When I last left you I was headed to Colorado for my fourth archery elk hunt. The plan was simple, leave Friday, hike in to base camp and be ready to hunt by Saturday afternoon, kill a couple of elk and head home with time to spare. Only one thing could stand in the way of me, a couple of success photos, and a grilled to perfection slice of elk loin, that one thing was myself.
I'm a bit of a weekend warrior trying to hold on to this image I've built up of myself. I like to pretend that once upon a time, in my "glory days" I was a 5 star, multi-sport athlete. I have a few videos from high school, and even a spot on the record book walls that might make that case debatable. In an effort to keep that dream alive I joined a Rec. league slow-pitch softball team with my fellow coworkers. We play on Thursday nights in the "E" league, which means as non-competitive as it gets. Since I was so highly recruited (I was told there was a vacant spot on the roster for a catcher and the league was free so it was a no-brainer) I felt compelled to join. This was our third game of the year and with an undefeated record on the line we took on a team that at first glance appeared to be slightly younger and more athletic than us. It was eventually confirmed that this team was in fact the 2010 class A state baseball champions. It didn't take long for the game to get away from us, but playing with the heart of a champion we found ourselves only down 7 runs in the bottom of the 7th and final inning so naturally an epic comeback (we had only scored 4 runs to this point mind you) was within reach. With 1 out and no one on I knew what I needed to do. This team needed a spark! So with my sub .300 batting average (sub .200 may be more realistic but there are no official stats) I decided that it was my time to rally the team. I had been dropping harmless bloopers just over the infielder's heads all day (twice) so I figured if I swung just a little harder I could surely turn a 125 foot blooper into a 275 foot homerun with ease. I dug in and swung at the first pitch, as is my custom, and knuckled a dribbler to the former all-state shortstop. As I got halfway to first base it donned on me that I wasn't out yet, which was a miracle in itself. I decided at this point that if I "turned on the jets" I could leg this thing out and the rally would ensue. Now I'm sure there has to be video of this whole event out there somewhere to confirm my version of the story, but at the moment that I accelerated, to the untrained, naked eye it may not be visible but it happened, and as it happened I realized I had made a colossal mistake. I felt my left hamstring start on fire, so I pulled up so as not to hurt it further and in doing so somehow nearly obliterated my right hamstring (or so it felt). The most impressive feat about this day was the string of curse words I put together. To add insult to injury, I was out. Game over.
In no shape to walk, little alone climb up a mountain, we delayed the trip by a day. This allowed me almost 2 fulls days to rest. We arrived at the trailhead on Sunday and made a slow climb up the mountain. The slow and steady approach worked and within a few hours we made it to our lake front base camp in the pictures above. After we set up camp and made plans to slowly make our way to our first glassing destination a couple of elk hunters had walked up to our lake to trout fish. They told us they had hunted for 8 days at elevation below us and hadn't so much as heard a single elk. We didn't like to hear that but we went about our plans. When we made it to our first planned destination we soon realized that what we had looked at on google earth was not what we were looking at in real life. We weren't going to be able to glass the area as we had thought. We went back to camp just after dark to make a Plan for day 2.
The first night of sleep was the worst. I had made a mistake in buying a new, lighter temperature rated sleeping bag and never tested it. I had to wear all my clothes and still shivered all night. I woke up every 30 minutes praying for daylight to come to warm me up. As we started out in the pre-dawn darkness guided only by our headlights it started to rain. The side of the mountain we were working along was very steep, now it was wet, and I had a bad hamstring. We couldn't make it very far very fast and it was agonizing to try. I felt so dumb for getting hurt 1 day before the trip, now I felt even worse for slowing my partner down and potentially ruining his hunt. We made the decision to drop down to a familiar meadow that had previously been loaded with sign. We found a couple of fresh trails and moved in. Much to our dismay when we arrived at the meadow and started to look around it became painfully clear that there was not nearly as much elk sign as there had been in 2013. We spent the day surveying the area and working our way around to various waterholes, calling sporadically, listening intently, and trying similar tactics that had paid off in the past, but we had no luck. Day 2 ended with zero action.
Day 3 I woke up in a lot of pain. My hamstring was extremely sore and tender. I again slept poorly and my spirits were down. I just physically didn't feel like my leg was going to allow me to put in the work I was going to need to put in on this hunt. The sign just wasn't where we hoped it would be and to get where we might need to would require effort I wasn't sure my leg would allow. We ventured deeper into the elk woods trying to cover some new territory. Sign started to show up and we had spurts of optimism. We stumbled onto a bedded mulie buck but stalking anything through piles of dense forest and deadfall is a very challenging game. Late in the day I had tried to cross a log when I felt like I had nearly ripped my leg off. I re-aggravated my hamstring and was down for the count. I worked my way back to camp and moped around as another storm blew in off the mountains dropping more rain on us. I convinced my partner that I wasn't going to be able to make it.
We woke up on day 4 and packed out and hunted the trail back to the truck. We had decided that we could salvage a vacation by trying to make it back to western Nebraska to hunt pronghorn antelope on the big tracts of public land in the National Grasslands. That trip turned out to be much more fruitful in action and animal sightings. We even worked our way in close to a small buck but the stalk ended empty-handed. We did learn the lay of a new piece of land and even found a spot that worked to deer hunt.
It took me a while to write this post. I'm no stranger to the painful feeling of an unpunched tag during an archery endeavor, and that is a fact one has to face when pursuing animals with bow and arrow. The national average on archery elk is somewhere around 10%, those are tough odds to overcome. Add a foolish injury to the mix, and giving up early makes it nearly impossible to succeed. I came home from this trip with my tail between my legs. I have relayed this story to many good friends who have only been supportive and encouraging and that type of reinforcement is what will get me back into the woods. I recently found out that my 12 year daughter's very good friend Makenna has to have surgery to remove tumors from her neck and behind her eye. Suddenly I don't feel so bad. I realize that my failed trip means nothing in the grand scheme of things. But it only means something if I learn from it, grow from it and become better from it. I promise I will.
The month of October is typically a slow time for me in the deer woods, but November fires up my annual trip to "deer camp". This year I'm trying my very first food plot. Be sure to check in later this month as I share the progress of the plot and update you on how my deer hunt unfolds.
The Budget Bowhunter