I have been on some long, tough epic mountain hunts that to me seemed similar to what a brutal five round UFC title fight must feel like. I’ve come off the mountain many times very much feeling beat up and broke down. Back at the trailhead, sometimes I shrug off my pack weary on the heels of success, sometimes just weary.
After hauling a big buck or bull out of the mountains I am always thankful I’ve dedicated so much time and effort to physically and mentally preparing. Bowhunting rugged and remote country is not for the meek. I don’t know any successful mountain hunters who aren’t hard as nails tough. To prepare for this challenge one must be dedicated.
My goal is to train so hard that even the toughest hunts seem easy. Yes, Train Hard. Hunt Easy.
That hasn’t happened yet, but that is what I strive for. Fighters must feel the same. As trained fighting machines, when they strap that championship belt on after going toe-to-toe with their opponent the victor must take great pleasure in knowing that all their training was worth it. The blood, sweat and tears pushed them over the top and it was their hand that was raised. Their sacrifice was rewarded.
My recently concluded elk hunt in the high country of Colorado was not like my typical bust your butt, testing of wills bow hunt. Yes, the country was rugged and yes, I was after wild country bull elk, which by the time they reach trophy class status are really, really good at staying alive. No 6, 7 or 8-year-old bull is going to stand there and commit suicide as I send my arrow towards his chest. I know that well and then throw in the fact that I’d be hunting at over 11,000 feet in elevation, with a Team Elk cameraman in tow with the late arriving rut not yet kicked in to high gear and all the elements were in place for the classic ground and pound marathon.
I’d hunted this country before, last season in fact. And, it was tough. Finally, towards the end of my week long hunt I caught a break and with Justin Adkisson cow calling behind me and Adam Moffat running the camera for Under Armour and Team Elk TV, an old 6×6 emerged from the dark timber out into a secluded meadow and gave me a 45 yard opportunity that I made good on. I loved where I killed that bull, it was high up on the mountain off a remote pack trail in country that seldom sees other hunters. A place I am drawn to.
So this year, just a couple days ago in fact, I was again teamed up with Justin and a new cameraman for RMEF’s Team Elk, a young man by the name of Ty Cary. I knew Justin and knew what I was getting with him…a seasoned bowhunter and good guy who I enjoy hunting with. Ty was a bit of an unknown for me. I’d been acquainted with him since he was a teenager as he is from the same town as me…Eugene, Oregon. He’s had a passion for hunting and shared many of great adventures with his dad and brother over the years. Being from Oregon I figured he’d be tough. Everyone from this neck of the woods is. And I knew he had been chasing his hunting and filming dreams for much of his young life. I gave him a Bowhunting Trophy Blacktail sticker about 10 years ago and it is still on his truck today. What I didn’t know was what kind of professional cameraman he was? We were fixing to find out. It was trial by fire as trying to film a bowhunt in the mountains for trophy animals is honestly, one of the toughest things I think there is to do. Period. There is a lot that can go wrong in trying to capture powerful film while pursing the wildest of animals in the rugged country they call home.
Joining me in camp was Adam LaRoche, first baseman for the Washington Nationals and of Buck Commander fame. There is no doubt Adam loves hunting, a passion fueled mostly by his pursuit of big whitetail…up until now. After this week I predict Adam will become an elk junkie like the rest of us western bowhunters. Regardless, I’ll say Adam and his cameraman Mike are two of the best guys I’ve ever met. Genuine as they come. It was great spending time with them in the mountains.
UPDATE: I just received word that Adam arrowed his first bow killed bull elk, a nice 6×6 at 55 yards, after stalking in from 200. That’s some good stalking & excellent shooting. I will post a pic up here as soon as I get one. Adam tells me that he was rocking his Beast Mode t-shirt when he killed, which obviously made the difference;-). I am so pumped for Adam…I remember the feeling of arrowing my first bull (1989) like it was yesterday.
The hunt itself still leaves me with a great feeling of mixed emotions. I train and prepare to be at my best right out of the gate. I put that approach to the test on this hunt. We started out before first light hiking up a pack trail up towards where I killed my bull last year. As I said I loved the area. We wanted to be 1.5 to 2 miles in by the time we had camera light.
