The following is from a collection of stories from our Grinders sent as a celebration for our 100th Podcast episode. Blue Collar hunters just sharing their passion and journey. Enjoy!
BY: Darren Gresham
After years of dreaming about it I finally made it a reality this year. It wasn’t my first elk hunt or elk kill but going OTC elk hunting in Colorado and trying to prove you can do what 90% of others can’t was a goal of mine. A goal I did not accomplish this year, but to say I’m in the 90% that fail is not how I feel. A buddy and I set off to Colorado for a week long elk hunt, with only e-scouting and elk hunting knowledge. I had never stepped foot in Colorado since I was a child and to say it was intimidating is an understatement. If you look up any Colorado OTC on google, there are more horror stories than anything even remotely helpful, so I felt the task at hand was going to be daunting.
We left on a Friday after I had worked a full day and drove straight through the night. 13 hours later we’re pulling up to our first spot we have picked out on the map. We got there just as the sun was starting to show itself and in the grey light we step out of the truck to begin our first hunt. We were absolutely exhausted from driving all night and neither of us had slept in over 24 hours.
As we are putting our boots on BAM! A bugle rips through the morning silence no more than 500 yards up the ridge from the truck. We are now in a scramble and quickly get our gear together and make a mad dash to cover some ground. I let out a location bugle a few hundred yards up the mountain to see if we can pinpoint his location better. and he responds but moving away. We cover a couple hundred more yards straight up the mountain and with the wind in our favor we feel we’re in a good spot so I let out another location bugle.
Seconds that felt like an eternity went by, but we got a response. This time it was obvious. He was over the crest of the ridge and moving away. Talking it over amongst ourselves we decide the best course of action is to back out, go look at our maps and see where he could be headed.
Once we determined his most likely destination, we find a road and make an almost 2 hour drive up a rough mountain road to get to a spot that is about a mile on the back side of where we predicted he would be. We decide to setup camp on the road and shortly thereafter find a closed logging road that we can walk to get into the area we need to be. After walking several miles and waiting on the thermals to switch we decide to start trying to locate him.
We probably covered a mile or so casting out soft cow calls and location bugles every so often when finally we get a response. It sounds like the exact same bugle we had encountered that morning. He would bugle and grunt every time. Immediately we start to close in on his location. and after we got within 150 yards I had my hunting partner setup 30-40 yards in front of me while I called behind him.
After a few exchanges I could tell he was getting fired up. He finally hit me with a lip bawl bugle that sounded very aggressive, but before he could even finish, I was letting out my own lip bawl bugle right on top on his. Things looked like they were going to happen quick. We got one more bugle, then silence. We heard one more bugle as he took his cows and left. We couldn’t figure out what happened.
As dark started creeping in we made our way back to the truck and found that another hunter had parked his 4 wheeler no more than 10 feet from mine and looked like he had heard the bugling and dropped in on the bull. With the thermals going down, the only thing we can guess was that the second hunter had blown out the bull.
Even though we had a good encounter, there wasn’t any fresh elk sign anywhere. We hiked miles through thick timber with zero elk sign. So we decided to listen for night bugles and give it one more morning. That night we heard 1 bugle at 2am and that was enough to give us our morning hunt plan.
We wake up and get to our starting point an hour before shooting light, let out some soft cow calls and get no response. So we hike then hike some more. We make our way through the woods doing occasional light cow calls and location bugles. We spend the better part of the morning in this new spot and hear absolutely nothing, and once again there is zero fresh elk sign.
After discussing the whole situation with my hunting partner we decide that even though we know there’s a couple bulls here that we might be better off finding a new area that has fresh elk sign. So we quickly pack up camp and head to a new unit. It was only about a 1 1/2 drive to get to the new unit so we still had time to get an evening hunt.
Once again we found a closed logging road to use a jumping point to get us in the hunt area. We make a mile hike in to the end of the road and my partner does a location bugle. Immediately he gets a response a few hundred yards away. About a minute goes by with silence and I start doing some cow calls. Instantly we got hit with a bull chuckling directly below us. Knowing that he wants us to go to him we decide we need to climb down to the bottom and maybe call him in from there. As we move down we notice that the road drops straight down to the bottom that the bull is in and it’s not humanly possible to climb down without climbing gear. We ranged the brush and trees we knew he was. He was only 80 yards away and we were completely unable to make a move on him. So we go back to our camp and decide to take a hiking trail down into the bottom and get to that spot the next morning.
