June/July 2012 EHJ (Issue 131) - Elk season was the result of a series of events starting in the summer of 2002. A college internship in Denver, Colorado led me to a new friend who took me under his wing on a couple of high country scouting trips that summer. Many of his backcountry fundamentals soaked in over a three-day trip and at that point I knew this alpine country would be a place I’d frequent in future years.
I returned a couple years later for a solo archery elk hunt that yielded several close encounters, but no bull. After college graduation the following spring, I moved to Colorado for the year and spent all my spare time scouting the high country. The scouting paid off as we took a couple archery bulls on a hunt my dad, Larry, and brother, Chad, joined me on that fall. I also found a sleeper unit that I thought had great potential and wanted to focus on building points to hunt that unit.
After a few years of negative results in the draw, Chad and I drew muzzleloader tags for the unit and dad joined us with a cow tag. All the work, time, money and effort to prepare for a high country hunt and trailer our mules from Iowa was worth it. We had amazing encounters with mature bulls in the alpine country, but had tough luck retrieving the trophy bulls; even with well-placed shots. At that point, we decided we wouldn’t return with muzzleloaders unless the state relaxed their restrictions. I was able to harvest a 6x6, but we still agreed not to return with the smokepoles.
Chad and I had expired our points, but dad had been acquiring points since 2006 and we thought he could hook an early rifle tag. We decided if dad could draw the tag we would all go try to help him tie into a quality bull. Dad was getting older and these timberline hunts weren’t getting any easier. We thought this would be a great opportunity to get him a retirement bull. In past hunts, my brother and I took off to distant ridges and basins calling for each other while dad hunted solo. If dad drew the tag, this would be a chance to actually hunt with him. Well, he hooked the tag and the planning began. We knew we were going into an area with great odds of shooting that 270-plus bull we were after.
We had our gear prepped, mules conditioned, gun dialed in, and dad pushed himself to get in shape the best he could. I was confident enough in my knowledge of the hunting area and the bull quality that I thought the odds were in our favor of getting an opportunity at a trophy bull…little did I know what was in store for us.
We drove to the mountains from northeast Iowa on Wednesday and finished the drive to the trailhead Thursday morning. We stopped to double check the rifle in a clearing where we could reach out 100 yards. We live at 1,000 ft. elevation and had the gun zeroed at 200 yards. We were checking the rifle at 10,000 ft., but were hunting at over 12,000 ft. Obviously the rifle was shooting high, but dad was hesitant to adjust the Leupold so some calculations were made and he decided to hunt with what we thought was a 350-yard zero.
We finished the drive to the trailhead, packed up the mules, and Chad and I made it to our campsite by 12:30 p.m. while dad stayed at the trailer to relax and acclimate. A few snow squalls moved in before we had camp set, but the tent and picketline were up, and the water was pumped before glassing that evening. I was able to spot a cow to the north where I was expecting to see elk come above timberline to feed. Soon after, wind gusts picked up to 35-50 mph and visibility was minimal so I headed in.
For a full account of Larry's adventure, go to page 46 in the June/July 2012 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.