This hike was a good one….thin air, cool morning, dark timber and that familiar smell of the high country, in short it was real “elky”. Everything I am drawn to. We were going slow and quiet. I had a good feeling about Ty. He wasn’t heavy-footed and every time I looked back he was filming (working). This is good. Justin was trailing, and he and I threw out cow calls every few minutes trying to initiate a response. The bulls were being shy.
As we approached timberline the country started to open up. In one of the first meadows I slowly approached I saw an elk, 80 yards away. I motioned for Justin to come up as Ty filmed. I whispered that we had and elk right in front of us. He was looking up the hill until I directed his attention RIGHT IN FRONT OF US. He threw his binos up and said, “That is a big bull!” I was looking at him too through my optics and I saw something different as he raked his antlers in a wallow. I asked, “Is he thin-horned?” I have no idea what I was looking at but seconds later I got a better look and WOW!
Instantly I was in kill mode (i.e. Beast Mode). I motioned for Ty to get behind me and told him we need to go SLOW and quiet. As Justin dropped back, I eased up through the trees to the edge of the meadow, staying in the shadows the entire time. From the edge of the trees, hidden in the black, I ranged the bull at 46 yards and quickly dialed my single pin sight in to 46 on the money. He was feeding now, facing us. I looked at him, with an arrow nocked, ready to pounce. He was wide and his tops were insane. I wanted him. Bad. Amazingly, this was the first elk I had seen on this hunt.
After about five minutes, he fed broadside. I was shocked that the wind has stayed good for us this long. On the walk up the mountain it had been everywhere. I checked with my wind detector probably 10 times and each time it was blowing a different direction. This was frustrating, but as soon as I got in range of this bull, it held for us. Crazy luck.
I came to full draw and he heard something. He stared in our direction with a small tree covering his vitals. I held my bow back hard, with my pack tugging on my shoulders and the wind sweetly blowing on the side of my face. Checking back on the camera with the time code, I held for about one minute. Seemed like longer. Finally, after staring us down and not seeing anything, he went back to feeding. I slowly honed my pin in on his lung area. I saw a dark spot I wanted to hit when his close front leg went forward opening up his vitals. He took a step forward, I picked my spot, whispered to Ty, “You on him?” and with a quiet response of “Yes”, I squeezed. My arrow hit about two inches off my dark mark. I pin-wheeled him. The big bull went 28 yards and piled up just out of view of the camera. I heard him go down though and couldn’t believe it.
On camera I said, I didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t know if I was happy or what? I was happy I killed a big bull, but I love the pursuit almost as much as killing. I couldn’t believe it was over already. I look forward to elk hunting more than almost anything. I love the challenge, digging deep, the test!!! I just scored a first round KO with a “Superman” punch and was shocked. Granted, this is what I work for all year. Success. But if felt weird. It’s feeling less weird now, especially looking at my photos and relieving the experience with video. Ty did great in this regard BTW. Incredible video. What a bull and what a hunt. I suppose hunts like this make up for those 10 day juggernauts in the Eagle Caps I endured for so many years.
After a quick photo session, we broke down the bull, laid it out to cool and with the help of Brenda Powell and her mules we got my sweet elk meat off of the mountain.
In closing, I will say I am not a guy who says you have to use this gear or that equipment to be successful in the elk woods. I know many guys use and believe in different products and find success along their own path. That being said, for me, in my style of hunting my current line up of hunting gear has me operating on the highest level I ever have. I have so much confidence in everything I am using from my boots to my bow. I have always worked really hard to earn confidence in my ability and equipment, but this year there isn’t a shred of doubt that I will get it done. That feels real good. Currently, I am 9 for 9 this season, including three good bulls and two great bucks killed in the last three weeks on film for Team Elk. After next week’s New Mexico elk hunt I hope to wrap up September with a Perfect 10!
Check out my current gear list above under the Gear heading.
Cameron R. Hanes
Train Hard. Hunt Easy.