PART I OF VI
This is part one of a six part series where I will share my journal with you. Because it is a copy of my journal, I will get intimate and emotional at times. I will mention gear, what worked and what didn’t for future reference. And I will try to capture the context of the hunt so that I can reflect on it years from now. I hope you enjoy the hunt!
I started doing a DIY archery elk hunt in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with my buddy, Scott Willingham back in 2012. Scott and I founded Fever Pursuit together and he is now the Director of FCA Motocross. Our group has sense grown to include good friend Chris Leonard of Outtech Outdoors, and we were joined this year by Jeremy Cason. This is a trip I prepare for all year and think about daily. It has become somewhat of an obsession to be honest. We do it the hard way, on public land in over the counter units where success doesn’t come easily. These remote and rugged places have a unique way of putting things into perspective for me. Without taking a bush plane, it is just about as far as you can get from the controlled environment that I live in and work in daily. No cell phones, text messages or email, and no scheduled calendar. The weather determines our next move and elk answer to no one’s schedule. This is a challenging hunt both physically and mentally. In 2015 I was fortunate to harvest a great 5X6 bull in the San Juan National Forest. I learned a lot on that hunt. This season we are headed into the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado, 288,210 acres of the most rugged country in the west. Our goal is the same, to harvest a mature bull elk with a bow.
Leaving for ten days won’t be easy this year. I have been blessed with exponential growth at my real estate business Mock Ranches and our hunting firm Fever Pursuit which are demanding a lot of time. Family will be far more difficult to leave. Maddox is two now and he wants to go hunting with dada. He wears his toy binoculars around the house all day and looks for deer. He even wears them to go potty. I can already since that I will miss Elizabeth deeply. A cold sleeping bag is lonely when I could be snuggling in our warm bed, and freeze-dried Mountain House doesn’t compare to her cooking. Moreover, I will miss her encouragement and companionship. This will be the longest we have been apart in our eight years of marriage.
People have asked me, “How can you be gone for that long?” or “What is your goal for a successful trip?” My answer is always the same. Unless you’ve experienced the mountains the way we do, heard the sounds of bugling elk and missed your family so bad it brings you to tears, you can’t appreciate it or understand it.
Saturday, September 17th:
11:00 AM – Double check gear list (include link to gear list), load truck and drive 4.5 hours to Decatur, TX where we will layover with Elizabeth’s brother and his family. Steven and Lacy are great hosts and he promised to cook homemade brick over pizza around the pool, which I am looking forward to. It’s a 4.5 hour drive so I will be hungry.
8:00 PM – a dozen pizzas down, we are all stuffed and ready for bed. Elizabeth and Maddox fly out of Dallas Love Field in the morning to spend a week with her sister, Kristi in the Texas Pan Handle.
Sunday, September 18th:
5:30 AM – Jeremy and I meet Scott and Chris at the Dodge Ram dealership in Decatur where Scott is dropping his truck off for warranty work. A storm is bearing down on us as we load enough camo, gear and Yeti coolers into Jeremy’s cargo trailer to provision a community of doomsday preppers. After a quick stop for coffee we head NW on 287 to Amarillo where we catch HWY 40, travel West on Historic Route 66 to Clines Corners, then North on 285 through Santa Fe to Espanola, NM. From there it is a short drive up 84 through Chama and into Colorado. By 5:00 PM mountain time we are pulling into Pagos Springs to meet up with Justin Atkisson who will be outfitting our drop camp. Justin is a well know elk hunter who operates San Juan Outfitting, the exclusive outfitter in our part of the Weminuche. After weighing our gear and sorting everything that will need to go on the pack horses, we head into town for dinner at Pagosa Brewing Company, shower and the last bed we will see the next eight days. Tomorrow we head up the mountain.
Monday, September 19th:
8:30 AM- We meet our packer, Rachel at the Trailhead. After loading the panniers onto the mules and saddling horses we start the four hour ride into camp. Racheal is all cowgirl, through and through. A real “puncher.” We don’t ask, but she look to be around 35 yrs old. She tells us she is originally from upstate NY, where when she was a child she told her parents she wanted to take a wagon train out west. Her resume includes cowboying in Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, and leading pack trips in the Grand Canyon. She is the real deal with full-length chaps, custom spurs and a palm-leaf hat with buckaroo crease and telescope crown. She is leading a train of four pack mules behind a pretty bay gelding. My horse is Franky, a proven and sure-footed mountain horse. Bay with one blue eye and a white blazed face. He has a fast gate that seems to annoy the other horses in the pack train. The ride into the Weminuche takes us through colorful aspen forests, river crossings and steep canyons where we quickly realize how remote we are. This is how elk should be hunted! We unload our gear at Basecamp and Racheal leaves with the horses. Base camp consists of two canvas wall tents, four cots and a Coleman stove.
4:00- We decide to scout close to camp and allow our bodies to acclimate while we look for sign close by. Unfortunately there is no sign this low, other than a few fresh moose tracks. The moon is full and there is still a ton of green forage so we figured the elk are still high, above 11,000 feet. Previous reports have indicated a late rut and quiet bulls. Tomorrow we will hunt farther up the mountain and into higher elevation.
Daily totals: 6 miles on horse, 2 miles on foot, high of 60 degrees, camp set at 9,600’.