And Just Like That, the Season is Over (2018 BowHunting Recap – Opening Day)

I don’t know how to describe the pain I feel that it’s over. I have learned so much and got to experience so many things in such a short time that it feels a bit overwhelming now trying to emotionally process it all. I have been blessed with amazing mentors who have taken me under their wing, and sometimes I think, even worried that they were overwhelming me! How kind people can be.

I am used to being on my own, doing things independently, even hiking and backpacking, I do most of these things solo. I hiked eleven 14ers with just Breeze and I for a post bar trip. I studied solo in law school even though they told us we would never be successful if we didn’t have the right study group. Though I have learned from others before and taken classes, i.e., how to be part of a roped team for mountaineering and how to be avy aware and safe in groups out in the backcountry, I have never experienced as much selflessness and love for a way of life and a happiness to share one’s love as I have from my hunting mentors.  I am still learning, I will always be learning, but I hope I can give back and pass on my knowledge and skills to others, the way my mentors have done to me and continue to do for me.

So a quick TL;DR of the season: no tag filled, saw my first public land bull elk (~15 yards!!), field dressed my first animal (antelope, I didn’t shoot it), learned more about myself as I did last season, and began chipping the very very very tippy top of the iceberg of mental fortitude required to bowhunt elk.

Anytime I tell someone I’m new to hunting, they inevitable question follows, what are you hunting? I respond, I’m bowhunting elk. Half of the time I see eyes widen and a “hell yeah!” excitement exude from that someone. The other half of the time I see skepticism that I’m in over my head and that I have no idea what I’m getting into. “Have you even killed anything?

No. It leads to a question that I do struggle with a lot, if the shot presented itself, Could I take the shot? I finally answered that question this season.

Opening Day – August 25, 2018

Opening day, my husband and I left Denver around midnight to begin our 2.5 hour drive to my spot. We had scouted this area before and we ran into a cow elk, a cow moose and her calf, and a bear during our scouting trips. It seemed promising and was my number 1 spot to try. I had never hiked off-trail in the dark before so I gave us ample time to get to my spot. The hike in was not nearly as bad, scary, or complicated as I thought it would be, though we did run into a fairly fresh sheep carcass. Nevertheless, we arrived with 3 more hours to sunrise and neither of us anticipated how cold it would be.

As we shivered and wrapped ourselves in space blankets, my husband nestled me in a hammock and I drifted in and out of sleep between small shivers. I’d come into consciousness and see the stars fade slowly, and finally I roused myself, fell out of the hammock, grabbed my bow, and nocked an arrow.

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And thus, my husband nicknamed me, Little Sushi
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Daylight Breaking
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Bueller? Bueller?
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Ayyeee, nothing here.

It was uneventful as the morning broke and I called and nothing answered. After about an hour and a half we decided to head out. As we were exploring the area a little more we found freshly shot tin cans (no rust, super shiny), so we figured maybe the area is a bust. On our way out Alex fell into quicksand-mud, i.e. mud that acted like quicksand. One of his legs was quickly sucked in, he threw his backpack to me, and slowly extracted himself. It was terrifying to say the least, since it was something we had no idea existed and the area looked like a normal marsh. Ah, the things you learn.

On the way out we found another piece of the freshly eaten sheep, and a bunch of grouse. Too bad grouse season didn’t start for another week and I didn’t have the right arrow tips. So onward.

We walked around aimlessly and because I’m ridiculously impatient, we decided to head into town for a bite and reevaluate our plans. As we were heading back we ran into redic fresh bear poop, which confirmed our nope-ing out of the area. After some rousing McDonald’s and getting service to download a few new maps, we drove to a parking lot in the woods and took a nap (running off of 2 hours of sleep, ayyeee).

After our nap, we went to the new area……..where we found the herd of sheep. From what I’ve researched, elk absolutely hate sheep. But we were already here so we went around and looked at things. Randomly, a speed goat popped out of the woods, ran in circles, ran directly towards us, saw us, and made a mad 90 degree turn.

I….didn’t even know they could be up this way, so that was exhilarating. #themoreyouknow

We went up a hill . . . walked around the woods more.

Glassed, and glassed, saw a moose, some deer, and then it was over.

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Couldn’t hunt until 2 more weeks, so til then, it was research time.

 

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Scouting 2018

During the Spring I waffled back and forth between hunting the area I originally scouted last year or a new area that was in steep terrain, but terribly beautiful (I love alpine lakes and terrain).

I opted to stick with the area I scouted last year and decided to use my time really learning this one parcel of land where I ran into an elk and a bear (in the same morning!) and that had tons of fresh sign last year.  I was hoping this was one of those areas where if there’s elk one year, there will be elk the next year.  Friends have told me of honey holes where elk come back year after year, even though at least one of them gets taken by a hunter and *fingers crossed* I hope that this is one of those spots.

