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July 2019
Story by Michael Mshar
State: New Mexico
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

"Hey guys, I think I am getting sick!" Those are not the words you want to mutter to your hunting partners on the first day of an out-of-state archery elk hunt. Here I was on day one of the 2016 Colorado archery elk season with two of my friends who were on their first ever archery elk hunt. I had done everything possible to prepare for this hunt,  followed the same conditioning routine as all the hunts I had been on in years past. This time, though, something wasn’t right.


We had arrived at the trailhead the day before and decided to hike in a few miles to set up a spike camp. I felt good and was very excited to get boots on the ground. I immediately started to not feel so well on the hike in. I didn’t say much because I wasn’t about to spoil my friends' hunt. However, that night as we lay in our tents, I really started to take a turn for the worse. I began to shake uncontrollably and vomit. I knew something was wrong and that I needed to get to lower elevation. I reluctantly woke my pals and we packed up and headed down into one of the valleys. I spent the next 14 hours lying in my sleeping bag while my buddies did their best to find some elk. I knew I needed to get to the hospital, so I begrudgingly made the hike back to the truck and into town.


Sure enough, the doctors confirmed it was altitude sickness. We spent the next few days in town resting and returned to the mountains for a few days' hunt but had no success.


Here I was in 2017 and headed out to Colorado for another go at the elk with my good friend, Steve, who had endured the last year's debacle with the altitude sickness. This year would be different. I was in even better shape, and we rented a cabin at a lower elevation on private land where we could do high altitude day hunts while sleeping at lower levels. Perfect! Well, not exactly. On the evening before the first hunt, Steve and I split up to do some glassing. As I sat on the hillside glassing a small herd of elk, I realized that I was getting sick again. How could this be happening? We did everything the experts said. We acclimated for several days and did zero activity. I headed back to the cabin in hopes that I was imagining this nightmare. Nope, this was real and worse than the year before. Once again, I found myself in the E.R. However, this time something was different. Before I could wrap my head around what the doctor had said, I found myself in an ambulance speeding over the pas,s headed to another hospital in Denver. Heart attack? That wasn't possible. I don’t smoke or drink, and I was in great shape. After getting to Denver and being put through numerous tests, it was determined that I had altitude sickness which had triggered elevated troponin levels in my heart. The doctors released me with directions to follow up with a heart specialist once I was back home and to not return to the mountain this year.


Two thoughts went through my mind. I couldn't tell my wife or she would ban me from the mountains, and I couldn't let Steve down two years in a row. I headed back to the cabin after calling my wife and only telling her half the story. I figured I would tell her the rest once I was home. I spent the next few days around camp doing nothing. On the final day of our hunt, Steve was able to harvest his first elk. Even though I was playing with fire, I did hike up and help him pack it out. I figured I would also wait to tell my wife that. I cannot lie, I really was scared that I might die while doing it, but I wasn’t about to let Steve go it alone.


I spent the next several months visiting doctors and going through tests. Everything checked out, and I was given the clear to resume all activities. I also got a prescription from the doctor to help with the altitude.


The summer of 2018 was about to get interesting. After much groveling and begging, I convinced my wife that this year was going to be different. I remember her words very clearly, “If you end up in the hospital one more time, you are done elk hunting.” I assured her that I was good to go. I must admit I was nervous. After consulting the Huntin' Fool magazine, Steve and I put in for an archery unit in New Mexico with the realization that we probably wouldn’t draw. I am sure Steve was already planning his route to the nearest emergency room for me. Since I figured this could be my last year, I had also put in with some other guys I work with for a unit in Colorado that I also didn’t think there was any chance of drawing. As always, I put my wife and me in for a Michigan elk tag knowing the odds of drawing were zero and expecting just to add some preference points.


After checking the draw results for New Mexico, I was shocked to see that Steve and I had both drawn our first choice. Neither of us had ever been there before, so I immediately called Huntin' Fool to see about getting some help. The staff put me in touch with several previous tag holders for this unit. I contacted several of them and couldn’t believe the information they were providing me. Things were really coming together. I even planned an August scouting trip to the unit with my 18-year-old daughter, Hannah. We normally would take a summer fishing trip together, but it didn’t happen this year because of schedules, so I thought this would be another great way to spend some time together and see how I was going to do at altitude. I think my wife sent my daughter along as a spy to see if I would tell her if I had any health issues.


