If there had been a couple rows of letters above his image, the distant bull elk would have illustrated the cover of any respectable outdoor magazine.
I had seen the same image more than once in my dreams but this was no sleep time show, this bull was the real deal and he was cruising the edge of a near-vertical expanse of dark pine timber on the far side of a grass meadow.
A companion and I were exploring the country north of our campsite, quietly moving along a valley of autumn dry meadows, rich golden aspen groves and leafless birch tress.
A bubbling Soap Creek, fed from still higher springs and brooks, sped past our footprints, and the distant screech of a golden eagle provided the sound track for this perfect scene with our whispers the only distraction.
The ridges above traced a winding path of stone, wind twisted trees and mature timber. A perfect postcard for sure.
We liked what we discovered. Lots of elk tracks and scat, sure markers of passing animals. Then, hardly a mile or so from our tent camp, the big bull showed himself.
The law here says that we can kill a bull or a cow elk but if we decide to pull the trigger on a bull it must be a mature animal with at least four points on one of its antlers.
This elk needed no count. He carried a set of trophy antlers, just like the pictures on outfitter brochures. He was huge, mature, and in charge of all that he could see and patrol — and more. We knew that he probably had a harem of cows bedded somewhere nearby so we had to move slowly and without commotion.
But trophy animals don’t get to be old by being careless and perhaps lucky. This bull was no exception. That bull gave us the slip but we would have other chances during the week. After all, we had booked this elk hunt in one of Colorado’s premier elk habitats, a remote, rugged and challenging piece of real estate.
Three friends and I have chosen the West Elk Wilderness for a weeklong adventure, one that includes exploring hidden canyons, steep grass meadows, loose shale slides and nearly impassable dark timber. Good elk country.
Several national wilderness areas were set aside by a federal act in 1964 including the West Elk Wilderness, one of five such areas in Colorado.
In 1980 the state added to the wilderness, increasing its range to its current size. There are nearly 200 miles of identifiable trails within the wilderness for hiking and riding with elevations ranging from 7,500 to nearly 13,000 breathtaking feet.
The landscape here was created by volcanic activity some 25 million years ago. Mud and stone pushed through the ground and eons of wind erosion have carved the peaks and valleys into a twisted sky scrape of rock cliffs and steeple-like peaks.
Wildlife abounds here. The elk herd is in excellent shape but perhaps under-hunted due to the rugged terrain. Mule deer, black bears, coyotes and mountain lions like it here and eagles spiral overhead.
We had daily visits by camp jays that enjoyed our crumbs and tossed treats and dark-colored pine squirrels provided further entertainment.
But camping in officially designated wilderness areas is not all fun and games. At 10,000 feet, a hand-powered crosscut saw and muscle-powered axe can quickly tire even the strongest of Ohioans and water drawn from a nearby creek can be an exhausting load to tote back to camp.
And it’s always a chore to rise in the middle of the night to restock a chilled wood stove.
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