I like this spot because I thought at first (soon to be found out later during this trip) the only ways in and out were either terribly thick deadfall or impenetrable willows as high as me.  If I had to pick, I’d go for deadfall and I was hoping that most other hunters would take a look at the deadfall and think, “nope,” thus keeping this spot a little more quiet.

We decided to be pretty mellow in our scouting day, waking up a little later, dropping our dog-ther off at daycare, and taking our time getting to the pass.  We weren’t trying to see anything and my one goal for this particular trip was to explore and find the easiest way in and out.  Glad to say (spoiler alert), we found that path.  No deadfall, some marshy stuff, but no willows taller than me.  It’s a tiny cut in the forest that gave way to this beautiful tiny path that my wonderful husband found on the way out.

But first, getting there was like getting warmed up in the woods.  We hiked and meandering about a mile around, and ran into some sheep in the woods.  We knew they were being grazed as there were signs at the trailhead, but I imagined and pictured them being in an open pasture.  Instead, I was about to hike into a stand of trees when I heard “BAAA!!!” at me.  I stopped and saw several sheep scurrying away as I went, “Shit!” and jogged back.  There was one angrier sounding sheep, but the rest of them looked rather mellow.  The sign back at the trailhead warned us that the sheepdogs were not to be fucked with, so we scurried away, with a slightly higher heart rate.

I was worried at first, as I heard that elk hate sheep, but as I suspected, the sheep were fairly close to the road and after we passed them we started finding rather fresh signs of game animals mixed with older signs of livestock.  It was great encouragement as we got closer to my spot.

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95% of hunting is just walking around or sitting around trying to see if something else is going to walk around.

We found the section of deadfall that seemed never ending and terrible last year, but going down this year was actually not bad at all.  I had been trail running, lifting some weights, and doing a lot of incline work, which greatly helped my confidence in the backcountry.  Last year I was terrified to hunt this far in as I struggled with off-trail hiking and general low levels of endurance, and I still have some reservations, but my health combined with just being more experienced in this off-trail stuff and setting my expectations lower had me feeling a lot more relieved.

So we made our way down, checked out the same watering hole we did last year, went to the same field where we saw the lady elk and I stood up on a rock to get a better look at the meadow.

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shortly thereafter I got on a rock, which was about 10 minutes to terror.

Here, I was scanning, just seeing where elk might pop out or where might be a good setup, when I saw a little rump of something.  I stared at the rump, trying to figure out what it was when it turned it’s head and made eye contact with me.

“ALEX, baby moose!” I whisper shouted.  We both nervously pondered where momma moose was as momma moose are probably the most terrifying thing in the colorado woods to me (besides a mountain lion at dawn or dusk).  we looked around, Alex got a couple of pics of baby moose, and as I was scanning for momma moose so we knew where to not run, MOMMA MOOSE STOOD UP NEXT TO BABY MOOSE.  I was legitimately 20 feet away from baby moose so when momma moose started standing, I only got a glimpse of her rump as I turned and ran like hell while whisper shouting “fuck! fuck! fuck!”  in hindsight I know running would have done nothing, but in the heat of the moment, that’s apparently what I do (I also ran from 2 black bears that were 50 feet away from me as I rounded a bend).  Not sure how to rewire that part of me, but luckily, momma moose and baby moose ran into the woods instead of charging us.

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baby moose!

After that hair raising meeting, we heard the thunder rolling in and decided to find the easiest way out.  Amazingly, Alex found our path out and we found ourselves back at the same spot where we entered the deadfall section, without going through deadfall, yay! Mission accomplished.

It started hailing so we ducked under some trees where I got bored and took weird selfies.

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Lookatmelookatmelookatme

Then we meandered out on the path of least resistance.  I was very satisfied with this scouting trip and Alex and I accomplished exactly what I wanted to do.  I feel more comfortable in our part of the woods, and found a path that didn’t involve willows or deadfall.  Next time we are going to trace the path with our gps (we had only done waypoints) and note important turns in the path, as we will be coming in in the dark of opening day.

On the way home I drove on some off roads to explore more and have some ideas of backup plans.  My unit is extremely busy, though I’m hoping my section is tucked away enough.  I’ll find out soon!

40 Arrows a Day Challenge

Because I am extremely spacey and if I don’t write everything I need to do down or I’ll forget, I’ve been neglecting my bow and had only been getting on it once or twice a week.  With September looming near, that needed to change so I gave myself a “40 Arrows a Day” Challenge. Sling 40 arrows down the carport, that’s it.  It’s taken me anywhere from 10 mins to 30 mins to do depending on what I’m working on and how spacey I’m being.

