June/July 2013 EHJ (Issue 137) - I got home September 4th about 9 p.m. to see my answering machine blinking. The message was from Ike Eastman, notifying me that I was Eastmans’ 2012 grand prize winner of an elk hunt in Colorado. I immediately looked at the area code of the phone number and realized it was not a prank call. I have NEVER won anything before. I couldn’t wait to call Eastmans’ and talk to Ike.
I called Eastmans’ the next day and was greeted by Heather, who said my name was spoken of all over the office. Ike and I discussed the hunt details. I would meet his brother Guy in Trinidad, Colorado for the hunt of a lifetime. I knew it would be, but did not realize how great it would be.
As previous winners have admitted, the first thing they do is notify all their friends, relatives, and fellow hunters of the good fortune just laid on them. I was no different. A daily check of the rifle and personal accuracy, bullet performance, and physical tune-up were put into action. I couldn’t wait until September 28th.
Before I knew it, September 28th was upon me and I was in Trinidad, Colorado getting acquainted with Guy Eastman and his cameraman, John. We talked briefly about the upcoming hunt, how Guy looks forward to it every year, and what a great time we would have. Next, we drove to the Hill Ranch where I met Paul, our guide, Nancy our cook (and what a great one), two other guides – Marty and Justin, and one other client, Keith, who was finishing up an archery elk hunt.
Guy, John, and I went to make sure the rifle was sighted in. We went back to the ranch to discuss how the hunt would play out for us if all went as planned. We talked about bull elk development, ages and antler size, what to look for in a shooter, and how we would be passing on bulls that appear to be larger than they really are. Having never been on a guided elk hunt before, I felt this is where I trust the professionals, and believe me, Guy and Paul know what they are looking for and how to get it done.
Both Guy and Paul emphasized to me the main objective of the hunt was to make this the hunt of a lifetime. They said they wanted me to have fun, relax, and enjoy the whole experience. Guy presented me with a box of hunting gear that was overwhelming, from shooting sticks to a backpack, and much more. Thank you, Guy, and all the folks at Eastmans’.
It was time to head out for the evening to check out several areas Paul had in mind for the next morning. We saw several elk and one big bodied bull that we definitely wanted to see the following morning. On the way back to the lodge, we saw several other elk in the headlights.
At the lodge I met the owner Bobby Hill, and Dottie. What gracious hosts, full of congratulations for being drawn for the hunt, and all kinds of encouragement for good hunting.
The next morning, Paul had us up and ready to go. We saw several elk through the headlights on the way to an area we wanted to check out. After a couple of weak responses to some calling by Paul, we spotted a 6x6 with some cows. I was watching him in the scope at about 100 yards when I heard "don’t shoot” from Guy. He estimated the bull at about 320 inches. Guy and Paul both said there were better bulls.
We called in a four-year-old 5x5 to less than 40 yards. He was bugling along with the 6x6, so there was some great footage for videos. We saw six to eight more bulls, but no shooters, and heard several more that would not show themselves. We decided to go back to the ranch for lunch and make a plan for the evening hunt.
That evening, we saw a decent bull on adjacent land, so there was no stalk there. But, the last hour we called a 340-350 bull to within 400 yards. We were feeling this might be our bull but the mountain thermals changed the breeze and we were busted… game over.
The next morning started very slowly, so we decided to check out a burn area where Paul spotted a herd with several bulls in it. The herd split and at least two mature bulls left with some cows, offering no shot. The other part of the herd had two smaller bulls in it. Things were definitely looking up.
Next we spotted a lone, bedded bull. He looked good from a distance, but Guy said he didn’t have the headgear we wanted. We moved on and ran into a herd of about 30 elk. There was at least one mature bull, but they saw us first and were gone.
About 9 a.m., we heard two bulls bugling and decided to set up an ambush. Guy, John, and I got set up and Paul got about 25 yards away and began to cow call.
After several back and forth calling sessions, one bull decided to check out his intruder. He came out of the Ponderosa pines and started toward us. He had six points on one side and a bunch of broken antlers on the other. It was a no-shoot situation, but that bull gave us all the excitement we wanted. He came up the side of the mountain, walked within 30 yards at one point, went to the top of the ridge, and walked within 25 feet from us. Guy said to hold our ears as he was about to "blow our eardrums out.” He did just that. Paul had to throw stones at the bull to keep from getting walked on. Guy asked me if that was worth the price of a subscription. It definitely was.
