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Old December 11, 2015, 06:43 PM   #1
Join Date: December 7, 2014
Posts: 34
The story of ol' sleepy.......good friends, public land and a big bull elk

I am not a writer

But the story of ol' sleepy needs to be told!

A hunt I will never forget

This past March, I found myself in front of my PC going through the pages of the Colorado Big Game license application lottery while loading up my MasterCard with the hopes of drawing a Non-Resident Elk license for the upcoming fall season.

Early June arrives and I find out via the backdoor method that I have a 3rd season Bull Elk tag heading my way....the work begins.

The easy things first....shooting my rifle a real life change here.

Get in great shape....this is a lifestyle, but it does get harder with age (46) and with knee surgeries in my near future as my athletic lifestyle and a 50 hour work week has taken their toll on my body. For those who have not been....know this....the mountains of Colorado will punish flatlanders for climbing them, and the oxygen of 10k/11k feet is far different than 350 foot Poplar Bluff.

My training starts with a visit to my good buddy, Dr. Chris Montgomery, and he works me through X-Rays and a referral to a sports medicine specialist, Dr. Shaffer, from Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He orders up a double MRI to diagnose what my trauma is being caused from in my knees....torn this and torn that yada yada yada the Dr. suggest PRP injections but with a short window to train, I opt for a couple giant loads of steroids in each knee.

The summer crawls by and my rifle is ready and so is my mental state is another story altogether but elk confidence vs Missouri deer confidence are not equal for this Southern Missouri guy as I have limited “out west” hunting time.

October 27th is here and it's pack up the truck day. I will leave in the morning and drive just under 14 hours to my friend Snellstrom’s house on the eastern plains of Colorado and overnight before buying groceries and heading further West to help him set up camp on public land for the upcoming week of elk and deer hunting with friends and family.

The mountains are a thing of beauty to me and are big beyond description to those who have not been around them. My head aches as my brain is asking for more oxygen as I set up my tent and split wood in this high altitude environment but I will be ready by Saturday’s opening day no doubts. Friday will be a day of scouting and making a plan. Snellstrom has to head back home but will be back Friday evening, so for tonight it’s just me....3 tents and the mountains....I love it!!!

As I awake Friday morning, I’m greeted with 1” of wet snow and heavy fog. Fog so thick the surrounding mountains have disappeared completely. So, I shift into a slow gear and make myself my last good breakfast for the next several days and drink some is a vacation, right? The fog stays all day and no scouting could be done on Friday but my friends are showing up to camp and the feel of a hunting camp is growing as we stand around the fire talking about the past and planning our future.

Saturday morning

4:30 and it’s time to get up and go! I get dressed and grab my gear for my first day of hunting bull Elk....ever....I have hunted Elk three times prior to this year....all cow elk hunts. Two being on private land in New Mexico and the third was in these same Colorado Rockies I’m standing in today....DIY public land bull Elk is a low percentage task....could I connect the dots and fill this tag in my pocket?

Day one is clear and windy with a brilliant sunrise and I take a bit of time to watch it and enjoy. The next hours are spent climbing higher and farther than I have done in the past. Reaching several good spots to sit tight and glass. I find no elk today but do find some tracks and droppings but the only wildlife spotted are Mule deer. Tonight another great friend will be in camp....graybird....I hope to hunt with him tomorrow.

Sunday morning

The tent wakes up and the wood stove gets a fresh load of wood as we all get ready for the day. I will be graybird’s baggage for the next few days to drag through the mountains. We grab a fast breakfast then head to a spot that he has planned on looking at over the course of the past couple months. We pull our first climb, hiking up to a fantastic vantage point that gives us a view in nearly every direction for many miles as we set up on a large flat boulder to glass and pick apart the area. Graybird can spot game like few others can as he points out several Mule deer bucks over a mile away....but all of my friends seem to have the gift of long range game spotting.

As the day rolls toward noon it is getting hot....we decide to head back to camp to try and catch up with RSnellstrom....Snellstrom’s younger brother who has a deer tag and might want to put a stalk on those Mule Deer bucks graybird and I had looked at all morning. We are successful finding our buddy, so we all head back to the glassing rock for the evening.

