Rocky Mountain Outfit — American Mountain Men (AMM) party of Colorado

Elk Hunting Adventure in Colorado

by Tom Karnuta, Posted May 23rd, 2012
This article appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of the Tomahawk & Long Rifle.

Like many of us, I truly love to hunt alone and it has always been a goal of mine to complete a successful elk hunt totally solo. I was fortunate to accomplish this goal this past season, and it was truly a great adventure.

I parked at just over 10,000' and planned to camp at around 10,600'. There is an incredibly beautiful meadow at 10,800' that I wanted to be able to access and hunt at first light, so the idea was to pack into camp which would take about an hour and a half hike. I figured I'd hike in to some good spot, no cooking and no fire, minimal gear and set up a cold camp, wake up in the morning and hunt the meadow.

As I was closing in on the area where I had planned to camp the little hairs on the back of my neck started to twitch and it just felt like elk. I was already in hunt mode but this really put me on a stalk. Not five minutes later I notice a big rock about 70 yards up ahead that was the color of an elk. Stopping to observe, I saw some shadow movement and realized it was an elk, but since its head was not visible I couldn't tell if it was a cow or bull. After a few moments it picked its head up and it was a cow. Game on.

I was already in shooting range so I sat down and took aim just as the elk walked behind a tree. I was in some pretty dense timber and could not see the elk or any movement. I took this opportunity to roll onto my back, get out of my backpack, and crawl up to a log a few feet in front of me. Not 20 seconds later the cow walks perfect broad side back into the slot between the trees. "Kerr Smack." My gun went off like a rocket; the cow picked its head up, and bolted. I quickly gave a few cow calls just to try to calm things down a bit and get the elk to stop running.

Of course my heart is just pounding at this point, and I kicked back, reloaded, lit up my pipe, and sat. After 30 minutes and a nervous smoke, I walked up to where I shot at the elk to have a look see. Nothing, bummer; and I start wondering how I could have missed at this range. To be honest the way my gun went off I just could not have missed. I headed across the creek following the last seen path of the cow and started doing a semi circle search. It was really dense timber with lots of down fall so it was tight and tuff to see anything let alone some blood.

I was really concentrating looking down on the ground for any kind of blood, which I wasn't finding, and all of a sudden I looked up and not 10 feet in front of me (yep I said feet not yards) was the butt end of the elk. It is just standing there like it's ready to go down, and has no idea I'm right behind it. But, all I could see was its hind legs and rear end. I couldn't shoot the darn thing again even though it was at arms length. I reason, if I can take a quick short step to the left I could possible put a quartering shot right through the heart. I had my rifle down at my side and with my left hand over the lock to muffle it, put it to full cock. "CLICK!" The cow picked its head up, looked over its shoulder right into my eyes, and took off like a rocket. "Great now it knows it's being tracked."

After the elk took off I walked up to the spot where it was standing and there was some good blood. At this point I knew my shot had hit the elk, but where? The darn elk was still alive and bolting. I once again sat down for about 30 minutes, and then started to track.

The elk was not bleeding a great deal and tracking it was difficult at best. At times I had to get down on my hands and knees to look for sign. I had been tracking now for over an hour and the light was fading fast. Prior to starting to track the elk I had grabbed a few basics from my pack like extra knives but was still in a very light shirt and did not have much else. I started getting worried about finding my way back to my pack once darkness set and decide it was almost time to pack it in. All of a sudden I heard a large animal running along a talus slope off to my left. I looked up and saw a cow bolting along the top of a slope back in the direction I had just come from. I thought "man look at it run, I must have just barely hit it." With darkness setting in, I ran up the slope to the point where I first saw the elk hoping to find some good blood sign. NOTHING! At this point I hung my head, headed back to my pack and setup camp.

It was a pretty restless night; I figured the elk could cover 30 miles in no time the way it was running along the slope. I went to sleep thinking I would stay with my primary plan of getting up early and heading to the upper meadow to hunt. However, some time before daylight I woke up reasoning; why would a wounded animal run up in elevation instead of staying on contour or going down in elevation? As I got up I decided to go back to the last blood spot I had found the previous night and try to stay on the blood trail. If it led up the slope to where I saw the elk maybe I could stay on it, or maybe, just maybe, the elk I saw running along the ridge was a different elk?

