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Colorado ELK Quest 2010 - Finalized

PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 2:28 am
by GregE
Installment one

I had hunted NW Colorado in four previous seasons and knew that I’d like to be back in that special area where hearing ELK bugle would be a regular occurrence. When long-time hunting buddy Mike started talking with the brothers who had invited us to hunt with them previously it was early 2010 and I had some medical obstacles to overcome. My left knee had been getting worse since the cartilage was removed in 1962 and was grating bone on bone. Additionally my lower back had degenerated discs and was crooked and fused that way. Riding a large horse like I had in 2006 was very painful.

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Additionally Bandaid was an avid hunter and loved to be in the woods even when she couldn’t hunt as evidenced by our Montana and W WA ELK hunts last year and NE OR the year before. I knew her knee and shoulder problems would not allow her to get in condition to handle the 8500’ altitude for camp and as a guest I didn’t have invitational rights to bring others.

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After meeting with the orthopedic surgeon and verifying the recovery timeline made the hunt possible I decided to apply for a draw tag. Back fusion surgery in February then knee replacement in May with a lot of rehab conditioning made somewhat easier by the goal if seeing the golden Quakies in September. Having an in home nurse sure is helpful in my recovery and general well being. Finally, the tag arrived in the mail and the hard work at physical therapy three days a week for 2+ hours picked up intensity- sweating for a cause is a good thing. I was getting stronger and losing weight too. I was determined to stay below 200# after reaching that goal for the first time in 28 years.

Mike and I had a lunch meeting with brothers Dean and Stacey and found they had coordinated to get access across a ranch to the National Forest boundary and we wouldn’t need to use rental horses this year. Getting Bandaid’s ATV prepped was now a priority. I found a ATV cargo trailer and figured a way to load everything on the ATV trailer.

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20, 30, 40, 50 yards

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Shooting the bow, walking hills with a pack was interspersed with getting the house painted and the roof replaced. Soon it was time to get things together and head east. Craig Colorado is about 1150 miles and we started out at 0500 and made it into Wyoming before spending the night in Little America. That put us into Craig about noon the next day to get groceries, organize things and spend another night at 6100’ getting used to the altitude.

The view from the valley
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Camp will be near the top of the ridge

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We met the ranch owner the next morning and he drove his Ranger ATV up the nearly 5 miles to the forest service boundary. The Grizzly 600 would be parked on the ranch and our gear packed up the hill to the campground. Climbing the hill with a pack was done in short sections- walk 20 yards stop and gulp air- repeat numerous times. My pack was considerably smaller than Mike’s.

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Camp in the Aspen grove.

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After getting set up it was after 6 and Mike said he was tired and sucking air so I went out solo just over the ridge behind camp to see what I could see. Shortly a spike bull fed through the tree and circled back toward me getting about 50 yards away. He did not respond to my cow calls and after calling for a while I went back down the slope to camp in the darkening shadows. After a cup of noodles soup we crawled into our tents.

Laying on my air mattress we were serenaded by a growly bull ELK bugling just over the ridge where I had been earlier. Life is good.

Re: Colorado ELK Quest 2010

PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 11:03 am
by bakerb
You gotta finish it Man!!!!!

B

Re: Colorado ELK Quest 2010

PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 1:11 pm
by GregE
5 AM came real early and I got dressed in the tent with some difficulty as the knee bends less than it should and the lower back not at all. Mike had his coffee ready and hot water for oatmeal packets and the Chai tea mix I like. We started out just before shooting light and experienced sunrise through the aspens. No ELK were heard though and as the morning warmed up we came back to camp to improve things.

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I’d gotten some Tyvek to use for a ground cloth and tarp. It’s fairly cheap and tough but I failed to run it through the washing machine so it was really noisy when the wind whipped it. The stick on grommets worked well. The REI Half Dome 2 Plus had enough room for my stuff.

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Mike’s Sierra Design tent and his new Syltarp.

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Our water source was a nearby spring about 80 yards uphill and Mike had put two PVC sections together with the end deep in the rock. It would fill a gallon container in minute.

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We were camping in a spot used by a late season rifle group and the horse rails supported a small piece of plywood for a table and the firewood rounds made workable seats and a place to rest my foot while tying laces.

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We brought a target to camp so everyone could keep their equipment checked and I found I still had difficulty concentrating on the longer shots but I knew it wasn’t the bow that put one in the dirt.

