Crap… It was all I could say when I realized I may have missed my opportunity.
I decided to move in a direction I thought the bull may be headed, I wanted to see if I could cut their tracks. After getting passed where I thought their tracks may be I started to get discouraged. Feeling frustrated, tired and beaten down I decided to take a break to relax and regroup. Eventually I decided I should keep working my way down to meet up with the rest of our group.
The snow was still pretty fresh and even after the afternoon sun there wasn’t any crunch to it. I decided to try and keep quiet while walking just in case I came into the herd again. Not 100 yards from where I stopped I came over a ridge and got the stare down from a calf in the herd. I stopped dead in my tracks. Not moving an inch I spotted my bull in the herd. As soon as the calf got worried and headed to the cows I pulled up my rifle to check if the bull was legal. Yup he’s legal. About 150 yards out the herd was getting nervous so I made a couple mews again and the bull stopped just behind a cow. Finally the cow made her move and as soon as I was clear I squeezed the trigger. The bull stepped forward a few yards and stopped to make sure the herd got out of there and stayed long enough for me to get another shot off then bolted behind his herd.
I stopped, put in a call to the guys to let them know what happened and updated my gps location so they could find me easier. Next, I walked down to see the tracks and replay what had happened. The first shot had to be a clean miss, I am not sure how I pulled that off but with a 300 WSM, shooting freehand isn’t always easy but that’s no excuse… Second shot was a good shot. The story was clearly written in the snow. I followed the tracks to the edge of a deep drainage. I stopped and made one last call to Amy and let her know the story. Next I started to head down.
The area they followed was very, very steep. Two steps in I slipped and I heard hooves on rocks. So I stopped and waited for the herd to head up the other steep wall knowing that if the bull was in it, I could get a steady shot and end the chase. He was mid pack but stopped half way up to see that his herd made it up together.. Steady this time, I made one final shot. The bull crashed down into a creek bottom, hitting rocks and brush the whole way down. Instantly I felt something new. It wasn’t adrenaline or joy, it was gratitude. This bull was a magnificent animal full of fight. A herd bull. I stopped and enjoyed the silence watching the herd work up the next ridge where they stopped and looked back at their fallen leader. What a sight.
Reaching down for my GPS I realized I had lost it in the last hour. I searched and searched and had no luck finding it, so I put out a call to let the guys know where I was one last time. Without GPS or a map this isn’t easy to do. While on the phone my low battery signal went off. Within a half hour I would have no contact and I had a bull to take care of.
Finally I was on my way to put my hands on the bull. When I arrived at his final resting place I saw the carnage that can happen if I was to slip on the hill I would have to walk while packing him out. He slid down a good 50 yards to the frozen creek running through the drainage. The first task was getting him off the damned area of the creek where the ice was thin. I gave a couple good tugs and got him to a safe are where I could begin working on him.
During this entire ordeal the herd stayed loyal. They watched from 250 yards away on top of a ridge. There were around 20 elk that waited and waited for there leader to join them. I have never heard of this happening before and couldn’t believe my eyes. The bodies were silhouettes against a beautiful sky. They stuck around for a good hour before slowly making their way down the mountain. Out of all the amazing things I have seen hunting, this one takes the cake. Elk have always had my utmost respect but this set the bar even higher.
It was now -10 degrees. The sun was setting fast. First, I needed to build a fire. As soon as my hands got wet with blood I knew I would need something to warm them. While starting the fire I twisted funny and instantly had a shot of pain down my spine that caused me to go down to my knees in extreme pain. Pushing through the pain I made sure to get the fire roaring and a pile of wood together knowing I may be there a while.
I had a lot of knife issues while working on this bull but luckily could here my brother coming so i stopped to holler for him. Once we got together he tried making some calls with his GPS and phone but he was having a hard time connecting. We knew we were in for a long night.
We eventually got some of the bull packed up and were ready to begin our pack out.
Now for the fun part. Walking out with all that weight in the cold, dark night. The whole time Justin was getting frustrated while I was trying to get him to sing and cheer up. “I’ll help you carry an elk out anytime.” “Stay positive, it’s only as painful as you let it be.” This hike out probably only took 45 minutes but in the cold it seemed much longer. I will never forget how clear the sky was that night. The stars lit the way, there wasn’t much need for lights.
I felt bad having everyone worry about us so the next day I packed all that I would need including my stove and some lunch so I could pack the last half out myself. Cutting up a half frozen bull isn’t easy. The quartering and de-boning took about 3.5 hours. I stopped for lunch and replayed the memories from the day before. The pack out was going to be brutal but I enjoy the pack outs more then I like to admit…
Once I got the pack loaded with weight I was on my way. First 100 yards were straight up! Once to the top I got a short down and then up again. There were 3 of these joyous hill, valley, hill sections along the route. I stopped a few times but eventually finished the pack out and got to stop.
That night we celebrated but not for too long. Exhausted I think I hit instant REM sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow at 9pm. What a trip. We ended up with 4 bulls that year and we are optimistic for this year.
One thing I learned on this hunt was you can never be too prepared. The bull from this hunt is finished in a Euro mount above my stairway. My bull from last year is finished the same way and is much much bigger but the Cold Canyon Bull is far larger of a trophy in my mind. This is a hunt that nature decided to play scenes for me that few will ever see and I am forever grateful. I’ll never forget the Cold Canyon Bull!