The planning for this adventure began unknowingly 22 years ago when I was 17. Dad and I would apply annually for Colorado antelope, deer, and elk permits, and depending upon our work schedules, we would hunt together for one hunt or all three. Dad has taken a few elk, but for some reason, I had never drawn an elk permit. Last year, I had 22 points accumulated and Dad suggested I apply for one of Colorado’s premier hunting areas.
After some research, we chose West Elk Outfitters owned by Jared Cotton out of Crawford, Colorado. He is one of Huntin’ Fool’s Endorsed Outfitters. Jared recommended applying for GMU 2 in northwest Colorado since he had been outfitting in this unit for the last nine years and most of the elk harvested ranged from 320" to 350"+. With my 22 accrued points, I applied and was successful in the draw.
Fast forwarding into September, I began practicing in earnest with my Remington model 700 .300 Win Mag to become comfortable shooting it. Saturday, September 30th arrived, and off we went to Maybell, Colorado to meet Jared and our guides, Lee Collins and Mikey Critchley.
Sunday, October 1st was the start of our hunt, and we were greeted with a snowstorm dropping down out of Wyoming. There were times when our vision was limited to 50 yards or less from the fog and blowing snow. However, we were still hearing elk bugling around us, but none were of trophy quality.
Driving on, we spotted fresh elk tracks along the roadside, so we stopped and followed them up a hillside to a large limestone rock outcropping. There, we lost the tracks but decided to scope the surrounding countryside from our vantage point. Immediately, Lee located a large 6-point bull down in the junipers but noticed that he had lost a portion of his left antler. Elk are not the only large animals to reside in GMU 2. More than once we spotted lion tracks and came across numerous wild mustangs. I talked to the BLM office in Craig, and they stated that there are approximately 700 wild mustangs in unit 2. Their optimal number is around 300 horses, so it is definitely overpopulated!
Fighting bad weather and being day one of the hunt, we decided to back off, return to Maybell, and relax. The weather front was supposed to begin moving out Monday afternoon.
Day two of our hunt took us to a different area – Douglas Mountain west of Greystone, Colorado. Here, we got out the Polaris ATVs and did some serious backcountry driving on Road 116, over and around huge sandstone boulders, kicking up snowsoaked red mud that sticks like glue to your face and clothing, and up and down steep trails with rocks so loose that if we were on horseback I would have walked them along the trails.
We were into elk, and we could hear them bugling all around us. We ended up almost at the end of Road 116 on top of Douglas Mountain and immediately spotted a 5-point with six cows and a large 6-point bedded with three cows and a yearling. After glassing them, Jared and I decided to stalk the trophy 6-point. We were well into our pursuit when snow clouds moved up the canyon with swirling winds. Human scent was detected, and our quarry vanished.
As this was occurring just before sunset on Monday, Lee, Mikey, and my dad decided to return to the trucks and meet us 11 miles away. Driving along the canyon bottom of Road 116, Mikey slammed on his brakes, grabbed his Vortex scope, and slipped ahead among the junipers. Lee quickly followed. They had located a real trophy bull with 8-10 cows on a hillside. The problem was that Jared and I were not in the immediate area for the take. Strike one! Upon returning to the Victory Hotel in Maybell, we agreed that the hillside would be our starting point on Tuesday.
Returning to the hillside Tuesday morning, we began glassing and located the bull and cows down in the canyon bottom, feeding. Jared and I began a stalk, but once again, lingering storm clouds worked their way up the canyon and we lost them. Strike two! We kept searching for him as we climbed out of the canyon but to no avail.
When we all gathered around the ATVs, I reported four interesting facts that I had seen. I had picked up a rock with a fossilized seashell in it at an elevation of 7,500 feet. I had also noticed a sizable area of black, swampy mud with native grasses growing at this altitude. At one time, there was possibly a natural spring flowing from this hillside. Looking down into the canyon, I could see markings on the rocks verifying that in times past a stream had flowed through here. Finally, walking across the canyon bottom, we came upon an elk that had been killed by a lion. Numerous tracks were around the remains.
While Jared and I had been sightseeing and chasing the wind, Lee Collins and my dad had driven back up to the Douglas Mountain high point to glass for more elk. The large 6-point was gone, but the young 5-point was still there bugling with only one cow this time. Lee looked at my dad and said, “Let’s have some fun and try calling in this teenager.”
Lee began calling, and like clockwork, junior responded. He crossed the canyon bottom and came up their hillside, answering just about every call. Looking at them from approximately 45 yards, he realized they didn’t fit the profile of a cow, bolted, and kept on chasing the cow in front of him. This was Dad’s first experience of actually calling in a bull and getting decent pictures. He would have made a perfect bow shot.
It was 3:00 p.m. when we all convened at the hillside where we first saw my to-be bull the evening before and took a much-needed break. The decision was made to return to the top of Douglas Mountain again and continue glassing where we had seen and heard numerous bulls on Monday. We had been moving for about 15 minutes when Jared slammed on his brakes, threw up his left hand, and motioned for us to quickly backup. He had spotted my bull and cows one mile west of where we had lost him in the morning grazing in a sage meadow. Jared, Lee, Mikey, and I quickly readied and began the stalk, leaving Dad with the ATVs. He was 75, and having had both knees replaced, he knew he couldn’t maintain our pace through the sage and junipers. It took us about 30 minutes to approach the bull and find an open shooting lane. Not being totally comfortable in my setup, I hit him in the spine at 260 yards, causing him to drop instantly. We approached, and at 50 yards, I placed the final lung shot in him. Strike three/home run!
Jared and the guys were considerate enough to wait until Lee brought Dad up for pictures before the quartering and caping began. Looking at the elk, we could see his spine protruding and the thinness of his hips. We also noticed the only fat reserves were up on his front shoulders. He was definitely fulfilling his role as herd bull during the rut. He measured 338 5/8" with three of his tines exceeding 20".
It wasn’t until 9:30 p.m. that we returned to the trucks, and after 11:30 p.m., we finally collapsed and fell asleep in the Victory Hotel. The word “Victory” in Victory Hotel will forever have different significance for me.
I want to give my heartfelt thanks to Jared, Lee, and Mikey of West Elk Outfitters for their dedication in locating a real trophy and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me plus a lot of good eating. If it wasn’t for Huntin’ Fool, we wouldn’t have found West Elk. Thanks!