My brother lives in Michigan. I'm in Oregon. We met halfway between, in Redstone, Colorado to spend the week elk hunting in the mountains. He armed himself with a bow. I carried a camera. We each carried a pack, food, a bear canister and bear spray, and the earnestness to see elk up close and personal.
We will gain four thousand feet on our hike up to the ridge, which sits at 12,225 feet. We've both come from approximate sea level. Needless to say we are making frequent stops to catch our breath. In the gaps, we're developing lyrics for a cheesy country song:
Way up here above tree line
Only thang growing is you on my mind
A thunderstorm forms across the valley and heads our way. Naturally, we had just set up our tent in a prime location that would save us a hard climb back up to the ridge in the morning. In prudence, however, we collapse the tent and lower our camp about eight hundred feet in elevation, fairly close to the first grouping of trees that we figure will attract lightning better than our four foot tall tent.
Next morning it's clear again, and we climb back to the ridge. We originally targeted this spot because it provided a vantage point to glass both sides of the mountain for elk. However, we didn't know that the valley would be so striking. The view alone was worth the effort. We are well above timberline, so visibility to the valleys below us is clear. If there are elk down there, we ought to see them.
Our second night is drawing close, and there hasn't been any sign of elk recently here. We decide to move lower on the mountain, down to the 9-10K foot range.
We find a good campsite and set up with plenty of daylight. A rain shower comes and soaks the woods, leaving a pleasant dew. The shower also seemed to hush the forest. When the rain stopped and the sun returned, there was no wind, no rustle of branches or creaking of trees. It was massively quiet. I took a walk and had a peaceful encounter with a deer, who after an investigative stare down, mozied away.
We wake in the morning, still not having seen nor heard any elk. We pack up camp and continue down the mountain. By chance we run into a packer with whom my brother had made contact online, as he planned the trip back home. We shot the breeze for a bit, and he kindly gave us his recommendation of where we could aim for next.
After heading into town long enough for a bite to eat and for my brother to check in with his family, we head back to the mountains. We're following the advice of the packer and heading toward McClure pass. Beyond that, we don't know where we'll end up. We'll use intuition and hope for luck.
Dark comes quickly, and we haven't gone far. We circle back to the truck and set up camp in the bed. The moon is nearly full and very bright. It's casting shadows in this wilderness. Waking up refreshed we drive a very short distance to the head of Huntsman's Ridge. We'll spend the next two nights there hoping to see what we came here for.
It took some time to hike to the top of the ridge. Two 4x4's passed us on our way up, and we ran into the drivers near the top. They're two locals, father and son—Gary and Scott. They were about as nice of folks as you could encounter, and we talked for several hours as we all kept a hopeful eye on the valley below.
In the last moments of light, Courtney sounds a bugle into the valley. When you can't see them, maybe you can hear them. While bow season is for some reason set particularly early in the rut, hearing a bugle or two this time of year shouldn't be so rare. But here we sat, hearing nothing at all.
Morning five, the wind was dead. Another thunderstorm had passed in the night, and it carried away all traces of bad weather. We had a silent sunrise. Finally, Courtney spotted five elk across a valley, about a mile away. Those elk stayed right below the shadow line formed by our ridge as the sun rose behind us. With nothing to lose, we decided to pursue the elk. We hiked down into the valley and spotted them again about an hour later. From there we hiked to the valley bottom. The hiking was very difficult and steep. We saw four mule deer, but never came across the elk.
Unfortunately our week in Colorado was at an end. And we had no elk to show for it. It's hard to explain why we saw so few and heard absolutely none. Too many hunters? Too early in the season? Wrong place, wrong time? While disappointing, it is called hunting for a reason.