My First Elk Hunt

by Jason McCartney
(Conroe, Texas, USA)

I'm 38 years young and have hunted just about everything except for Elk. My father-in-law and two sons decided to invite me to Colorado for a bow hunt last year (2008) but Hurricane Ike blew into my home town near Houston, Texas and caused a delay for the trip. We managed to head up there shortly after the clean up and it was 2nd rifle season by then. The entire 17 hour drive, all they did was talk about the past 11 years of hunting up there and all the close calls they had. As i listened to the wonderful stories they produced i wondered what was in store for me and my first time up in the mountains hunting for an animal that seems to evade most hunters and cannot be lured in with feeders(like texas whitetail).

Once we arrived and unpacked the 3 tons of gear along with the ATV's we set out to do a first evening hunt. We all stayed close around in the same park and after about an hour and a half i got my first sensse of the Colorado elk hunting bite. Two bulls were bugling back and forth, one was coming down the thick timbered hill crashing through like a dozer making all kinds of noise. The other bull was approaching from a lower point of the park crashing around in the trees as well. We did not have the chance to see either of the bulls and soon the sun was setting on us.

Over the next several days we continued to hunt in separate locations but making sure that one of us always hunted that particular park from the first day. I was enjoying being out in the middle of nowhere sitting under a tree and getting the most out of my surroundings, and the thought of harvesting an elk was not even on my most important list of things to do while was here. It was nice just to get away from all the hustle and bustle of work and cell phones, computers, etc...

One Shot - One Kill

It was an afternoon hunt and i decided i wanted to try the park that was hunted the first day. No one wanted to go back there and they all said go for it, and went on to other locations. I headed up the billy goat trail full of rocks and small boulders on a Polaris 800 several miles away from civilization. As i approached the location to park the atv, i noticed another hunter already at the location getting ready to work his way back into the woods to the small park. I was going to just drive past him and accept the fact that he was there first and he had the right to hunt this location when all of a sudden i decide to stop and make small talk. Come to find out he was from Louisiana and up here with his buddies. He said that he has not seen or heard anything since he arrived a week ago and that he was not planning on ever coming back to elk hunt this area of Colorado again. I thought to my self that its a shame that he does not have the patience to actually hunt instead of just killing.

Anyway, as i am talking with this man, i asked him which location of the park he was going to hunt and if i could work the opposite section. He told me he was actually thinking about meeting up with his buddies farther along the trail and that i could go ahead and hunt the park by my self. He was very nice and wished me good luck then headed up the trailhead on his atv. I couldn't believe the luck i just had. If i had not stopped and had a friendly conversation i would not have gotten to hunt this park again.

As i am leaning back on a tree just on the edge of the park i see in the distance about 7 cows grazing for a short moment. It's been several hours that i have been sitting there and i cant help to notice how numb my butt has gotten. All i want to do is stand up to get the blood flowing and thinking to my self that next time i will invest in a seat cushion. It's starting to get a little dusky and i know that i have about 30 minutes before it gets too dark to see when all of a sudden i hear noises coming down the mountain side behind me. I know this sound from my first day of hunting, it's gotta be an elk!!
As i'm watching to side of the mountain i see four cows heading down at about a 45 degree angle from me. they are about 140 yards away and have no idea i am at the base of the hillside. I just know there has to be a bull following them and then i hear it. I could not see it just yet but it was trailing about 50 yards behind the cows and my gut told me it had to be a bull following them. I rolled over onto my knees and glassed for the animal. BINGO! it was a nice six by six bull heading the same direction. My heart was racing as i put the gun to my shoulder trying to get the crosshairs on him when he decided to stop behind a large spruce tree. I lowered the gun and sat there for what seemed several minutes as this bull just stood there behind that darn tree. I told myself to calm down and i took a few long deep breaths and just kneeled there waiting for this bull to do something. He began moving again and i pulled the rifle back to my shoulder, put the crosshairs on him as he cleared into an opening and pulled the trigger.BOOM.

He dropped instantly and i had to almost slap my self to put another round into the chamber just in case he got up and ran. He never got up...
As i sat there and waited for about fifteen minutes to make sure he was not going to move i couldn't help but talk to my self saying " i can't believe i just shot an elk". i was in shock of what just happened and at the same time so excited i couldn't get rid of the smile on my face.