I used to think that everything I do outside of work needed to be “fun” to make up for work.  With that mindset I was either quitting a lot or not progressing very much so now I look at exercise/training/shooting my bow as another job/task to do.  90% of the time even when I don’t want to do it at first, the task at hand becomes fun.  10% of the time it doesn’t and it feels hard and worse than getting through a long work day and gets frustrating.  But it’s those 10% of the time that challenge me and where I really grow.

I’m only on day 4 of my challenge, but my draw weight is already starting to feel a bit light and I should be able to increase by the weekend.  No idea what weight I’m pulling and honestly I’m not really concerned about it now.  I just need to keep flinging 40 arrows once a day.

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not a glamorous picture, but 99.9% of my life is not glamorous lol.

Bye Winter :(

Last year, after my last biathlon race I was *done* with winter.  I didn’t ski after that race – which was the first Sunday of March – and I didn’t want to.  I, somehow, was burned out, and possibly, overwhelmed with learning how to both ski and shoot in my first season.

This year was the complete opposite.  I tend to float between extremes and being obsessed with one sport over another.  Before biathlon I was obsessed with backcountry skiing and I wanted to “get serious” about my downhill skiing – which quite frankly, sucked, and still does – to access better backcountry skiing.  But then I discovered biathlon. Last year after biathlon, I discovered bowhunting.

And then this year, this year feels like I’m coming full circle.  After my last biathlon race I wasn’t ready to give up the snow.  I cross-country skied a couple of more times, but even more I skinned and skied my way through March, April, a little bit of May, and one day in June.  I was returning to that passion I had for getting out of bounds, but to get out of bounds I needed to focus on my downhill, so after a 3 year hiatus, I bought a ski pass for next season.

Where does hunting fit into all of that? I was worried, honestly, at first that my hunting was going to fall to the wayside, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that (1) I really want to just do elk bowhunting.  I tried getting into rifle hunting but I don’t feel passionate about it the way I do about bowhunting (and I know, the fact that I am choosing this route is a luxury which not all have).  I like being in the woods in seclusion, and granted, OTC bowhunting is not exactly secluded, but it’s no where near what OTC rifle is.  (2) My love for sports that involve a crap ton of cardio and going up and up and up actually fit in pretty well with the type of bowhunting I want to do.  I like getting in deep where it’s weird and messy and I need to be in the best shape I can be to get into (and out of!) those weird, wild, and sometimes mosquito infested places.

So it’s my way of reconciling what I feel like a burst of love and passion for winter, skiing, skimo, and biathlon and my newfound love of hunting last year.  I don’t have as large of an uphill burden in terms of getting to the poundage I need to this year as I did last year. I started at 15 lbs last year, this year I’m starting at 37lbs.  I’m also planning to stick with my unit from last year and spend my scouting time figuring out the easiest way in and out of my spot and hopefully pattern my (at least one) elk that I found in there last year.  That frees up a lot of time to work on my cardio and strength, which I greatly need to, which tie directly back into my winter en devours.

Also, oddly enough, my fire for getting in shape for skimo and biathlon has given me much needed motivation to train over the summer.  Last year it was painful to do any sort of cardio, I had no real desire or motivation and I was so focused on upping my poundage on my bow and figuring out where I was going to hunt that there was not much time or motivation left for the actual physical conditioning.  This year I’m doing hill repeats once a week, not much, but way better than last year.

So…such is life, trying to cram and reconcile so many facets of my life.

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Getting some June turns.  About 4 hours of hiking for 5 minutes of skiing, ha.
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My date night with myself where I went up A-basin and had a horrible super icy and choppy ski down.  I also fell on the flattest part and laughed at how hard it was for me to get back up.
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Skiing with my best buddy.
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This was my first season that I didn’t have to stop on the hills for a breather! I was slow, but very steady up hills.
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Got this picture of myself from my first season when I solicited photos for our facebook group!

My Winter Sport – Biathlon

I figured I would blog about my winter sport biathlon after elk season to keep this thing going more than just a couple of months at a time, but alas, the weather has not been cooperating and the last couple of biathlon races were cancelled due to lack of snow.  Next weekends double header races is also in danger of being cancelled.

So what do I do when my number 1 is on hold, I find some other sport that leaves me in as much pain as biathlon does and gives me as much as a rush.

But first, a little about biathlon because it’s what really started this whole journey.  This is my second year of biathlon, the non-ubiquitous sport of shooting and cross country skiing.  It is almost non-existent in the U.S., but overseas it’s the most televised winter sport of Europe.  It’s no surprise then that biathlon is typically dominated by Europeans and the U.S. has yet to win any Olympic medal in the sport. *sigh*

But biathlon as a club sport has a dedicated fan base.  We slog uphill to the range two or three times a month to race on our teenie tiny course and everyone that participates loves to writhe in pain and sometimes collapse at the finish line (I’ve only writhed, I’m not that good to collapse).  There’s something about busting your lungs on the cross country portion then trying to calm yourself down enough to shoot a 115 mm standing or 45 mm prone target at 50 meters.

