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March 2022
Story by Brody Munholand
Hunters: Brody Munholand Lee Michels
State: Colorado
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

It was Thursday afternoon and my friend, Lee, pulled up to my house two days before the opening of the elk hunt for the second rifle season in Colorado. We very quickly threw his gear and rifle into my truck and off we went, leaving Wisconsin for the 20-hour drive to Rico, Colorado.

This trip was different than our previous trips as it was just Lee and me. The other half of our hunting party ended up getting tags in Idaho, which is where we had gone the last two years. Due to the changes in purchasing tags in Idaho, we were left out and did not get an opportunity to buy a tag. Because of this, we applied for over-the-counter elk tags in Montana but had no luck there either. With so much frustration due to all of this,
I called Lee and we went over our choices for a fall hunt. We decided to take a for sure tag and go to Colorado, but where in Colorado? I have a Huntin’ Fool membership and decided to call them to see if they had any good advice. It turned out they had great advice to give as I just returned from the best hunting trip of my life!

We picked an area that was backcountry and had rough terrain. The less hunting pressure, the better. Lee found an area on onXmaps that had a recent burn, steep slopes, and dense vegetation. He thought this would be a good spot to try. We came up with a few good spotting points and hoped for the best. I don’t know how he did it, but he had a knack for finding elk off a map.

We made it to the mountain at about 3 p.m. on Friday and unloaded the side-by-side. We hooked the aluminum trailer behind and started the trip up the mountain. We were able to get halfway before the snow and terrain got very ugly and we were stuck. When we got out of the UTV to survey our options, we noticed that Lee’s cot had gotten wedged between the trailer bed and ramp and had been dragging. Lee said, “All I wanted to do was get a good night’s sleep tonight.” Since we both had been up for over a day and a half trying to make it there, we had a good laugh and off we went. We finally made it up the mountain and found a good spot to call camp and had it set up by 10 p.m.

The next day, 4 a.m. came awfully early, but the good thing was that it was opening day and nothing gives you more energy than knowing that! We camped at about 11,000 feet elevation and headed down. We picked a spot on the map, knowing the only way out was back up. We were able to get to the first spotting location right before daybreak and set up for a good morning of glassing. An hour went by, and we didn’t see a thing. I looked at Lee and said, “I am going to rest my eyes for a little bit before we make our next move.”

I awoke about 30 minutes later and asked Lee, “Well, anything?” He said nope, so I rolled over and pulled my binos up. I looked out to a clearing and saw a bull elk plain as day just standing there. I asked, “What about that guy?” We started looking at his location versus ours on the map and realized he was two miles away and several ridges over. We were already a mile and a half off the trail. “I didn’t come all this way to look at him. Let’s go get him.” Off we went, playing the swirling wind the whole way after this bull.

We ended up on the ridge looking back at his location while trying to get a good shooting lane through the dense timber. Suddenly, the entire valley erupted in bugling. We had bulls all around us, and we started seeing cows and calves everywhere. Sooner or later, we were going to be busted. Lee pulled on my jacket and pointed over to a calf 30 yards from us. I thought for sure we were SOL on this try. Lee saw a cow on the original ridge walking through an opening, so I set up my rifle and hoped a bull would walk out. I ranged it at 400 yards and made adjustments to my scope. A few minutes later, I saw the fronts of a very nice bull go in a tiny three-foot wide shooting lane. I waited until his neck cleared and body appeared, and I flicked the safety off on my new custom rifle, a Lane Precision. I gently squeezed the trigger, sending a 300 grain .338 Reaper (a .338 Lapua Ackley improved) down his way. I didn’t get back on target fast enough to hear him drop, but I heard the slap of the heavy round finding the target and the breaking of branches.

Lee and I headed down the mountain and started our way back up to the ridge where I shot the elk. We both looked at each other and said, “I can smell him.” Twenty yards away, there he lay, an awesome OTC DIY Colorado 6x6 bull. He measured 299 0/8" with less than one inch of deductions.

I started to cape him out, and Lee, being a good friend, started on the musky hindquarters. We were joking and laughing about how much work we had in front of us when we heard another bugling bull coming back down the mountain right at us. I sent Lee up the last 40 yards to the top of the mountain to see if he could spot him. About 15 minutes later, I heard a gunshot. Could he have just got another one?

I knew when he started walking back down that he did shoot another one. Now we had a huge task in front of us. He shot his on the other ridge 400 yards away. Lee headed off to start working on his elk while I stayed to finish quartering up mine. When we both finished, it was 10 p.m. and pitch black on the mountain. We had to go five miles and 2,200 feet of elevation to make it back to the trail where the UTV was. We both took a game bag and headed up the mountain, and we soon realized it was going to be a long night. We made it 500 yards in one hour. The problem was so many downed trees and dead ends. We couldn’t pick a path that would lead us up the mountain in an efficient way. I said, “Buddy, get comfortable. We are sleeping here on the mountain.” He was not excited, but I convinced him it was in our best interest not to get hurt trying to get up a mountain under headlamp. I reminded him that I slept outside in the Marine Corps for three deployments to Afghanistan and Africa and he would be okay to do it one night. In five minutes, he was fast asleep. I stayed up feeding the fire that would barely burn due to elevation.

It took four more days of going up and down that mountain to retrieve all the meat and heads from two elk. We learned that mountain very well. I couldn’t be more thankful to my best friend, Lee, and everybody who helped us achieve our dreams of getting a couple of great bulls in the mountains of Hermosa Creek, Colorado.