I’m not sure who first said, “Bring enough gun,” but it was about hunting dangerous game on the Dark Continent, Africa. When you’re a hunter, the truth is that kinetic energy (KE) and momentum (P) are your friends. The more you hit the animal with, usually the better the result. This is especially true when you’re shot is not where you wanted it to be. There are always factors about the shooter and how much the shooter can handle. While all those factors are true, I’m an advocate of shooting as much KE or P as you can possibly stand. That advocacy comes from experience and this hunt is part of that experience.
My hunting buddy, First Sergeant Marshall “Mark” Ware, and I both killed a bull elk on public land during the first week of elk season in 2009. We were elated with our success, but there was something else – during the hunt we saw a lot of black bears. During long drive home, we decided that we should also hunt black bears during our 2010 elk hunt. The challenge with hunting bears is getting the tag. The elk tags are unlimited and Over-the-Counter (OTC). The bear tags are also OTC, but their number is capped, and they are “first come, first served”. That year there were 40 tags available for black bear in the elk unit we hunt in the Gunnison National Forest. To get a bear tag, you must fill out your application online in July and sit there and wait for 11:00am Kentucky time, 9:00am Colorado time and immediately press “send”. Then hope and pray you got one of the 40 tags, because they sell out instantly. The big problem for us, was that Mark would be on vacation with his family on the day of the draw. So, there I was sitting at my computer, with two applications loaded on split screen. I’m waiting for the minute hand on my watch to click over to vertical, 11:00am. It does, and I hit send on Mark’s application, then send on my application. Praise the Lord! We both got the bear tags.
Labor Day weekend rolls around and Mark shows up to get me in his “Cowboy Cadillac” Dodge Pickup. He literally got every option Dodge had on this thing and the cockpit looks like Darth Vader’s bathroom. We hooked up the trailer with the chest freezer and gear in it and we’re headed west. We drive straight from Kentucky to Denver and stop at Super WalMart. We smile and cajole the night manager and she sells us our over the counter elk tags. We are now legal to hunt elk and bear! The elation of having the tags wears off quick and we make a tired poor decision to sleep in the WalMart parking lot. Mark pulls up next to an island in the parking lot, gets into the landscaping, crawls into his sleeping bag, pistol in hand and goes right to sleep. I think, “Well he is a bit off center, always has been.” I shrug my shoulders and get into the truck and fall immediately into a deep sleep.
HOLY MARY MOTHER OF GOD!!! What is that sound! I’m bouncing off the windows, seats, radio, and center console like a cat shoved into a microwave on high power. Mark’s iPhone alarm is going off to the tune of, “BATTLE STATIONS! BATTLE STATIONS!” I’m scrambling and cussing up a storm trying to find this devil phone, when I bail out of the truck screaming. HOLY MARY MOTHER OF GOD!!! It got worse, now the truck alarm is also going off, “BWANG! BWANG!” I am now high stepping across the parking lot and in the back ground I can still hear his devil phone, “BATTLE STATIONS, BATTLE STATIONS!” I’m am rolling across the parking lot half-dressed, shoeless and in a full-on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder moment. I turn back toward the truck, still cussing a blue streak, when I see Mark hopping around in his sleeping bag yelling, “Sir what the hell!” He could not get the zipper down and has his Kimber 1911 pointing out the hole in the top of the sleeping bag. As he hops toward me, he looks like one seriously mean, pissed off, well-armed caterpillar. Then I see the WalMart Rent-a-Cop coming our way full speed. He turned toward the commotion, not knowing what he was getting into. When he saw us, the shock and fear were apparent on his face. Then he simply turned around and left us alone as fast as his little rent-a-cop car would carry him.
It took a while, but I calm down and start walking back toward the truck. Mark has turned off the “BWANG, BWANG” of the truck alarm, but the devil phone is still blaring, “BATTLE STATIONS, BATTLE STATIONS”. When all is settled down I think, “Well that 1 minute of sleep was awesome.” We laughed our asses off and decide to find a Waffle House. We will get enough sleep when we are dead anyway, what a night. Over waffles and egg sandwiches we realize that Mark meant to take his phone with him but failed to do that. He also failed to account for the time change when he set the alarm, so that’s why it went off the instant we went to sleep. Even better, Mark locked me in the truck with his key fob. So, when I ran from the evil phone alarm, it set the truck alarm off. The sad part was, those two alarms nearly cost the WalMart Rent-a-Cop his life. All is well that ends well. We’re off to elk camp.
