Suddenly the world stopped turning, the forest went eerily silent, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end as the rhythmic beat of my heart pounding in my chest echoed in my ears. Thump, Thump Thump, Thump. At that moment I was lost in a trance as flashbacks from the years spent in the mountains and countless miles traversing the wilderness in pursuit of distant bugles breaking the early morning silence had all lead me to this moment as I watched my arrow cut through the air for what seemed like an eternity.
Similar to the norm for most hunters, the pursuit starts months before the crack of dawn on opening morning but as the first rays of sunlight started to breach the valley tops around us, I couldn’t help but feel the excitement building for what adventures this season would bring. At this point my iPhone had adopted the name of the trailhead as “home” with the amount of time my hunting buddies Brent McGirr and Quinn Kline and I had spent staring at these cascading mountains. With two archery deer tags and an either-sex elk tag in camp who could blame us, and we had a lot riding on the fact this little slice of heaven would hold the treasures we were seeking.
It didn’t take long for all the hard work to pay off and by the end of the first few days we had already found ourselves smack dab in the middle of every hunters dream; screaming elk and velvet muleys. Every morning started the same with jet boils bubbling with coffee and tripods set up to glass the surrounding basins with a simple goal: locate an animal, put them to bed, close the distance, sling carbon, pack meat and eat tenderloins for dinner. With my eyes glued to my Maven spotter and Black Rifle coffee in hand, I scanned the hill side when out of nowhere I dropped my cup (normally a sin in most circumstances) and my eyes went wide. Without any prior sightings I was bewildered as the reason I snagged this tag strutted across one of the valley benches with 12 cows in tow.
I pulled my phone out and frantically scanned through videos from the previous year's hunt when I found what I was looking for, a shaky video in the middle of a snow storm when I first found the bull we dubbed KP. I ran back to camp to make sure the boys were on the way to the glassing point to show them who finally showed up, and it was unbeknownst to us this bull would challenge us in every aspect imaginable as our fates intertwined with the passing days of September.
Fast forward two long weeks as work was bound and determined to keep me off the mountain, I knew it was coming down to the wire. With the bulls getting feisty, I waved goodbye to my office know that the next 6 days on the mountain would put me right smack dab in the middle of the elk rut and I wasn’t going to miss it for anything. Quinn had successfully harvested a beautiful giant framed 3-point velvet buck, leaving me with a deer tag and elk tag burning a hole in my pocket. If we are being honest though, I could care less about the deer tag because the only thing on my mind was KP. Every day found me right in the middle of the most insane elk hunting I have ever experienced, the kind of stuff you only hear about or watch on TV jealously from your couch.
With my head spinning from the daily excitement, it’s as if I blinked and woke up and this stint of my hunt was coming to an end. At this point I had spent an incredible 11 days in the back country with multiple encounters everyday which included over a dozen legal bulls within range and even better yet 12 encounters with the KP under 80 yards. As fate would have it though, the stars were just not aligning and it seemed like sealing the deal on this public land giant might not be in the cards. As I left the trail and headed back to reality, I couldn’t help the feeling of defeat coming over me. However, that feeling didn’t last long as I sat in my office that Monday staring out the window patiently waiting for my next chance to pin my wits against nature's best.
Friday September 17th I left behind the chaos of the city and found myself back “home” scanning those familiar valleys. Just like the days prior I was immediately into the elk, a beautiful 5-point bull at 35 yards started the trip out but as I came to full draw, he casually walked out of the meadow and disappeared as the sun set on my 12th day of this epic season. With the sun cresting the valley walls on the morning of day 13 on the mountain, the morning was starting out slow with little animal movement. Then, I noticed another message on on my Garmin InReach. The message was from Brent and Quinn letting me know they would be up the next day after making a last-ditch effort to harvest an Antelope on the plains of eastern Colorado. That message was immediately followed by, “go ahead and shoot a bull so we can spend Sunday packing meat." I laughed entirely too hard at this and dropped some of my sweet and spicy tuna on the ground between my feet, I’ve never been so upset by dropping 12 calories in my life.
