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
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
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,
The elk stepped
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
Mason was the first one to arrive
The high of success was taken over
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
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.