Opening Day - Elk Season

As the elk season was approaching, I found myself procrastinating like all the other years in the past. Child care, bills, and the gear I still needed for the trip weighed heavy on my mind. Thankfully, with just a couple of days left, I finally got everything ironed out, and elk season was upon us.

After my 20-hour drive to Colorado, I picked up my groceries and ice and headed up the mountain. Going up the switchbacks always reminds me of all the great hunting experiences from the past, and I hoped for some new memories for the future to come from this hunt.

Cropped Travis Crowley Elk Bow HuntI finally arrived to my base camp spot, so I parked the truck and then had an hour 4-wheeler ride to get to my spike camp. Once I got the camp set up, I crashed in the tent, exhausted from the travel and lack of sleep. I knew opening day would come very early the next morning, so I wanted to be ready and rested, if possible.

As the alarm sounded, I was already up and getting prepared for the morning hunt. Thirty minutes later, I approached one of my hunting spots where I sat up on a good elk trail that came from a small open park where elk have frequently been in the past. A few hours had passed when I heard some commotion, and soon after, a nice chocolate color phase black bear came lumbering by me at 10 yards. It was a very cool encounter that morning, but no elk.

After walking back to camp, eating lunch and taking a quick nap, I started planning for the evening hunt. I wanted to check a few water holes in the area. I immediately thought of a small water hole that is nice and secluded, but it was over an hour away so I knew I had to get my gear ready and get after it.

As I was walking in the 80-degree temps, I started questioning my sanity. I was very disappointed when I reached the water hole and found knee-high weeds in the bottom of the hole. It looked like there had not been water there all summer. Since there were no other water holes close to this spot, I thought I might as well just sit tight, not wanting to trample around any more and let the elk know that I was there, I settled in for the evening.

As the shadows grew longer and the temperatures dropped, I was shocked to see a nice 5x5 come off the hill into the big meadow where I was sitting. Sizing him up with my Bushnell binoculars, I thought even if he was to get close enough I might pass him up with it being the opening day of a two-week hunt.

When the bull got to within 100 yards, I started hearing branches break in the distance. Suddenly, a nice 6x6 stepped out of the oak brush in front of the other elk. Wow! He was a dandy, I thought, and I would love to put a tag on him. Then the bulls met up, and the fight was on.

They were very aggressive for it being so early in the season, and I could tell by the setting sun my opportunity for a shot was diminishing with every second. I knew that when bulls lock up, their antlers they will close their eyes in fear of getting them poked out, so when they locked up I took off toward them. I have to say that with the lack of cover, I felt pretty silly sprinting in the open park, but it was working, so I kept going.

Each time they would stop, I would stop and lay flat in the sagebrush. After doing this a few times, I felt like I was getting close enough that I could make a good long shot at the bull. Crawling to a taller piece of brush, I settled in when the big 6x6 rammed the 5x5 in the side, sending him running straight my direction. The 5x5 ran by me and stopped at 70 yards then the big 6x6 came running into bully him again. I knew the smaller bull was at 70 yards, so when the bigger bull stopped in front of him, I guessed him to be 55 to 60 yards.

I drew my Primal bow and tried to talk my way through the shot to calm my nerves. I released the string, and my striker broadhead found its mark. The bull instantly thought he was rammed by the other bull and was enraged. He started lunging at the smaller bull and raking the ground with his antlers throwing rocks and dirt up in the air. After a few seconds, he realized he was in trouble and took two steps and fell over.

I was shocked at first but then started to celebrate. Being by myself, I wasn’t sure what to do, but I remember pumping my fists and jumping up and down. As I started to calm down, I raised my hands up to the heavens and thanked God for letting me experience such an awesome hunt.

I looked back at the smaller bull and noticed he wasn’t looking at me but at my bull intently. Thinking that was odd, I looked back at my bull amazed to see him stand up and take off running! Luckily, he only ran 20 yards and expired.

Walking up to my bull, I was amazed at his body size. I’ve killed elk in the past, but this bull was a tank. As the saying goes: “Then the work began.” I’ve always hated when people would say that, but I catch myself saying it all the time. How true it is. I took some field pictures, I deboned the elk and started my first pack-out at 10:30 p.m.

After making numerous trips through the night, I found myself on my last pack-out with the cape and antlers at 10 a.m. the next day. So it was well over a 12-hour process by myself to get everything packed out.

At the time, I thought it was crazy, but after the meat was in the coolers and the antlers were hanging in camp, I couldn’t wait to do it again.

Written by Travis Crowley

Travis Crowley Elk Hunt