I sat there, sulked, and scanned the maven spotter across the farthest basin and just so happened to catch movement on the opposite hillside about 2000’ above me and over a mile away. As I adjusted the focus I couldn’t believe it! There was KP grazing in broad daylight with eight cows! Instantly and through my excitement, I glanced at my Garmin to check the time. It was 12:30pm and the clock was ticking and I spent the afternoon hours anxiously working my way up the mountain valley and cautiously keeping the wind in my face as I worked closer to his bedding area. With a little bit of luck this might just actually work. Suddenly out of nowhere and as I closed the distance to less than 150 yards of where I watched KP laid his head down, an alpine storm barreled down the valley with a ferocity only Mother Nature could summon.
The temperature was dropping rapidly and the wind was picking up, so I knew this was my chance and I had to get into position quickly! I moved to my first checkpoint that put me inside of 100 yards when a hastily made step resulted in an ear shattering snap of a dead tree branch beneath my Crispi’s. Much to my surprise, within seconds KP torched off an ear shattering bugle less than 75 yards from me (much closer than I expected)! At this point the game was on because he thought I was another bull trying to slip in on his cows and take them for my own. Every time he would thrash the tree in front of him, I inched my way further in careful to stay out of sight of his cows and keep the brush line between us. No sooner did I break the 50-yard mark he let out a long deep growling bugle, which I quickly returned right back at him! That was followed by a horrendous brush thrashing sequence, but he just wouldn’t step out from behind the one line of trees between us. The back and forth raking and bugle match continued for what seemed like eternity, when finally he couldn’t stand it anymore and moved to cut me off from his cows.
As he moved up the hill and glanced over his left shoulder, he gave me the opportunity I had been finally waiting for. With the bull being uphill and quartering away I knew I had to make this shot count, and I’d been practicing and preparing for this moment for 8 years and it was finally here at 74 yards. I held my breath, settled my pin and with the click of my release I watched in slow motion as my arrow flew through the air disappearing right where I had envisioned it. Then, I heard the sound of my arrow hitting its mark and KP immediately turned and ran with the ferocity of freight train straight down hill and out of sight. As he disappeared down the hill I ran to the spot where he was standing in a desperate effort to mark the location and recover my arrow to verify where I had hit him. To my dismay there was no arrow to be found; only a splatter of blood on the rocks behind
where he had been standing. I quickly dropped my gear and grabbed my InReach to write the guys, “K.P. JUST ATE CARBON!" In about 30 minutes I got the response, “F**k yeah, we will be there in a few hours!”
Sitting impatiently for an hour and a half before I started on the blood trail, and with the light fading fast on the horizon behind me, I knew the work had just begun since recovering this bull wouldn’t be an easy feat. I knew it would be a hard track and that I would have to most likely revert to following his tracks. Plus, with the arrow impact most likely being high lung, his lungs would have to fill up before the blood trail would be easy to find, that is if he didn’t expire before that point. As I searched the last spot I could clearly make out he had crossed almost 500 yards from where I had shot him, the reality began to set in. I made the decision to back out until the guys arrived and give him more time to peacefully pass in hopes he was deep in a nearby timber pocket.
I couldn’t help but feel that nasty sickening sensation in my stomach that we all know too well, the “what if" feeling. Once the guys arrived to camp it wasn’t a hard decision at all and we all agreed that it would be best to leave him overnight and resume at first light. The last thing we wanted to do was bump a wounded animal in the middle of the night and we knew if that happened it would be the last time we would ever see him. The night brought restless conversations and a constant reliving of the events and shot placement; morning could not come soon enough.
With the sun breaking the mountain tops, we made our way to the last blood and the search began again. Unfortunately, the next two hours were painstakingly uneventful since the bull was not bleeding and the only thing we could go off of was the ground disturbance from his tracks, which were quickly lost in the the rocky terrain. As that sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach began to grow we decided to split up and grid the area 50 yards apart over a 150-yard span moving east across the hillside we began to search. Like it always is, I found myself straying from the group. It took me a second to realize I had dropped below my zone, and I needed to get back on path. As I made my way up a small avalanche chute I looked to my left. There he was! KP was laying in his bed where he had passed during the night after traveling no more than seven hundred yards from where I had shot him. A wave of relief passed over my body as I let out the loudest WOOHOOOO you have ever heard! This was quickly followed by shouts of joy, high-fives, and dog piles. After thirteen days and thirteen encounters with this giant bull, I had finally done it. Lucky Thirteen: KP Just Ate Carbon!
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