That evening, we went to a place Paul figured we would have a chance to see some elk. Upon arrival, there were already elk in the meadow and bulls bugling from all directions. We quickly planned where we wanted to set up. After a 15-minute walk we were at our spot.
What followed for the next hour or two blew me away. We spotted a mature 5x6, 350-plus bull that Guy felt was a great bull. His antlers had the size and mass that most hunters dream of and Guy said if the bull presented a shot, I should take it. I agreed.
This bull was definitely a herd bull. He spent his time chasing off intruding bulls, fighting and winning, herding cows that strayed away from the herd, breeding cows, bugling, looking for more cows, and most of all, not getting shot. As last light faded and we walked back to our vehicle in the dark there were still elk running by us. This had been a great day of elk hunting.
The following morning we went back to where we were the previous afternoon and found out my herd bull had been aced out by a younger 6x6 that had his number three tine broken on one side. The younger bull must have whipped him sometime during the night. We watched as that herd went to their bedding area and then to another one of Paul’s honey holes. We spotted another herd and saw a great bull with a non-typical set of antlers.
Paul looked at me and said, "Well, which bull do you want?”
Remembering last evening, I said I would like to shoot the 5x6 with the heavy antlers. There were two mature bulls in that group, the 5x6 that gave me a great show the day before and the new 6x6. Our plan was established, time for lunch.
That afternoon we left a couple hours earlier than previous days, as the weather was changing and we felt the elk would move earlier. We arrived about 3:00 and set up at the same meadow, a few hundred yards closer to the timber, hoping to intercept the herd earlier.
We spotted another herd about 700- 800 yards away. There were bulls with that herd, but not the quality of the bulls we saw the day before.
Guy said a herd was leaving a bedding area up the mountain and it looked as if they would come our way. About 30 to 40 minutes later we saw cows and calves coming out of the pines to the meadow. A satellite bull or two appeared, then the two bulls we had seen that morning, including "my” bull.
A spike was moving down to a water hole and stopped to check the wind. We were worried he might have gotten our scent but he went back to the herd. Shortly after that, the 5x6 and 6x6 started coming toward us.
Paul said, "We’ve got a problem. Which one do we shoot?”
Guy said, "The closest one!”
We didn’t have to worry. The 6x6 figured he’d better get back to his cows, and begin to walk back to them. The 5x6 kept coming towards us. Guy asked if I was relaxed and ready for the shot. I was.
The bull got to 300 yards and Paul stopped him with a cow call. That was all I needed. I fired and he went down with one shot. All I remember was Paul telling me to stay on him in case he got up.
I could hear Guy telling John, "We just got a 350+ STUD on video” and, "another grand prize winner got a one-shot kill.”
After several congratulations and handshakes, Paul suggested that he and I walk up to the bull by ourselves, just in case the bull was still alive. No one wants to lose a wounded animal.
When we arrived at the bull, we saw he had expired. He was huge. I couldn’t believe the mass of his antlers. Both Guy and Paul were sure he would score over 350, and weigh around 800 pounds. I was impressed to say the least. After pictures, field dressing, and a few more hand shakes and congratulations, we loaded him up and headed for the ranch.
After dinner, I couldn’t help but realize what a great group of people I had met. We were perfect strangers four days before and now I felt as though we had been friends for years. Everyone was happy for me and hoped I’d truly had the hunt of a lifetime. There was no doubt I had.
The day I had to leave, Grant, another of the guides who is an official scorer for the RMEF, scored my bull. Grant came up with 352 5/8 inches.
I reflect back to September 5th when I spoke with Ike Eastman about the hunt and him saying this will be a hunt to remember. How right he was.
Many thanks to Bobby Hill and Dottie for making me part of the Hill Ranch family for five days, Paul Brown for his excellent guiding and calling, Nancy who made sure all the meals and lodging were done to perfection, and John, who got a lot of awesome photos and video, and especially Guy, who did a terrific job of preparing me to take a great bull. What a professional. I also want to thank the Entire Eastmans’ organization for their qual ity product ions, videos, and publ ications. What a great hunt – definitely "worth the price of the subscription.”