The Size of the Hunt

By Jeremy Ley

The Size of the HuntJeremy Ley
Colorado, 2009, DIY, Public Land

Eighteen bulls, 80 cows and a long way from any road or trailhead, this basin materialized from dream to reality between gaps in the fog one misty morning in late July. My predilection of picking good scouting partners had paid off. Brian is part of our bible study group and Nate is a DOW biologist; how could I go wrong with religion and science on my side? After threatening to throw the remaining freeze-dried dinners over a cliff, Brian and Nate agreed to total secrecy. The map name of the basin was not to be spoken of over coffee, in emails, or any other situation in which the identity could lead to a mass pilgrimage of backcountry archery brethren on opening weekend.

As the fog obliterated our view, we set out to finish the long hike down to the main trail where Dad was waiting with the ATV to haul our packs out the last six miles to the truck. The trip, which had covered four basins, tons of vertical lost and gained, and elk and deer in our binoculars, was a huge success. To add some spice, we had to hotwire Dad’s ATV after he misplaced his keys, and we topped it off by walking out the last four miles in a drenching rain. Regardless, nothing could dampen my spirits as I replayed that morning’s scene and tried to temper my impatience for opening day.

This hunt hadn’t started as planned. We thought we would draw our first choice, but surprisingly, we were denied. Instead, we’d be hunting on OTC tags. We were looking to hunt timberline basins that I had frequented the last few years for mule deer. This style of hunting requires a lot of off-season backpacking into basins for scouting. Fortunately, I have a wife who is an inspiration in my off-season training as she never seems to shirk a run even at 5:45 a.m. after waking up every couple of hours with the kids. As a running partner, Brian was equally effective. I knew he would be waiting at 5 a.m. to run when all I wanted to do was pull the covers over my head.

The evening before season found my sister Sami, her husband Jeff, Dad and I setting up our tents a mile below the basin after a long backpack trip in. That’s when things started to go wrong. Two other hunters passed our camp at dark, which led to a sleepless night of wondering where they would be. My worrying was fruitless, since at first light I saw a camp with their horses high-lined over the wallows I had watched several of the 18 bulls working over on my scouting trip.

Jeff and I trudged to the top of the ridge for a glassing position and found the basin to be empty of elk, save a couple of raghorns which were shortly busted clear out of the basin by the two hunters that passed us the night before. Now despair was setting in. The vertical nature of the basins requires losing a day to relocate to another basin, but we had no choice.

The long hike out allowed me to mull over our options (over and over and over) until I settled on a basin I had hunted deer in last year. We finally hit the trucks about noon on day two and headed south to a new trailhead. Sami and Jeff decided to hunt low since they had to leave the next morning, which left Dad and I making the new climb to timberline alone.

The Size of the Hunt

For a full account of Jeremy's adventure, go to page 40 in the May/June 2010 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.