My son Travis turned 14 last year and we have enjoyed hunting white-tailed deer in Texas together for the past couple years. This year, we decided to step it up and try an elk hunt in Colorado. We applied for tags through their lottery system and drew two tags; an either-sex tag for Travis and a cow tag for myself.
Not having hunted big game before, and not to familiar with the high country of Colorado, we looked through the Internet and found Paul Janke of Lone Tom Outfitting out of Meeker, Colorado, who has been hunting public land in the Flat Top Wilderness Area of Colorado for over 20 years. We met with Paul, his wife Marcie, and veteran guide Gary Von Schmidt and stayed at their lodge before packing up to their base camp on Flat Top. After getting up Friday morning, we all drove to the trailhead and loaded up the mules and horses. It was a beautiful ride up on the mules and horses to the top of the mountains and their base camp (10,400 feet) with only a small amount of snow scattered in the shade. We all unpacked our goods and settled in for the evening ready to get up early the next morning and start hunting.
Early Saturday morning while it was still dark, Gary came in the tent and threw a couple of logs on the fire to warm things up as we got out of our sleeping bags and dressed to go hunt. Gary and Mike went out on horseback. Paul and Travis left in one direction on foot, while Mike and I headed out in another direction on foot to some parks not to far from camp. That morning Mike ended up shooting a nice 6x6 bull in the morning and Ralph ended up shooting a nice 5x5 bull in the evening. Travis and I did not see any elk.
The next morning Gary took Travis and me by horseback to “The Hole,” a point overlooking a large valley where typically (and hopefully) the elk travel from the bottom of the mountains to the top. As we headed out in the dark on the horses, we stopped after about 20 minutes of riding, Gary let out a bugle or two to see if he would get a response. After not hearing anything in response, we rode for about another 20 minutes until we came to the edge of the valley. We tied up the horses and Gary gave out another bugle, and this time they let us know they were below us in the valley.
We hiked about 200 yards down the edge of the hill, then about another 200 yards back up another hill to arrive on top of a point that projected out and over the valley. We waited quietly for a few minutes, as it was just getting light, when we heard several more bugles from down in the trees at the bottom of the valley. Gary quickly spotted the elk heard with his binocular, which included several bulls and cows. We all waited to see which direction the elk would head toward when Gary spotted a huge herd bull in the mix.
The bull was headed up behind some trees and looked like it was going to follow a game trail up the other side of the valley. Gary got Travis and me into positions slightly apart, but next to each other. Gary wanted Travis to shoot at the herd bull when he stopped it, then wanted me to follow up with a shot at a cow immediately after.
The moment of truth came. Heading up the game trail were a bull followed by several cows, followed by a herd bull, then several other cows. I knew the herd bull was big by the response Gary had when he first saw it. With Travis and myself in position, Gary ranged the shot at 320 yards then gave a call to try and stop the bull. After the first call the bull slowed but did not stop. Gary called again and this time the bull stopped in his tracks with Travis shooting a second later. Gary knew it was a good shot because you could see the bull bow up then start to waiver on the trail. Travis put another round in the gun and shot him one more time causing the elk to fall down the hill. After Travis’ second shot, I picked out a cow on the hill that was next to the bull and fired a shot that hit the cow and caused it to also tumble down the hill.
After watching the animals for a while (and several high-fives) we hiked down to find them. Travis had shot a huge trophy bull. We sat down for a few minutes before taking pictures and cleaning the elk to reflect and take in all that happened that morning; unbelievable was the only word that came to us. We got to hear bugling elk, my 14-year-old son shot a trophy bull at a respectable distance, and all on public land to boot!