“Anticipation” (2014 Elk Hunt, Part II)

anˌtisəˈpāSHən: the action of anticipating something; expectation or prediction.

Day 1

Jerud drives a couple of hours from his home in Illinois, meeting me along Interstate 70 near St. Louis. I throw my gear in the back of his truck and we continue to head west, destined for Frisco, CO.

It’s happening. We’re finally going elk hunting in Colorado.

The drive is uneventful, except for losing air conditioning in the truck. I reassure Jerud that the AC won’t matter on the way home, because we’ll be too happy and tired with a bull in the back of the truck.

We arrive in Frisco at dusk and eat dinner in an over-priced, too-cool-for-Midwestern-guys joint that’s nevertheless quite tasty. Our hotel lobby is crowned with the mounts of mountain monarchs; a welcome sight.

Our View From the Trailhead

Day 2

After another relatively brief stint on I-70 West, we leave society behind and begin twisting, turning, and climbing.

The road gets skinnier, then rougher, then ends. It took more than 1,000 miles and 15 hours in the truck, but we have arrived.

It looks like a Cabela’s and REI has exploded outside the truck as we perform final gear checks, shoot our bows, and load our packs with clothes, food, and hunting gear.

Finally, we’re bearing the load of our 40lb packs and ready to tread mountain soil. But, first, a problem.

Jerud’s inline quick-disconnect that will allow him to filter water into his bladder is seeping, while I am simultaneously pinching my water bladder tube together because the bite-valve magically disappeared as I put my pack on.

We’re both leaking.

There’s no way we are wasting time driving to town for something so simple, and so stupid. As much as you prepare, you can’t anticipate everything that could go wrong, nor can you have a predetermined “Plan B” or backup part for everything. It strikes me how something so simple – a water hose – could have such an effect on a trip. How am I supposed to live a week in the backcountry if I can’t filter, store, and drink water?

Jerud adapts, I finally find my bite valve, and we hike on.

Halfway into our hike we step to the side of the trail, yielding to a string of horses. A guide leads the pack of blaze-wearing muzzleloader hunters, who pass by with little more than a nod. We drop further down into the forest. Things level out slightly before falling even more dramatically. We switch back-and-forth, losing more elevation.

It’s obvious to see why this area has been called, “the hole.” Coming out is going to be a challenge; especially if we’re coming out heavy.

Jerud hikes through a mountain meadow

We’re Not Alone

Our descent is complete and we near one of our pre-scouted camp sites, but find that it’s occupied by a large wall-tent, and what looks to be an entire family. We have other camp site options in mind, so we press on.

Shortly thereafter, we cross paths with MacGyver. He’s sporting a gray beard, a cotton waffle-flannel shirt, and Army BDU pants. A spherical bubble compass is clipped to his lapel. Old school.

Although he’s been hunting elk in these parts for more than 20 years, his enthusiasm could easily fool you into thinking that this is his maiden voyage to the mountain. He’s hoping to fill his cow-only muzzleloader tag this week, but has mainly been seeing bulls. That’s not a problem for us.

Shortly after leaving MacGyver we come face-to-face with more muzzleloader hunters with cow tags – this time, a husband and wife from Minnesota. They tell us where their outfitter dropped them off, and invite us to stop by if we need anything from their outfitted camp.

It can be disheartening to run into other hunters when you’re trying to get away from the crowds – especially when you’re making the sacrifices of packing light and hiking hard. Jerud and I are relatively young and we’ve trained our bodies to go further than others, but we’re still not beyond the reach of anyone with horses.

My first feeling when seeing other hunters in the backcountry is disappointment, and that’s wrong of me. Everyone we ran into proved to be far more helpful than they were harmful, and much more encouraging than they were frustrating.

Its public land; let’s share it, get along, and maybe even help one another.

We decide to setup camp in “the old outfitter camp”, but no sooner do we get our tent staked down than an outfitter rides by and calls down from his high-horse, telling us that we can’t camp there.  We cross a large meadow and setup camp on the treeline. It’s time to hang our food a safe distance away and then head out for an evening hunt. Hanging our food bags went about as smooth as finding a camp site, which is to say, not at all.

Our Sierra Designs Lightning 2 Tent is Finally Set

Here we are, not even a day into our weeklong hunt – not even hunting yet! – and I’m already tempted to have some sort of resignation about the way things are going. I don’t mean to make a big deal out of this now, as it wasn’t a huge deal then, but the temptation was nevertheless very real. Things can, and most certainly will go wrong. If you’re new to this type of hunting, don’t let that catch you off guard. Expect all kinds of setbacks, and don’t let them derail your hunt.

