The smoke from the nearby wildfires had blown into the valley giving the mist a bluish tint as the sun came over the ridge. I sat peering through my binoculars at the alpine meadow below. A wide typical mule deer made his way through the pines downhill from me as I nestled into a bush for the morning glassing session.
My brother and I were on day five of our Colorado public land elk hunt, and glassing the grass along the highest ridges was the best strategy we had found. We had bumped a few herds of elk stalking through the timber, and I had managed to interest one spike buck with some raking of a tree, but we had yet to hear a bugle, and the the elk in the area had no interest in meeting friends when we tried cold calling to them.
Through the cold mountain air I heard a raking sound similar to whitetail sparring. I crept down the hill and began raking a tree hoping that I could interest a bull into hiking up the hill to me. After five minutes of seeing nothing I moved closer and lifted my foot to crack branches again when a tan coat caught my eye. I lifted my binoculars to see the attached dark head and legs of a 6×6 bull elk. This was the first legal bull I had seen in Colorado and well above my standard for my tag. I slipped off my tennis shoes and began making my stalk down the forty degree decline. As I half-slid half-stalked toward the bull a 5×5 bull came into the meadow. As the bulls fed I closed the distance trying to quietly crawl over the windfall. The two Bulls locked horns and began sparring 100 yards downhill from where I watched behind a lodgepole pine. As they began to clash antlers I made my move, quickly skirting around another pine and diving out of their view behind a bush sixty yards away. As I tried to hide behind the bush I caught a branch on the pine behind me and it broke with a loud snap. I sat for a minute praying that the bulls had been caught up in their pretend-fight enough that they didn’t notice my clumsiness. As I peaked over the branches, I could see the pair staring in my direction. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘now or never’, and I made a cow call, hoping that curiosity would get the better of the bulls and they would take their final few fatal steps.
Breathing heavily from the excitement or that trying to breath at 11,000 feet for an Iowan is like breathing in outer space, I hooked my release on my D-loop and prepared to launch an arrow downhill. Instead, the both bulls turned and ran in opposite directions. I made another attempt at stopping them with a cow call and the 6×6 stopped at 75 yards to look back before running through the timber again. I took off running through the timber hoping to cut him off as he crested the next spur. A group of mule deer bucks sprang from their beds as I reached the spur but there was no sign of my long-lost bull. I craned my neck to look back where my daypack lay 300 yards above me and began to trudge barefoot back up the hill. We are only five days into the thirty-five day season I tell myself as I justify my mistakes. Next time I won’t cow call, next time I won’t break that branch, next time I will take my time, next time I will…