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Meaningful Journey – Quest for First Elk Complete

It took a half hour to close the 240 yards to reach the majestic beast. Euphoric adrenaline was met with the daunting task of hiking the steep slope in front of us at 11,500 feet elevation. My lungs were quick to recognize that the air is thin at these heights.

Finally, we arrived at my first elk kill.

The journey for this one, though, dates much further back.

The Gun

At the urging of his friend Len Palmatier, my dad bypassed all his own hunting rifles for his first elk hunt, and decided instead to take Len’s .300 Weatherby Magnum. In addition to being a friend of my dad’s for many years, Len also is one of the best rifle shots on the planet. A competitive distance shooter with a rifle, he’s forgotten more about ballistics than I’ll ever learn.

Len promised his rifle was a tack driver. It delivered, and dad shot his first elk on that hunt in 1996. He also fell in love with that rifle. He returned from the hunt asking Len, who helped steer many of my dad’s ballistic adventures, to find him a .300 Weatherby Magnum for his collection.

Settling on a familiar Remington Model 700 Classic that made up many in my dad’s collection, Len put a tedious level of effort customizing it into an absolute locked-in, tack-driving machine. Len still argues this .300 Weatherby Magnum throws a superior bullet to the gun he’d originally loaned my dad to take with him. This rifle was ready to serve as the big game rifle of choice for any of my dad’s future elk excursions. I dreamed of one day joining him for those hunts.

Only he never made it west again.

While several years passed where he could have made the trip back to the Rocky Mountains for elk, he put off those trips. He died in 2014 without the rifle ever making the trip.

With several rifles of my own to consider, there was no question which gun would be on the mountains with me when I made my first quest for an elk.

The Hunt

My Colorado hunt was several years in the making. Following a thorough review of locations and awaiting the non-resident draw for the first rifle season, I was on my way.

IMG_0212The five-day season leaves little time for rest. My first two days were filled with walking, listening, hiking and close calls. I was in decent shape but some of the steep elevation climbs and an accelerated heart rate impacted by elevation, adrenaline, and pace all made me wish I was readier than I was for these Rocky Mountains.

There were close calls over the first two days. Bull elk bugling within 50 or 60 yards failed to present themselves in thick terrain. Several small bulls, amidst the normal education process nature provides them, came well within range. Those young bulls clearly hadn’t graduated adolescence to learn “not all sounds in nature are in fact the animals that they’re imitating.”

It was quickly the third day of the season. We opted to trade the flatter foothill meadows for the high-elevation terrain to start this morning.

Mikey, my Sherpa on the 60,000 acres that made up the ranch I was hunting all week, navigated a nearly hour-long drive up the mountains on a Polaris. We parked, then hiked through the mountains another hour in the dark to an elevation exceeding 10,000 ft. There it became daylight.

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We could see elk feeding up the mountainside, taking advantage of unseasonable green grass still growing along the avalanche slides that make the mountain look like a deserted ski resort. One bull, a good looking 5×5, caught my attention. We were still too far away for a shot and decided to hike closer.Once we closed the distance to 300 yards, the elk fed his way just out of the opening and into woods that made keeping tabs on him a tall task. Another close call.

We moved to another area on the mountain where we could watch over the direction the bull was seemingly headed. Over the next two hours, small bulls and cows meandered through the openings of the mountain. The sun was continuing its trek through the sky, a welcomed sight for a guide and his underdressed hunter sitting still on the mountainside in the low 20s temperatures. Elk bugles warmed the spirt, coming from both the east and west of where we were settled.

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At the very top of the mountain, we could see elk moving to the east, bypassing the openings of the slides. We opted to move down the mountain where we could get a better view of the direction they were headed. We settled into another spot and continued waiting. We had just agreed that we might just stay on the mountain all day. Something felt right.

Bugling continued and seemingly was starting to get closer. I convinced myself more than once that a bull was about to step into the opening at any moment. The adrenaline rush was spectacular. Cows with calves, and one small bull hit the opening. The deep growls from other bulls continued.