The Retreval

I tagged it, waypointed it on my GPS, and hooked a glow stick on it then headed down the long and dark rocky mountain to base camp where i was going to draft my brother in laws into helping me get this huge animal off the mountain. I was the first back at camp and could not believe they were not back yet since it was 8:30 pm. After a glass of whiskey to settle my nerves, they all pulled in and i told them about my elk. They did not believe me because they had been up here for 11 years and got nothing, here i am my first time and i actually get an elk. I pulled out the digital camera and showed them the proof then i heard the wow's and congrats. The two brothers and my self headed back up there to get the elk with a polaris 800, polaris 500 and a polaris razor. They held lights on it while i field dressed it then me and the older brother went to get the 800. I was going to navigate him through the dense woods to the elk as the younger brother waited with the carcass. as i left to catch up with the older brother i turned around and asked the younger brother if he wanted my pistol just in case a cat decide to munch on the carcass, he never answered back. I only took maybe 30 paces so i figured he was messing around with me by not answering. After catching up with the older brother we began working our way through the woods, over big fallen trees harsh debris. I could not believe the things this 800 was tackling. We ended up getting turned around and lost in this park. I had no jacket, no pack, no gps , no radio and no water due to myself doing all the work and them holding lights. I had a good light, a kimber 45 caliber at my side and my cell phone with half a battery life to it. We turned off the atv and yelled many times for the younger brother and got no answer except the echo of our own yells. I called my father in law down at the base camp and told him we were turned around and to get ahold of the younger brother on the radio to let him know we need help. Mission successful as we saw a faint light in the distance.

We loaded the entire elk on that one 800 and worked our way back to the trail head. once we arrived at the other atv's we all took a few swallows of Southern Comfort (water jugs were frozen) and packed all the gear for the ride down the mountain. I was given the award of hauling the elk down on the 800 as we did not have the energy to reload it onto the other atv's (big mistake). We all got onto the atvs and the 800 would not start? Perhaps it got over heated from the retrieval but after we fiddled with it we got it started and i jumped on it and headed down the trail worrying that it may break down at any moment. the other two guys were about 100 yards behind me after i left. I came up on a very sharp and upright angle on the path where i slowed down to be cautious, but doing so made the atv turn over on its side. It seemed to happen in slow motion and with the light on my cap i could see two small rocks where my leg was going to be crushed onto, so i was able to position my leg in between the two rocks so when the atv came over it would not get my leg. As i was pulling myself out from the atv the two brothers came driving up and helped me to my feet, then the three of us pushed the atv back up on the incline and onto the four tires. Now the problem was the atv did not want to start and had no electrical working. We ended up using a tow strap and gravity to get it down the miles and miles of steep rocky trail. I had to ride the brake all the way down and then be towed on the flats. Needless to say this was a very scary and stupid thing to do especially since i still had a full size elk on the atv.
We made it back to camp around 3:30 am and threw a tarp on the animal then went to bed.

When you hear someone say "pulling the trigger is the easy part", now you know it's true.

Can't wait to go again this year!!!!

Jason McCartney
Conroe, Texas

Comments for My First Elk Hunt

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Apr 12, 2018
by: Dr Hunter

Cool story but I think we have to respect rules wherever we go despite the fact they're different from those we are used to follow.

Sep 25, 2010
come on!
by: Anonymous

Hey I've lived here and hunted in Colorado long enough to know if the forest service sees four wheeler tracks off the "ohv" road they won't hesitate to shut it down.I've seen it a number of times.I'm not trying to piss any one off but hey I like using those roads too.Hunt your own state if you don't like are rules!

Sep 15, 2010
Elk Retrieval Using 4X4s
by: Dave, MT

If it's legal to use 4X4s in that area, then it won't get any roads closed to hunters. It's when people go off-road illegally that gates might get closed that were open before. There are unscrupulous ATV users and then there are those who use them responsibly to save their backs.

Make sure you read the page about the "Horse in a Bag" under the ATV's and Elk Hunting tab. If you can get your ATV anywhere near the downed animal, your only limitation is how long your rope is.

Sep 14, 2010
shame on you
by: Writer

Just because someone uses an alternate means to retrieve there game does not make it a bad one or make them less a hunter. If you knew the entire facts you would then understand that i had two major back surgeries the year before so "humping my meat out" would have concluded to a third surgery most likely. Also, the downed animal was about 300 yards from the ohv trail so spending hours upon hours of time to process it on location is really "stupid" when you are so close to getting it down the mountain. Had this animal been deeper into the mountains and down in the gullies then yes, i would have taken other means to transport it out. If anyone wishes to make rude and uncalled for comments about someone elses hunting story then you should at least put your name on it and claim your right to being the guy that likes to piss on everyone else's memories. thanks

May 06, 2010
by: Anonymous

come on, get off your lazy sittin under a tree ass and haul the elk off like a real man...ATV's are for trails not riding around on all over...Polaris or not, get off the OHV and work for it. You trying to sell this lazy story to Polaris??!?!?

Nov 24, 2009
come on!
by: Anonymous

Good story except it's people like you that get everything closed down to us natives because you're too lazy to pack your animal out and instead just tear the forest up on your atv!

Oct 14, 2009
by: Anonymous

Excellent Story!!!!!

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