Our Elk/Mule Deer Excursion…
Bodies were tested, mental toughness was challenged, emotions were extreme highs and lows, but we were focused with a few things on our mind: antlers, meat, and fun. We put our blood, sweat, and tears into preparing and training for the unexpected. Which in this case included an encounter with a 7 foot black bear less than 15 yards away.
We arrived in Denver at noon and had a four hour drive ahead of us with intent to get there well before dark in time to hunt. We didn’t rent a four door full size truck or a full size sports utility vehicle. We rented “Vicki”, a black Ford Crown Victoria with a light that flickered oil change due. So, if we flew by you with the windows rolled down jamming out to an Alabama CD, that was us. We were loaded down to the max with a slight tilt leaving the front end higher than the back.
We made a couple stops to pick up some supplies and it was not long before we started seeing mule deer and pronghorn antelope on the side of the road as we winded through the mountains toward Slater Creek, Colorado. Slater Creek is just outside of Baggs, Wyoming, which is about 45 miles away. Our first stop, dropping John off at Long Mountain to get on some mature mule deer seen tucked in along the sage brush the previous morning. JD and I headed down to the house where we met up with Pat, owner of Snake River Outfitters, to go and call some elk spotted on a mountainside just behind the house.
Pat Grieve, the ultimate elk calling master, gets an answer from a mature bull after he bugles a few times. We have not even been hunting for 10 minutes and a bull is on his way letting out a few light bugles as he approaches. Pat lets a few more bugles vibrate through the aspens mixed in with some cow calls and out steps a nice mature 5×5 on top of the ridge about four hundred yards away. We only had about 30 minutes until it got dark, so we decided to leave him alone and come back at first light the next morning.
Meanwhile, John was having quite the encounter himself. He had two giant mule deer, one scoring in the 180′s and the other well into the 200′s sending a burst of adrenaline through his veins. The property John had permission to hunt had specific instructions to only harvest a mature “silver class” mule deer scoring just under 180, so he had to pass on these monsters. To pass up on such an amazingly trophy sized animal would have been tough for any hunter, but John was still thrilled to have experienced what a Boone and Crockett mule deer looked like in person. We were all pumped up and discussed the next days game-plan over dinner, one that would have us successful on day one of our six day hunt.
So excited, as you could imagine, sleep was last on my mind. I knew the following morning I was going to see and hopefully get a shot at the mature bull previously sighted. I finally fell asleep around midnight with the cool mountain breeze blowing through the screen door I left open. At about 2:00 a.m. I was awaken to bulls bugling from all different directions around the house. I went out on my back porch and listened in awe for 20 minutes or so hearing one after the other sound off. I remember saying to myself, “I can’t believe this is happening”.
Our alarms sound off at 5 a.m. for us to get up and get ready for our first full day of hunting. Eggs are cooked, coffee is brewed, and I believe our adrenaline is already flowing. We all packed our previously made Hunt Strong jerky in our packs along with water to ensure us we will be properly fueled for the hunt. We all split up going our separate ways, each with a guide from Snake River Outfitters.
I was paired up with Brian who was no stranger to calling in bull elk. Brian is a die hard hunter from Utah, which is where he spends his fall hunting the backcountry. As we approached the ridge where we saw the big bull the previous afternoon, there were already several bulls bugling. With the wind in our favor, we began our climb up the steep mountain and it didn’t take long before I could feel the rush of lactic acid through my quadriceps as I approached the bugling bulls. Once we got to the top, we sat down under a scrub oak in the sage brush and began calling. There were elk everywhere answering back including a few bulls. Where we sat, we could see one huge mountainside covered with a forest of aspen trees. At the top of the adjacent ridge, I spotted a cow elk followed by guess who, the big 5×5 bull. He was hot on her trail not letting her get out of his sight. As she topped the ridge and headed back down toward us, so did he, bugling the whole way. The picture below is of him as he bugles from the high mountain ridge.
I knew for sure, he was mine. At about the same time, JD, who was hunting the other side of the mountain placed a perfect shot on a nice mule deer sending about six cow elk barreling over the ridge, taking the big 5×5 with them. The next time I saw him, he was walking away from me at over 2oo yards following his herd of cows. We tried and tried but the wind direction was not in our favor to continue on after him. The weather began to turn for the worse with a storm rolling in so Brian and I decided to take it back to the house.
When we got back to the house, I was advised my workout was about to begin by hauling out JD’s big muley. I was not only pumped that JD harvested a nice mule deer, but I knew we were having fresh back strap for supper. Backpacking mature animals out of the Colorado backcountry is one reason why I train to hunt. I couldn’t wait to get down and see JD’s success. The heavier the load, the fewer the trips we were going to make, waisting no time. Below is a picture of me enjoying the workout packing out JD’s mule deer.
The weather continued on raining and lightning leaving us with the decision to wait it out, at least until after the lightning stopped. It was not long and the weather began to clear up leaving a couple of rainbows making for a great picture. How about this for irony?? John said he was going to shoot an elk where the rainbow ended. Little did he know! We got ready and headed into the backcountry. I headed back up to the original ridge where I hunted earlier to see if the elk were going to head back into the Aspens to bed and Jd and John went towards the front of the property to glass the mountainside.
We agreed to meet at up after dark back at the house regardless if we were successful or not. I got back before they did and started grilling backstrap from JD’s harvest. I was anxious to hear if they had any luck and once I saw the look on John’s face as he came up on the porch, I knew the answer. John was very confident about his shot, but he did not hear nor see the bull crash. We ate our supper and decided to go out and look for him, which was about two hours later from when he shot the bull.