We leave camp in the later part of the afternoon to “take it easy” and hunt ’til dark. The hunting part we did, but we neglected the taking it easy idea. We started off fine – seeing some great game trails that led down to a swampy meadow and some wallows – but we soon found ourselves climbing over, under, and through deadfalls on a steep mountainside, busting at least a couple elk along the way.

They’re in here.

Terrain like this doesn't equate to

Despite the day’s setbacks, our anticipation remained high as the sun fell. We built a fire, heated our dinner, and prepared for our first full day of hunting. I now look back on that first night and smile at the ignorance that I had then, not knowing what incredible and miserable moments would soon come.

You’re reading Part 2 of my 2014 Colorado Elk hunt.
Check out the rest of the story:  Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Ending the first night right

Introduction – 2014 Elk Hunt, Part I

intrəˈdəkSHən: a thing preliminary to something else, especially an explanatory section at the beginning of a book, report, or speech

We entered into the wilderness with a week’s worth of gear, and hoped to leave with a year’s worth of meat and a lifetime of memories.

Mission accomplished.

Jerud and I at the trailhead

Partnership

My elk hunting partner this year was, Jerud. He joined me last year on my Kentucky elk hunt, and that’s where the dream of hunting elk together in Colorado this September was born.

Jerud and I are both relatively new to elk hunting. We each had separate first hunts in different areas of Colorado last year, when we both learned a lot of what not to do.

We continued to plan, prepare, and train after those first failures – doing everything we could to make sure that if we weren’t successful in our second year of elk hunting, it wouldn’t be because we weren’t ready.

The area we headed into this year isn’t known for big bulls, but we had good intel on some areas that should at least get us into elk, and that’s all that really mattered. We were both ready to fill our tags and fill the freezer.

Months before the trip, Jerud and I agreed that we would work together and share whatever rewards would come. We would take turns calling, take turns leading, and split the meat that was brought home.

I knew, at least in theory, how much more effective it was to hunt elk as a team. This trip validated that theory over and over. There’s much more to say about the effectiveness of hunting elk as a pair, and I’ll get to that another day.

Jerud heading into the timber

Success

On day 5 of the trip, Jerud’s SlickTrick pierced the lungs of a bull, while I was 50 yards away calling and within shooting-range of another bull. It’s a crazy story, and I can’t wait to share it all. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; this is just an introduction.

Elk hunting is much more than a trophy photo.

I want to document the whole trip – for myself, and for you. I want to share the good and bad, the ups and downs, the joys and frustrations.

Much like I did last year, I will be sharing somewhat of a day-by-day account of our hunt. I hope that you can learn something from it or be inspired by it.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me!

You’re reading Part 1 of my 2014 Colorado Elk hunt.
Check out the rest of the story:  Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Full packs at the end of the hunt

Mental Matters – 6 Ways to Keep Your Head in the Hunt

September is here. The time to prepare is over. It is time to hunt.

This time next week I will be miles-deep in the Colorado mountains. There’s no time left to tune my bow any more; I can’t dial-in my shooting skills; I can’t scout new areas; I can’t study more about elk behavior. These things are for the now-expired offseason.

But there is one thing I can do. No, one thing I must do, and that’s keep my head in the hunt.

Silly Stickers On My Bow

What could these silly stickers possibly have to do with keeping my head in the hunt?
Read on and find out!

Preparing your mind for hunting is an often over-looked, and massively under-valued endeavour. If I am going to effectively hunt for a week-straight, and endure all of the wildness that the wilderness has to throw at me, then I must do these five things…

(Oh, and you whitetail guys – much of this applies to those long days and long weeks that are spent waiting in a tree for your chance, too.)

Work Your Plan (When You Can)

Keep your head in the hunt by working your plan, and letting your plan dictate what actions you take. (You do have a plan, right?) Remember the intel you’ve put together, the places you’ve scouted, and the strategies you’ve studied. Don’t lose sight of these things.

But you also must realize that things won’t go as planned! You need to be ready to adapt. When the sign isn’t what you expected to see, don’t lose your focus. When the bulls aren’t as vocal as you wanted, don’t lose hope. When the weather doesn’t cooperate, roll with the thunder.

Remember your plan. Realize that things never go 100% according to plan. And keep your head in the game at all times.

Embrace The Suck

If you’re hunting long enough and hard enough, something’s going to suck. You’ll face challenges that you didn’t see coming, but don’t let it rattle you. I know this sounds incredibly cliche and probably borders on macho, meathead, masochist drivel, but – remember that experiencing pain means you are living.

You’re out there, in the wild, doing something that few others do. And part of it is going to suck. But you’re living. You’re doing. Embrace the suck, stay focused, and keep going.