While watching a buck mule deer navigating a slide to the eastern side of the mountain, Mikey saw an elk.

“I think it’s one of those cows,” he said.

I needed only my eyes to tell that it was surely no cow. I quickly shouldered the scope-topped .300 Weatherby, my dad’s gun, to realize it was the same bull from the first part of the morning. He was standing on a rock some 240 yards away.

The first two days of the hunt proved how quickly you need to decide and make a shot on these bull elk. The opportunities come quickly. They leave even quicker.

Mikey and I didn’t say a word. I settled the crosshairs onto the bull and squeezed the trigger.

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The bull fell immediately. The 180-grain bullet is like a sledge hammer at these speeds. The steep terrain could have easily forced him to roll down the mountain.A small deadfall caught his antlers and he settled right where he fell off the rock.

Following a moment of jubilation for Mikey and me, we started the climb to the bull elk. Already holding a great deal of respect for the animals we’d been chasing, it’s hard not to marvel at the ability of 800 lb. animals to traverse these mountains. They make it look so easy.

It’s not.

IMG_0231The trek off the mountain was grueling. It also ranks among the most exhilarating efforts in nearly 30 years of hunting.

After quartering the elk, it took nearly four hours just to get to a location we could get the Polaris.

IMG_0230Nearly six hours after I pulled the trigger, we made it back to camp!

The entire experience that day was remarkable. There was exhaustion, warmth, freezing hands, sleepiness, a heartbeat of 140 beats per minute, snow-capped mountains, laughs, cussing, back-slapping and smiles.

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There also were a few tears.

After getting the elk quarters cleaned and hanging in the meat cooler, I walked into my cabin to change clothes. I stopped at the nail in the corner and hung up dad’s rifle. I stepped back and took in the moment.I was tired, and the moment got me. A happy tear or two rolled down my cheek. The rifle and I both waited a long time to chase elk in these mountains and I wished my dad was there to help us both celebrate.

I look forward to returning to those Rocky Mountains again someday. This journey, though, was complete – for me and the gun.

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The Buildup For the Wapiti is Real!

It was in my teenage years when my dad returned from a western hunting trip with a set of elk antlers and a treasure chest full of the finest wild game I’d ever tasted. Several years before that, though, my fascination with elk hunting was well underway.

Banded Peak

The vast terrain of Banded Peak’s 50,000+ acres should lead to ideal elk hunting prospects. [image borrowed from BandPeakRanchOutfitters.com]

I love deer hunting. I’m talking that would-walk-to-Iowa-in-the-middle-of-the-rut kind of love for chasing the majestic whitetail with a bow and arrow. It’s driven me to success beyond what I ever imagined. I’ve chased deer in nine states, including many within the rich and sacred grounds of the mid west.

But I’ve always held a special place in my hunter’s imagination for pursuing the elk. Finally, after four decades on this fine Earth, I’m a week away from checking that proverbial box off of the ol’ bucket list.

As I embark on the final days of preparation, I can’t help but think that this might be the perfect time to do this hunt. While I never imagined that it would take me this long to journey west for such a hunt, I’m also somewhat thankful. I think I’m going to enjoy the experience far more today than I would have as the young hunter who once thought fulfillment was predicated by success.

To be clear, I’m traveling to Colorado next week with all of the drive to find success. However, I’m almost equally excited to fill storage cards with pictures and video of the terrain, landscape and overall experience. I’m serious!

I’ll be hunting the Banded Peak Ranches, which consist of three equally sized ranches that collectively encompass 50,600 acres of well-managed land. This ranch essentially serves to a potential elk hunter what the mid west does to a whitetail hunter.

Someday I will chase one of North America’s biggest game with a bow and arrow. For the first time, though, I opted to go through a two-year process of acquiring a non-resident bull tag to rifle hunt during Colorado’s first season. If all goes as planned, we’ll be catching the latter part of the elk rut and still have large bulls bugling to catch the attention of potential suitors.

