This is the continuing narrative of my last Colorado elk hunt with my son, Andy, fifteen years ago. In this installment we experience some season-opening excitement.
10-12-2002 Saturday Opening day!
What a day! We took our time going up the mountain in the dark with full packs. I’ve carried a pack every day but Andy only carried one for part of the first day and that was not up the mountain. I think Andy understood today why he’s had to wait for me all week. I had a lot more stuff in my pack and carried his rifle much of the way, but guess who was calling for breaks today.
When we got to the top we put on our cover scent. Andy said, “Look! A cow elk!”
She was about 150 yards away and ready to run. I raised my rifle as the big cow elk took off running at full speed. She and the other three that were with her! After the trigger pull, it seemed forever before, “Boom!” Clean miss! I worked the bolt and aimed carefully. “Click!” And the next round. “Click!” And the last. “Click!” They were about 300 yards away and gaining ground fast when I yelled, “Gimme your gun, Andy!” I fired off four shots at 300 to 350 yards (I know I shouldn’t have.) and missed every shot.
We searched for blood and satisfied ourselves that I’d missed. I later found that my gun oil had thickened so much that it, “froze-up” the firing pin. The temperature was in the single digits. I never use that much gun oil but I guess I overdid it that time.
Note from 2017: I suspect that I’d actually seated the primers too deep when I hand-loaded the ammo I took on the trip. When we got back home I cleaned the excess oil off my rifle anyway and used store-bought ammo on future hunts.
Back to 2002: Andy wanted to stay at one of the blinds we had set up so I helped him get set up. Just as I was about to leave him, a coyote trotted out to within 100 yards of us. Andy wanted to shoot at it (remember, he had a small game license) but it trotted off before he could get his rifle up. I warned him that shooting at coyotes could scare the elk off. Then I went toward the Dry Creek Trail.
I heard a loud, “Boom!” and called Andy on the radio. He said he had shot at a six-by-six bull and it and the whole herd had run off toward the northeast. I didn’t have time to get to where I thought they would cross so I waited for Andy to check for blood or hair. He didn’t find any. That’s when it occurred to me that he had a youth tag and I was supposed to be sitting with him. Big mistake! So I went back and helped him check for sign.
He told me that, after I had left him, a herd of 40 or 50 elk came out and started grazing about 150 to 200 yards from him. There was the big six-by-six bull among them and Andy couldn’t wait for them to get closer. He braced his rifle on a branch and sighted in on the bull. Just as he was squeezing the trigger, something huge and brown obscured his sight. Three cows had come out within 20 yards in front of him. He kept waiting for them to move and his nerves got worse and worse. When the cows finally gave him a safe opening, he snatched the trigger. Then he got even more excited upon seeing no sign of a hit and tried to work the action too fast. All he managed to accomplish was to jam his rifle. The whole herd, plus the three cows, thundered off.
Neither Andy nor I could find any sign of a hit. So we settled in to the blind and prepared for a wait.
Around noon a one-by-two bull came running into the clearing, headed straight for us. Unfortunately, it wasn’t legal for either of us so we just watched it present a pretty easy shot before it headed off for parts unknown.
At about 6 pm a mule deer doe watched us for a while, then left. Andy thought it might be the same one that had watched him for a while after the elk all ran off.
Night falls quickly in the mountains, and when it did, we headed down to camp.
10-13-2002 Sunday Second day of elk season
Today wasn’t as good as yesterday. We got to the top earlier than yesterday and found that two guys with horses had taken one of our blinds. They saw us yesterday and just decided they could get to it quicker on horseback. Jerks!
We took a different blind but those guys wouldn’t sit still, so we figured nothing would come in. It didn’t
It was COLD (7˚F in camp, colder up on top). I thought we might freeze to death. Eventually the guys left our other blind and we built a little fire. That helped.
We sat there until 3 pm. Andy seemed a little depressed so we came down to camp and I drove us to get him a root beer, burger, and fries at the Buford store.
He bought himself a fishing pole. The reel promptly broke on the third cast.