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It’s terrible and difficult and I hate skiing uphill with a 10 lb rifle on my back, but somehow it continuously calls me back.  Anywho, the whole point of me talking about biathlon is that this is how I entered the world of hunting.  I was TERRIFIED of guns and a part of me knew biathlon rifles were “real” guns, but I thought during a safety class that we would be shooting little air rifles.

I was wrong.  Half way through the classroom portion of this safety class I thought to myself, “Why are they talking about this like it’s a real gun.” and then it dawned on me that I would be shooting a real gun.  I remember shaking a little when the instructor hand loaded the first cartridge.  I shot and nothing seemed to happen, but I shot and it wasn’t the most terrible thing in the world.  So I took another shot and the instructor looked confused and went “ah, I think you’re shooting on the paper.  scoot your sight to the right.”  and then plink, I hit my first target and it was the most satisfying thing ever.

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My first time shooting a gun.

Since it was obviously not that bad, I felt excited and a few months later I thought, “Wait.  I could hunt now.”  I went on to shoot a shotgun a few months later and then my dad gave me his .270 rifle.  Around this time Alex wanted to try shooting a bow and after a few months of him shooting on his own I eventually tried and began shooting with him at the bow range (and later, most often, in my carport).

But unfortunately this year’s winter has been bad.  So I’ve resorted to a different kind of sport involving as much cardiovascular pain as cross country skiing – uphill skiing, also known as skinning (but people that don’t know the term skinning look horrified when I say I’m going skinning).  I basically hike uphill on my skis using bindings that can unhinge at the heel with skins on the bottom of my skis so I don’t slide backwards.  When I get to the top I take the skins off, lock the bindings down, and have a roaring good time skiing down.

Back country skiing was going to be my winter sport before I met biathlon and part of me still wishes that I get more into it.  But the danger of avalanches is a little too much for me to mentally bear sometimes and trying to stay avy aware and prepared to dig someone out who is probably dead or almost dead prevents me from going into the true back country a lot.  So I discovered skinning at ski resorts, where I get the same exercise going uphill, it’s vastly easier to switch gears, and I still get a fun little ski down.  It’s definitely not the same as getting that untouched mad pow bruh (which is amazing and totally worth it when I’m prepared) and there will always be something incredibly special about my ski of most of Bierstadt and looking back and literally seeing my (not very pretty) crazy long line down, but I’ve really taken to no frills, no fuss, just grind, strap my skis on, go uphill, ski downhill all within a couple of hours or less.  It’s an incredibly satisfying best bang for your buck, which I desperately need as my free hours are not always that long.

So any who, sorry if there’s anyone who actually reads this and was expecting a hunting post and alas it was actually a disguised mad skis post bruh.  Anyway, here’s a bunch of pictures. I probably should’ve splattered these throughout the post, but ah well.

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Baby Scouting Hike – 10/28/2017

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Spoiler alert: it was a good day.

October had been a long month of lots of long work days so my soul really needed to get into the mountains.  We decided to check out an area I was thinking of hunting next year.  Even though it was technically 2nd rifle season yesterday, Alex decided that he wasn’t ready to take down an elk with a rifle yet (good for him, I’m always proud of him when he makes thoughtful and/or tough decisions) and I have no or low interest in rifle hunting elk (though this trip may have changed my mind, more to come), we decided to leave the rifles at home.

The area we were looking at was a 2 hour drive away, so we woke at 3am and was on the road by 3:45am with a quick stop at the 24 hours McDonalds – practically a tradition for me at this point for all 3am and earlier wake up calls.  Driving over Berthoud pass was quite icy and it was lightly snowing.  I wasn’t thrilled about the ice, but the snow had me excited.

We arrived at the TH around 6am.  The plan was to hike up on an established trail and then veer off whenever we felt like there might be a good area to scout.  The canyon I ultimately wanted to check out (which spoiler alert: we didn’t make it), had two ways in.  One was up the canyon itself on an un-manaintained trail.  I had read that this trail was incredibly steep with a lot of deadfall, but short.  The way we decided to go in was a longer trail, but completely clear and maintained.

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My thoughts: ughhhhh i’m still waking up

It has been awhile since I’ve been hiking in the high-country and I could feel it.  The trail begins, and for the most part, stays going up with some short reprieves here and there.  We hiked in the dark for about an hour and slowly the sun started coming out and we saw a pile of poop.  I checked the map and there appeared to be a small clearing to our left so we quickly hopped off to check.  There wasn’t much to see as the clearing was actually a clearing of a lot of large boulders.  We hopped back on the trail and headed up.