We roll into camp before lunch and are greeted by two of our favorite people in the world, Jim and Linda Hockenberry. We catch up about life since last year and decide it’s time to hunt. The scenario is the same as last year – we walk about a half mile on Jim’s ranch in any direction and reach the fence. When we cross the fence, we are on public land. We have hunted the public land around Jim’s long enough to become acquainted with the names for all the good spots. Mark and I will hunt the same spots as last year. Mark will hunt “Teepee”. I will hunt “Emery’s Pond”. Before we leave, Jim gives the same advice as last year,” Look-it, listen-here, the elk in this basin have been chased into it by other hunters all around us. The elk stay, because we’ve got good cover, good water, and good food. Don’t chase them out and they will be here for the entire season. Sit real still until mid morning when even the birds stop singing, then come in for lunch, a nap and shoot your bow. Then get back out and in your stand by 3:00pm. Stay on stand, until you cannot see your sight pins anymore. Then come in for dinner. Do that all five days and I guarantee you’ll see elk, probably kill one.” Last year, we had six hunters in camp and we took six elk following Jim’s advice. That first evening, Mark saw three young bulls in range for the last hour at dark and decides not to shoot. I didn’t see a thing, but man was I happy to be back in the Rockies hunting elk and bear!
The next morning, as the other hunters head to the main house for breakfast, Mark and I choke down Cliff Bars, coffee and hike out to our stands. My walk is almost a mile uphill to at 8,400 feet. It is my first morning at altitude and I take it slow. I am in the stand an hour before dawn. The grey morning light comes long before the sun’s warming rays peer over the mountain tops. I’m shivering uncontrollably but I am trying to be quiet about it. It was in the low 90s when we left Kentucky two days ago, it is 38F this morning in Colorado. It takes two hours for the suns warm lusty rays to finally crest the ridge in front of me and hit my face. The morning has been graveyard still. Before long, the shivering stops, I’m warmer and I’m asleep.
Aww heck, I’m stiff. What’s that sound? Leave me alone - I’m sleeping. Oh no! I’ve been sleeping! Got to wake up. What’s that sound? There it is again. Shit! There’s a ginormous black bear right in front of me. They say that talking to yourself is the first sign of mental illness. Well a bunch of folks will tell you that it’s too late for me. Which is why, the first thing I do is talk to myself, “Okay Self, breath deep and quiet. He doesn’t know you’re here, be cool. He’s about to drink. Get a range. Great 24 yards, that’s an easy shot. He raised his head. He’s looking around and checking the air for scent of danger. Wait until he drinks again. Okay he’s drinking, draw your bow, level the bubble, center the peep, pin on target, squeeze…WHAP! The arrow hit’s its mark. The bear whirls about and crashes up hill. I’m elated and check my watch, 10:30am. I regain my composure and climb down. I pull out my pistol and go check for blood. There is no immediate blood trail. Wow, really? I’m shocked. Then I look for the arrow. It sliced right through the bruin and is stuck deep into the mud. A clean pass through is always a good thing. The arrow is covered in bright red blood. That’s lung blood, which is another good thing. Now, I am sure that I brought enough bow and I hit my mark. Time to go have lunch and let him die.
Everyone in camp is buzzing with the news that I’ve shot a bear on the first morning. All the normal questions abound, “How big is he?”, “Did he make the death moan?”, “How far was the shot?”, “Did you hear him go down?” I try to answer as best I can, but I’m fired up and nervous. After lunch we go track the bear. Jim tells me I didn’t find blood right away because of their thick heavy coat, “Takes about 100 yards to really start dripping. Their coat soaks up the blood for a while, don’t worry.” We track about 70 yards and find good blood. Shortly after that, we find my bear laying flat on his back as if he’s trying to get a sun tan. This is when I realize what I’ve done. This is a big bear.