I had my bee sting auto injector kit with me but still kept a lookout for these guys. There were two hornet nests near camp and we found numerous others in the brush we were pushing through. Luckily none were disturbed enough to cause problems.

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Mike had new hearing aids and was able to hear most everything I did. I had some loss from flying helicopters for many years but had pretty good luck determining direction. We used our hand signals to communicate and that worked well most of the time.

We had two days to hunt on our own before Dean, Stacey and Ken from Bend OR arrived on Thursday. The hope was we would have one ready to go to town when they got there but the weather had been very dry and hot for weeks and the ground cover sounded like Post Toasties. In addition the ELK were not vocal and did not seem interested in responding to our calls. We generally hunted early and late and rested during the hot middle of the day and found that our ‘wind’ was starting to improve along with our climbing ability.

Thursday morning Stacey arrived and after getting his things hauled up the hill I took the Grizzly and trailer back down the hill to get Dean and Ken when they got back from picking Ken up at the airport. The large trailer was a definite plus and we were able to get all the gear and four people back up to the parking area in one trip. I had to admit not having to chase and feed horses was a good thing though that was always a special part of the CO trip.

Here are the other tent arrangements.

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We salvaged an abandoned tarp and made a rain fly for the cooking area. Dean brought in a table and some chairs. We were getting real ‘up town’. 8-)

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Re: Colorado ELK Quest 2010

PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 1:22 pm
by Jerod B.
you still using a GKF stab???

Re: Colorado ELK Quest 2010

PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 1:53 pm
by GregE
Yep, It's a protoype Sims made for Golden Key with the Limbsaver chunks inside. Light, effective and long enough to prop my bow. I look at others but..... ;)

Installment three may take a while

Re: Colorado ELK Quest 2010

PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 3:35 pm
by GregE
The area has large aspen groves, spruce forest timbered areas and open fields with mountain mahogany shown here.

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The pine bark beetle has killed all of the pine trees I saw. Large patches of brown on the ridge show the extent of the destruction.

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The skies were clear dark blue so few clouds to lend color to sunrise and sunset shots. I kept trying to get a magic picture.

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This is called Rocky Point and was a view point enjoyed in 2004

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We experienced seeing the full moon at both sunset and sunrise – reportedly a rare thing.

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Re: Colorado ELK Quest 2010

PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 6:07 pm
by GregE
We did encounter some critters but the ELK were really sparse.

Dean, Stacey and Ken have the energy of youth and were able to move right along. About day four I decided I needed a 'recovery morning' and Mike went with Stacey who kindly slowed the pace enough to keep Mike on pace. I did some clean up and laundry around camp then went out for an afternoon hunt after leaving a note giving my intended plans. I encountered a single cow near where I had seen the spike on day one but it was near last light and she didn't want to play.

The few bulls we heard bugling were down on private land in an area that used to be DNR and previously described as "ELK heaven" on my earlier CO reports. We sure missed having access to that area- the location was prime and the public land had been visited by a couple hunting groups. We found where the horse camp had been and it was evident not everyone cared for the land like they should. Their camp overlooked a nice pond and wallow but no recent activity.

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One thing was consistent------ no matter which way we moved you could count on the wind blowing the same way we were trying to go. One morning we were working down a hill about 30 yards apart and Mike was calling blind when I spotted a bull coming in. I didn't have a diaphragm call in my mouth and it took several attempts to get Mike's attention. The bull worked his way into about 30 yards and stood sideways while he looked for the cow who had been calling. I had my camera out and tried to get some pictures as this was a raghorn 3x3 and we were in a 4 point minimum ( or antlerless) area. He ran off a bit but circled back twice when i called until he finally caught my smell and left. Another ELK was visible as they climbed up a rocky finger.

We hunted near 'Breakfast Hill' a couple times and enjoyed the vista.

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While hunting down low one morning we heard an ATV coming up to the private land/ forest service boundary. The group climbed off the ATV and immediately the "guide' started cow calling continuously with occasional locator calls. This went one for about 10 minutes while I sat on a large rock up the hill and shook my head at their approach. I was disturbed by the crash of branches as a group of ELK moved toward us stopping about 30 yardes away behind some trees. Nocking an arrow I tried to turn and the ELK tore back up the hill and the bull that was with them bugled.