The snow quietly fell all morning and we never saw another soul until we were literally back at the car.  All I really heard about 2nd rifle season was that it was crowded EVERYWHERE.  Even places you hike in.  So I was really not keen on hunting rifle season thinking I might get shot.  But this area? Either there was nothing in here or no one really wants to just hike up and up and up for miles on end.  I’m not sure.

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I used to be terrified of going off  trail, but now I embrace it.

Anyway, as we were going up and I was dying from the altitude and general lack of exercising, we saw a small clearing with what looked like tracks in the snow (thanks snow!).  I checked the map and saw another clearing not too far – but this one looked green with a small creek running through and it looked promising to me.  At this point I hadn’t realized how much I had actually taken to off trail hiking.  While we were on trail I was getting rather bored thinking “we are NOT going to see anything on here” but I knew I needed to take this trail to access more remote areas.  Once we hopped off the trail it felt invigorating.  Like this is what I was meant to do!  It feels like I’m going back to roots that are generations and generations old of hunting and tracking and wandering, but not lost.  I had read about people describing hunting this way – that it was primal, part of our ancestors, and that it was natural.  I felt like I was slowly beginning to understand that.

As we ventured towards the meadow we found prints in the snow and on the fringes of the meadow we found what appeared to be fairly fresh bedding and poop (!!) (though hard to tell with deep freezes I’m sure they were getting each night).  But then we stumbled on a blood trail, and the way the snow had accumulated from this morning made me think it was fairly fresh too – e.g. a day or two old.  I was pretty excited to find this blood trail as it felt validating to think someone or something thought this area was a place to hunt and I started following it but realized Alex had stopped.  I turned around and asked him what was wrong and as he looked up I could see him welling up.

“This makes me really sad . . . like I know this is what happens, but seeing it here makes it so real.  I don’t know if I’m cut out to hunt.”  I felt very proud of him and he continued “I feel like a hypocrite though, because I eat meat.”  I told him that he’s probably thought more about his meat in this moment than 99% of non-hunters who eat meat have (I always exclude vegans because I have mad respect for them.  They live what they preach).  He said that he thinks he could hunt if I’m with him, but that he probably couldn’t do it solo.

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I have thought a lot about what it means to kill an animal and eat it.  I never found the act of eating meat a morally wrong action, even as a vegetarian.  Even though I joined the animal rights movement for a bit, I never felt like I truly belong.  Like I was a hypocrite because I wanted to eat meat and I wanted to hunt but I didn’t know how to and I was terrified of guns.  But even though I can shoot a gun now, could I really kill a living being?  It’s a thought I struggle with a lot, but it’s one I think is good for me to struggle with.  To me, it’s taking on the responsibility and not passing it off to someone else.  I eat meat.  I love meat.  I highly doubt I will stop eating meat.  With hunting I can take an animal that has lived it’s life.  While I laugh at myself for wanting a trophy bull, I want that trophy bull because he has had a full life.  He’s given life to many other elk and lived through some tough times.  He has a unique and incredible story.  I read about old bulls that are taken and these bulls have an assortment of broken things – jaws, ribs, legs.  He’s survived, but how will his life end?  Gored to death by another elk? Eaten by a predator?  Freeze to death over the winter?  Peacefully pass away in his sleep?  Who knows.  But this elk has lived and has lived a much more natural, rich life than most animals will.  I am okay with being the one to end it.*

(*caveat, a “trophy” bull would be my ultimate goal, but until then I’ll take any legal elk.  Also, I’ve thought about what I would do with a rack of antlers and the answer was pretty easy for me – chop it up and give the pieces to my dogs.  They LOVE elk antlers and a tiny piece will be $20 at the local feed store.  They always say you can’t eat antlers, but my dogs can!)

Any who, we follow this trail and muse how it’s good practice for us.  We find where we think it starts, though there’s a lot of tracks around so it’s hard to tell.  We find where we think it ends – in an oval shaped piece of ice under a tree.  But there’s no carcass and we wonder if she was injured – by hunter or predator, who knows – was able to bed for a bit, and then took off in the cover of darkness when the snow would’ve been more hard packed and there would be no footprints.

At this point we were half way to the lake/canyon I wanted to check out.  But honestly, I like to employ a training technique I learned from dog training – always end a session on a good note.  I like to do the same thing for my outdoor endeavors so I’m more inclined to always return.  We could’ve hiked another 2-3 miles and another 1-2k elevation gain, but I was pretty pooped from not having been active in 1.5 months and I was super pumped about what we had already found.  Plus it gives me time to chew on the new information I learned this hike and to plan ahead and plan for more next time.  So with that, we decided to turn around.

It was a pretty quick hike down the 3.5 miles 2k elevation gain and we mused at things that we could see now in the daylight.  I also used to have a habit of going hard on the way to the top and then being rather miserable coming down.  This time, with enough energy and pep, we stopped to take pictures and enjoy the hike down.  I forgot to mention, at the TH there were two cars parked.  I imagine they were at one of the lakes (there are like 5), camping.  So there were definitely other people, but none that we ran into.  It was magical.

