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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.