The Best $40 I Ever Spent
Dec/Jan 2011 EHJ (Issue 122)
- In early August I came home from work and was taking off my boots when I realized I was standing on a big envelope. Not quite sure what to think of it, I looked at who it was from and saw it said “Eastmans’”. I figured it was something about my subscription or a special offer they had. I opened it up and was shocked when I saw that it said I had been chosen as the 2010 EBJ Elk Hunt Winner.
I went through the contacts on my phone, starting with my family and then the people I work for. The first person I got to share the news with was my mom and we were wondering if this was really true! The worst part was that I had to wait all weekend to confirm it. It really was the longest weekend of my life.
First thing Monday morning, I called Eastmans’, where Heather answered. She passed me on to Ike, who verified that I really had been chosen for the hunt. He went over the details and also what the hunt would entail. Hearing all this got me more and more excited. I couldn’t believe that I had just won a true hunt of a lifetime by just subscribing to a magazine.
Over the next month and a half, not a day went by that I didn’t think about the upcoming hunt. Finally, on September 23, I jumped in my pickup and left Bismarck. What would normally seem like a horribly long drive to Denver actually flew by. I stayed at a friend’s place that night and continued driving to Trinidad, Colorado the next morning. Upon arriving, I met Guy and the cameraman, Randy, and all of the sudden, it became real.
We arrived at the lodge around noon and they had lunch ready for us. While eating, I met Bobby Hill, the owner of Hill Ranch – a very nice guy to say the least. After lunch we met Paul, my guide, and he took us to the rifle range. Strange things can happen when traveling with firearms, so we ran a few rounds through the rifle to make sure it was still on.
After shooting, Paul and Guy described to me the different age classes of elk while they showed me a few racks. I was really impressed with how big these racks could get. We then went back to the lodge, where Guy had a box full of hunting gear for me - including everything from camo to elk calls to backpacks and more. I felt like a kid on Christmas, and was overwhelmed with the amount of hunting equipment in the box. I couldn’t thank Guy enough.
The afternoon passed and it was time to head out for the evening. We spotted a bear right away, which was really cool, but no elk. On the way back to the lodge that night, we saw a few bulls and a lot of cows running around. It was cool to see these giant critters up close and personal. When we got back to the lodge, we had a dinner that was fit for a king and talked about the next day’s hunt.
We got up early the next morning, had breakfast and went back to the canyon we had glassed the night before. We had almost reached the spot where we wanted to be when Guy spotted some elk a few hundred yards away. There was a nice 6x6 on the hill 200 yards away, and he had roughly 20 cows with him. We tossed around the idea of going after him, but the decision was made that it was too early and we could probably do better. I didn’t know what to think about this at first, but then again, it was my first elk hunt and I trusted Guy.
We left that bull alone and checked out some other spots, ending the morning without seeing much more than the one bull, which we nicknamed ‘Goofy’.
After lunch, Paul suggested that I take a nap because we were going to do a big hike in the afternoon. I didn’t argue because I knew a flatlander like me was going to need all the help I could get.
The hike to our new spot wasn’t too bad, but I’m definitely glad I took Paul’s advice. We got to the bottom of the canyon and followed the trail to a waterhole. About halfway there, we spotted a black bear and watched him walk to within 30 yards of us – it was quite the hair-raising experience for me. After the bear walked off, we started hearing some bugling coming from farther up the canyon. We were moving toward the first bull we heard, but some cows pinned us down before we could see him.
As the cows fed off, we found the first bull - a 320-class beauty. He followed a cow over the top of the canyon to the other side. However, there was still one bull that we hadn’t seen yet. We started toward the top of the canyon and I could tell we were getting close because the bugles kept getting louder and raspier. Then, a little over halfway up the canyon and straight out of the script, we spotted “Champ”. I say Champ because he just looked like the top dog and his posture and movements proved it.
Paul told me to put the scope on him and get a feel for what seeing crosshairs on a big bull is like. I couldn’t believe the sheer size of him – much different than the whitetails I’m accustomed to.
The excitement continued to build as Guy whispered to me that this was a great bull. I could barely hold the scope on him because I was so nervous. Everybody agreed that we were just a little too late with the fading light, so we backed out and hiked off the mountain.
We woke up the next morning with high hopes of finding Champ again. We made our way back in and looked hard, but we never found him. We saw some other bulls, but they were all smaller.
The afternoon brought a nice break in the action, and we did a little bit of flyfishing. Guy totally out-fished me. Man, he really knows what he’s doing, and it was still neat to watch him work those fish over.
Day four rolled around and once again, we were out looking for Champ. We heard a bugle in the bottom of the canyon early on and made a move. We found a good spot to glass from and quickly found the culprit. There were about 25 elk in the bottom - Goofy, several spikes, and lots of cows. We got set up, hoping they’d come our way and within range, but they veered off and did their own thing.
We went after them and got to within 100 yards of Goofy in the timber, but a spike came running through and scared the others off. Paul kept telling me everything happens for a reason and we went back to the lodge for lunch and discussed the plan for the evening.
That evening, we checked out the canyon that had the most activity for the past couple days and found it was full of elk. Bulls were bugling all over the place and the cows kept them going. A really old bull I nicknamed “Clubby” had a harem of cows there. He was an older 6x4 that had a really thick, heavymuscled body. I definitely wanted to take him, but Paul and Guy agreed it was best to let this one go. We left that canyon with elk still bugling everywhere, in hopes of finding Champ the next day.
On day five, we set out hoping to find Champ, but found Goofy again instead. We tried a stalk on him, but turned up nothing.
On the way back to the lodge, Paul stopped at one spot he thought Champ might be - and sure enough, he was. Champ was across the canyon, about a half-mile away, bugling his head off. We watched him for a few minutes and he disappeared into the thick brush. I figured Champ was gone, but we spotted his cows coming down the side of the canyon. All of the sudden, Guy said, “There he is…let’s go, let’s go!”
It took us about 25 minutes to get to the bottom of the canyon, and by the time we got there, Champ’s cows started coming out of the brush. Champ came to about 165 yards and lay down - all we could see were the tips of his antlers. He lay there for almost half an hour, making all kinds of racket. I was getting pretty shaken up because it’s amazing to hear how loud these bulls can be.
When he finally stood up, my adrenaline was in full overdrive. He took about ten steps from his bed and into a clearing. I pulled myself together as best I could while Paul called to him. He came to a stop and was about to look our way when I let him have it. The shot rang out and the “whop” echoed back at us. He ran about 30 yards before he started swaying from side to side. Even from 160 yards away, I could hear the thud from when he finally hit the dirt.
We headed up to the bull and knew right away he was an absolute stud. He was a 6x7, scoring just over 360. Even with the little I know about elk, I could tell that he was an awesome bull based on Guy’s and Paul’s excitement. Paul and Guy estimated him to be about eight years old. I was in total shock because this was my first bull ever and I couldn’t believe how big he was. Guy and Paul kept assuring me it was a great bull and I couldn’t stop saying, “Thank you!”
As we packed the bull out, I couldn’t help but think of all the people it took to make this hunt the experience it was. I’d like to thank Bobby Hill; my guide, Paul; the cameraman, Randy; our cook, Nancy (who makes the best sweet tea ever); my bosses for giving me the time off; and most of all to Guy and everyone at Eastmans’ for making all of this possible.