Almost forgot also, as we were driving away, we saw, of course, a bull moose.  Someone just give me a tag please, these guys are everywhere.

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Someone just give me a bull tag!

Sighting In & September

September, and now most of October, has flown by drastically quick.  So a quick recap: Labor day weekend was another unsuccessful bow hunting weekend, but dang, I learned so much in those three days that I’m glad I went out.  Despite the high heat, loooong and bright moonlight at night (which allows the animals to stay nocturnal), and heavy pressure (as expected) in my area, I was pretty happy to find some fresh elk poop.  In two locations!! It’s kind of weird to be so excited about poop, but I knew they were around somewhere and even though I couldn’t entice them out with my lovely elk calling (I kid, I have a long way to go learning how to elk call) knowing that they WERE there, even if it was at 2am, was pretty cool.  I also got to experience hunting and hearing how to expertly call elk from Steve, who took the time to take me out one morning.  It was a real treat hearing him call, adding in different types of calls and voices, and shyly calling along side him for about 30 seconds.  Even though my archery season was short and not very sweet, it was an incredible learning experience and I’m so excited for next year.

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Things going through my head “It’s too early.”
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Following the master elk caller.
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Hunting is really just a lot of waiting lol.
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My “what do you think you’re doing face” to Alex.
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My handsome hunting partner and partner in life.
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See Fall 2017: Hunting Edition.

So after that……Alex and I went to Iceland for two weeks where we backpacked for 4 days and got married!  Technically it wasn’t an elopement because we told people, so really, we had a wedding with no invited guests.

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We went to…not the chapel.  We found a tiny alcove that could only really fit us to do our vows in.  It was awesome.

So now that we’re back it’s time to get ready for rifle season. I originally started the year convinced I was a die-hard rifle hunter.  I do biathlon, I LOVE rifle shooting, I love the control and technical aspect, but now?  Now I find myself really only wanting to be a guide for Alex during his rifle hunt.  Alex is first and foremost really into recurve bow shooting.  So much so that he didn’t want to hunt with a compound and would rather wait a year or two until he’s good enough on recurve.  However, he’s still into getting meat for the fridge, so he’s also into rifle hunting.  I am not that into it anymore and I’d rather guide Alex than hunt myself.

We went right into getting his rifle ready – a 10 year Browning a-bolt .270 my dad had bought, but never used.  It literally had never been shot until we acquired it.  Alex had added material to the cheek piece, got himself shooting sticks, and loads of ammo to practice, practice, practice.  We finally decided to venture to an outdoor range neither of us had been to and picked Pawnee Sportsman Center.  It was great! But a long day.  I brought out my new Savage Axis II in Muddy Girl Camo (I do love me some pink accents) and chambered in .243 to play around with for the first time.  I had never really used a scope before so that was brand new to me.  We had a blast going through several boxes of ammo and I helped Alex sight in, watching him through the scope.  We realized very quickly we really need a scope (we have binoculars).  Alex got to finally use his shooting sticks (unfortunately indoor ranges only allow you to shoot from the bench) and found himself getting some good groups on the sticks.  Unfortunately because it’s the end of the fiscal year I’m stuck working next weekend (yay) while Alex ventures out on his own.  If it’s unsuccessful I’ll take him out to a new area that I’m *thinking* might have something, only because I’ve heard them once in this area, long long ago (and by long long ago I really only mean like 3 years ago).  I’m hoping some of the more mature bull elks will stay up high in the snow and that they’ll hang until absolutely forced down.  Here’s to hoping!!

 

Opening Day – 8/26/2017

The day finally came and I began it right at midnight. My area is roughly 2.5 hours away from my house and the usual anxious me was worried about finding an area with no other hunters. I figured it was possible that it could be packed with other anxious hunters that were counting down until the time we could start hunting.

I picked up my friend, Brad, on the way out. Brad was a year below me in law school and we were both in the patent law world so naturally our paths crossed in law school. At one point in our friendship he told me that he was interested in hunting and that he would be glad to tag along. I needed someone to help me haul on the miraculous chance I saw and got something (spoiler alert: neither of those happened) since Alex would be at his bachelor party and took Brad up on his offer to tag along.

So away we went into the dark, dark mountains. I have maybe 0.5% experience now, but Brad has 0% so we talked hunting, how to get started, and then of course, practicing as new attorneys, law school, and the real world.

We eventually made it to my spot at 3am and no one was there. Whew, either I was here first or no one wanted to hunt this spot for a reason. Regardless, we had a couple of hours to kill since I factored in “drive around and look for another spot” into the equation. Brad and I were both amazed at how dark it was and I mused, “It feels like we’re in a planetarium.”

