere to be found, as they’d moved to neighboring ranches and deep canyons. You can imagine that if you still hunted your farm the whole month of October with a bunch of buddies and then tried to get serious about hunting in November, it would be fairly unproductive.
It definitely wasn’t much fun to sit quietly in a tree stand with thousands of acres to wander, but we had a plan.
Due to my extensive interest in whitetail hunting, I started using trail cameras to see what kind of deer I had on my properties. I have yet to kill a buck I’ve seen on the cameras, but it gives me some good ideas about game movement and concentrations. Plus it gives me something to do related to hunting before opening day. I figured the same would apply to hunting elk. The first thing I learned was that bears like to chew on plastic. Those metal boxes sold to house trail cameras are a good idea in the mountains.
It was pretty cool to view pictures of mule deer, elk and bear at my choice locations.
Greg and I moved quietly into a remote meadow filled with aspen trees, and walked along a ridge overgrown by oak brush to the west and a spruce ridge to the south. While I messed around with the camera and tree stand, Greg said he was going to scout the trail leading east along the base of the spruce ridge.
When he returned, I proudly had the tree stand set overlooking two wallows. Greg was all pumped up as he’d seen a mature, heavy horned elk stand up from his bed and then saw a bear 50 yards away stand up and leap off a huge boulder.
Greg said “We’ll call this ‘Leaping Bear Stand,’” and so it was.
We then went to the “Hidden Hole” stand and checked the camera. I already had the tree steps in and Greg hung the stand, while I checked the camera. We’d both about given up on the location, as after many years of occasional use, Greg only had one elk visit the waterhole and I’d never seen an elk.
Putting the SD card in the laptop computer, there were four different bear visiting the hole and several elk. We were hooked, the “Hidden Hole” stand was back on the map.
Greg asked, “Where are you sitting in the morning?”
“At ‘Leaping Bear,’” I replied. With elk and bear tags burning a hole in my pocket, it seemed like an easy choice. Greg’s on the ground scouting convinced me an old bull was hanging out in the area.
Overlooking the Wallows
Climbing through the oak brush, I climbed the aspen tree and settled into the stand overlooking the two wallows. As the darkness lifted, I looked up at the spruce covered ridge standing above me. The stand faces east, so I got the early morning light show as the forest awoke from the night.
As related earlier, the bull stood broadside, drinking from the wallow as I released my arrow. It struck home and the bull and cow exploded across the meadow. It all happened so fast but, I made my choice and it was a good one. The old bull was on the way down but still supported a heavy beamed 5×6 rack.
A week later Greg was at the “Hidden Hole” stand, our scouting had him convinced that things had changed at the hole where we’ve always drawn a blank.
Soon after first light, a bull roared below him in the drainage to the east. Instinctively, Greg made a couple of cow calls and waited with bow in hand.
The bull eased through the aspen trees looking for the lonely cow. Greg took the broadside shot with his longbow and buried his arrow to the fletch in the bull’s chest. The 6×6 was Greg’s best bull to date and he was ecstatic to stand over the downed bull.
T.J. Conrads showed up for the last week of the season. He’d hunted with us 12 years earlier and jumped at Greg’s invitation to return. T.J. is always a good hand in camp and the three of us have hunted together all over North America. He ended up hunting my wallow and took a young tender cow with a well-placed cedar arrow.
Several days later T.J. was in a stand overlooking “Penis Pond” and had a lot of action nearby, so he abandoned the stand and went after a bull.
He completed the trifecta on bulls when he brought down a 4 x 4 bull. I got there in time to pack out a couple of quarters. Ah, elk camp, it’s a good time, always plenty of memories made and relived.
The morning of September 26th, my last time to hunt for the season, I climbed into my favorite stand and watched the morning light appear through the golden aspen leaves. I was optimistic about filling my cow elk tag. I was so intense, that I couldn’t read my book as usual. I wanted to be ready and not miss an opportunity to take an elk. A sow and cub black bear fed on berries within 30 yards of my stand in the aspen forest, and provided me with some entertainment on an otherwise uneventful morning.
I was disappointed that by 10:00 AM not a single elk wandered by my stand in the aspen forest. I decided to cut through a spruce stand on my back to the truck. Quietly walking on an elk trail I walked into the darkness of the ancient forest of blue spruce trees with intertwined limbs. The silence of the morning was broken by the sound of pounding hooves. I looked up to see a long beamed 5 x 5 bull cresting the ridge above me. He was a fine bull, but his antlers were thin, the sign of a young bull. Next year he would be a lot bigger. I smiled and realized I was already looking forward to next September, when the mountainsides would welcome me back for another elk season with many fine days and new memories.
The following morning my phone rang at the office, it was Greg, he was very excited and said he had filled his cow elk tag. He was moving a little slow on Monday morning and was hiking down a 4 x 4 road to a tree stand after sunrise. Suddenly a bull chased a herd of cows over the ridge. Greg jumped behind a screen of brush, just a few small aspens and some tall grass.
A calf elk ran in front of Greg at a mere ten feet. Then a cow cleared the ridge and stood broadside in the thigh high mountain grass. His arrow was on its way in an instant and struck the elk in the heart. The cow ran forward 40 yards and fell over dead. Greg made his best shot in years and closed out our elk camp, 2011 in fine style.
Editor’s note: The author’s gear for the hunt included a 60-pound PLX Black Widow longbow, Carbon Express Heritage 250 arrows and Razor Cap broadheads. Greg used a 54-pound Centaur longbow, Carbon Express Heritage 250 arrows and Woodsmen broadheads. TJ Conrads shot a 56-pound PLX Black Widow longbow, cedar arrows and Zwickey broadheads. Nathan Andersohn has hunted exclusively with a longbow since 1988 and regularly seeks adventures throughout North America.
By Nathan L. Andersohn