I managed to get back to the last blood spot at around 7:00 AM and once again was able to pick up some small blood sign. Instead of going off to the south and up the slope the blood trail continued on contour to the west. Yee Ha! The elk that I saw running along the ridge last night was indeed another cow, not the one I had shot. Needless to say I was elated and continued to track.

It was very slow going and at times I was literally crawling along on all fours looking for blood drops on the upside of Kinnikinnick leaves. Where the trail went through deadfalls the tracking was easy since the blood showed up on the fallen trees. But where game trails came together it was crawl like an animal with my nose and eyes on the ground. The elk was also pooping a lot which helped because it was easy to spot and smell. Twice I totally lost the blood trail and just about gave up the search. Before heading back though I sat down, had a smoke, and decided before I'd give up the chase I would have one more crawl. And twice I picked up the trail again. It was times of deep depression and total elation.

It was now around 10:00 AM and as I looked up ahead there it was, that rock that looked like an elk. Only this time it was not moving. After 3 hours I had hit pay dirt, my elk, "Perseverance."


At this point I was jumping up and down, taking photos and having a party. Eventually though I actually started looking over the scene and realized, "Oh crap." The elk didn't bed down in a nice meadow and bleed out, oh no, it died on the run, on a slope with an approximate 50% grade. Not only that, but when it augured in, both hind legs and one of its front legs went under deadfalls.

Well as you know deadfalls are like pick-up-sticks; you just can't move them. By cutting off one of the hind legs, using two pieces of good hemp rope and a couple of trees as pivot points I was able to get the elk over into a position I could work with. This took over an hour and lots of sweat.

Three hours later though I had the elk quartered, back straps and loins out, totally deboned and bagged. I put the majority of the bagged meat in the shade a short distance from the gut pile, grabbed the back straps and loins and headed back towards camp. It was around 3:00 pm so I decided to head on back to my buggy to dump my rifle, shooting bag, calls and back straps, grab my big pack and go back up to camp for the night. However, once I got back to my truck I realized that going back up to camp consisted of another uphill hour plus long hike with nothing but a couple of trekking muffins and a piece of jerky to meet me. So I jumped in the wagon and headed back to base camp and food and drink for the night.

My story back at camp that night was that I must have tracked the elk for over a mile. However, after getting a good look at my map the following day I realized it was only 1/4 mile from shot to death. Yep, 4 solid hours of tracking for 1/4 mile, give or take.

The next day started out nice and slow and was actually very enjoyable. As I was getting close to my kill site I noticed two coyotes looking at me prior to bolting down the hill. When I took a few more steps forward I noticed the orange bandanna I had tied around a tree at my kill. Luckily the dogs were in the guts and not my meat bags. It took an additional two trips to pack out the rest of the meat and one more trip to get my camp out. It took a total of four trips to get all the meat and camp out.

Done; almost, but not quite.

The next morning sitting around the fire drinking coffee and eating a big breakfast Nathan says "let's see the ivory." One more trip back up and then it was really a done deal. Luckily the head was still there and the ivory ended up in my bag.

What an adventure!


Hunt Specifics

Gun: TVM Late Lancaster w / Chambers flintlock
Load: 100 grains of 2f Goex under a .535 roundball patched with .018 pillow ticking and lubed with mink oil.
Shot Placement: Directly behind the right front quarter a tad low. The ball managed to miss the bottom of the lungs as well as the heart. It was forward of the stomach and seemed to have just found a way into the chest cavity without catching anything vital. I feel that the elk was ready to lie down just prior to when I walked up behind it 35 minutes or so after I shot it. Although the shot was a bit low, it didn't passed through any of the prime meat so I got a really good recovery.

Keep your flint sharp and your lock smooth and fast,
Tom Karnuta, #1981
Rocky Mountain Outfit