Brad fell asleep for the next 1.5 hours as I tried to rest too. I, of course, didn’t sleep and being the antsy person I am and horribly impatient to do things, we started getting ready at 4:45am. Once I was packed and had brought my bow out I drew it a couple of times and let down for warm up. Finally, we embarked into the darkness of the trees.

I was a little familiar with where we were so I felt no hesitation hiking in the dark, following the map on my phone. I wasn’t going to go far because I was worried about accidentally getting too far and spoilage, so we crested a baby plateau, walked about a half mile, and hunkered down for daylight. The stars twinkled through the treetops and the air was silent and crisp. Slowly, but surely, the stars began to fade and the sky towards the east began to glow warm. Little critters began moving around and chirping. A mouse scampered through the brush, birds began singing and we were sitting silently, taking it all in.

I watched my phone as it inched closer to shooting time. About a minute before, I took an arrow out nocked it, and motioned my friend it was time. He was going to hang back a little while I snuck ahead.

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Where are theeeeeey.

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My first hunt was pretty uneventful, we saw a lot of old signs of elk and I tried calling around, but I think there was no elk in the area and I was still hesitant to go too far. We checked a few small openings, tried hunting down a slope, but I quickly thought, ‘I do not want to pack out on this steep slope.’ After three hours we called it and headed back to the car as I had to get back home to go back to sleep for another midnight wake-up call (but not for hunting). In those short three hours I observed and learned a lot. Walking around looking at the different terrain and looking for shooting lanes made me realize there are a lot of spots that I would not feel comfortable at the moment taking the shot. I realized (again) that it’s more than just finding an elk and shooting it, I had a duty to get that meat out without spoilage and to do so I had to observe where I was, how I got there, and if I were to take an animal down, where it was going to end up.

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Happy morning.

Next weekend Alex and I are embarking on my next and possible last hunt of the season for the long weekend. Had I known I would be this passionate about hunting I would have pushed Alex and I’s wedding/elopement in Iceland two weeks back, but ah, such is life, and there will be many many more years to hunt 🙂

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I woke up early the next night to help a friend summit Longs Peak. We didn’t summit but another great day.

Scouting – 8/19/2017

I feel like I should use my first post to talk about me and why the heck I’m here, but I’m going to dive right in.

Alex (my fiance) and went on our second scouting trip this past weekend looking for elk.  By second scouting trip I mean second scouting trip period. The first one was okay (by my standards), but when I try to remind myself that I’m new and literally have no idea what I’m doing it wasn’t so bad. I have to start somewhere, right? Despite not having seen one animal during the first trip, it was still a great trip nonetheless as we got to meet Steve and Jolene Walls of Shield Mountain Outdoors. They gave us some guidance, took us to the shop where the magic happens (Steve makes elk calls) and sent us home with a purse full of calls.

[Tangent, but my parents owned their own business so I’m a huge fan and supporter of local/small businesses. Heck, my wedding reception is catered by two Wheat Ridge treasures.]

Back to scouting – since we saw zilch, I decided to shake up our approach. The plan was to scout a different area and go fast and light. No camping gear this time, we’re going to sleep in the car – no dogs (sorry guys), no nice camera+huge ass telephoto lens (though in hindsight, wish I had it), and light on snacks. We woke at 2:00am and were hiking by 5:30am.

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Hello darkness, my old friend

It was dark, but the sun was beginning to poke out. On the map there was a “winter trail” that I wanted to follow. Although I didn’t expect a real trail, rather an overgrown one, I expected at least a semblance of a trail.

There was none, instead blue diamonds nailed to random trees was the trail. I pondered and thought how much snow would be right where I was standing to make those super high blue diamonds not so high anymore.

So we ditched the trail and looked at the map. The woods appeared to open to a nice meadow that seemed like it would be a nice walk up to reach the first pond I wanted to look at. First lesson learned: what may look nice on the map may not be so nice at all.

We made our way through the woods and saw some light peeking out. It still looked like a nice meadow so we hiked on til we hit the willows. I was a little appalled at how much of a willow section there was. I grew up in Louisiana where water surrounded me and the only way to get anywhere was to cross at least one bridge. Colorado for the most part had been extremely dry and so I stumbled, rather confusedly, through the willows and at one point they were taller than me.

We eventually made it out and I thought huh, this looks like a great winter ground for large hooved animals.

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10 minutes to terror

We followed solid ground until we hit yet another willow-y and more marshy area. We opted to head for the trees and traverse in the woods. As we walked we heard a loud wooshing, my brain temporarily panicked and I looked in awe as two humongous gray things took off and flew….rather slowly. And while they flew they were making a noise I had never heard in person. “TURKEYS!!” Alex whisper-yelled to me. We had never seen wild turkeys, let alone flying ones. Apparently they don’t fly very much but we must’ve spooked them and they sure as hell spooked us.

