A Family Affair – DIY Colorado Archery Elk Hunt

Over a dozen bulls moved along the hillside in the last light of the long day. With no time to make a move to hunt them, we stumbled our tired, exhausted bodies back to camp.
Elk Hunter, Angela
Angela Huitt

September in Colorado brings cooler mornings, the color change of Aspen leaves in the mountains, the fascination with pumpkin spice everything and most importantly, archery season. This year I got my first elk tag for a draw unit. In years prior, I hunted with an over the counter tag. The excitement of this hunt dwindled some as the summer passed due to the dozens of wildfires and severe drought. Hunting, in general, would be more difficult; I was going to have to work for it if I wanted a chance at harvesting a bull.

Hunting for us – my husband Kris and my son Mason – is more than killing an animal to fill our freezer. We relish the time together in the mountains, doing something that we love as a family. Mason has gone with us on every adventure since before he was born, and this year would be no different.

Preparing and planning for this hunt involved backpacking. The substantial amount of private property in this unit left the public land congested with other hunters. The anxiety of the unknown had me nervous because I had never experienced backpack hunting. Ultimately, it was the best option. This decision led to strenuous physical training during the summer. I spent countless hours at the gym doing weights and cardio. The mile-long trail near my house bore the weight of my body and the additional 40-50 pounds loaded in my hunting pack nearly every night. The stair-stepper machine became my friend, as I would spend my time climbing with my weighted pack, despite the odd looks I received. I pushed myself and worked hard for months before the season started.

The day arrived and our backpacks were bursting at the seams with gear, food, and bare essentials for our little family to survive the days ahead. The energy and excitement had slowly diminished with each step on the ascent of our hike. The never-ending trail was steep and rocky, with thick sage and oak brush taller than Mason. With each step, I felt my legs burning and beads of sweat dripping from my hair, neck and forehead. My backpack got heavier the higher we climbed. My hands held my trekking poles and displayed an almost robotic motion as I would lift and heave the pole forward and into the ground for each step. It was miles of pure misery to the top, but we all made it!

Angela, Kris and Mason

We set up camp just off the trail in the trees. Temperatures were still hitting the mid-80s so we utilized as much shade as possible. Knowing the heat would have the elk bedded in the shade until sunset, we took a much-needed rest before setting out on the evening hunt.

Over a dozen bulls moved along the hillside in the last light of the long day. With no time to make a move to hunt them, we stumbled our tired, exhausted bodies back to camp. Minutes after crawling into his sleeping bag, Mason was snoring. Fatigued, our feet aching and throbbing with moleskin covered blisters, Kris and I lay there listening to bulls screaming their heads off all around our camp through the night and early hours of the morning. It was a melody of bugles that I can still hear; the night’s song had me excited to see what the morning hunt would bring.

The following four days were exciting and disappointing. We had managed to have some really close calls with several different bulls. I had one at 12 yards, one at 38 yards, and one at 90 yards and saw several others but never got close enough to talk about. We hunted hard and wore out the soles of our boots with the miles we walked every day. Sleeping on the ground and eating freeze dried food was not for the faint at heart. After nearly a week, I was mentally starting to break and I shed some tears, but we continued to push through, knowing it would pay off.

The morning of the eighth day, under the light of headlamps, we began our morning hike stumbling on aching, tired feet. Our destination was a canyon that bedded at least six bulls the night before. The hope was to be there at sunrise, ready to make something happen. We were midway between camp and the canyon when a bull’s ear-piercing bugle filled the quiet morning air and froze us in our tracks. Mason’s eyes were as big as saucers! With wind blowing in the absolute worst direction, we had to be quick to get ahead of the bull and get the wind in our favor.

We quickly and quietly made our way toward the bugling, stopping only to call and listen for his response. When he would call back, we could locate his area and continue to move. This went on for about a mile. When we finally had the bull pinpointed, Kris and I dropped our packs under an oak bush and with Mason, made our way to a small clearing to set up. I was on my knees in the sagebrush, Kris and Mason behind me. With my arrow in my rest, the nock attached to my string and my release clipped to my d-loop, I was ready. Adrenaline was surging through every ounce of my trembling body. I could hear the bull moving closer to us, glunking through the brush and calling out in response to our faint cow call. He was so close! Kris saw my body shaking and whispered in my ear, “Relax and take some deep breaths.” I inhaled deeply and exhaled every ounce of air from my lungs repeatedly until I felt like I was regaining control of myself. Just moments later, Kris whispered again, “Draw back” and as I did, I could see the white tips of the elk’s antlers just above the brush, walking just left of where we were sitting. With my bow at full draw, the string pressing into my cheek and nose, my body stopped moving and my mind was clear.

