March/April 2013 EBJ (Issue 76) - It began with a single golden aspen leaf. My Dad gave it to me on his return from a Colorado mule deer hunt when I was nine years old. I was fascinated by that leaf and by his stories of how they quiver and shake at the slightest breeze, making the trees look like they’re alive. I was held captive by his tales of the cold, crisp, thin air, the lonesome sound of a bull elk bugle, and by his description of the rugged and magnificent landscape. I was hooked.
I dreamed of hunting the western mountains for the next twenty plus years. I was recently married and my wonderful wife Cassie encouraged me to pursue that dream. My favorite stories in Eastmans’ were always DIY backpack hunts, and this is what I wanted—a true adventure. Mr. Webster defines adventure as "an exciting or remarkable experience.” During my hunt I would learn the true meaning of this word.
I enlisted my friend David and started planning an elk hunt. We settled on a bowhunt in a Colorado OTC unit on public land, and we would backpack in and stay with the elk. My friend Kevin Timm, owner of Seek Outside, was of tremendous help in planning our hunt.
We sweated through the dog days of a Tennessee summer, suffering in the humidity and heat, preparing our bodies for the hardship to come. The day finally arrived and we started a twenty-six-hour endurance drive from Nashville, Tennessee to southwest Colorado. We arrived at the trailhead late the next day and set up our first camp.
The next morning we packed our bags for six days in the backcountry and started climbing. We gained 1,000 feet in that first morning and realized that while light is good, ultralight is better. We were in some incredibly steep country with scattered meadows, parks, aspens flanking the lower slopes, and dark timber holding the high ground.
We made camp the first afternoon on a dry ridge amid a lot of bull sign, but none fresher than a couple of weeks. We were low on water, so while David organized camp I dropped 500 feet of elevation, filtered nine liters of water, and hunted my way back to camp. On the way, I gave some lost cow calls in an elky-looking area and had a very confused and lovesick forkhorn mulie charge in and stop less than five yards away. He realized I was not the lonely cow he thought I was and bolted for parts unknown.
That evening David got a call from his wife that her mother had suffered a heart attack. David made the tough but correct decision to go home and be with his family. We packed out the next morning and I took him to town to start the journey back.
I needed a new plan. Honestly, the thought of going in alone was fearsome. My wife didn’t like that idea any better than I did, but this was my lifelong dream! I chose a new spot to pack into lower down and closer to water where I expected the elk to be. Fortunately, Kevin volunteered to come out and pack into the new location and spend a night or two, which eased my mind, and definitely eased my wife’s!
The spot we pitched the tent had my hopes up for hunting the area because it reeked of elk urine. After spending the night all our gear smelled like it too! Kevin had to leave early the next morning, so I ate breakfast and scouted my new area, but was soon distracted by bugling across the drainage. The bulls were not into the rut yet, so a vocal bull had my full attention. I decided to move my camp to go after him. Hit or miss, I knew I would be spiked out in the new area for the rest of my hunt, so I took the expander panel out of my Seek Outside tent and did everything else I could do to drop weight, then loaded more food, and started out.
For a full account of Nathan's adventure, go to page 18 in the March/April 2013 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.