Do Shoot The First 6x6 You See

By Dave Hamling
Colorado, 2009, DIY, Public Land
Don't Shoot The First 6x6 You SeeJune/July 2011 EHJ (Issue 125) -  "Don’t shoot the first 6x6 you see!” This is the standard recommendation from the experts when you are about to venture into one of Colorado’s premier elk hunts.

Are you kidding me? For someone who has been chasing wapiti for 40 years and has been able to harvest a 5x5, a 4x5, a smaller raghorn, a spike, and a few cow elk, passing up any 6x6 would be a major challenge.

In 2002, my buddy, Roger, drew this license, so I had a good resource. I was still in the mindset that it would still be years before I would draw, so what does one do when it really happens? After the reality sinks in, then the pressure begins. This is not an opportunity you want to “screw up”, but you know how elk hunting goes…

I was initially convinced that I would have ample opportunity to observe multiple bulls and objectively decide which ones may meet my criteria of “not shooting the first 6x6.” The next morning, as we set out to explore the variety of drainages to hunt, that would be put to the test. Actual critter sightings and fresh sign soon become nonexistent. A little disappointment and doubt began to creep in - did I mention pressure?

The balmy fall weather soon took a significant nosedive. Heavy winds and rain turning to snow was changing the landscape.

Opening morning we were up early and arrived at a trailhead much before dawn. The wind had subsided some, but just enough so that we could stand and walk on the thin coat of snow and ice without getting blown over - the wind chill must have been at the minus level.

The trail (actually an old logging road) we took was marked as “Walk-in or Horse Traffic Only.” It seemed like a good option, but after a half a mile and the arrival of shooting light, we were a little startled to have a pickup overtake us and proceed into the woods ahead. It wasn’t a great start to the hunt.

After some indecision, we headed north into heavier timber and hopefully away from the truck-bound intruders. Finally emerging from woods too thick to walk through, we came to a vicinity of broken timber, open ridges, and ponds. It looked like ideal stuff to me – and no sign of pickups.

Roger spotted a few critters on a ridge nearly a mile away. More glassing and the few elk turned into 100 and what appeared to be several good bulls.

We charted a path and began our approach, making good progress until a couple of shots rang out. By the time we got to where we could see what was happening, the elk had vanished. After further glassing, we spotted another pickup on the opposite side of the valley, above where the elk had been. We figured the herd might have moved to our east, away from the shots, so we headed in that direction. Shortly, we came to a dreaded “Private Property” fence and we followed it until we came to yet another.

Decision time again. While we pondered our options, a large bull wandered out of the timber below, crossing 80 yards away and quickly out of sight. We tried to coax him with our cow call, but to no avail; he never showed himself. Somewhat discouraged, we headed back to camp for a warm lunch.

That afternoon we headed back to the vicinity south of the private property where we had heard the midday bugling. As we worked our way northeast, the bugles picked up. We crept forward to the edge of a long narrow clearing and a chorus of bugles came from just beyond the opposite tree line.

There were at least four bulls talking within a 300-yard radius. We hunkered down in the trees and attempted to coax them with a variety of cow calls. This time the cow calls were getting rapid responses and the closest bull was screaming at us! We also got some sporadic cow responses. I was in a constant ready-toshoot position. How could the bugles be that close and the elk still invisible?

Dave Hamling

For a full account of Dave's adventure, go to page 18 in the June/July 2011 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.