The elk stepped out, but stopped where our only view was his head and neck. I held my position. Kris whispered the distance, and I settled my 30-yard pin on where his vitals should be. I waited patiently, and the bull started to walk again. Here it was, my perfect opportunity! My pin was placed perfectly behind the front shoulder, steady. My index finger squeezed the trigger of my release and my arrow plunged forward. The blade of my broadhead connected with the tan body of this majestic animal and he leapt forward and took off into the brush, disappearing from sight. Sudden shock set in and my body felt numb. Before I had a chance to let my mind veer off to any of the ten thousand directions it could have, my little boy jumped up from the brush with his thumb aiming for the sky and yelled, “Good shot, Mom!”

My sweet boy’s little face had distracted me for a few moments. Kris had already hugged me and congratulated me on a good shot but I was not sure that it was good. Tears filled my eyes and I kept saying, “I think it was too high! I know it was high.” Kris calmed me down, reassuring me that he had seen the shot and it was good. He had heard the elk crash not far from us. Mason chimed in telling me he had seen the shot and heard the arrow go “whap!” My heart sank when Kris found my arrow about 30 yards from where the bull had been hit. Horror stories we ha ve heard about how the animal got away when the arrow fell out were haunting my mind at that point. I was feeling low. We continued to follow the blood trail and only 60 yards from where I shot – there he was. His body was still, his breathing was done, my bull was right there. I did it! I harvested my first elk, with my bow and with my husband and son supporting me.

Mason was the first one to arrive to this big, magnificent bull laying there. He grabbed his antlers and said to me, “I am so proud of you, Mom! I knew you could do it!” A giant rock-like lump crawled into my throat and tears overflowed from my eyes and onto my cheeks. Mason hugged me tightly and time stood still. That moment, as I held my little boy, is one of the greatest moments of my entire life. We did it, all of us.

Hunters Hug

The high of success was taken over by work. Quartering and deboning the elk took us about an hour and a half, and the heat of the day was creeping up on us. We worked efficiently and quickly, and cooled the meat as fast as we could. That was the easy part. The two miles back to our camp was the longest two miles I have ever walked, especially with the heavy load on my back.

Once at camp, Mason and I stayed and packed things up while Kris made two more trips back for the rest of the meat. We called several of our close friends earlier that morning, begging for help packing out, promising them dinner and beer. Luckily, four of them took the bait and made the trek up the mountain to help. The seven of us loaded our packs with gear, meat and the antlers and began the proud yet miserable hike to the trucks. What a great group of guys I had surrounding me that day. After nearly 50 miles of hiking, without them, I would probably still be hiking and packing things out right now!

The days and weeks after my hunt ended were surreal. The excitement over the antlers was overshadowed by our family’s adventure. The moments of frustration, the laughs, and the tears created this embedded memory that I will remember and talk about for the rest of my life. What I left out were some of the moments that make archery hunting with my son real. The moments when we would be in the heart of bugling elk and Mason would whisper, “I need to go to the bathroom.” Or when he would be snoring under some brush or catching horned toads. These moments are real and raw, they are not staged or planned. It is our life. What I love most from this whole adventure is listening to Mason tell the story of the hunt through his eyes. The way he talks about sleeping on the ground and playing go-fish a hundred times at camp. The way he promised me a dollar and a coin from his piggy bank if I made it back to the truck without whining. These are the details that make hunting a success; Kris and I hope that Mason can hold these memories and pass them to his kids.

Written by Angela Huitt. Huitt is an avid outdoorswoman and a Colorado big-game hunter.

3 Responses

  1. Awesome! Love this story! The memories you created for each other are priceless. We are blessed to live in a state with a great Parks and Wildlife agency that IMHO is one of, if not the best in the country. I hope your story here encourages many more families to make the joy, the wonder, and the learning that comes from being in the outdoors a family affair. Take your kids fishing, hiking, camping, hunting, or wildlife watching/photography, any or all of these. There are many nearby, easy and quick opportunities as well. All of our kid’s future will be better for it.

    1. Thank you! I couldn’t agree more. I love the outdoors and that I get to share the passion with my son. I was archery hunting at 34 weeks pregnant with him and he has been going ice fishing, hunting, camping, ect since he was 6 weeks old. He has the same passion and fascination for nature that I do. We don’t do video games and minimal TV! He prefers to be outside shooting his bow or his gun!

  2. That was an amazing hunt..You made memories of a lifetime..Reading this brought fond memories of years past..Thank tou for sharing.

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