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July 2024
Story by Matt Schultz
Hunters: Steve and Matt Schultz
State: Colorado
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

This hunt started in 1996. I was 12 years old; we didn’t have internet, laser rangefinders, digital maps, or GPS’s; long range was 300 yards; fast bows were 250fps; and my dad purchased our first Colorado elk preference points without a thought of how the future of hunting or the two of us would change by the time we used them. Dad had been hunting out west regularly since the late 1970s and decided it would be a good idea to start accumulating preference points so the two of us could hunt northwest Colorado for trophy bulls someday. I was unaware of his plan and these points until my early 20s when I finished college and was told I needed to start paying for them.

As time passed and more information came about the clarity of point creep, concerns of age grew. At 68 years old, my dad is in great shape. He’s worked out year-round for decades and can still climb mountains with the best of us, but the miles are a little longer and the slopes a little steeper. There also is never any promise of tomorrow for anyone, and he wanted to make sure we used our points before his physical abilities became limited. As we narrowed down our unit research, it was very clear that we were not going to draw a tag in units that comprise the northwest corner of the state.

As we entered 2023 having not drawn a group archery tag in 2022, we re-evaluated our options both for this hunt and other states. We both agreed that we needed to draw to minimize delaying other future hunts, compromising our future plans. To make this work, we would apply separately and ultimately hunt separately. Dad would apply for archery, and I would apply for second rifle as I had two less points. As we submitted our applications, my dad was booked with an outfitter and I would hunt solo. Completing the applications knowing this journey was both ending and beginning was a very surreal feeling.

My dad is the most dedicated archer I know. There are very few days in a year that he doesn’t shoot his bow, and he’s always learning and always tinkering to become better. It had been almost 10 years since he hunted above 9,000 feet of elevation. To make sure he was not only prepared with his equipment, he also wanted to be in top physical shape and ramped up his annual summer strength and conditioning in early spring. He decided to hunt the last two weeks of the archery season. After his first day of hunting, it was clear to his guide that he was not the average 68-year-old. The fact that he was in such good shape and could move through the terrain so well prompted his guide to change hunting plans. The new plan was to hunt some much rougher country that holds bigger bulls and more elk. His guide was very excited about this because he had not been able to hunt this area for a number of years. He and his guide hunted hard, covering 10 miles a day in some nasty ground for a week until the right bull, an impressive, heavy antlered 5x5 with giant whaletails gave him a perfect 20-yard shot and his year of hard work was over. The hunt was complete and everything a bowhunter dreams about. They hunted aggressive, never saw another hunter, and each day was electrified by a lot of screaming bulls, sub-10-yard encounters, many shot opportunities, and the harvest of a beautiful bull.

As September passed, I impatiently waited for my hunt. Over the summer, my best friend and elk hunting partner, Dustin Sales, had decided to come with me on my hunt. A good hunting partner is hard to find, and we have the best in each other. We are a true team, both deeply dedicated to the hunt year-round, treat each other selflessly, and have never had a bad word between us on the mountain in 13 seasons. Our plan was to arrive at the unit three and a half days prior to the season opener to glass different areas of the unit and familiarize ourselves with the terrain and road systems.

During our three and a half days of scouting, we found bulls at every spot we glassed, but the weather was very warm and windy and the elk were only out of the timber for about the first and last hour of daylight. It wasn’t until the day before season that we located the first 300"+ bull. We had hiked a short distance into an isolated canyon with no roads along it and found a really nice 320" 6x6. I got some great video through my spotter of him rubbing a tree, and we backed out with the plan to be back first thing opening morning.

Opening morning, bad luck struck as we watched the 320" bull we scouted get harvested by another hunter, which was very disappointing. The remainder of the first three days of the season, we saw 70 bulls none, of which I was interested in. We hunted hard, hiking in and out of the elk in the dark, covering 10-15 miles a day in new drainages and elevations and searching for that next level bull in one of his holes only to keep striking out. The conditions were poor, warm during the day, full moon, and freezing at night, creating very crunchy snow for the mornings. The elk seemed to be spending even more time in the timber due to the hunting pressure which forced us to drop into the steep, deep canyons to get eyes on them.

The fourth day was the last day of cooler weather as the remainder of the week, high temperatures were going to be close to 60 degrees and barely freezing at night. We both knew the hunting was going to get even tougher. We decided to split up, while I hunted, Dustin would go to different areas and glass.

My plan was to hunt another new, nasty drainage. I arrived at my parking spot an hour before light and started walking with the intent to be on a bench in the main drainage at first light. The remnant snow confirmed I was the first hunter to walk this trail all week. As I spent that hour descending, I constantly reminded myself to keep an eye on my mileage throughout the day as it was going to be quite the climb back out that night.

I hunted several miles down a steep, craggy drainage, flanking a herd on the opposite side. I didn’t really want to cross without knowing how big the bull was, so I left him only to find an elkless drainage the remainder of the day. As I slowly hunted my way back that afternoon, three bulls were bugling across the craggy drainage from the morning. As I stood and listened, the bugling got the best of me and I decided to drop into a tributary drainage and attempt to cross to further investigate the bulls.

As I climbed my way up the steep, rocky north face just below the bulls, I noticed I had entered a different world. The sun had barely hit the ground, the snow was soft, the air was cold, and the wind was perfect. As I crested onto a bench, I immediately spotted elk mingling around. For the next two hours, I slowly dogged them until I was within 150 yards of the bulls. As evening approached, I patiently watched elk start to leave their beds and strategically positioned myself in the only open shooting lane. They slowly moved down the side of the canyon, crossing through my shooting lane over the course of an hour. As several respectable bulls passed, I restrained myself from shooting as experience told me the biggest bull would be last. Minutes later, I spotted the biggest bull’s dark legs. He cautiously placed every step on the steep, slippery hillside. I could tell he was a better than average 6x6 as he entered my shooting lane, stopping at a down aspen, just like every elk before him. I shouldered my model 70 and squeezed through the trigger. He jumped the aspen and tipped over. I quickly recovered and field dressed him just as dark was setting in. I slowly made the steep, slippery climb and three-mile hike back to my truck, arriving 13 hours after I left that morning.

Admiring the bull, I was proud of my patience and persistence, a result of years of accumulated skill. I reflected on the hunt and my dad. He was the same age as me when he started this hunt for me. He wasn’t physically with me, but his skill and ambition were in me. I knew I had done the tag justice. I hunted like he would have when his dream started 27 years ago and knew he would be proud.

Thank you, Dad.