Several months ago, I got the call that I had drawn the coveted first-week rifle elk tag for Colorado. I was originally told that my chances for doing such were slim to none since it was my first time applying. Nonetheless, the tag was mine and I was looking forward to an early October elk hunt with bugling bulls still searching out any unbred cows as the rut wrapped up.
After months of gear preparation and physical training, the time finally arrived to head to the high country.
I would be hunting with the Trophies of Grace crew at Cielo Vista Ranch in San Luis, Colorado. The ranch has a long standing history of being one of the top elk hunting destinations in the country. I’ve watched many of my favorite outdoor TV shows hunt the Cielo Vista over the years and always dreamed of the opportunity of doing so for myself. So needless to say, I was beyond excited to see that dream become a reality.
Arriving In Elk Camp
After flying in to Colorado Springs, I jumped in the truck with a couple other hunters that I’d share camp with for the 3-hour drive to elk camp. We arrived in camp with a few hours left to settle in, check our rifles and glass elk on the hillsides around the camp.
The American flag marked the last turn on our drive up to the ranch.
I would be hunting with the Mossberg Patriot 300 Win Mag rifle. My rifle was topped with a 3×9 Vortex scope that comes with Mossberg’s Scoped Combo option.
The gun is nice and light, making it a great option for backcountry hunting.
You never know how your equipment was handled by the airlines, so a few minutes on the range to check your sights is always a good idea before the first hunt. I sat down at the bench and let the Patriot bark. The shot was right on the money. My guide gave me the nod that we were good to go and I couldn’t help but smile with excitement and anticipation of what the next morning would bring.
A few shots to make sure the Mossberg Patriot was still on target before the first day’s hunt.
As the sun began to sink from the western sky, we pulled out binos and spotting scopes to glass the surrounding hillsides while we waited on dinner to be prepared. Small herds of cows, calves, and young bulls sprinkled the mountains in several directions. But right at last light, a huge herd of elk poured from the timber into a meadow a half-mile from the camp lodge. There was every bit of 75 elk in the herd. Young bulls did their best to impress the ladies, but the herd bull was quick to chase off any intruders. It was fun to watch, and no doubt helped fuel the excitement of what was to come on Day 1.
We spotted a number elk from the lodge as the sun went down.
Elk Camp Day 1
Cell phone alarms began to ring all across the lodge at 4:30am on Day 1. There would be no snoozing on this morning. I honestly don’t think I slept more than a few hours. I was too excited. And in the few hours that I did sleep, I’m pretty sure I chased bulls all over the mountains in my dreams.
All the hunters jumped into their camo and scrambled to organize gear before breakfast. There was an obvious buzz of excitement in the lodge as anxious hunters battled the jitters that always come on day 1 of the hunt.
We headed down to the camp kitchen and dining room to eat breakfast, get orders from the guides, and spend a few moments in prayer for safety and success for the day.
Breakfast followed by prayers for safety and success started each day.
Following breakfast, I headed out with my guide, Dave, and Jim Panetti of Trophies of Grace. We drove the truck up to the north side of the ranch and then hopped into the Polaris Ranger for the ride up the mountain. We would be checking a few small meadows that Dave had seen a number of elk, including several good bulls, the previous morning. As my luck generally goes, the elk weren’t in the first meadow we checked. “They’re not here,” said Dave. “Let’s go on up and check the next one.”
More times than not, I get myself into hunts where the guide says, “You should have been here yesterday!” And when the elk weren’t in the second spot that had held elk the previous morning, I was thinking it was headed that direction for me once again.
“They’re not down here low, let’s go up on top,” said Dave. We jumped into the Polaris Ranger and drove to the top of the mountain until we broke out of the timber into open hillsides. From here we’d spend some time glassing the hillsides.
Gusty winds were ripping across the mountainside as we eased along the rim of a big drainage. We’d glass a few minutes, then slip around to get another vantage point and repeat the process. Finally, we peeked over into an open drainage and saw the herd. There was a dozen, or so, elk in the bunch, with nearly half of them being bulls. We quickly took inventory and located the herd bull. He was no doubt what the guides refer to as a, “No Brainer,” a bull that was an obvious shooter. Dave and I scooted from cedar tree to cedar tree as we cut the distance to the herd. We knew we had to be extremely careful to not get picked off by the eyes of the curious cows that seemed to be on constant lookout.
This was the vantage point from which we finally located the herd.
When we had crawled as close as we could down the hillside, Dave ranged the bull at 250 yards. It was as close as we could in the wide open drainage. I quickly readied my gun and gear for the shot as the bull cruised the hillside loving on the ladies and being a bully to the other bulls.
When the bull finally stood still and broadside, I squeezed the trigger. I could hear the shot hit the bull following the crack of my rifle. The bull stood his ground so I gave him another round. He took it like a man but began to get wobbly. Just to be safe, and to keep him from storming down into the nastiest part of the canyon, I shot one final time, tipping the bull over where he stood.
The next moment was filled with man-hugs, high-fives and celebration. It was the first hour of the first morning and I had killed my bull. And it wasn’t until we walked over to my bull that I realized just how fine a bull he was. My dream of killing a big, trophy bull elk for the wall had become a reality.
My first Colorado bull elk had set the bar high on the first morning in elk camp.
We took plenty of pictures and soaked in the excitement of the moment before beginning the chores of getting the meat off the mountain. There’s nothing like the feeling of sitting beside such a majestic animal high atop the mountain following success. We simply sat in silence and enjoyed the moment.
After taking plenty of photos, we began the process of breaking down the bull for the pack out.
After the skinning and quartering process was complete, we hauled our first load up to the top of the mountain. We could get the Ranger only so close before the hillside dropped off too steep. The worst of the haul out would be on our backs. Fortunately, we had some help show up for the packing chores, making the job much easier. It’s amazing how strangers quickly turn into brothers when it comes to the grueling task of hauling meat off the mountain.
I thank God for the men with strong backs and willing hearts that showed up to help pack out my bull.