The deer are feeding in the shadows on the far mountainside so graybird and RSnellstrom make a plan to do a big swing to the North then cut across the canyon with the wind in their face in hopes of closing up the distance RSnellstrom feels he can make a good shot. The evening passes and the planets just won’t quite line up, so the stalk turns into a scouting trip as the two hunters find a large amount of elk sign along the canyon, so all is not lost....nearly dark we head back to camp for a hot supper.

Evenings at camp are fun times. We usually relax, eat a hot meal and drink a few beers as we talk about our day and the past years. This weekend we had a special guest in camp…..a young hunter you will all see on these pages for years to come as I am betting he is on his way to being a great hunter. He is Snellstrom’s 12 year old son, Cody, and I love spending time with this fine young outdoorsman. He has school on Monday, so his Mom picks him up and takes him home. His 22 year old brother, Aric, is in camp today....he is a senior in college and can only hunt a day, or two, before heading back to school. He has a bull elk tag to fill and spent the day hunting with his Dad and brother. I haven’t spent any time with him since 2011 and wow has he grown into a fine young man for sure....a true reflection of his father’s “Dad” skills....Aric’s hobby is climbing 14,000 foot mountains, or fourteeners, as they are called so he is in shape +P.

Monday morning

RSnellstrom has to go back to work today so he decides to not join graybird and myself at the glassing rock. We are excited about the good amount of elk sign, so hustling up the mountain comes easy today. The deer are on the same mountain and I am looking at them through my spotting scope as I hear graybird say very softly....”I think I see an elk”....he has my attention but I continue to look at the big deer. A couple minutes go by and graybird says....“It’s a bull”....I then ask for landmark details so I can put my eyes on him, too.

Over a mile away stands a tall mountain ridgeline made of solid pink granite. On that ridge directly to our west there are a half a dozen tall pine trees that are easy to spot with binoculars from our vantage point. In amongst these trees, the bull elk is feeding along a shelf on the mountain. I’m no expert but he looks very big to me with very long eye guards and beams that stretch across his back when he raises his head. He is taking his time and seems to not have a care in the world as he feeds for about 45 minutes before literally disappearing as the sun climbs higher. We both agree he has probably bedded down for the day.

Just like yesterday it is getting hot so we decide to allow the ol’ boy his nap and head back to camp, maybe even drive to an area we all know as the “cattle guard” to get a good phone signal to touch base back home. After talking to our wives and catching them up on our elk sighting, we head back to camp for some lunch and I’ll take a nap myself.

After some lunch I’m trying hard not to sleep as we sit around the campfire but keeping an eye on the time graybird gets us rolling toward the glassing rock at just past 3 o’clock. It’s about a half an hour drive and almost an hour up a mountain so it’s getting close to 5 but we have finished our climb to our vantage point. The setting sun has cast a long shadow on the far away ridge and that big ol’ bull is already up and feeding on the shelf we had seen him on that morning. He doesn’t feed very long before he beds but this time we see him lay down. We have him spotted but there isn’t enough time to make a move across the canyon tonight and we both know this will be a one shot....all or nothing stalk. If we blow him off that hill, we will never see him again, so we need a good plan. I take several pictures of the mountains and even a couple snap shots of our bedded bull. These pictures will be handy back at camp tonight as we discuss a stalk/plan with our friend Snellstrom.

We get back to camp and enjoy a hot meal as we trade stories from our day. Aric has left camp to go back to college so there are just 3 hunters at camp tonight. Snellstrom looks at the pictures I took this evening and he likes what I’m showing him. He will go with us in the morning to see if the bull is still there. He is a very experienced elk hunter and will prove to be a huge asset tomorrow. The weather radio is predicting a strong south wind for the next couple days so with a morning plan for the three of us we head off to bed.

I can’t sleep....The exciting day or the anticipation of tomorrow has me restless. When I do fall asleep, I find myself up in less than an hour and this will continue all night. At least the wood stove will give me something to do each time I wake up.

Tuesday morning

I’m tired from the restless night, but out of bed and quietly excited. My sleepless night hasn’t gone unnoticed by graybird as he laughs about hearing me up and down all night. I laugh with my buddies and tell them I’m excited as we all get in the truck to start our day.