Jim’s son, BJ, has the #6 black bear in Colorado history and is ranting and raving about the size of my bear. He is convinced it’s the second biggest bear they’ve ever taken in their camp, second only to his. I can only agree. What the hell do I know? It’s my first bear hunt. What I can tell you is that even after we field dressed the bear, it took four grown men to roll him down the mountain. After getting the bear back to camp, I showered up and went back on stand to find the bull elk of my dreams. Wouldn’t you know it, about 5:00pm another big bear showed up on the exact same line as my bear, this one was browner and blond versus the jet black of my bear. He stopped a yard closer, 23 yards. All I could do was hope Mark was having the same luck at Teepee.
We later took the measurements and my bear’s skull. It was more than enough to make the Pope and Young record book. Everyone was pumped back in camp. After skinning the bear, we hung him overnight to cool. Later that night, one of the men in camp, Buddy Boone, direct descendant of Daniel Boone, came in and handed Jim an arrow covered in blood. Then he said, “I’ve got a present for you!” He had a gorgeous big 5x5 bull down. After seeing Buddy’s bull, we all went to bed very excited about the next day, until the next day came. The weather turned foul on us and never stopped. It was a mixture of brief good conditions, thunder storms, freezing cold, gale force winds and weird rainbows in sunny drizzle.
The third night we had one of those discussions around camp, boastful discussions, about who was going to fill their tags in the morning. We had spent too much time indoors and started getting silly. I was quiet until the end. Then I got up and said, “Jim get the meat wagon ready about 9:00am. I’ll have an elk down by then.” That was met with some, “Yeah right!” and “Sure you will” and uproariously laughter. I simply smiled and went to bed, because I thought it was going to happen.
The fourth morning was cold and quiet, but right as the sun was coming up it turned nasty. I hunkered down in my climbing stand, high up in an aspen tree and rode it out. Before too long, the storm blew over and the sun’s rays warmed up my sorry soaking cold body. Then at exactly 8:00am, a mature cow, a yearling cow, and a calf elk came thundering down the meadow to my left. They milled about and never set still. I had my bow ready to draw and was trying to stop shivering from the cold. They never stopped nervously moving. The wind was right. I had an aspen tree to my left, whose branches totally concealed me. It wasn’t me making them nervous. Something chased them over the mountain and into my meadow. About the time they were going to leave, the yearling cow started to walk calmly toward me. I drew my bow just as she was about to walk into the clear, but she stopped. Then I realized I could see a vertical crease in her golden hide through the tree limbs. I thought, “That’s the crease behind the shoulder, I can hit her lungs from here if I can snake my arrow through the opening.” I relaxed, held dead aim and I let the arrow fly. WHAP! A good hit! I pushed that arrow through the hole in the limbs! Then, she spins and almost falls. OH NO! That was not her shoulder crease! It was her hindquarter crease! I have shot her through the hindquarter! The thickest muscle in her body! She almost fell on impact though. The arrow hit her hard. She’s wobbly. Her mother is calling to her. She runs away. I hear a crash. I shake convulsively, thinking, “What just happened?
I gather myself and head back to camp for lunch. It’s 8:15am and I need the meat wagon. I guess I was right. We talk about the shot and decide to give her some time. We wait a full five hours before heading out to track her. The track is easy in some places, hard in others, but we find her. The truth is that Jim and BJ are amazing trackers. The best I’ve seen in the U.S. I am so very happy to be tagged out in such terrible conditions. We are also lucky and blessed that the rain didn’t wash away the blood trail, because about the time she’s hanging in the skinning shed, a hard rain starts.
I take a break relax and gather myself before I skin her out and let her hang to cool the meat before further processing. When I cut the hindquarter off it falls to the ground. I didn’t have to separate the femur from the hip socket in the pelvis. My arrow cut the femur bone in half. We have all heard the saying, “Bring enough gun.” Well friends I’m here to tell you that you should always, “Bring enough bow”. Kinetic energy and momentum simply make up for bad shots.
