View Full Version : The Newest Elk Slayer (long post)

August 9, 2009, 09:36 PM
Here's a story from December 2006...thought this group would appreciate it.


DeBeque, Colorado, December 16. I’ve hunted elk for many years now, but no hunt was more satisfying than the one I just completed. My 13-year-old son Alex had drawn an elk tag through the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Youth Hunting Program. Of the seven youth elk hunts offered this year, he was fortunate enough to get selected for the last hunt of the year which was held at the Kessler Canyon Ranch about 20 miles north of DeBeque. This is a 23,000 acre ranch encompassing a beautiful valley and the surrounding mountains. The ranch owner has cleared quite a bit of the chokecherry, oak and other brush from the valley floor, creating meadows that the elk seem to love. A year-round stream provides the necessary water for ideal deer and elk habitat. Numerous trophy bulls range the high mountains, but with limited access and harvesting, the herds are thriving. This ranch is home to guided/paid hunting trips with a buck/bull hunt, lodging and meals costing more than I could hope to afford. The ranch owner graciously hosted this youth hunt for the DOW and we were thrilled to be there.

Day one began at the DOW office in Grand Junction where we met the hunt coordinator and were introduced to the rest of the hunters and volunteers who would accompany us throughout the weekend. After a safety briefing and license check, we headed out to sight in rifles at a range north of town. Alex was using my old Springfield 30-06 and he made his dad proud, putting three shots within an inch of each other right on the bull’s-eye at 100 yards. He then proceeded to splatter a small pumpkin placed at 200 yards. Adam, the DOW employee who coordinated the youth hunt, asked me if he could guide Alex after watching him sight-in his rifle because, “It’s fun to go out with a kid who knows how to shoot.” I just knew we were off to a great weekend.

Once all the kids had demonstrated their proficiency at the range, we loaded up and headed to elk camp. The first order of business was setting up two large wall tents, complete with wood stoves. The frozen ground resisted our efforts to drive in tent stakes, but eventually we prevailed and had our home-away-from-home put together with enough daylight left for a short evening hunt. After a license check and safety briefing from the local DOW officer and a welcome from ranch the manager, we broke off into small hunting groups. Each hunter had a DOW representative or volunteer with them as well as a staff member from the ranch. Alex and I were to be guided by Drew, a tall lanky guy who had been guiding hunters on the ranch throughout the fall and Adam from the DOW. We headed up the valley and located a wooded ravine about halfway up the canyon wall. We started hiking straight up a ridge through nearly a foot of snow. Before long I found myself bringing up the rear as my four-and-a-half decades began to show. Drew and Adam are about half my age and I quickly realized that the recent extent of my exercise consisted of riding a desk. Eventually, we made it to the top of the ridge where we could look into the ravine. Unfortunately, no elk were to be found. We made our way back down the mountain as the last minutes of twilight faded.

A mild start to winter failed to push the elk down from the steep slopes so we decided we needed to go up to them. Saturday morning began cold and overcast with temperatures down to the low teens. A chill wind snapped the canvas wall tent, pulling out the last remnants of heat from the small wood stove in which a few embers barely glowed in the pre-dawn darkness. After slipping on cold clothes and stomping into frozen boots, we made our way to breakfast where a couple of volunteers had a feast of bacon, sausage, eggs and pancakes ready for us. Alex cornered the market on bacon and after we ate, we joined Drew and Adam for the days outing. Alex and I were optimistic about the prospect of a successful hunt and I sensed that we were in good company. We drove up the valley in Adam’s truck, stopping periodically to scan the mountainside for elk. As dawn slowly broke, Drew called our attention to a large mountain lion slinking his way up the mountain. He didn’t stick around long and we suspected there wouldn’t be too many elk hanging around that area. We headed back down the valley and met with Randy and his son Connor. Randy used to work at the ranch and was along to assist the other kids and guide for Connor. He pointed out several elk high on the mountain across the valley from our camp. The elk were slowly walking across the high, steep face, heading toward a pocket of heavy spruce timber. We quickly formulated a plan to climb up the west side of the mountain, traverse the face along a large game trail, and hopefully find the elk in the trees. After a short stop back at camp for sandwiches and hot cocoa, Alex unloaded and cased his rifle, loaded it into an ATV, and off we went to access an old road which would hopefully take us closer to the elk. However, the road turned out to be too steep and badly eroded, so we grabbed our packs and guns and headed up the hill. Once we made it up to a wide bench that ran along the face of the mountain, the hike got much easier. Everywhere we looked were elk tracks and droppings and we started to get excited about what we might find.

