Elk Hunting: Caught with My Pants Down.

February 12, 2015


Several days have been omitted for the sake of cutting to the chase.

11-7-14 (Day 16) Running out of steam

I had moved my camp to Smuggler Mountain which is accessed through a steep switch backroad. A foot of snow covered the ground and road conditions looked bad. I had a sinking feeling in my gut that Penelope -the Jeep- would at some point roll.  Luckily, I was the first one up the road; and I barely made it. I had pursued the elk for the last three days by some sounds and signs but had yet to fire a single shot.

On the phone, Max texted that he was going to drive up Smuggler Mountain road at 10 PM and that we would hunt in the morning.

After the afternoon hunt I left my camp and waited in my jeep for Max to call if he got stuck. I lowered my cap over my eyes to take a nap as the sun went down.

I woke up in a cold jolt. It was pitch black and there was no sign of Max or his red Jeep. I checked the phone. It was 1 AM. I had slept through several missed calls and messages in the last 3 hours. It was Max.

“I’m stuck… turning back.”

I called him many times frantic, worried that he had flipped his car off the narrow icy road into the trees or worse. There was no answer the first four times. He finally picked up and he said he was sleeping in the parking lot at the bottom of the road. I told him I would drive down to meet him.

On the way down I noticed that the snow on the road was packed down to hard, frozen ice. The brakes locked up with a sickening groan as Penelope started to slide down the switch back. I stared down into the dim light of my headlamps as the Jeep started to go down, accelerating like a sled.

The tires caught a patch of dirt and started to turn the car sideways. Then, it stopped. My knuckles were white. I turned the car around and started down the next switch back on the lowest gear, tapping the brakes. It went well for a few hundred yards until the Jeep started to slide again down the next icy switch back.

I thought of all the ways I could die, be maimed, or wreck the Jeep on its side down the hill. I could be pinned inside as the jeep crumpled into a tree. I thought of plans: keeping my phone near to call 911 and Max to come try to stop the bleeding.

The tires caught a patch of dirt and stopped. My armpits were leaking like faucets and the sweat ran over my ribs. My boots and gloves were filling up with adrenaline sweat.

I arrived at the bottom and met Max in the parking lot. He explained that he’d made it up the road 50 yards, but that it was too dangerous to go any further. That night, we slept in our Jeeps; I in my coat on the seat and Max in the larger bed of the Cherokee.


11-8-14 (Day 17 ) Catching a ride and moving camps


The next morning a logging truck with chains rolled next to us. The logger explained there was cutting going on and these big M2 trucks were packing the road down to ice.

They started cutting the day before I went up, which  explained the previous night of terror. He gave us a ride halfway up the mountain.  We hopped into the cab of the old military truck with our rifles held vertically between us.We packed up my camp and walked the five miles back down.

Eight miles marched so far, an entire morning wasted.


That afternoon, we drafted plans to go back to the first area I had hunted and to go in only a few miles. We decided two miles, and an open camp with no tent or fire would be the quickest and fastest way to get the most out of our remaining time.


We arrived a few moments before sundown and laid down our packs.

“I gotta take a shit!” we both said simultaneously.

We laid our guns across our packs and walked back into the woods. I headed down trail and Max went up.

I walked 25 yards out of sight of our rifles and found a good view of the opposite slope. I’d say it was a 9/10 rating for a cat hole view. A good cool breeze, the sun was setting down valley.

After about ten minutes of leisurely enjoying the view (I love to sit and relax after pooping) I pulled out the toilet paper.

That’s when I heard a loud grunt. I looked and behind me, maybe 15 feet, was a young bull elk. Much larger than me. He hopped up and stomped both of his feet on the ground. He must have not seen me, but downwind he sure as hell did smell me.

He snorted again, and started to dig up earth with his hooves. I thought this is how I die, with my pants down. He hopped and advanced on the awful odor a few more feet. I wiped my ass and slowly stood up to let him know I was a human and he should be scared of me, not the other way around. He crashed into the brush. I put my toilet paper over my doo and flipped the stone back over it. Back at the bivy site, Max had the rangefinder out and his rifle in his hand. He peered into the woods from where I had returned from.