Into the woods we went, found a game trail and followed it around a bit. I was excited to see hoof prints and examined them more closely. I didn’t realize that elk prints and scat looked rather similar to deer prints and scat, albeit bigger, and so each print and scat we came across I observed to attempt to discern the differences.

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Deer?

We were walking and walking and I was looking down and down when Alex stopped me and pointed to the meadow. A momma moose! She definitely saw us before we saw her and she stared us down as we quietly pulled our bino’s out to look at her.

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After enough staring we trudged on. The lake I originally thought we might make it to near sunrise was now looking like it was going to be a morning destination. Moving around in the woods, stepping and climbing over dead trees, was a bit more slower than I was thinking. Lesson learned: if it looks like it’s not that far and that it’s going to relatively easy to get to, it’s probably not.

Eventually we made it to the first lake and walked around, observing. Found an old skeleton, some fur (separate from the skeleton), lots of fresh tracks, and a whole lot of mosquitoes. Little did I know, this was only the beginning of the mosquitoes.

I looked at the map (OnXmaps, to be precise), and saw that there was a smaller pond not far from where we were. Maybe another .5 mile? I wanted to check it out because I thought, well, elk are huge and they wouldn’t want to be seen much maybe, so a smaller pond might be more attractive because there’s still water and a whole lot more coverage. So we moseyed over and even in the dry areas the mosquitoes began to intensify.

We went through a dense area of trees, down and down and soon enough we were to the pond. I then realized, yet again, that it wasn’t just a pond. It was an entire marshy/swamp like area with a bajillion mosquitoes. No worries, yet again, we’ll stick to the trees. We circled around the pond and figured we’d hop across the neck of the swamp to more trees that would take us back to what appeared to hopefully be a trail (spoiler alert – it wasn’t). We were walking walking again and there I saw it – fresh poop. Super fresh. So fresh flies were on it and it was glistening and it was most definitely elk. I excitedly pointed it out to Alex and we carefully walked on.

We hit a different section of the marsh and noticed fresh beds and fresh tracks and again, we quietly and carefully walked on. Then, it happened. Alex motioned me, pointed to the opening and we hit the deck into a cloud of mosquitoes. We had found our first public lands elk (that wasn’t in Estes Park or a National Park where they know they’re safe). She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen (okay, I’m kidding, my dog Breeze is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen), and she’s a cow elk that I will forever be proud of.

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We watched her through our bino’s as she munched a little and then eventually made her way back into the woods. Much like the moose, she saw us way before we saw her. We eventually made it to the next pocket of woods where we stayed near the edge to look out. Yet again I was looking down, watching where I was stepping and looking for signs when Alex patted me on the shoulder. I looked up and Alex said, “Bear” and at first I didn’t see anything but sure enough there was a fluffy bear.

“Is it brown?” I asked. I was so excited that Alex finally got to see a bear, but then Alex nervously asked, “Like a grizzly?” We didn’t realize that black bears could be other colors than black and pondered as we watched it graze. “It’s kind of really round though,” I mused. Much like everything else, the bear sniffed the air and went back into the woods.

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Fast foward we eventually made it to the trail that was not a trail and after several stream crossings (how?? how did we cross the same stream so many times??) we came to an opening and a game trail that meandering through the much drier meadow. And then we saw them, two other hunters! We met up with them and asked if they were able to follow any trails and they said no. They were surprised to see us. When we told them it was our first year hunting one of them said, “Oh. You’re in for a world of suprises.” We wished them good luck with their glassing and a couple hours later we had bushwhacked our way back to the road.

Alex asked how many miles did I think we did? Not as many as you feel like we did….

We rolled into town, grabbed lunch, went to a bookstore so I could buy a cheesy chick-flick book (yes, different from a romance novel) and Alex could buy a cheesy sci-fi book and like the hipsters we are, we parked the Subaru Outback in the shade on the side of a dirt road, inflated our little sleeping pad, napped, and then read our respective cheesy books.

We contemplated spending the night in our car to scout the next morning or just glass an area at dusk and head home (2.5 hours away). The day was a bit more tiring than I was anticipating and I was already so thrilled with all the animals we had seen, so we opted to head home the same night. As it got closer to dusk we went out near the road to glass one area and found about four mule deer.

We waited til dark to see if we had anymore luck, but we were out of it for the day.

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I really hate mosquitoes.
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Couples that hunt together, stay together, right?

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On the drive home in the dark we discussed my rules for the season. I thought about spoilage and how hard it was to get not very far back, so I felt it was best if we hunt either from the road or from a relatively easy pack out location. I felt renewed and charged for opening day, but still extremely nervous. After our trip I made plans for different spots to hunt if people are in the first spots, where to drop the meat off (if miraculously I managed to get something), and I finally had put together my first kill bag.