Elk Hunting in ColoradoNovember 2, 2018 | Hunting
After a long, arduous hunt Selena Barr finally lands a bull then donates all the meat to a local family in need
I’ll admit to being a little disappointed when we set our spike camp at the base of East Spanish Peak, in Las Animas county, Colorado. True enough, the view of the mountain itself was lovely, the snow-capped peak glinting in the distance, but our immediate surroundings were not, to my mind, inspiring. Miles of landscape had been rendered barren by a wildfire, the charred spikes of conifers standing like sentries over the undulating terrain. And the soot – after each day’s hunting, everything was covered in a thin film of the stuff, which permeated every layer of clothing I was wearing, and stained my horse’s rump black. The fire, known as the East Peak Fire, had happened in 2013, and had claimed 9,000 acres.
This was a hunt that I’d been anticipating for some time – initially, I’d planned to go in 2015, but pregnancy with my first girl, Ptarmigan, had prevented the trip. The second time I’d planned it, in 2017, my second daughter, Skye, decided to come along, so once more I put the trip off. So, I was hoping this would be third time lucky.
While I’d got my tag at the Cabelas in Denver, I had opted for a guided hunt on private land, hoping this would increase my chances somewhat – after all, it’s not every day you make the trip from the UK to the US for a hunt. Our two guides, Zach Workman and Ryan Solomon, couldn’t have been more different: Zach, quiet, considered and thoughtful, while Ryan was crazy funny, loud and boisterous. But within 24 hours one thing became clear. Both were serious when it came to elk hunting. Heading out with either one, you could see them get into the zone and go deadly serious. Hailing from Pennsylvania and Georgia respectively, both guides were working the season for one reason: a love of elk hunting.
I’d been given a choice of horses, and knew immediately which I wanted: Caspar, the oldest, and a grey (hence the name). He was also the lowest rung on the equine ladder, with faded scars from bites and kicks to show for it. His gentle, trusting nature immediately set me at ease. We alternated our hunts, walking for some, riding for others, frequently having to lead the horses when the terrain became too rough or steep, and I repaid Caspar’s trust wholeheartedly with mine – he didn’t let me down once.
We had five days, so 10 outings, to get an elk. Plenty of time, I thought, though as the week progressed, I started having my doubts. Sure, we’d seen plenty of wildlife, including a black bear, just not a single elk. However, my initial disappointment at the landscape had waned somewhat: I could see now that this could be the ideal elk habitat – they are grazers, after all, not browsers, so the low-growing grasses that had been able to sprout up after the fire provided food, and the lack of dense woodland meant we could see far and wide.
On the third evening we’d travelled a bit further, using a truck to take us to a different area, but again hadn’t seen a thing. As we returned, a mile or so away from the camp, the headlights showed us what we’d been looking for – a bull elk, standing frozen in the bright lights. Finally, we had a lead.
The next morning we headed out in the dark to get into position and wait for there to be enough light. We covered a lot of ground that morning, searching for that elk. It was only as we headed back to camp that we saw him, heading away from us. Ryan checked if I was ready, and cow-called him. He stopped, briefly, and I fired off a shot, but as the bullet left the rifle, the elk bull moved off again. Thankfully I had completely missed him. We now had just two more outings.
That same evening we caught up to him again, but by the time we did, it was already too late, and darkness had caught up to us. Even Ryan’s jokes didn’t cheer me up much that evening, and I fell asleep knowing I was most likely heading back to the UK without my elk. The next morning, we set off in search of the same bull, tracking where he’d been the night before. Following doggedly in Zach’s footsteps, I almost bumped into him when he pulled up short. There, on the edge of a creek below us, was not our bull, but a whole herd of elk.
We had a short window, though, as they were starting to move off. Zach pointed to one near the back of the herd, standing a little apart from the others. “There, that one, that’s a good mature one.” I lined the shot up, breathed in, breathed out, and squeezed the trigger. The bull staggered, but didn’t drop. “Shoot him again, just to be sure,” Zach said. I did, dropping the bull on the spot.
We went back for the horses to pack out the meat, and, as the oldest, Caspar carried the least – just one leg, but that haunch weighed almost as much as I did, at 100lb. The elk was a 6x7, a great mature animal. I knew I wouldn’t be able to take the meat home with me, but I’d done a little research before this trip. The nearest town, Aguilar, is tiny, with a population of just 580, and there are a bunch of families living on the poverty line. With the help of the guides, I found a family who could really use the protein that this elk would provide. The $300 it cost to have the meat processed was worth every penny, and seemed a small price to pay to help out a family and make sure not an ounce of elk meat went to waste.