As luck would have it, I also learned I had drawn the Colorado rifle tag I assured my wife I wouldn’t draw. Then things really got crazy. My wife had drawn a Michigan cow elk tag. I couldn’t believe it, three elk tags.


The New Mexico scouting trip went well. My daughter and I spent some quality time together, and I gathered valuable insight for the upcoming archery hunt. I also had no issues at altitude, which was a major relief mentally. Steve and I arrived in New Mexico a few days before the hunt. I cannot tell you how nervous I was about getting sick again, but I had no issues. We were immediately into elk. We had several close calls the first few days but no shots.


On the fifth day of the hunt, we were just crawling into our tents at our spike camp when a bull let out a bugle within 100 yards of camp. I whispered to Steve that I was going to kill that bull in the morning. Sleep didn’t come easy as several bulls bugled throughout the night. Before light, I was on my feet and headed up the draw to get positioned in the meadow that I figured the bulls were in. While walking in the dark, I stepped on something out of place and looked down to find the upper half of an elk antler. Was this a sign? I set up on the edge of the timber and let out a bugle. I was immediately answered by two different bulls. The bull across from me appeared quickly. He came down out of some pines and proceeded to tear up several small trees along the way. I had positioned a Montana decoy in the meadow. The bull wasted no time and was at the decoy before I had time to get excited. Here he was broadside. I thought this was too easy. I I didn’t realize, but I had my 40-yard pin on him and he was only about 18 yards away. I watched in disbelief as my arrow sailed from my Bowtech prodigy just over his back. The bull bolted and ran uphill in the meadow. I quickly grabbed my bugle and let one rip. The bull slammed on the brakes, bugled, and turned broadside. Without even realizing it ,I had already nocked another arrow. I quickly ranged the bull and drew my bow. I felt amazingly at ease because I had spent the summer shooting 3D and had made this exact shot hundreds of times. This time, the arrow was right on the mark and I watched as the bull ran uphill in a crazy zigzag before going down. Redemption at last.


The next few days were spent calling for my buddy, Steve, who finally was able to seal the deal on his first New Mexico bull on the ninth day of the hunt. Wow! What a start to the 2018 season, two archery bulls in nine days of hunting. I couldn’t help but think how none of this would have happened without the great information that was provided by the Huntin' Fool staff and the other hunters who they got me in contact with.


I went back home, and now it was my wife’s turn. Due to a crazy family life and the fact that my wife and I have two sons with down syndrome, it wasn’t going to be possible for me to hunt with her. I enlisted a good friend who knew the Michigan elk herd better than anyone. After hunting hard for several weeks and having so many close calls, my wife, Alethea, was able to harvest her first ever cow elk. The boys and I even got to go out into the field and help with the retrieval. Here we were with two elk in the freezer and one more hunt to go.


We arrived in Colorado for the first season rifle elk hunt with the temps in the 60s and bluebird skies. This was a horseback drop camp. The unit we were hunting was a unit that we had researched through Huntin' Fool via the Colorado section of the magazine. Again, the information provided really gave us an advantage before we even got there. I was very nervous about the altitude, but thankfully I had no issues. We rode into camp two days before the opener. On that first night, the weather made a drastic change. We were greeted the next morning with over a foot of fresh snow. I love hunting in snow, but this was going to be tough. Opening morning found me slipping through the dark timber above camp, slowly cow calling as I went. The going was tough as the snow just kept falling. Visibility was limited for sure.


Mid-afternoon, I bumped into a small herd in the dark timber. The cows all went uphill, and the bull headed down. I knew if I stayed with the cows that the bull would more than likely come back. Sure enough, about an hour later I caught movement below me and watched as the herd bull came easing back through the timber, coming within 50 yards of me. One shot from the new Weatherby 6.5-300 and I had a beautiful Colorado bull elk on the ground.


It was so much nicer to call home and explain to my wife that I wasn’t in the hospital this time, but we were going to need another freezer. I will forever think of 2018 as the year of redemption.

New Mexico Elk