By D. Lynn Hadlock
Over the years I have enjoyed countless successful elk hunting trips. When I say “successful” I don’t mean that all of them have resulted in the harvest of an animal. Successful to me is a feeling of accomplishment, the memories made with friends and family, and the fact that everybody returned home in one piece.
I learned most everything I know of elk hunting by trial and error with my best friend and brother BJ by my side. We have spent nights in lean-to shelters, been cold, underdressed, hungry, and to be honest; half scared to death at times. We packed sub-par equipment, and have spent many days and nights talking about the “someday” theories of hunting.
It has taken us years of blood, sweat and pain, and a couple of good fortune turns, but we have both realized the dream of becoming proficient hunters with the right gear to do the job. The only twist to the story is that now it has become time to hand the tricks of the trade off to a younger generation and become more of a mentor and spectator than the guy pulling the trigger.
The fall of 2011 my daughter Madi turned 12 and was anxious for her first elk hunt. October found us in the mountains of Colorado. Madi had her first Youth Elk Tag and a Remington 25.06 in hand. We spent the better part of five days dragging her out of bed, hours before sunrise, feeding her Pop Tarts on the go, and walking her into the ground. Countless hours of sitting, calling, glassing, and sneaking naps under the boughs of a pinion tree later, we had finally found a bull down in a deep canyon.
The bull answered back to a few cow calls around 4:00 in the afternoon, and due to the fact that the hunt is post rut, the wait was on. Madi was pretty excited at the sound of the first bugle, but two and a half hours later was beginning to lose interest. She was cold, then hungry, and then upset because she had a stomach ache. I tried to console her with the speech on how “hunting isn’t easy” but she wasn’t going to hear it. I tried to tell her that we needed to sit tight for another 15 minutes, and then we could go back to the truck and head for camp, food, and a warm bed. The bull had answered back several times, and was getting closer every time we heard him. She simply didn’t care, and was hell bent on leaving.
I started to gather gear, and get ready to leave when BJ said those two words that send chills up and down my spine every time I hear them; “there’s elk.” It didn’t take Madi long to forget about her stomach ache.
The bull popped up down the draw from us beneath a canopy of oak brush broadside at 390 yards. I told her to find him in the scope, and let me know when she was on him. It took all of about 2 seconds before she said “I see him!” I told her to put the cross hairs on top of his shoulder, reached forward, clicked off the safety, and had not even gotten my binoculars back up before the shot went off. The bull disappeared so fast that I wasn’t sure whether she had hit or missed him until her uncle BJ let out a high pitched whoop. At that point, I could see the bull kicking, and the celebration began.
Fast forward two years later, and after Madi had killed yet another nice 5 point bull, the 2013 elk hunt was upon us. This year my oldest son Mason had turned 12, and was ready to live up to his sister’s reputation as the “elk slayer.”
I also had Don along, a good friend of mine. Don hails from Alberta, Canada and is an avid hunter, but at 38 years old is a first time elk hunter as well. Now the pressure was on. I had a 12 year old boy and a good friend both anxious to tag out on a bull.
As the season started, we put in three hard days of hiking, sitting, glassing and trying to find the elk that had magically disappeared from the week before. Most of you are going to understand what I mean when I say that pre-season scouting doesn’t always work out on general season public land hunts. When the pressure hits, and the camps move in, oftentimes there are tents pitched, and four wheelers roaming the spots where elk had frequented all summer.
Day five at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon with Don, Mason, Madi, BJ and I all in tow, we headed into a canyon where we had spotted three cows earlier that morning. We continued to climb up the canyon and as we topped out, I stepped around a pinion tree and on the opposite side from us in a big bowl saw 20 – 25 head of elk scattered along the top of the hillside. I motioned to the rest of the party to stay low and whispered those famous words again, “There’s elk.” I shed my pack, handed the spotting scope to my brother, and told Mason to drop his pack, lie down, and get ready.
Now, I need to tell you that the elk were a long way off at this point, across canyon, and slightly uphill. BJ and I have spent countless hours researching, reloading, shooting and tuning our custom built rifles. I shoot a 7mm Remington Ultra FBS (wildcat), with a Shilen barrel, custom action, and Jewel Trigger. It is topped off with a Night Force 5.5 – 22 x 50 mm scope. This set up is propelling a 180 gr Berger VLD 3,348 fps at muzzle. It is tuned and capable of shooting long range. We have also put the time and effort into making long shots; the kids included. They shoot milk jugs at 800 + yards.
Although I had hoped to get Mason a shot at something in the 200 – 300 yard range. It looked like the perfect opportunity to put our long range equipment to the test was unfolding before us. BJ grabbed a range, and said “he’s at 879 yards”. I pulled out my chart, dialed the scope, and helped Mason get set up.
The elk continued to feed and move uphill, when a nice 5 point split off to the side and stepped up on a little rise above the Oak Brush as if to say “here I am.” He was now at 900 yards on the nose. I made the adjustment to the scope, and asked Mason if he was comfortable taking the shot. He said “yes, I’m on him.” I told him to squeeze the trigger a couple of times. He did so; and said “I’m ready.” I told him to go ahead and put a round in the chamber, and to make sure he was solid before taking the safety off.
This is where the non-emotional part of Mason’s personality comes into play. After what seemed like minutes, I heard the safety click. BJ was in the spotting scope while Don and I had our eyes glued to the bull through our binoculars. I waited for the shot, and waited, and waited. I finally asked “are you going to shoot?” Mason replied “yeah.” After about another minute, the gun barked. One and a half seconds later the bull humped up, took three hard steps forward, and rolled! I could hardly believe what I had just seen. Not only did Mason get his first bull, but at 900 yards!
I looked down at my son to give him a fist bump, and remember him saying “I knew I could shoot one at 800 yards, but wasn’t sure about 900 yards.” The things kids will say. I think it will take years until the magnitude of his first hunting experience really sinks in. I really don’t blame all the people who look at me and say “yeah right” when I relate the story to them.
My buddy Don was also able to connect with a nice 6 point bull a couple of days later. The whole process of taking Don’s bull took 23 hours, and required some back breaking work and a lot of cursing while getting off the mountain. Don hammered his bull at 506 yards using a Remington 7mm Mag and Huskemaw Scope.
So as I reflect back on elk camp 2013, I will remember our camp as being successful for many reasons. Good food, good company, and another opportunity to spend time in the woods with my brother, who is a selfless and amazing friend and uncle. Needless to say, the torch has been handed off and there are three new “elk-oholics” roaming the mountains now. Look out. Preparations for next year have already started.