We begin our morning hunt by hiking down into the bottom, which proved to be the most challenging hike either of us has ever done. It had ups, downs, creeks, drop offs, you name it. But we made it in an hour and a half. Once in our spot we hear a bugle and after closing in on it we determined that the bull was more than likely on some public that was just off the private land that we were near. On the map it was just a matter of climbing up and over and skirting the private until we could get to the bull.
As most of you know, maps are deceiving and it’s never as it appears. After making the climb we find out that there’s no way around the private on either side of this basin we are in. We made the decision that it was so hard to get down into this spot that we were going to stay all day and see if that bull would repeat what he did the evening before.
At about 5pm, we setup and start a cold/blind calling sequence. Cow calling for a few minutes then listening for 30 seconds or so and repeating this for 30-45 minutes. Finally around 6pm we get a bugle. I stay seated and my partner goes ahead while I continue to call. After calling for a few more minutes I get movement at 70 yards in front of me and can see the legs of an elk moving my way. I grab my bow and get ready to shoot but the elk seemed to have vanished. It completely disappeared and I never saw it again.
Meanwhile my partner is not having any luck bringing in the bull. We determine its most likely another hunter and the private land has us unable to make a move on him anyways, so we head back to camp. That night we decide that between the private land and the brutal hike it wasn’t worth it to go back. So we once again get on the maps and find a different area within the same unit that looks good for the next day.
We wake up, pack camp and head to our new area. At about 10am we get to the road to get to our new area. It ends up being 8 miles of the toughest stuff you could ever take a normal truck through. It was extremely slow going but after an hour we made it to the new camp. Without even setting up camp we gear up and start hunting.
Before even really getting off the road we jumped several turkeys and 4 mule deer. It would end up being the first of dozens of deer we would have within bow range over the next several days. As we get about half a mile from the road, the elk sign becomes evident, it’s clear that the elk were here. Fresh tracks and droppings everywhere. So after spending half of our week looking, we finally found an area with good sign.
We keep hunting the rest of the day only stopping briefly when a thunderstorm came through dumping a little snow and rain on us, but it wasn’t enough to head back to camp. We slowly made our way through thick timber on a steep slope occasionally stopping to call and listening.
We stopped several times for 30-45 minutes to do some cold calling, but we never heard anything until after 6pm. We heard one bugle close to 7pm and as usual my partner and I disagreed on which direction he was, but we finally thought we had his position and moved in. When we got to what we thought was under 200 yards of his last call we setup and made some soft cow calls, raking and light bugles. We never heard another peep.
As we head back to camp, we are scratching our heads and wondering where the elk could be bedding and spending their days as it was obvious that they are in the general area. At least at night. We walk back into camp and get a quick bite to eat and are in our tents shortly after.
No sooner did my head hit my pillow and I hear a bull chuckling 150 yards from the area we had just hiked through. An hour and a half after last light and the bull is right there. It was a frustrating way to end the day and we ended up hearing 2 maybe 3 bulls that evening from camp. But it gave us a good plan for the morning
Once again we head out of camp and get into the hunt area well before sunrise. The morning was pretty quiet. But we stick to the game plan and work through the thick timber and see lots of fresh droppings that is only hours old. Everything was frozen, any standing water had a layer of ice on it. But the bull scat was all but warm and still creamy inside. From the looks of it the elk had been there most of the night and had moved out before sunrise.
Just like the previous day we move slowly and call, only hearing one light hearted bugle around 9:30am and not having a good enough location to make a move. Just like everyday so far, we cover 8-10 miles seeing lots of fresh elk sign and not getting any responses.
As sunset gets closer we find a good spot to sit and listen. We listen until dark and not a single bugle. So we make the 2 mile trek back to camp feeling defeated, depressed and exhausted. At camp it’s a quick mountain house dinner and bed. No bugles were heard that night.
The final day of our hunt. An hour or more before sunrise we drive to the spot we want to hunt to find a truck already parked there. So we drive a mile to the other side of a mountain. It’s a hard hike in the dark up the mountain and just as we get close to the top the sun is rising. As we hike across the open flat top of the mountain we see about 5 massive fresh rubs. A bull has been up here destroying several pine trees, the sap is still beading up and sticky.
After a few location bugles with no responses we work our way to the opposite side and sit for about 20 minutes listening. Finally we hear a bugle with some chuckles. With the thermals moving down we move to the bottom and setup 50 yards apart. I begin raking and bugling with some cow calls mixed in. After 5-10 minutes we have him responding again along with another bull. Both of them are on the opposite hill side from us with a large open meadow separating the two mountains. We both agree that we need to cross the meadow and climb roughly 600 feet up the opposite side to get on the bulls level before doing anything else.