My goal is to keep this blog updated with posts along the way.

Cat Tales: As part of getting ready for the hunt, I’ve been doing more exercise than I’ve done in years. Coupled with a work “get healthy” contest, I’ve been able to lose 17 pounds in the last 10 weeks. I feel better than I have in a long time and feel confident I’m headed to Colorado in the best shape I’ve been in since college. That all nearly crumbled earlier this week when I showed my age in experiencing a calf muscle strain during warm ups of a company softball game! Thankfully, it looks like I’ll be good to go for the trip! 

 

 

 

 


Wall Hanger Memory on Canvas

My burning outdoor passion is fueled by the lasting memories and vivid imagery that weave their way through my noggin.

Kindling to that fire often comes from those documented moments I capture afield. I take some kind of video cimg_7702forblogamera and still camera with me every time I hunt. I work hard to capture those memories that I’m nervous my mind will someday forget.

I also love fine wildlife artwork and its ability to take me to a place, many times in places I’ve been before, or even places I only dream of someday going.

One of my fondest hunting memories came in November of 2010 when luck manifested itself in the opportunity to shoot my biggest buck to date. Coincidentally, it was a series of pictures – two, taken over the course of two days – that had me perched 17′ up a tree for nine hours filled with optimism for the chance at this deer, that day.

I was in Hancock County, Illinois.

Ryan Kirby grew up in Hancock County, well within walking distance of that tree.

Kirby is a rising star in the world of fine wildlife art. A seasoned graphic artist with a rare brush talent, Kirby and I first met not long after I arroimg_7715wed that deer. He was living in North Carolina and mutual friends recommended we meet up.

Kirby recently finished a project for me that I’m absolutely thrilled about. I wanted him to memorialize my 2010 Illinois giant, and pleaded with him to consider doing so. At his recommendation, we opted to have Kirby alter an existing piece of work (“Posting Up”) to have it depict my buck.

The transformation of “Posting Up” into “The Culbert Buck” was fitting for a number of reasons, most notably the fact the midwestern giant is depicted alongside a rub on a sapling. My buck made a rub moments before I shot him! In fact, I also have that actual tree, which leans next to the mounted buck in my game room!

(Check out this awesome video of Ryan’s final work in the transformation.)

 

I was able to share in the experience of picking up the buck with my 8-year old daughter Sara. She documented the trip, and captured a brief interview with Kirby while we were there! Please watch that below!

 

I could not be more pleased with how it came out! The fine piece is a marvelous addition to our dining room. With it playing a role, the memories of that hunt will #LongLiveTheWildlife!

Cat Tales: To learn more about Ryan, and to see a number of his fantastic fine pieces of art, visit his site at www.RyanKirbyArt.com.


Ducks in the Dakotas

It doesnimg_2628‘t happen annually, but the near regular trip to North Dakota to chase waterfowl has become something I look forward to very much.

The hunting there is far better than what we enjoy in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina. This hunt, though, is rooted in the greatness that is camaraderie with longtime hunting buddies.

Richard Faulkner was half of a duo who introduced me to the Dakotas on my first hunting trip there more thaimg_2640n a decade ago. For 2016, we made the trip on our own. He’s also a great friend and the hours spent scouting (you often end up scouting more than you hunt) provide a great opportunity to catch up and ponder some of life’s situations.

This year, we had to work hard for the birds. That’s not a complaint. In fact, it was almost more gratifying to find success after working so hard – and driving more than 1,000 miles of North Dakota flat land.

img_2624Among the great things of meandering the roads of North Dakota is seeing so much history. It’s easy to find your mind wandering to potential stories of old land, some of which you can tell hasn’t been lived on since the dust bowl some 80 years ago.

The video below is a mash-up of our hunting in North Dakota over the first four days of the non-resident duck hunting season.