“Did you hear that?”

“You know that story where you go poop without a gun and you see a trophy?”

“Wait what?”

Max ran off into the woods after the bull. I walked to my gun and picked it up and thought about what I had read. Bull elk would often tail herds of cows for extra safety. I looked across the valley, and I could not believe it. There, in the dying light, leisurely grazing, were four cows.

I went belly down and aimed the rifle, but the group slowly moved uphill behind a few trees.

I repositioned 25 yards and went prone again. The elk in the distance still did not notice me. My heart was beating out of my chest, I could feel it in my throat. I could hear the blood beating out of my ear drums. I tried to breath, but in all the excitement my breathing had switched from automatic to manual control; it was all over the place.

The sights danced over the target nose to end, top to bottom.There were just moments of shooting light left.

My smudged old prescription glasses, which I told myself I would replace last year, went in and out of focus over the sights.

The front sight post rested evenly on top of the shoulder hump of the closest cow. The ballistics calculations I had spent the last week memorizing stated that a 400 yard should would drop around 15 inches.

I did not hear the shot, just the echo as it returned from across valley.

There was a puff of white over the cow and the herd took off into the trees.

I opened the chamber and slid in another cartridge. The empty shell was placed into my breast pocket.

Max came running a few moments later.

“Did you get it?!” He asked.

“God, I hope so.”

I took the rangefinder back from Max. It said 350 yards.  My eyeball guess was very close.

We waited for 15 minutes, but as twilight set in, we were afraid we would not even see any blood. We crossed over a marsh, soaking Max’s trail runners through. We searched the area and saw tracks but no blood. “Maybe the puff of white was the solid copper bullet meeting dirt behind the elk.” I thought.

We went around the marsh to get back to the packs – it as well after nightfall. We made dinner on the Svea, and zipped right into our bags without brushing our teeth, as a cold wind blew down valley.

11-9-14 (Day 18) Final day of the hunt

We unzipped and peered out at the early light. The sleeping bags were covered in frost and clammy inside. We set out at a crawl, snooping around where I shot at the elk last evening.

Twenty minutes later Max whispered to me that his shoes were frozen. He would start back to the car and head into Aspen.

I decided to stay.

I stalked the tracks of the group of elk three miles further to the other end of Horse Park. With each passing mile the tracks grew less fearful and the elk reverted to a trot, then a walk. Tracks of other elk joined with this party and continued while occasionally some broke off and went their own ways. I stopped but the elk tracks continued on into the deep of the wilderness and mountains. There was no blood.


Returning to the bivy, I took a different path and took careful notes and placed markers on my GPS. I always do this, on the unlikely chance I will return here. I passed by arrangements of wood with forgotten purpose.Rusted remnants of metal lay deserted, left by loggers or miners decades or,more likely, a century ago.

I headed back to the jeep and went up to Bald Knob where large groups of hunters had camped last season. As the light went down again, I walked to the very top and positioned myself at a lone tree until the sun sank behind the Maroon Bells and the lights of Aspen lit up.


I slung my gun and walked back to the Jeep. In the dark distance an elk hearing my defeated return home crashed through the brush loudly, one last time for me.


I don’t know why I missed. It could have been from any of the thousands of little beginner mistakes I had been making these last 18 days. It could have been the lack of marksmanship practice and training this year, poor breathing techniques, the at-home scope mounting job, or the oil swabbed down the barrel to prevent rust that was only cleared out with a single fouling shot. It could even have been the removal and reinstallation of the quick-release scope mount (although I doubt it since it’s German engineered, I’m just reaching for things to blame!) Not to mention that this shot was at the furthest distance I had ever practiced. It was likely all of the above!



The meat would have been a nice payoff for the pain, but it was still worth it. I am damn lucky to have such good company and scenery- and a lot to think about for my first season.


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