By Bob Kotte
-- I live in the small town of Highland, Wisc. Every couple of years or so, when I am able to pinch and save enough money, my buddies and I go on a hunting trip to Gunderson National Forest in Colorado.
I hunt in my local area, but a trip west is a whole different world to us small-town hunters, and being there with your buddies makes it all the more special. We usually go for mule deer and sometimes elk. We all get are share of the muleys, but we don't take home many elk, but I was lucky enough to take a small one a few years ago.
Our last trip to Colorado was a five-day hunt in September of 2006. At 60 years old, climbing them hills and mountains is getting a little more difficult then it used to be. I had pretty much made up my mind that it would be my last trip west for elk, and my hopes were very high.
There were five of us on that trip, but we split up to cover more ground. I had spent the first two days scouting and watching for elk sign. I had seen a mule deer that was so big that it could have passed for a small elk at that distance, and the sight kept my spirits up. I covered lots of ground but saw nothing -- neither had the others.
Every year that we had gone to Colorado, we set camp at the same spot and we know the area fairly well. On the third day, I decided to go farther then my normal route. Up higher then I had ever been. I was getting a little discouraged since I had gone so far and still hadn't seen any elk. I decided to stop and take a short break.
I sat down on a rock and relaxed for a moment, putting my riffle next to me and opening my water to take a drink. I was enjoying the beautiful view and listening to the sounds of nature as I picked up a candy bar. Then I froze. I heard the sound of a large four-legged animal walking heavily through the woods to my left.
I put down my snack and very slowly reached for my rifle. Now I could see four legs walking only about 40 yards away on the other side of a thicket. My adrenaline was pumping since I saw it was an elk, even though I still couldn't tell anything else about it.
I glanced quickly to a small opening just ahead of elk, raised my riffle and zeroed in on the 3-foot hole. It seemed to take several minutes for the animal to reach the opening.
I took a breath and held it as a large set of antlers came into view as the elk walked into the opening. I squeezed off a shot, and the bull jumped and headed down the hill at full speed.
As fast as he went, I began to think I might have missed, but there shouldn't have been any way the shot was off target. I tried to follow the fleeing elk with my eyes but soon lost sight of it in the branches.
Not waiting, I began to look for tracks or a blood trail -- but nothing. A few minutes later, I heard a loud thump. I zeroed in on the direction of the noise and followed it right to my elk.
It turned out to be an older 800-pound 4x5 bull, and the shot was perfect. Then the excitement set in Wow, what a trophy!
The bull is now mounted on my very small living room wall, and I can still feel the thrill of the hunt when I look at him.