Remember the Grind

Remember the grind back home? Your 9-5. The bills and demands. The time that you spend caring for and providing for others. Remember all of that, and be grateful for this moment, this time that you have to escape the grind of everyday living.

Whether it’s a weeklong hunt or a 3-hour sit in a treestand, be fully present in the hunt and enjoy your time. Go back home a better man (or woman) because of the chance that you had to escape. The grind will still be there when you return, so don’t worry about it while you’re hunting.

Look Around

Speaking of being fully present, take a look around. You’re in a magical place. Immerse yourself in your surroundings. See the small details, heart the faint noises, smell the mountain air. Not only will this help you appreciate the setting, but you’ll actually be heightening your senses and increasing your ability to be alert to the game that you’re hunting. Allow me to paraphrase Remi Warren,

“I believe in hunting trophy country as much as I do hunting trophy animals.”

Look around. It’s amazing out there.

Fleeting Moment, Forever Memory

It doesn’t matter how much action you’ve experienced on a hunt, and if it is day 1 or day 10, it only takes a split-second moment for your hunt to turn into a memory that lasts forever. Mr. Big can show up anywhere, at any time, and that’s the real reason that you must always keep your head in the hunt.

Always be ready. Never give up. Keep moving forward. The next moment could be your best memory.

Be Grateful

So, those stickers in the photo. I had my daughter (5) and son (2) each pick out a sticker to put on my bow. They’re on the backside of my quiver, positioned where they’ll constantly be in view if I’m carrying or shooting my bow.

I fully expected my daughter to pick out a princess sticker and my son to pick out a ninja, but they both chose silly, happy faces. They’re good reminders to not be too serious, to do what we’ve discussed and enjoy the hunt. But more than anything they are reminders for me to be grateful. They remind me how happy we should be. That in spite of life’s challenges and difficulties, most of us are incredibly blessed.

Keep your head in the hunt by being grateful. This moment, this opportunity, and what you’ll return home to; it isn’t all challenge, difficulties, and “grind”. It’s good.

That should make you want to stay focused, keep moving forward, and hunt hard.

I’m signing off for a couple weeks to go practice what I’ve preached…

The More I Know About Hunting, The Less I Enjoy It

For the past handful of years I have been immersed myself into the world bowhunting and learned as much as I possibly could about every aspect of the pursuit.  This journey has increased my passion for hunting, but it’s also left a bitter taste in my mouth. My attempts to learn as much as I can about bowhunting have been fulfilling and defeating. This pursuit has been part Jekyll, part Hyde.

Waiting on the Unknown

You see, hunting isn’t meant to be mastered. And we, as hunters, aren’t meant to embark upon the pursuit as something that can be completely planned for, strategized, and understood. Our movements in the wilderness should be driven by instinct, and not primarily the byproduct of what we’ve read, researched and rehearsed as the latest and greatest what-you-should-do tactic that was shared in the most recent article we read; or, God forbid, from the (most likely horrible) hunting show we watched.

Too many hunters have confused passion with seriousness. If you truly want to treat hunting as a serious endeavor, then I certainly don’t want to derail your efforts. But I think most of us have been subtly convinced that if we want to love and enjoy hunting, then we must spend all year obsessing about it and preparing for it. (I’ve been guilty of preaching that message at times, too.)  But most of us will find that increasing the seriousness of hunting will decrease our enjoyment of it.

After all, the industry (affirmed by our egos) has convinced us that joy is found in hunting when – and only when – we wrap our hands around massive headgear. But what the industry fails to disclose is how many of these success stories are paid for.  (I am not saying that these aren’t fair chase hunts, but the fact remains that even most of the “earned trophies” are the byproduct of opportunities that are paid for. That’s another topic for another day…)

Two weeks from today I will awake in the dark, climb a steep mountain ridge, and bugle out over the trees – hoping that a bull elk’s response rises into a heated fervor, as the sun does the same. You see, I am still really passionate about hunting, but I don’t want to master it anymore. I am perfectly content with whatever adventure unfolds as I enter into the untamed wildness of hunting, instead of trying to use my knowledge to control it or guarantee a result that was never meant to be under my dominion.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, and its better that way.

Look, Mom, I’m on TV! (You can watch it here, now, for free…)

You can now watch some footage from my first elk hunt, thanks to Huntography.  I had the great honor of having Rudy from Huntography join me for that hunt as part of his #ELKTOUR project.  The whole film is now available for free online.  There’s over an hour of footage, all of which features “regular” hunters chasing elk on public ground in Colorado.

The whole film is worth watching (really, it is!), but for that have a particular interest in seeing some footage from my hunt, you’ll want to skip to the hour-and-eleven-minute mark.