Mark is one tough SOB and hunted every single minute of daylight regardless of conditions. He had rutting moose all around him every day. Bears challenged him on the way to the stand in total darkness. He could also hear elk running the ridge 300 yards up the hill behind him, but he never got a shot. You cannot say, no one can say, he didn’t give it his all. He is also one of the best hunting partners God ever invented.
The long drive back to Kentucky was made better because we had an elk and a bear in the freezer. The only thing that could have made this trip better is having two elk and two bears in the freezer.
Here’s what you need, “soup to nuts” to serve up your own similar elk hunt -
____ A willing soul, a semi-stout heart, good legs, feet and hips – priceless
____ Time Off – (# of days) x (what you get paid daily) until you get it done = ???
____ CO Non-Resident Over the Counter Hunting Fishing Combo, Elk Tag and Habitat Stamp $661
____ CO Non-Resident Over the Counter Hunting Fishing Combo, Bear Tag and Habitat Stamp $351
____ Fee to hunt with someone like Jim $2,250
____ Gas & Travel $800 (KY to CO and back)
____ Archery equipment – you should already own it, your deer rig is perfect (fixed blade broadheads)
____ Clothes and boots – you should already own it
____ Blind or climbing stand – neither is necessary, but you should already own it
____ Pack, binos, rangefinder, etc. – you should already own it – deer gear is fine
____ Food & Water – Included, when you hunt with someone like Jim, but you can always add $$$
____ Meat hauling – freezer and drop cord $250
Total Cost: $4,312
Well this is my way to cook up and elk/bear combo. There are certainly other ways. You could pay an outfitter about $6,500 and get everything done for you and potentially hunt private land too. Or you could pay an outfitter $3,500 for a drop camp. Or you could go DIY on public land and reduce costs, but you’re going to need a lot more gear, food and time. Realize the other costs like the licenses/tags are still there and they are expensive, no doubt. You could just do elk or just do bear to reduce the cost. Fall free range bear meat is very good, if processed and cooked properly. You must get the fat off the meat quickly after the kill, but other than that, you can treat the meat like any other game meat – UNTIL you cook it. Then you must cook it well done due to the possibility of trichinosis. We have eaten a couple of bears and enjoy the meat. At the time I’m writing this article, I have another fall free range Colorado bear in the freezer awaiting processing. The cooking is simple, treat it like pork you get from the grocery in terms of temperature when cooked. Paying to stay with someone like Jim is a bargain when you consider you get the following: hot meals and snacks, hardstand cabins with beds to sleep in, very easy walk-in access to public land, and daily showers. Now! Add in the fact that Jim will track and recover your elk – it is a SUPER cheap hunt. Now! Add in the fact that Jim will give you advice from the time you pay your deposit until you kill an elk, you get the point. I highly recommend you drive to Colorado for the hunt. Elk and bear are big animals. Getting your meat processed by a commercial processor and then shipped home is very expensive. Then how would you get your horns and cape home? Probably have the taxidermy done in Colorado and shipped home. Again – very expensive! The way we travel is to pull a small cargo trailer with all our gear in it. We also put a medium sized chest freezer in the trailer. We freeze our game solid before we leave. Then we don’t open the freezer until we get home. It’s always still be frozen, 25hrs later, when we get home. Earlier in our elk hunting careers we tried coolers with dry ice and regular ice. It’s a mess and you’ll spend $200 in ice/dry ice. Please use only fixed blade broadheads on elk. I don’t care what you see on TV. I’ve personally witnessed the loss of more than ½ a elk due to mechanical broadheads being used and failing to penetrate. Most folks simply don’t shoot enough KE or P. Now, if you’re shooting an 80lb bow with 550 grain arrows –maybe you could do it, but I would still go with cut on contact heads. All your deer gear is perfectly fine. My wife has killed 3 elk with a 53lb compound bow, shooting 370gr arrows. Save up $4,500 by putting away $125 in savings or a mason jar monthly and you can go on an elk/bear combo hunt every 3 years. Cut costs and you get there sooner. Remember, the hunt of a lifetime is really the hunt of a summertime. Life is short.