After a grueling climb we stop and catch our breath. Once again I begin raking and let out a bugle with no response. So my partner bugles and instantly we get a bugle with chuckles from the bull about 150 yards above us. So we begin to climb slowly and move to his side. Once in position we do it again. I rake and my partner bugles and we get no response. So I then bugle and instantly he responds, only now he’s 150 yards further to the side.
Once more we move sideways to get closer and find a herd of cattle between us and the bull. The cattle get a little spooked and move in the bulls direction. We are able to get one more bugle from the bull but he is quickly moving further away up and over the mountain. Our best guess is that he has cows and doesn’t want another bull (us) to get close. Getting on OnX, we think we know where he went. So we hike several mile to get back to the road and back to camp.
After a quick lunch we hike our way into the opposite side of the mountain where we had the encounter and are forced to sit for almost 2 hours waiting on the thermals to switch consistently. Once we have a good wind we begin hiking our way around the area we think the herd is bedded. It was a very large bench with lots of thick timber. We stop every once in awhile and call with no responses.
It’s now 30-40 minutes until dark on our last day and we hang our heads in defeat. We decide to just slowly hunt our way back to camp and get to the middle of the thick timber area and cross into an opening. I stop halfway behind a small cluster of pines and after having been fooled by many elk looking rocks and logs during the week, I ask my partner to double check this big brown rock I am looking at.
As we investigate this very “elky” looking rock he sees a cow walk out at 150 yards, then the “rock” materializes into a living breathing cow elk. In the heat of the moment I let out a mew from my diaphragm. My partner looks at me like I’m the biggest idiot he’s ever seen and I instantly know I made the biggest mistake of the trip. I had just cow called and alerted the herd of our presence while we are standing in an open field. I felt like the biggest idiot ever knowing that I should never do that, but something came over me and it just happened.
Now, with the cows fully aware that there’s an “elk” 150 yards from them, but not getting the visual confirmation they need, they begin to get nervous. About that time the bull finally walks out. He was not huge but I would bet he’s a 240-250 class bull. Very respectable, especially for two guys who would be perfectly happy filling a tag with a cow or any legal elk.
As the bull and the now 10 plus cows all move into the open, I let out a bugle. Instantly the bull does a round up bugle and gets all his girls to start leaving with him. The only thing I could think to do now was a very aggressive bugle and see if I can’t stop him or the cows. Well, it didn’t stop him and he left, leaving all his cows behind. However, it did stop his cows from following him and they actually seemed interested in the new guy in the woods.
Now, having a few small pines between us, my partner gets into ninja mode and begins putting a stalk on the cows. I move to his right and get into the timber to try a stalk of my own. Within a minute I hear the herd crashing away. I double check my wind and knew I hadn’t been winded so I go find my partner. I find him laying on the ground in defeat. He had snuck in as close as possible before he ran out of cover and took the only shot he had. The arrow went right over the cow’s back even taking a single piece of hair on his nock. The feeling he felt is one that every hunter has or will feel eventually and it’s one of the worst. Now we only have minutes of legal light left and no elk.
It was a dramatic ending to our first DIY OTC hunt.
Of all the horror stories I’ve heard about Colorado OTC elk hunting, I found that none of them held water. We got off the roads and put 50-60 miles on our boots in 6 days. In those 6 days we ran into 0 elk hunters. That’s right, I said ZERO elk hunters. We saw dozens of hunters on 4 wheelers driving around on main roads, most of whom were done hunting before we had barely even started. We knew there was other hunters around but none wanted any part of hiking where we went.
Between the two of us there’s at least 50 years of combined hunting experience that we used to turn this week into the best hunt I’ve ever been on. We had several close encounters and got to see tons of wildlife that most people never will. We got to hear bugles and had a few times where we were only seconds away from releasing an arrow.
It took half of our week to find a good hunting area. Once there it took 2 1/2 days to pick it apart. We are now leaving Colorado not as failures but as two guys that have found feed, water and bedding areas along with loads of other spots to hunt for years to come.
Don’t be in the 90% of people who fail just from lack of trying. Get in the woods and put some actual effort in. Do not rely on “luck” because there is no such thing. Luck is no more than hard work and preparation meeting opportunity. If you finish the week of hunting and every muscle in your body isn’t hurting, then you probably didn’t hunt hard enough.
Next year will be our year! Get off the beaten path, find a thick timbered steep hill side and hunt.