Hunter Testimonials: ‘My First Elk’

Ava Nelson, 16, is all smiles after harvesting her first elk near Aspen. 

Hunter: Ava Nelson

My day began at 3 a.m. when I thought, “What did I get myself into?” This was my second day of hunting for a bull elk with a muzzleloader. My dad and I figured we would try another spot that he knew since we were unsuccessful the first day.  I promptly got out of bed and took a shower and got dressed in camo. My lunch was already packed so we were ready to rock and roll.

It was pitch dark outside on Sept. 11, 2016 for our 60-minute commute to the trailhead. My dad and I arrived at 4:30 a.m. and began hiking on a trail that started out easy but gradually got more difficult.  We were about half way to the spot when it got daylight. We circled around to the spot where my dad thought there would be elk. This required some cliff scaling and some balancing skills. When we finally got there, the wind was not in our favor. My dad called a few times and a bull elk bugled back. Unfortunately, the bull did not sound like he was too interested and eventually stopped answering us.

It was about 9 a.m. and it seemed like we had been walking forever. So, we sat down and ate because we were hungry. My dad could tell that I was thinking that we just walked a really long way for nothing, but he explained to me that this was not over and that hunts can change at any minute. When we got done eating, he suggested we walk over the next little ridge.  When we hopped over the ridge my dad called a few times and we heard a couple of bulls bugle back. Game On! We started walking down the ridge to get to where we heard the elk bugle. Then we heard rustling behind us.  My dad called again, and then we heard a little elk calf answer. We hid behind a bush and watched this little calf as it smelled our tracks. It was less than 10 yards away! Once it got a good smell of our tracks, it spooked and a bunch of elk started crashing everywhere.

My dad and I began walking down the ridge again. My dad called again and we heard a bugle to the right but behind us in the timber. Dad looked through his binoculars and said “HE IS HUGE!” We tried calling him in and he seemed to just disappear. Dad said he thought he knew where he was heading.  We discussed if we should continue looking for him or go to the ridge and look for the other bull. We decided to go after the bigger bull even though he was going into a really rough spot.

We headed to the place that we thought the bull was heading, and we stopped and looked down at the valley below and noticed a spike bull coming toward us. The spike eventually winded us and took off in the opposite direction. My dad called again and we heard what sounded like the big bull respond from down in the valley.  My dad looked at me and I said “we might as well chase him, it’s too late to go back now”.

We started scaling down the side of the mountain. It was steep! As we walked, the bull kept bugling. I noticed he was getting louder and more angry as we got closer. My dad called once in a while to keep him interested. When we thought we were close enough, we sat down and I got the muzzleloader ready and got a good rest. My dad started calling. It only took a few minutes before he came around the corner and bugled. He was only 25 yards away and his bugle was so loud! The huge bull took a few more steps into an opening. I took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger.

At first, there was so much smoke that I couldn’t tell if I hit him. I heard my dad cow call and then I saw the bull stop. He stood there like I hadn’t hit him. My dad looked through his binoculars and said that I hit him right behind the shoulder—a double-lung shot. The bull then collapsed and rolled down the hill into the bottom of a ravine. We waited a few minutes and we walked down into the ravine once we knew he was dead. There, before my eyes, was my first elk. Wow! What a huge animal! I was so happy and my dad was so proud.

It took a lot of muscle to just get him into a position to get him quartered. Once we got him in game bags and hung in a tree we had the long walk back out. The plan was to return in the morning with my big brother and our mules.  What a hunt! My dad was right. When it seems that it’s not working out, you keep pushing forward and things can change fast. Wow did it ever!

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