It had been less than a month since I returned from my Colorado elk hunt, but it was already time to start packing up gear to go elk hunting again – this time in Kentucky.
First, Some Background…
Last May I found out that I drew an archery cow elk tag in Kentucky’s yearly lottery. The archery cow tag is the easiest tag to draw, but at 1-in-67 odds, it isn’t all that easy. On only my 3rd year of applying, I got lucky. The odds are I won’t draw this tag again for over 60 years.
This Kentucky elk hunt caught me off guard. I had already been planning my Colorado hunt for a couple of years, and wasn’t sure how I could add another elk hunt to the fall calendar. More importantly, I had to convince my wife that I literally had to go elk hunting out of state twice this year. Thankfully she understood.
I was fortunate enough to have some great company on this hunt. I have known Will for about three years, but never met him face-to-face, despite talking nearly everyday that we’re stuck as desk jockey’s during the week. (By the way, many of these great photos are from Will!) Jerud would also be joining us; I originally met him through Twitter, and we continued to talk through emails and phone calls as we shared our passion for elk hunting, and our mutual plans for our first backcountry elk hunt in Colorado earlier this fall. I was excited to meet both of these guys in person, and the experience of sharing a hunting camp with them did not disappoint.
I’ve met plenty of people online, and have a lot of “friends” and acquaintances that I’ve never met in the flesh. It sounds odd, but it’s just the nature of what I do through Sole Adventure – I meet a ton of awesome hunters from around the country, through this site and social media. So despite the fact that each of our wives wondered if we were meeting up with a covert axe-murderer disguised as a hunting buddy, we were all excited to get together and hunt.
Lost and Wandering
I picked Jerud up in Illinois, and we drove 5 more hours to meet Will in Pineville, KY. By the time we met up with him and made our way to our destination – an unmarked gravel road – it was after 1am. We had an adventurous night getting our gear sorted, and camp setup in the dark. It was 2am by the time we zipped up the tent, and after a few hours of shut-eye it was time to get up and hunt. Or so we thought…
We woke up, made coffee, and were quickly on the trail. But something didn’t feel right. The topography wasn’t matching up to what I researched; that ridge wasn’t supposed to be there, and that draw wasn’t supposed to go West. I checked my GPS and realized that the unmarked gravel road we took last night was the wrong unmarked gravel road. We were supposed to be about 2 miles further north. A simple, yet stupid mistake I made after 8+ hours of working, 7+ of driving, and trying to find the correct unmarked road while navigating the foggy Kentucky countryside.
We dropped back to camp, threw all of our gear in the back of Will’s truck and quickly made our way to the right spot. Now it was time to hunt. No, really, this time we were ready to go.
We found a perfectly level concrete pad – a relic of the mining operation that used to run on this land – and dropped the truck and camp there. About 50 yards after leaving camp we noticed a significant amount of elk tracks in the dirt road. We left that road behind and worked our way through a brushy opening, and towards the woods.
That first day was uneventful, really. We covered a fair amount of ground and were basically just taking the time to look for sign, investigate tips that I had been given by a hunter who had previously killed an elk in this area, and get our bearings straight. We didn’t see any elk, but our hopes were high because of the tracks, droppings, and rubs that littered the area. But despite the sign, I was concerned with the land. There were very few spots that were conducive to spotting elk from any distance outside of bow-range, and the ground cover made it very difficult to move with any stealth. If you weren’t in the woods – which were covered with freshly-fallen, crunchy leaves – then you were moving through thigh-high brush.
Rain fell for the last hour or two of the evening hunt, and we made our way back to camp without ever seeing an elk. Speaking of camp, I felt like I was at a 5-star resort. On my Colorado elk hunt we “roughed it” with backpacking gear and freeze-dried food, but for this hunt Will brought a grill and fresh venison backstrap. On following nights we would have family-raised T-bone steaks from Jerud. I could get used to this.
I crawled into the tent with a full belly and a racing mind. Would we be able to get on elk? There was plenty of sign, but how would we get in bow-range undetected?
At 2am I was awoken by a bugle. Then another, and another. A sign of things to come!