My 15 year old son and I spent Father's Day scouting the area where we are going to hunt elk this year. We got to the trail head at 7:00AM, and got out out bows and our day packs. We had thumper tips on our arrows so we could practice shooting stumps as we worked through woods looking for elk sign and a potential site for our camp. I had been pouring over maps since the Winter and after we got word that we had drawn a license on the 10th, I had decided that this would be the best possible way to spend Father's day.
There were a couple of other groups of hikers at the trail head and I knew their goal. These hikers were going to follow the trail until they reached the end, and then they would hike back. They would probably take pictures at the top to go with some pictures they were snapping at the trail head.
Ronan and I didn't know where we were going, but we were going to take ten or so hours getting back to the truck. Our goals were to shoot some stumps, find elk sign, maybe a wallow or a bedding area, find a good camp near good water, and enjoy a perfect Colorado Spring day.
We started down the trail after a group of four hikers in their twenties. They were Trustafarians in a Landrover and had given our bows a couple of sideways glances. They weren't sure what to think, but body language says a lot. After about 200 yards of following them, Ronan and I slipped off the trail to the West and started towards a plateau that was situated about a 1/4 mile from a good sized creek. The plateau was situated at 10,200 feet and looked to be about 400 yards on a side with a 100 foot drop to the creek. Elk might be there. It took us about an hour to work through the dark woods to the plateau. Some elk sign, but all of it from early last year. On the West side of the plateau, Ronan spotted a game trail leaving the area. We decided to follow it Southwest as it slowly turned away from the creek.
We had been thumping stumps and Ronan was up 10-6. He has a knack for estimating range in the woods and he shoots dead nutz. We learned how to shoot bows together, but the youth always learns faster. We alternate who takes the first shot and call the spot on the stump. Closest wins the point.
As we worked through the woods on a remarkably straight game trail, we saw our first sign of elk activity this year. Tracks and some of the tell tale green dimpled pellets...there were flys still gorging...it was still very moist to the touch...within the last two hours. We back off and look at the map and our route and realized the game trail was headed straight towards another plateau about a 400 yards from the creek. We decided to follow the creek to the West instead of the trail and then work our way south to second plateau from the creek. We guessed that there would be another game trail headed from the creek to the second plateau. After picking along the bank for the creek, we spotted a game trail heading Southwest to the second plateau. We follow it...more sign, tons of sign, sign every ten feet...tracks from a cow and a calf....the second plateau is a bedding area...nobody home that we can see, but definitely a bedding area. We back off the plateau and decide to head West along the creek. Ronan is up 17-10 thumping stumps.
We've picked up two rusted out cans and a 80s vintage Coors bottle along the creek. Not much human traffic here since the wilderness area was established. We are using game trails, but they usually follow the creek for a brief while and then head back into the dark woods, so going is slow, but I am seeing some fishing holes that will need attention the next time we are out when the water settles a bit. Lots of elk sign, scouting with maps is paying off.
We find Elk Camp 2008. It is about 350 feet from the creek with a view a 13,000 ft peak Camp is at 10,450ft. There is sweet little pool that is going to have trout 200 yards from camp. We'll start using it on off this summer as we scout. Ronan and sit down for a late lunch. It's 1:40PM. We eat lunch and glass the mountain. There isn't much activity; too much snow. We find a family of marmots, a mountain goat, and not much else. We are a mile or so from one of the main trails, and will have to hike about two miles on that trail back to the truck. We'll be at the truck by 5:00PM.
We head out and find sign 600 yards from camp and what may be a wallow in the fall. We'll have to check back during to course of the summer. We have found a elk superhighway...more sign...tons of sign. We keep heading South and we hear/see the first humans since this morning. They don't see us until walk out out of the woods and I can tell immediately they don't like the look of us. I say, "Hello, beautiful day." They mumble something, but can't seem to just articulate a simple, "Hello."
"What are you hunting?" The blond in the lycra top and Patagonia shorts asks.
"We're not hunting, just thumping stumps and scouting elk." I explain the game to them and they seem somewhat mollified that we didn't kill anything today.
"When do we need to worry about being shot by accident?" the stud in the north face matching garb asks.
"Never. Never been an accidental shooting with a bow in Colorado. Range is too short to make a mistake, plus you're never going to be where we hunt."
I decide to end the conversation and signal to Ronan that is time to get moving. As we walk back to the truck we pass at least 20 groups of hikers headed in both directions. When Ronan and I have a man made trail to hike, we motor. I'm 6'3" and he's 6'1" and we can stride.
"I haven't gotten this many nasty looks since Boulder/Fairview," says Ronan making reference to the city high school sports rivalry.
I nod and realize that the trails that are literally overrun by hikers surround our hunting area on all four sides. All of this traffic is going to keep the elk in the area where we found them. Eight square miles of hunting elk and a bunch of rude treehuggers acting as a high fence. My success is likely because of them. I love irony.
We get back to truck, load our gear, and head home. This is going to be a great summer.