Fortunately, the ravine's stream bed was dry, because it was the only possible approach route to the group of elk bedded on the sage-covered hillside. My guide, Brian Peed, of Elkhorn outfitters, Kevin Gervais, my hunting partner/observer, and I started our descent from the ridge where we'd glassed the elk from about a mile away. The ravine was of various depths—so at times we walked, we crawled on hands and knees, and occasionally we scurried on our bellies—trying to close the distance.
About a half-mile into the stalk, Brian peeked over the bank to check our position, and then he would motion for us to get a little closer. When we were finally out of cover, we were 315 yards below and downwind from the elk; they were totally unaware of our presence. I rested my .300 Win. Mag. on the sandy bank, alongside a sage stem steady as a bench rest, with the Leupold's crosshairs on the bull's shoulder.
"I WAS TRULY AMAZED AT THE WAY THESE HORSES NAVIGATED THE STEEP ROCKY TERRAIN. I HAVE HORSES OF MY OWN, BUT I DON'T THINK MINE WOULD'VE LASTED A DAY OUT THERE."
It was Dec. 28, 2012, at about 6:40 p.m. Eastern time, when my cell phone rang. It was Rebekah Greenwood, of the Craig, Colorado, Chamber of Commerce, informing me I'd won the elk hunt raffle! I almost fell out of my chair. I've hunted caribou, whitetails and mule deer, but this would be my first elk hunt. Rebekah was very helpful with my questions and all the preparations I needed to make the transformation from upstate New York to the altitude of a mountain hunt.
All spring, summer and fall was spent hiking with a weighted backpack. I cut out a 300-yard shooting lane on my property, consistently hitting a 12- by 16-inch steel plate from my shooting sticks. Practice makes "better" and builds confidence, and most hunting shots in my neck of the woods are nowhere near that far.
Kevin and I are retired truck drivers, so it's natural for us to drive to all of our hunting destinations. We started out at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 14, driving all night before making a stop in Stuart, Iowa, Friday night. Winter storm warnings and high winds forced us to stop in Laramie, Wyoming, Saturday night. I was beginning to wonder if we would even make it to Craig, but Sunday morning's weather was much clearer. The snow and wind left a trail of icy roadways and rolled tractortrailers on I-80. Once in Colorado, the roads were just wet or snow covered all the way to Craig.
We arrived at Candlewood Suites at 11:30 a.m., but we were told we couldn't check in until 4 p.m., so we fueled the truck and drove to Elkhorn Outfitters. I introduced myself as the raffle winner and was warmly greeted by Dick and Cheryl Dodd, and some of the guides. They made Kevin and me feel right at home. We went back to Candlewood and checked in. What an awesome place to stay while on my hunt. We unpacked the truck and then went back to Elkhorn for dinner, hunt orientation and to meet my guide, Brian, and learn the plan for Monday morning.
GET AFTER IT
Breakfast was at 5 a.m., and then we headed north to the mountains for a horseback hunt. I was truly amazed at the way these horses navigated the steep rocky terrain. I have horses of my own, but I don't think mine would've lasted a day out there.
We hadn't gone far when Brian signaled to stop. He pointed to a ridge where we could see tan-colored forms moving through the trees. It was my first sighting of elk. We tied up the horses and approached on foot. Cows and spike bulls only, but it was a rush to get within 20 yards of them.
We rode much of the day seeing small groups, but no shooter bulls. Back at the lodge we learned that some hunters had already been successful.
Tuesday began with a truck ride to another section of property. This time the landscape was open plateaus with ravines and rolling hills and valleys covered with what looked like a blanket of sagebrush. Driving along a ranch road, we rounded a curve to see a small herd of elk crossing the ridge we were on.
At least one looked like a shooter, but they were moving too fast to get a good look, so Brian backtracked to a high point where we could glass the vast valley they were heading toward. He thought they might keep moving beyond the property boundary, but as we watched, they stopped on a hillside and started browsing.
Between the elk and the ridge we were on was a ravine.
"Let's try it—a real spot and stalk—doing it the right way," I said. "Let's do it."
We grabbed our packs and started down the ridge toward the ravine, making sure to keep out of sight.
… Which brings me back to the ravine where I'm about to send one of my hand-loaded 180-grain Nosler AccuBond bullets toward an elk. I shot, the elk traveled 20 yards—and it was over. I had my first bull elk! I was so excited putting my hands on him, and I realized just how blessed I was at that moment. I could instantly see how elk hunting can get in your blood.
We stayed in Craig 2 more days, buying souvenirs and waiting for the processing of the meat and for the mount. We were also waiting for the weather in the central states to clear out for our 2,200-mile trip home. My only regret is that I wish I'd started hunting elk 30 years ago. This was truly the hunt of my dreams.
Author's Note: Every fall, the Chamber of Commerce of Craig, Colorado, offers up raffles for big game hunts. In 2012 my hunting partner, Kevin, and I were in the Craig area hunting mule deer. It was our first trip to Colorado. After learning of the raffles, I bought some tickets, and won the elk hunt for 2013.