"High Country Bull Hunt"
Written by Ron Christian
When I moved to a different part of the Colorado Rocky Mountains 13 years ago (1994), I remember thinking how this terrain did not look all that bad. I learned real fast just how wrong I was. All the animals were above 9,000 feet and I could not figure out what happened to all that oxygen I used to breathe. My first couple of years here were mostly spent learning the many basins and drainages. It did not take long to figure out a good spotting scope would be an essential piece of equipment. Most of the time I am spotting from 3 to 5 miles away and then trying to figure out how to get close. Stalking game after spotting it at 3 miles often took anywhere from 2 to 12 hours and I am fortunate that at 47 years old, I'm still able to make my way up, down, and around these majestic and rugged mountains.
For my October 2007 elk hunt, my good friend, Paul Ficklin, was determined he was going with me this year and I was happy to have the help. He had been hunting for a month in the archery season and was in good physical condition. I had been scouting for several weeks and looked at many different bulls. The one we would go after I had spotted about 10 days earlier and had viewed him a few times since. He was hanging out with his harem a good 3 miles off the beaten path, mostly above tree line, close to 12,000 feet in elevation.
My plan was to hike to the top of the ridge and follow the ridge line about a mile and a half to come out directly above the two basins that I hoped to find him in. We were up at 2:30 a.m. and out the door on opening morning.
After finally making it to the top of the ridge at 5:15, I realized we were about 15 minutes behind schedule. By then, Paul was wondering where all that oxygen was that he had down at the house. There are places on the ridge that are only about two feet wide and straight off on both sides. I knew that I needed to make up some time or I would not be in the right place when the sun began rising at around 6:15.
Paul told me later on that my transformation into a mountain goat was quite amazing.
As I looked into the first basin just as it was getting light enough to see I spotted several elk just below me about 200 yards, but no sign of the bigger bull. I backed out, threw my pack back on and headed up the ridge to the south. Looking into the next basin I saw approximately 50 elk lined up and slowly headed back to the south and the safety of the thick spruce trees three drainages away. The bigger bull was at the head of the pack and I just caught a glimpse of him as he headed around the corner. I quickly realized that the only chance I had was to wait for the remaining elk to get around the corner and then head straight across the basin and try to catch them as they crossed the last big basin.
It seemed like an eternity, but the last one finally was out of sight and I was headed out. Reaching the other side and then crossing another smaller drainage, I finally made it to the spot that would be my last chance.
As I peered over that ridge, there they were still lined up with most of them already on the other side…a good 700 yards out. Down in the bottom of the basin at the back of the herd was four 5x5 bulls and a good 6x6, but no sign of the one I was after. The hillside below me was fairly thick with spruce trees that opened up to nothing but slide rock to the south. I did not feel that the bigger bull had time to cross to the other side without me seeing him, so I was fairly confident that he was still below me waiting until he felt it was safe to cross the basin.
It was a good 20 minutes later and most of the elk had gone around the corner out of sight when down below me my boy bugled. He finally came out in the slide rock as I scrambled down the steep hillside to try and get a little closer. He was walking slowly straight away from me as I stopped and pulled out my range finder. A small patch of scrub brush that he had already walked past was the only thing my range finder would pick up at 484 yards. It was now or never as he was over 500 yards out, but I knew my 300 Weatherby Magnum could do the job.
Luck was on my side as there was a tree branch hanging out and even though it was not real solid it gave me a little stability. Putting the cross hairs two feet over the top of his head, I pulled the trigger and watched as he dropped dead in his tracks. As I waited on the ridge for Paul to join me before heading down to the bull, my thoughts went back to my father who taught me to always appreciate every animal I harvested. No my bull will not make any record books, but he is definitely a trophy to me!
Five big horn rams watched as we deboned and packed all the meat away. The last two miles back to the truck it was snowing hard and we were soaking wet. Finally at 7:00 p.m., we made it back to the house. What an awesome hunt with a good friend that I will be telling stories about until the day I die.
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