The ATV group never heard any of this and they cranked up the engine to reposition and do it all over again.

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We got together to discuss what happened then followed the herd for a while but the slope had warmed and the wind shifted back to the 'wrong way' again.

We found and marked several springs and wallows- none showed recent activity.

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Another day we went higher up the NW ridge and found a number of ELK beds in the grass over a marshy area. Apparently the herd was trying to keep cool- it was still 70s to low 80s each day.

I went further down a ridge while Mike searched for an old vantage point. He got there and used his Hootchie Momma to signal me. A herd busted out of the timber below him where they had been bedded. Another group of 10 cow ELK moved through an open area and split up going into two forested patches. I caught up with him and took some pictures from this rocky overlook.

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Later we worked our way North trying to get the wind in our favor before circling back toward the beaver pond. We heard a bugle and saw fresh tracks but didn't wait quite long enough as a 5 point bull busted us from about 70 yards in the trees. We called back and forth and I worked further away throwing rocks and limbs calling and raking trying to draw him in. No dice.

We took a break on a little brushy knob and after a while I heard some limbs break. I gave Mike the attention, heard steps sign and motioned for him to creep back to the trail and move in. 10 minutes elapsed with nothing more heard and I joined him and then took the lead. 10 yards down the trail I spotted brown and motioned stop, down. A young lone cow was about 80 yards away and would be just fine in my freezer. She moved up slope as I moved in then circled left toward the beaver ponds probably looking for a herd.

We had been smelling smoke for several days and found out a forest fire was burning about 1.5 miles SW of us on the back side of the ‘flat top’ ridge. Helicopters and ground crews had been fighting this blaze for several days. The animals did not seem to be affected.


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Re: Colorado ELK Quest 2010

PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 8:20 pm
by GregE
I have ATT cell phone coverage in camp while those with Verizon had none. I was in my tent talking with Bandaid while the wind and rain was whipping my Tyvek tarp- it sounded like I was inside a drum. Thunder boomed as a cold front pushed through and in the morning we found 1/4 “ hail had added to the ‘drum’ noise. The ground was saturated so walking noise would be much less and the fire had been knocked down as well.

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This was Ken’s last day in camp as he had to be at the airport by noon. AS we chatted around camp ELK were bugling a couple hundred yards away. The cold front had finally started them going. I should have grabbed my bow but instead grabbed a skillet for pancakes.

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Ken packing his FAA approved bow case.

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For the afternoon hunt we again could hear several bulls bugling almost continuously but again, they were across the fence on private land and did not want to respond to Sleezy Cow calls. Dean and Stacey weren’t back by the time we had burgers cooked so we left the lantern on and I took the radio into the tent with me. At 10 I heard them come in, confirmed they had a bull down and told them dinner was ready to heat up. Mike was up at 5 and we decided we needed to be ready to help pack meat bags so didn’t go out.

We later found out that they already had the bull tagged and bagged and the two front quarters moved near the road for the ATV ride down the hill. So since they had things under control we went out to check the area near the old camp site.

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The area is relatively flat and we separated about 30 yards and worked through the alders. A bugle responded to Mike’s call and I moved up, nocked an arrow and ranged a couple reference trees. Shortly a good sized 6x6 came around the corner and stopped to look for the cow. Unfortunately, the trees were fairly spread out and the lack of response to his gathering chuckles made him suspicious. He turned and moved sideways stopping behind a spruce then tooka couple steps into the open.

I am a big supporter of knowing your effective range and staying within it. Discipline and concentration minimize sad endings. But I haven’t shot at critter since Dec 07 and had practiced this range recently putting two BH arrows in the target center- ( and one yip in the dirt) My heart pounding I put my pin where my adled brain said just over the back and put the arrow right there.

The bull turned and walked back into the trees and continued to bugle. I marked my shooting position and moved forward bugling trying to get him to turn around. After a couple minutes with no response I slipped over to search for my arrow knowing that the eye can be easily fooled. It was clean and stuck in a root.

I then moved toward the bull looking for Mike and cow calling with my diaphragm and Woods Wise bite and blow. Whoa- another bull bugled from up the hill. I reversed direction and moved back toward where I had taken the shot. As I came behind some spruce I heard hooves coming down the hill quickly. I had time to nock an arrow and get my release on the loop but the 5x5 bull stopped 20 yards from me and my body was turned too far to the left to draw. I kept my hat brim over my eyes and watched his feet trying to control my breathing and racing heart. The bull took a couple steps and as his head went behind an aspen I stated to realign my feet and draw.

