By M. R. James, Founder/Editor Emeritus
ABE'S SWEET ELK TALK soon had the ridge top herd boss worked into a bugling frenzy. The demure cow chirps and mews - occasionally complemented by a defiant bugle - were being constantly interrupted by the enraged bull's growling screams. Suddenly I could see him pacing just below the forested skyline, hurling insults down at his unseen challenger. He obviously was torn between the chance to add more cows to his harem and the possibility of getting his tail kicked by the interloper bull.
A tall, swept-back rack flashed through a narrow opening among the white trunks of the quakies. The bull was only 80 yards above us now. But all around him, chestnut and cream-hued cows flowed through pools of September sunshine, navigating the undulating contours of this timbered sidehill. As the final stragglers finally angled away, the bull threw one last bugle our way, turned, and trotted after his departing harem.
For more information on this hunt, contact: Aaron Dembowski, 4A Mountain Outfitters, 301 Hillcrest Ave., Dept. BHM, Rangely, CO 81648; (970) 675-8616; www.4Amountainoutfitters.com.
Fully guided hunts cost $3,200 and include transportation to and from the Grand Junction airport and all ranch hunting areas, delivery of trophies for meat processing and taxidermy work, comfy lodging, and three tasty meals daily. Unguided hunts, based from a remote ranch cabin in prime elk habitat, are $2,000 per hunter.
Nonresident elk licenses, costing $470.25, are readily available over the counter at sporting good stores, Wal-Mart, Kmart, etc. Limited mule deer licenses are available on a drawing basis. Any bowhunter interested in hunting deer as well as elk should query Aaron about exact costs and drawing procedures.
For information on Abe & Son Natural Elk Sounds and videos, contact: Abe Meline 66132 Sunshine Rd., Dept. BHM, Coos Bay, OR 97420; (541) 267-4362; www.abe-son.com.
For my '02 Colorado elk hunt I carried my Mathews Q2XL compound and Beman 400 ICS arrows tipped with Rocky Mountain Titanium 125 heads. My choice of camo was Trebark's Bigwoods pattern. Footwear consisted of Cabela's Scent-Lok Silent Stalker sneakers and Baer's Feet.
I had no time to be disappointed. Glancing back to where Abe knelt beside his video camera a dozen yards away, I realized the growing drumbeat of elk hooves was echoing in my ears. Swiveling my head like a big-eyed owl, I peered to my right just as a satellite bull pounded into view. The young raghorn slid to a stop less than 20 yards away, searching for the source of all that elk talk he'd just heard.
Now it was my turn to be torn by indecision. There were plenty of bigger bulls around, I knew, but at this particular moment none happened to be standing broadside at pointblank range. Besides, my allocated hunting time was fast slipping away like that wary old herd bull. All too soon I'd be heading home to Montana. And it wasn't as if I didn't enjoy wapiti venison almost as much as a set of wall-hanging elk antlers. Such rationalization finally swayed me. Heeding the practical don't-look-a-gift-elk-in-the-ivories argument, I lifted my bow for the gimme shot.
SOMEHOW A HALF DOZEN seasons had slipped away since I last drew on a Colorado elk and tagged a boomer 7x7 mountain monarch that netted over 340 Pope and Young inches minus deductions totaling more than 20 points. Honestly, after that I was perfectly content, and it took a phone call from Max McPeek, an old bowhunting colleague from Michigan, to infect me with another bad case of Colorado elk fever.
"You're not going to believe this place," Max said after his 2001 Colorado bowhunt. "I've never seen so many elk. Three of us filled our tags in less than a week. You gotta check it out for yourself."
And check I did, first reviewing video footage Max provided, and then talking with Aaron Dembowski, owner of his Rangely-based 4A Mountain Outfitters. What I saw and heard certainly piqued my curiosity. Despite having a full plate of bowhunting trips already dished up for the '02 season, I couldn't resist sending a deposit to Aaron, booking a brief mid-September hunt. I simply had to squeeze in time to see for myself if the elk hunting was as good as Max claimed.
Teaming with Aaron and Ralph "Abe" Meline, the noted Oregon-based elk caller and founder of Abe & Son Natural Elk Sounds, I was into elk each time we headed afield. Talkative bulls were everywhere, although the annual rut hadn't yet kicked into high gear. Mostly the herd bulls we encountered simply blustered about in response to Abe's challenging calls, voicing menacing threats while rounding up their cows and moving them safely away. But several backed up their rutting bravado by swaggering close enough to set my pulse pounding as I desperately looked for a clear shooting lane in the thick hillside brush. Although no shots materialized, I sensed it was simply a matter of time until I'd get my chance.
This working cattle ranch - situated east of Douglas Pass in the heart of some of Colorado's historically best elk and mule deer areas - contains some 30,000 private acres of prime wildlife habitat. Recent game surveys taken there revealed 40 bulls for every 100 cows living on the rugged ranchlands.
"We take pains not to push the elk around and disturb them," Aaron explained. "I like to take no more than 5 or 6 hunters each week, providing each with a quality hunting experience."
Aaron Dembowski knows the area well, having hunted the ranch since he was a teenager and later guiding hunters th
ere for 10 full years. He's operated his own outfitting business for the past three seasons and now hopes to attract interested bowhunters wanting an unforgettable elk hunt. The experienced guides he employs also are intimately familiar with the ranch, most having worked cattle there in the off-season.
"I like getting in close," Aaron admits. "We have hunting areas to suit anyone's hunting experience and physical fitness. We offer both fully guided hunts where lodging, meals, and ranch transportation are furnished, as well as a cabin for bowhunters wanting to hunt on their own and prepare their own grub. About 15,000 acres of private land are set aside for the guided and unguided hunting setups, so there's plenty of elbow room."
And plenty of elk, too.
During one late-morning photo session as I snapped photos of Abe and Aaron demonstrating their bugling prowess, a nearby bull responded and moved in to determine what all the fuss was about. It wasn't until he spotted the two-legged "bulls" that the vocal wapiti finally decided he didn't really want to join their mountainside serenade. Moreover, not a morning or evening passed that I didn't get to nock an arrow and set up as some horny bull responded to our coy cow calls or challenging bugles. And at last I found myself staring through my sight window at a clueless raghorn standing broadside a few short, brushy uphill yards away.
I NEVER SAW THE TWIG that deflected my arrow. One instant the carbon shaft was blurring away on a collision course with the bull's rib cage, and the next it had nosedived under his chest and skittered into the brush beyond. As I gaped in disbelief, the raghorn jumped, turned, and briefly stared down at me as I groped for a follow-up arrow. Naturally, the elk was long gone by the time I managed to nock a second shaft.
Not to worry. Good ol' Abe had dutifully captured the entire encounter - and blown shot - on videotape. So anytime I want to relive my memorable 2002 elk hunt in the mountain canyons of west-central Colorado, I can do so simply by slipping a cassette into my VCR.
It's not the real thing, of course, but it'll keep the fever burning until my next visit to a certain corner of Colorado elk heaven.
HAPPY HUNTER - Terry Rohm traveled from his Georgia home to western Colorado to collect his 5x5 bull.
GOTCHA! - Outfitter/guide Aaron Dembowski (right) called this bull within range of Michigan bowhunter Brett Smith's arrow.
HIGH COUNTRY HEADQUARTERS - This comfy ranch house is the base of hunting operations. Hunters stay here or in a nearby cabin.