Our neighbor from Nebraska came over as we were getting ready for bed. His 74(64?) year old father got a cow yesterday. They have been hunting west of Marvine Creek. We may try there sometime.
Bedtime. 4 am comes mighty early.
10-14-2002 Monday Third day of elk season
Up and at ’em at 4 am. We got to the top and to our blind well before daylight. We’d only been sitting there a few minutes when six blue grouse flew out from behind us. About scared poor Andy to death (I had heard them moving a little and figured out what they were). One of them landed on the log I was leaning against. I could have touched it with my rifle barrel.
We sat there a lo-o-o-o-ong time and no elk. Several hunters stopped in the valley to look around and talk to each other. They could see us but stayed anyway and pretty much ruined our chances of anything coming out.
Andy and I started joking around and playing, “Who’s on first?” He said he’s never seen Abbott and Costello do it. That’s on my, “Must Do,” list for him to see. Everybody should watch that at least once in his life.
He got a little slap happy and repeated something he did yesterday. On Sunday he kept saying, “I wish a bull would come out,” or, “I wish that herd would come out.” So I told him my dad used to tell me, “You can wish in one hand and poop in the other and see which one fills up first. So he put one hand under his butt and held the other one up like he was trying to wish it full. That got us both laughing. Then he started repeating a chant he made up yesterday. “I’m cool. I’m hot. I’m everything you’re not.” That kid is out of control.
Later, he decided he wanted to learn to start a fire with his magnesium/ferrocerium emergency fire starter. I tried to let him do it with only a few necessary suggestions from me. Some of them he listened to half-heartedly; most he did not. He kept getting more and more frustrated, then mad..then madder. I made him stop for a minute while I demonstrated on a little bit of tinder. He only glanced at what I was doing so I told him, “some people learn by being told, some learn from other people’s mistakes, and some people just have to pee on a sparkplug themselves.”
Ignoring me, he kept trying the same old things that were not working until he got so mad that he was stabbing his multitool into the ground and crying. He said, “I quit!”
So I took his magnesium bar and used the multitool and tinder that he had been trying with for about an hour. I rearranged his tinder and had a fire going in less than two minutes.
We came down the mountain and went to Buford to call and see how everybody was doing and find out about the football game. (We lost to Kennett and they hadn’t announced yet who would get the scholarship.) It sure was good to hear my Annie’s voice. She said T.J.’s foot is still bothering him so he’s going to see the doctor.
Before we left camp, Carla Scott (She and her husband, Dale, manage the campground.) suggested we try the East Marvine Trail tomorrow as there have been several taken out of there this week. We’ll see.
When we got back from Buford, we headed out west on the West Marvine Trail that, “Nebraska,” had suggested. The trail goes back to West Marvine Creek then follows it up a valley. On the way, we found where someone had killed a cow elk, probably opening day (We later found out this was true.). The jays had been doing a good job stripping the carcass.
The lucky hunter had left the skin and head. Counter to what many anti- and non-hunters think, a lot of hunters will leave the head and take the meat rather than the other way around.). I used my multi tool to remove the “whistle teeth.”
We went back to camp for dinner, homework, and bed.
Back to today: I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this narrative so far. I’ll conclude it when I post the final installment in a day or so. In it, I talk about glorious views, deep introspection, and lucky mistakes.
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(above) See the beauty we were surrounded by? I’m getting homesick for it just looking.
(above) The blue grouse is a pretty bird a little bigger than a banty chicken, and much more delicious!
(above) The mule deer bucks we saw weren’t nearly as big as this guy. They were impressive though.
(above) We saw quite a few mule deer on the trip. Cool, huh?
(above) “Who’s on First” is one of the most famous routines by the incredible Abbott and Costello. I told Andy about it on the mountain and showed him the video when we got home.
(above) This is the kind of jewelry made with elk ivory. In the posts, I call them by the term many hunters use, “whistle teeth”.
(above) Starting a fire with a magnesium/ferrocerium emergency fire starter is just this easy, although Andy probably won’t agree. This guy uses the back of his knife to strike sparks, which is fine, IF you have a locking blade. A regular folding blade could close on your hand, causing a BAD cut.