By Shane Chuning
The 2012 season was definitely an odd year for me. I usually spend hours in the field hanging cameras along with plenty of scouting. Generally, I started doing this the first part of May when I lived in Utah. I put lots of miles in the backcountry exploring different areas every year while keeping my tried and true areas near to my heart for back up.
Well, the 2012 year was completely different, due to the recession which had me looking for other avenues for work. This led to zero scouting or hanging cameras. I realized something had to change due to the direction my life was headed. To make a long story short, this brought my family to Colorado in July 2012. I was optimistic about the hunting possibilities due to the population of elk, along with plenty of OTC do-it-yourself opportunities.
I had really no intentions of even hunting for the 2012 season, with getting the family settled and work established. This would have been the first time since I started hunting that I was not going to be out during the archery season, chasing elk and mule deer in the backcountry. With the season fast approaching, I could not take it anymore and had to buy an over-the-counter (OTC) archery tag for elk. With these over-the-counter or leftover limited licenses, no applications are needed. Colorado is the only state that offers an unlimited quantity of over-the-counter elk licenses for archery and two rifle seasons. This is made possible by the huge population of 280,000+ head of elk; Colorado is home to the largest population in the world. These licenses cover about 50 percent of the Colorado GMU’s and do not limit your hunt to one unit. They are a great “general” license option and don’t require preference points. They can also be purchased until the night before the season starts. Now with a tag in hand, I had to come up with a plan.
While in Utah, I would help a couple guys in Colorado with bow tuning info, arrow spine, etc. They knew about my move to Colorado and gave me some ideas for areas to check out. One of the ideas was right up my alley for the kind of pack-in-backcountry hunts I have grown to be fond of. This particular one was in some wilderness area right around 12,500 ft elevation. With some research on Google Earth, it looked rather promising, so I planned on making that my opening day destination.
This was about three hours from my house so I got up early Friday, the day before the 2012 archery season with my gear in hand, ready for a 5-day hunt. When I arrived, the terrain looked pretty steep, which I was expecting. I started off on my hike at about 9,000 ft, so I had a 3,500 ft elevation climb that I was hoping to make within a couple of hours before dark. I figured this would give me time to glass some of the basins down below, once I got up there. Everything started off well and I was pushing at a pace that would put me there in roughly five hours. When I got to about 11,500, I came upon some huge rocky areas with the potential for rock slides, which is probably fairly common in this area. At this time it started to rain, then thunder, lightning and a decent amount of hail started coming down at a pretty good rate. I turned back and took cover to wait out the bad weather, then proceeded back to the rock slide area above timberline.
From that point I did a little glassing and decided to make the trek across the rocky terrain to a point I had spotted that would make a good place to set up camp. This is where everything went south and I got stuck in a rockslide. I had a couple of three to four foot boulders just about wipe me out by lodging one of my legs between some rocks. Luckily I was able to get free from that with no injuries. The whole time this happened, my wife’s voice was in the back of my mind telling me, “You really need to have a hunting partner”. The last 10 years of hunting, this seldom happened. I was generally one that hunted alone, always finding it hard to find others that were as driven and dedicated to the backcountry as me. Not to mention my busy schedule, it was hard to find planned time for others to go. Needless to say, I came down off the mountain early that trip and felt it was time to fulfill my wife’s wishes.
This brought me to an area that another buddy had told me about. I really didn’t want to go due to how many people he already had with him and felt like I didn’t want to add one more guy to his camp. Then again, with the move and not knowing the area, I did not have many options, so I took him up on his offer to join him. I got there late; they were all around the camp fire talking about their close encounters during the week, as well as some missed opportunities. It was actually a nice change of pace from the solitude; I am accustomed to hunting solo. We started talking about the morning hunt, however everybody at camp was worn out from the week so they were going to sleep in. I couldn’t wait so I decided to go out anyway and give it a shot the next morning.
Not knowing the area, I asked what direction would be best since it was dark when I got there and I had no visual of the terrain from the night before. I woke up about 3:30 am, got ready and headed out of camp. I had hiked about two miles from camp, so I figured I would throw out a couple of bugles. To my surprise I had several responses and decided to call a couple more times to see if they were interested. Sure enough, they seemed to be getting closer, so I decided to stay quiet and wait for shooting light.
Once it got to legal shooting light I decided to bugle and sure enough, they were closing in. I had to scramble to get into position, so I proceeded to get behind some downed trees to give me an open shot at multiple angles. The first bull appeared and stayed about 80 yards from me, raking a small sapling pine tree. The calling back and forth went on for about 20 minutes before he decided to go his separate way. I thought my chance was blown, then out of the corner of my eye I see another bull headed straight for that same pine tree. We called back and forth for about 20-25 minutes. At one point he started to head off and I called him back again. I really had no opportunity from where I was to make a clean shot, so I decided to let him walk away briefly. Then I high tailed it to a huge pine that was about 50-60 yards from the sapling he was raking. I got settled in and bugled in hope that he would return.
Sure enough, he came back bugling and headed for that same tree. I still could not close the deal and get him to come around the big pine I was behind. Quickly, I decided to start breaking the branches and raking the pine that I was behind. This was enough to get his attention. He started to make a move to my right to see what was going on. I decided to come to full draw and wait to see if he would come far enough around. Sure enough, he came within 45 yards, so I decided to take the shot and sealed the deal.
My 2012 archery season was memorable to say the least. Another successful elk hunt is always rewarding. I am looking forward to hunting with a couple guys this year and not running it solo. I’m sure it will bring about some good friendships and the good Lord willing, another successful season. Not to mention my wife will feel at ease that others will be with me as well.