Hunting & Fishing for Stories & Photos

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Colorado Muzzleloader Elk

For years, my best friend Rick Messmer has been trying to get me to help him with an awesome elk or deer hunt. He has been building points in Colorado since college, and when I recently moved back to my home state, we decided this would be the year for him to chase a big bull. With awesome optics from SWAROVSKI OPTIK, and new full kits of camo from FirstLite, we set out on an adventure of a lifetime.

Rick scouting in his full kit of FirstLite clothing.

Glassing big country with the tripod-mounted SWAROVSKI 12x50 EL SWAROVISION.

make some of the best products for western big game hunting.

He drew a muzzleloader tag for a unit in northwest Colorado known for big bulls, but difficult access. We scouted and decided to give it a go! On the day before the season, we found four shooter bulls, all of them were well over 300", with a couple that I guessed would score in at least the mid-300's. We had Macky Morris, Michael Sisk, and Bryna Larsen there to help us, and on opening morning, a bull walked by us at 53 yards. Rick's first impression was that the bull was too small, and I just couldn't convince myself to tell him otherwise. Shortly thereafter, we had two of the bulls we had found the day before dead-to-rights, but they were on ground we couldn't hunt. There was no fence or sign, but my new Garmin GPSMAP 62st with the Colorado Hunting GPS Map told us. Many people probably would have pushed it, but I'm proud to have a hunting partner willing to let the bull of his dreams walk in lieu of breaking the law.

Over the next couple days we chased more bulls, but didn't get another opportunity. On the fourth morning, we set up on the path we thought the elk would take, and sure enough they walked right into our laps. Now, this was Rick's first rut hunt so he was completely unprepared for the adrenalin rush he experienced with about 30 cows bearing down on us as two huge bulls and one small 5x5 bugled, fought, ran one another off, and chased cows all within 100 yards of us. As they were coming, I told Rick not to shoot the 5x5, but shoot either of the other two bulls; whichever cleared first. It just so happened that the 350-class 6x6 cooperated first. He ran some cows off to the right, ran back left, and then turned right again and stood clear. I ranged the bull at 93 yards with my SWAROVSKI OPTIK 8x42 EL RANGE binoculars, and then watched through them as Rick shot. I saw dust kick up beyond the bull; he shot right over his back!

He quickly reloaded, but the elk had all bunched up and ran off by the time he was finished. Rick was utterly flabbergasted, and then severely disappointed for missing. We talked a lot about the shot, and have many times since the hunt. I think it was nothing more and nothing less than a severe case of buck fever.

We were definitely hunting in big bull country!

On one rub, we even found a bunch of recently stripped velvet.

We went home for a couple days, and went to the range just to make sure the muzzleloader was still sighted in, and to re-instill some of Rick's confidence. We went back the second weekend and glassed up three good bulls in the evening. The closest bull had two cows and a calf with him, and unlike the two others, he starting moving early. He had to cross a deep drainage we nicknamed the "pit of despair" and did so way faster than I thought possible. He caught us completely flat-footed. Rick had considered moving down to intercept him, but never spoke up. I simply screwed up!

With the bull and his small harem on the move, we rushed to get in front of them. As we were running down through the rimrock, I stepped off a ledge and landed squarely on a baseball-sized rock. My ankle crumpled and I crashed to the ground. I reached into my boot and did not feel any bones sticking out so we kept going, trying to get in front of the bull. Rick thought I was crazy and kept asking if I was alright. I knew I wasn't, but we needed to try to get that bull. With all the commotion, the bull was still following the same path, but I just couldn't move fast enough. We finally got to where we wanted to be, but he was nowhere in sight. We then had to hike back to the pickup, which was no say the least!

Needless to say, my twisted ankle hurt our hunting. I went out the next two days, and according to the GPS hiked over nine miles. However, I was slow and had to use trekking poles just to keep my balance on flat ground. We heard elk and saw elk, but never had another chance at a good bull.

When I got home, I had my wife the physical therapist look at it and she told me it was either a severe sprain, or an avulsion fracture. An avulsion fracture is where a tendon or ligament pulls away from the bone and either takes a chunk, or just cracks the bone. Either way, the treatment is the same. As I write this, it has been over seven weeks and in addition to the nine miles during the elk hunt, we also moved into a new house, and I chased mountain goats with another friend, so I haven't exactly babied it. However, it still hurts and I'm afraid it will take a while until it feels normal again.

My twisted ankle definitely put a hamper on our hunting.

As for Rick's elk hunt, we had an awesome time reconnecting in the woods. We worked well together, he had multiple opportunities at bulls anyone would be proud of, he saw more bulls and bigger bulls than he ever has, and we got to listen to elk bugle and fight. The only thing Rick didn't do was kill an elk. But that's hunting. He could have killed a bunch of elk, but he was selective and ethical. A guy like that can be my wing man anytime!

Glassing with SWAROVSKI OPTIK 10x42 SLC HDs gave
Rick an advantage over the few other hunters in the area.