Nope, he quickly spun, ran and stopped at 30 yards facing away. He went a little farther then circled back as I cow called. He left and came back twice- the last time he crossed where I had walked earlier and left for good.

10 days of frustrating hunting, then two bulls called in within minutes. Ya gotta love bowhunting ELK. ;)

Re: Colorado ELK Quest 2010

PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:08 am
by GregE
In the afternoon we decided to go up to the top of the ridge to a large spring/ wallow in the trees. Again, no recent activity but we set up, called, listened and watched for a time with no action. We hunted north toward the rocky point where Mike had recovered his ELK in 02. The dark was coming on quickly so we moved up to the edge of the precipice to look, listen and take some pictures. ;)

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ELK bugles rang out well below us as we made our way back down the steep slope.

Saturday morning was feeling a little tense- the season ended Sunday and we had put in a a lot of time and effort with little return. We went back to the old campground areal but nothing responded.

Saturday afternoon we went back to the north/ south ridge below camp. This area had been hunted a lot and we had seen the small herd coming into the ATV caller near there and had encountered another solo cow several days ago. We had heard a few bulls in that area, none had come in but the encounters had given us hope. This was our set up when I was calling and raking part way up the ridge.

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The top of the ridge

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Mike suggested that we set up on the ridge about 80 yards apart and listen – signaling with three calls when we needed to get together. I started up the ridge and encountered a lot of blown down trees so angled south to a more clear area in a saddle. Once across the ridge I went NE about 50 yards and found a downed tree to sit upon. About 4 the bull were bugling down in ‘ELK heaven’ and I called to Mike to get together. Getting no response after several calls I walked south along the slope of the ridge calling every 50 yards. I started bugling 3 times quite loudly.

Thinking he may have already slipped down the slope, I moved NE toward the bugles and set up near where I had a glimpsed an Elk coming in silent to one of our earlier set ups. After 20 minutes I headed back up the slope looking for Mike and calling loudly along the way. After going nearly to Breakfast Hill I didn’t have a good feeling but decided to go straight down the slope and work my way back toward the bugles.


By now it was after 6 so I cleared a spot for my feet in the noisy leaves, hung the bow with arrow nocked on a convenient limb, ranged a few reference trees, called a little and looked around. Whoa!! About 100 yards away was a large dark brown body, then another… and they were moving toward where I had set up earlier. Several more ELK came out and I spotted antlers- a couple more cows then smaller antlers.

This picture looking SW was taken a week earlier but shows this area. The herd came from the far left and were moving toward the far right staying along the line of darker shrubs.

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They started to turn uphill and I tried to move a little closer and a couple cows got nervous but the lead cow looped back toward me and stopped 20 yards in front of me, broadside. The larger bull was # 6 and the 4x4 was # 8 with about 10 more cows following. There was nothing between me and lead cow but a few bushes and the tip of my arrow but she started to walk on so I decided to wait on the bull. As he went behind an aspen I started to draw………. The lead cow took off north while the bull spun and went west along with more than half of the herd. They eventually turned north again and I could see a line of legs 150 yards up the hill that suddenly turned and ran south. I started calling and bugling in threes hoping to link up with Mike and chase the herd before sunset at 7:14.

Calling as I walked up the slope I was surprised to hear the bull bugle back – and he was moving closer. OK, change of plans again. I went silent and got the arrow nocked again as I scanned up the slope to the SW. Leaving the brushy field into the heavier aspen and spruce grove I spotted a cow further up the slope and heard the bull quite close. Looking through the branches of a nearby spruce- there he was about 20 yards away. The bull moved toward the cow and I paralleled his course past the spruce, stopping when he did, then taking one more step to clear a leaning sapling.

He was uphill between trees with only a few intervening brush limbs blocking the visual line of sight. I knew my arrow would arc over them if I had the range right but didn’t want to try to range the bull. 35 yards I told myself, aim hard and follow through. I noticed my 20, 30 and 40 yard pins were all on the body as I gapped the 30 and 40 on the ‘V’, tried to control my breathing and squeezed the release.