JD stayed on the one ridge as John and I crossed Slater Creek towards where he shot the bull. We walked very carefully up and down the ridge looking for signs of blood. The terrain we were looking and walking through was about twelve foot high and very thick, making it tough to track exactly where the bull was standing when John hit it. I stood upon a big rock shining down, there were 2 eyes looking back at me about 15 yards away. I immediately called John over to take a look. I knew it was one of two predators, either a mountain lion or a black bear. John held the light on him and I picked up a rock and threw it in his direction to get him to leave, but he refused too. We did not have any intentions of shooting this predator, because we were not in harms way nor did we have a bear or mountain lion tag. After the seventh rock, it eased away making little to no noise at all. Both John and I looked at each other and decided it was best to come back at first light when we could see better for we did not know if there was more than one. As we drove back to the house that night, we all agreed it was too coincidental the predator would not leave the area. We just knew for sure it was down there eating John’s elk.
After a sleepless night for John, we all got up early the next morning and headed our way down toward John’s bull. We marked the spot where we saw the predator and made our way down the ridge. Sure enough, ten yards from where we saw the predator, layed John’s 5×5 bull elk. He was laying on his back with his guts opened up. John made a perfect shot just behind the shoulder and the bull did not go more than 30 yards. The picture below is how we found John’s big bull.
We were able to cut away a lot of the brush and flip him over on his belly to hide what the bear had done for pictures. It was a mature 5×5 with great mass. After talking with Pat that morning, we confirmed it was a black bear. Pat had seen them throughout the area just recently. What did we do? We got a bear tag. You can’t blame the bear for what he did, it’s just their natural instinct. We salvaged what we could for meat and packed him out back across Slater Creek. It was only day two of our hunt and John still had a mule deer tag burning a hole in his pocket.
For the next couple of days, JD and I hunted hard for bull elk while John was on the prowl with guide Jesse, the Road Hog, for a mature muley. We all covered miles on end daily up and down the mountains. We saw a lot of cows and some bulls, but nothing worth putting a stalk on. John, however, finally got the green light on a mule deer. It took both John and Jesse a long stalk over the biggest mountain in the area to get to him, but thankfully John was in shape to get the job done. The deer was quartering away and John threaded the needle through the last rib exiting his neck. John’s first mule was a nice 4×3.
I was feeling the pressure as we got down to the last day of our hunt. It was either now or never. Pat came with us to call, and did I mention, he really knows how to call. He had them bugling everywhere. The first bull to come in was a small 4×4 which I passed on. I decided before I left , I was only going to harvest a mature bull elk or a cow for meat if it came down to the wire. Well, the wire was getting thin. We saw a decent bull about nine hundred yards away and started stalking the ridge after him. As we made our encounter, the bull elk ran across the road twenty yards in front of us knocking down everything in it’s path forcing us to change plans.
There was one area Pat wanted to try before we called it quits. We walked about a mile through the aspens before coming up on a ridge. Pat sounded off a couple of cow calls before he bugled. He didn’t even get the bugle out of the tube before the most enormous bugle with a deep growl at the end bugled back. We all looked at each other, raised an eyebrow and said, “That’s got to be a monster”. We immediately checked the wind direction to make sure that we were downwind from the bull. Within seconds, we had a calf and a young spike bull within ten yards of us trying to figure out what we were.
Everytime Pat would bugle, the mature bull would answer back making a bee line for us. He just knew another bull had trespassed his domain. I saw the bull 200 yards below and he was coming to fight. I only saw him for a split second before he dissappeared below the ridge I was sitting on. And a split second was all I needed to see. My heart began to beat out of my chest because I knew this bull was coming fast. He tops the ridge just below us at 19 yards behind a bush and lets out one more bugle. We are so close I can see steam coming out of his mouth as he scans the ridge looking for his competitor. He takes one more step exposing his vitals and that is what I came to Colorado for. The big bull runs about 3o yards and expires right next to the road. It could not have been planned any better. Last day, last hunt, that is usually how it works for me.
Later that afternoon, we went into town to pick up the meat where we took the bull to be processed and caped out. On our way back, we still had one more elk tag left, so we glassed the mountainside and the meadows as we headed back to the house. As we were glassing, I decided to take some pictures along the way. I just happen to take a picture of where John shot his bull and not even two seconds later, JD and John yell “BEAR”! Without a second to despair, John and I rushed out of the truck and ran down towards him. By the time we got to where John took his shot, the bear was gone. Imagine the story if John shot the seven foot bear, the bear who ate his elk. When I got home, I began going through all of the pictures and sure enough the bear was in the picture I took. Look closely at the picture below.
We all had a great time with many laughs along the way and memories to last a lifetime. I can’t wait to get the big bull home and on my wall. Thanks JD for the opportunity and it would not have happened without you buddy. Special thanks to Lethal, the best odor eliminator, for helping us get in range.
Thanks to Havalon knives for making game cleaning easy.
And a HUGE thanks to Pat, Jesse, Aaron, and Ian with Snake River Outfitters for putting us on mature game. You guys Rule.
If you are interested in harvesting a Colorado mature monster mule deer or a bull elk, give Pat a call @1-800-219-7116 or (307) 383-7838. You can also reach him by email @firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out all of our photos below……