We find ourselves on the glassing rock for a third straight morning and it’s no surprise that graybird is the first to spot the bull. Snellstrom has eyes on him, too, as I set up my spotting scope for a better look. The big elk is already up and feeding in the same area as yesterday. We don’t waste much time looking before we talk about the south wind and study the far mountain’s rocky cliff that is high above the bull. Snellstrom makes that cliff our goal for the stalk. We start making a very wide northwest hike to close up the very long distance between the glassing rock and the ridge the big bull is calling home. When we make it to the base of the far ridge, a steep north side mountain climb will get us into a shooting position a couple hundred feet above the bull. We arrive at the rocky outcrop around 10:30 and start glassing the area we think the bull was in when we started the stalk. Just like before graybird finds him! He has spotted the old bull elk about 200 yards away, bedded in some brush but he has all of his vitals hidden giving me no shot.


In my 46 years, I have learned how to stay calm with game close at hand, but can I wait out a bull of this caliber? I have waited my entire life for a moment like this so patience will be today’s rule.

Our sleepy bull gets up but only stayed up a short time before bedding back down giving me no shot and this time he has picked a similar spot as the first. Dead timber and a horrible angle is keeping him alive, so Snellstrom and graybird crawl around the cliff and find us a better angle, still no shot but a much better spot in the rocks for a shot.

The time now is close to 11 am

As I said before, we are now in a great spot for a shot when he gets up. I have a pack laid in some rock and we are all anticipating his next move....his next move was to sleep until 4 pm

We take turns watching him sleep all’s nearly 5 o’clock and I am fighting sleep as the setting sun is casting a long shadow over our elk. Snellstrom and graybird whisper loudly “He’s up! He’s up!” and Snellstrom tells me to get behind the rifle, but what has taken all day will still have to wait as I still can’t get a shot through all the brush and with the shadows he is now very hard to see. Snellstrom crawls through the rock directly behind me, he is being my second set of eyes and my big brother life coach all wrapped up in one guy. We spend the next several minutes whispering to each other about being calm and looking for that small window to put 180 grains of copper and lead through. With my crosshairs on him for several minutes, he finally steps into the spot that gives me a shot.

I squeeze the trigger and the blast of my 30-06 breaks the silence that has ruled this mountain up to this point. My bullet hits the bull broadside behind his right shoulder high and exits low behind his left shoulder. I run the bolt and get him in the scope again as Snellstrom tells me to “Hit him again” so I dump one more in him hitting on a steep angle on his left side under the back strap and lodging on the other side just past his spine. This one is the finisher as he goes down swinging his hips and trying to keep his feet under him. He will not recover from this fall....he is dead.

The calm is over as a feeling comes over me that I have never experienced. A rush of adrenaline goes through me that changes into grateful emotion as we approach the dead bull. He is huge! And, I am in awe with his size. I am also so happy to have shared this with the best friends a guy could ever want. Lots of pictures and then we take him apart to pack him out....way way out. We are several miles from the truck but my same two friends are there for the meat haul, too. Tomorrow will be a day of pain, but a rewarding pain!

Guys and gals....

I could write an entire story on just the pack out. It was very painful, and it was many miles to the truck, but we made it back to camp with meat on the pole and horns in the tent.

My 2015 Colorado public land DIY elk hunt will never be forgotten.

Cody, Dave....without both of you, none of this happens.

I want to thank you both from the very bottom of my heart.

Your Friend,

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Old December 11, 2015, 06:44 PM   #2
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The three amigos and ol' sleepy

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Old December 11, 2015, 06:45 PM   #3
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He is wide and long

For size reference sake.... I am 6' 2"

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Old December 11, 2015, 06:51 PM   #4
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Old December 11, 2015, 07:56 PM   #5
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That is a mighty fine elk for a DIY trip on public land. Congratulations. I've had the opportunity to camp and hike in the Colorado mountains numerous times during summer months. Hunting there has been a lot less than I'd like. I've found the air a struggle the 1st day or 2, but I've always done fine after that.

Been planning the same trip since 2010, but minor family emergencies and issues with elderly parents have prevented it. I almost pulled the trigger on a trip 2 years ago, but had to back out during the summer. I'm trying to organize a group to go together next fall. I've deer hunted in the past, but don't want to travel that far for a deer. Holding out for an elk. I'll be 58 by then and it doesn't get any easier.

I did see something encouraging last week. I met 3 brothers who backpacked 7-8 miles into one of the roughest, most remote regions here in GA to bear hunt. A little over 4200'. Considering that is at least 3500' elevation gain it is pretty steep even though not as high as Colorado. These guys ranged in age from 65 to about 75. The oldest brother pulled out some photos of their Colorado elk hunt. The 3 brothers backpacked into the mountains near Pagosa Springs and the old guy had taken a smallish 5X5 elk just last month. If those old guys can still do it there is hope for me.
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Old December 12, 2015, 12:10 AM   #6
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Congratulations on bagging Sleepy Bull.
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Old December 12, 2015, 02:53 AM   #7
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Very cool.