At this point, Adam was in the lead and as we approached the spruce trees he saw a cow elk feeding about 300 yards up the hill and across a ravine. She slowly made her way back into the trees, completely unaware we were watching. Adam quietly came back to the rest of us and we formulated a plan to get the boys a shot. We figured that if one elk was in the trees, there were likely several more. Drew agreed to hike back around the ridge we were on and would try to push the elk down from above. Adam and I used range finders to determine how far away various points on the hillside were and calculated that the shots would likely range from 180 yard to around 250. Randy got Connor settled on the trail with his rifle set on a pair of shooting sticks. Alex took a couple of steps down the hill but didn’t have a clear shot due to the heavy brush. Adam’s shooting sticks were too short to afford an unobstructed view so Adam told Alex to just use his shoulder as a rest. After a quick double-take and a look of complete incredulity, he did just that.

Within a minute, the first elk began walking out of the trees, followed immediately by several more. Randy whispered to Connor to take the third one. About that time, several more elk came out, including a few spike bulls. As the boys had cow tags, they had to be very careful to take a legal animal. Connor then picked out a cow and shot, but missed. He reloaded his single-shot Ruger Model 2 .270 and shot again, dropping the cow. She tumbled down the hill about 50 yards. Adam then told Alex to shoot the last one that came out of the trees. He scanned to the tree-line, found the cow in his scope and squeezed off the shot. The Springfield 30-06 barked and the cow’s front legs collapsed. She then slid a few yards before tumbling at least 250 yards down the hill, finally coming to rest out of sight well below us, but on the other side of the ravine. The elk Connor had shot then struggled to her feet and began climbing back up the hill. A well-placed shot dropped her in her tracks. After watching for a couple of minutes, we were sure she wouldn’t get back up. Congratulations were offered to the boys, the rifles were safely unloaded and we began to make our way to the animals.

Drew called down from above, asking if we were successful. When told we were, he headed to Connor’s elk and met Randy and Connor there. Adam, Alex and I made our way across the ravine, seeing a good blood trail where Alex’s elk slid down the hill. We finally saw her, caught up in some brush about 20 yards above the bottom of the ravine. Alex had placed his shot perfectly. We took a few pictures, shared a few laughs, and got busy field dressing the elk. Alex drew first blood with a new Buck knife he got for his birthday last month. He deferred most of the work to me, but I made sure he helped where he could, mixing in a little biology and anatomy lesson as we went along.

The bottom of the ravine held about 18 inches of snow, making things a lot slicker but it still wasn’t easy. Adam did most of the work and I tried to keep up, helping where I could. Alex toted the rifle down, slipping and sliding on the packed snow. Adam and I both took a couple of tumbles as the elk slid faster than we could run, knocking us over like bowling pins. At one point, I rolled down the hill and she slid into a heap on top of me. Fortunately, no one got hurt but we’ve all got a few bumps and bruises we didn’t have to start with. Some places were so steep that Adam unhooked his harness, got out of the way, and just let the elk slide. Other places we had to burrow under brush, drop over rocks and climb around trees, but eventually we made our way down.

With congratulations all around, Alex seemed to have a grin permanently etched on his face. Back in camp, we skinned out the elk, changed out of wet and bloody clothes and sat down to eat with a bunch of new friends. While discussing the hunt, I realized that the rifle Alex used once belonged to my grandfather who bought it shortly after World War II. He later gave it to my Dad who used it to get his first elk. He later passed it on to me. I used it to get my first elk and now Alex got his first elk with it too. After sharing stories with Randy, we came to realize that my Dad was his coach for basketball and football as his junior high school teams went undefeated in both sports. It truly is a small world.

Everyone involved in the hunt, from the ranch manager and his employees to the Division of Wildlife officers, staff and volunteers, were extremely supportive of the boys and did everything they could to make the hunt a positive experience, whether or not they harvested an animal. The heritage of the hunt, the camaraderie of camp, sharing of stories and respect for each other and for the animals, were the themes of the weekend. Hats off to everyone who helped make lasting memories for Alex and I. This was a trip we will think of fondly and will be a benchmark by which we will measure our future hunts.

August 10, 2009, 10:30 AM
Your son will have strong fond memories of this hunt. Best of all, you strengthened his memory with a legacy from your grandfather. My son, starting at 5 years old, and I built memories around many campfires and wilderness backpacking trips. He is 29 now and remembers those events as if they occurred yesterday. Your facinating story sparked those warm memories and began my day with a smile. Thanks.

August 10, 2009, 08:30 PM
Very nice story, so what other game has your son racked up since the 06 elk season.

September 29, 2009, 11:15 PM
Here's a photo of my son and I after the hunt. What a great memory!


September 30, 2009, 05:13 AM
Tell your son, nice shoot placement.

That is a great story. You and especially your son will remember and relive that event for the rest of your lives.

I hope your son becomes a life long hunter and member of the NRA.

Also, cool story about the rifle. I have a similar story about a shotgun but that is for another time as to not detract from this thread.

Oh, yes, and the Kessler Canyon Ranch is a VERY nice place.

October 1, 2009, 12:32 PM
Nice memory for sure. :cool: Here so you don't have to click!


October 2, 2009, 01:05 PM
Good job, really well written story. Thanks for the post