I did not see the arrow flight but the shot felt good and I heard a reassuring ‘thump’ just before the bull charged up hill along with several other ELK. The herd crested the ridge then I heard a high bugle in response to my call cows. I was hoping it was the 4x4. I started to move forward then talked myself back to flag my shooting position and replay the setup, shot and results. I don’t wear a watch much anymore but put the shooting position in my GPS and saw it was 6:20.

I quietly slipped up the spot the bull had stood finding dig marks in the soft dirt where he started to run, flagged that spot and then looked further to try to find the arrow. The pink ribbons kept me in line but after marking a spot 70 yards beyond and looking on the way back I had not found the arrow. The east slope of the ridge is in dark shadow and I know the sun is already behind the higher flat top ridge so darkness is coming on quickly. Being careful to not step on the bull’s tracks I searched for blood sign and I worked up and down the slope eventually getting to a small saddle I thought they went through and flagging it as well as adding the waypoint to the GPS. I made lateral search through the saddle looking at the downed trees and limbs for blood sign but found none. Rather than using my headlamp and possibly kicking the bull, I reluctantly started back to camp.

After the “where have you been?” discussion I found out that Mike and had arrived on the ridge to find me ahead of him rather than back to left where I’d started. He then went north to a rocky knob and had stayed there. Apparently his hearing aids had clogged up as he hadn’t heard me signaling nor the herd running back and forth about 100 yards below him. I wish he had- not only to be in on the hunt but I know that we make a good tracking team and we would have figured something out in the 50 minutes I had looked.

I repeated the hunt story to Dean and Stacey who came in later. We decided Dean would go with me early in the AM while Mike and Stacey hunted NW toward the beaver pond. 5 AM came early- even after a long, restless night.

Re: Colorado ELK Quest 2010

PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:23 pm
by GregE
Just before shooting light Dean and I crossed over an intervening ridge and stream and started up toward my marker at the top of the ridge. We were looking for sign and I started back to the bull’s location where we reviewed the shot angle and measured the distance with my rangefinder. I had difficulty the night before and had ranged 30- 45 yards which would have greatly affected the impact point.

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Dean is standing where the tracks are and my pink shot marker ribbon is visible. The uphill distance measured 32 yards. The zoomed in pic shows the brush limbs more clearly

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I started looking for my arrow and along the assumed trail to the ridge top while Dean followed his instincts and angled across the slope reasoning badly wounded animals rarely go up steep slopes. It wasn’t very long until Dean called that he had found blood.

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The blood splatters were not heavy but we followed them for a while making a few small turns. We were stopped when suddenly ELK appeared right in front of us- several cows and a 5x5 bull! I had my bow but pulled out my camera as I could see no wound on the bull and the cow stopped 30 yards from us. She caught my movement and headed back up the hill with the confused bull following. We watched as they worked their way across a bald knob and I confirmed with Dean that there was no wound on the bull. He then walked toward me and said ”I smell a stinky 5 point bull, congratulations!!” which was strange as the wind was from my back ( as usual). As he turned back I could see that the lead cow had passed within 10 yards of my bull.

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It was about 7:30 and we knew the morning would be warming up quickly. Dean sent a location and message to bring the cargo packs to Stacy on his Garmin 530. My Garmin showed the bull had traveled 85 yards and turned out to be a small 6x6 with a big body. This is the exit wound that was on the uphill side.

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A couple hours later we had the meat bagged and cooling when Stacey showed up with the packs. The brothers started hauling meat to the fence line about 300 yards away where Mike was waiting with the ATV. I was working on the cape and getting all the gear together and failed to get pictures of their much appreciated labors.

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We loaded the meat bags and got ready to go to Brother’s Processing in Craig while Dean got the other ATV to retrieve the head and gear. A quick trip to camp to grab my wallet and a change of clothes and we were off the hill by 10:30. Butcher, Laundromat for a much needed shower and a late lunch at Pizza Hut were the important events in town. Mike had a good idea so we grabbed some KFC and chocolate ice cream (in a small bag of dry ice) for my camp heroes and headed back up the hill to try to get Mike out for the evening hunt.

Mike went back toward the old camp while I fleshed the hide on the cape. Stacey came back a little after dark and announced the 2010 season is officially over. The dry ice wrapped in a towel and kept near the creek had done its job and we all enjoyed the chicken and especially the ice cream for our last dinner on the mountain.

We got up Monday morning, broke down camp and had the ATVs and trailer ready to go about 9 after one last picture.

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