I'm glad you enjoyed it.
I thoroughly enjoy hunting Elk. Second only to antelope, they're probably my favorite.

But, as I like to say:
"When you fire the shot, only then does the work begin..."
Guys and gals....

I could write an entire story on just the pack out. It was very painful, and it was many miles to the truck, but we made it back to camp with meat on the pole and horns in the tent.
My 2012 bull took maybe 45 minutes to an hour from me telling two of my brothers, "I think I'll head up top (ridgeline of the mountain range - literally - at ~9,000+ ft asl), towards Lena (highest peak within 60 miles). I've never been all the way to the top, and want to see what it looks like." ... to 'Bang!' (75 yards - lethal) .... BANG! (25 yards - fatal and DRT).
...But it took another day and a half to get the important bits off the mountain.
It was "only" 2-1/2 miles from camp to the site of the kill, but it was over some of the most inhospitable terrain possible, and at least 50% of it on 40-70 degree inclines. And, due to the luck of that year's weather, it was 80 degrees!

The timeline worked out to:
Day 1: Kill. Gut. Miscommunication, lost party member, and possible medical emergency results in everyone back at camp. No time to (safely) hike back up.
Day 2: Relocated the bull after the previous day's 'fun'. 4 guys up. 3 quarters, some cuts of meat from the carcass, and a head w/ cape back down.
Day 3: 4 guys up (two new party members). 1 quarter and some neck meat back down.

Hardest I've ever worked for some meat...
(A few photos here, if interested: Utah Elk Hunt.)
Don't even try it. It's even worse than the internet would lead you to believe.

Last edited by FrankenMauser; December 12, 2015 at 03:02 AM.
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Old December 12, 2015, 03:03 AM   #8
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Good story, good bull, and a great end to some serious work! Thanks for sharing!
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Old December 12, 2015, 05:53 AM   #9
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Great story....and memories to last a lifetime. You are truly blessed with the friends you have.
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Old December 12, 2015, 09:26 AM   #10
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Congrats man, that story was worth the me when suppers ready!!
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Old December 12, 2015, 06:08 PM   #11
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Old Stony,

You are 100% correct
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Old December 12, 2015, 06:59 PM   #12
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Sorry I missed the hunt Ted, but thanks for visiting me in the hospital a few weeks earlier. Here's to seeing you next year in camp!
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Old December 12, 2015, 09:29 PM   #13
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Excellent story and well written. That's a hugely impressive bull for public land! Good on ya!
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Old December 13, 2015, 06:14 AM   #14
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Old December 14, 2015, 10:26 AM   #15
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Day 1: Kill. Gut. Miscommunication, lost party member, and possible medical emergency results in everyone back at camp. No time to (safely) hike back up.
This was worse than the actual packing out.

"Lost party member" and the rest of us were only a couple hundred yards apart, heading opposite directions, but, due the the terrain and and foliage, couldn't see or hear each other. Even gunshots, from large caliber pistol and high powered rifle (.338 Win. Mag, and .358 Win.) Were not able to be heard by the seperate groups.

We were getting pretty worried about our "missing" guy, but, once we regrouped in camp, re realized what happened, and made some new rules for marking a trail.
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Old December 17, 2015, 12:25 PM   #16
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Thanks for posting your adventure with good pictures to boot!!! I appreciate good posts like this one.

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Old December 26, 2015, 05:42 PM   #17
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My pleasure

The story of ol' sleepy had to be told
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Old December 26, 2015, 08:04 PM   #18
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This..... is awesome.. thank you sir.
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Old January 2, 2016, 10:17 PM   #19
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AWESOME!!! Congrats on a successful hunt! I believe you when you say you'll never forget that hunt!
Hard work always pays off doesn't it...Fantastic write up, I really enjoyed reading that, Thank You!!
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Old January 6, 2016, 08:21 PM   #20
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I was informed this past week that my story will run in a 2016 edition of either Elk Hunter magazine or The Western Hunter magazine.

I'll let everyone know when it hits stores
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ted thornburgh , ted thornburgh sr

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