The Elk Hunt Ruled by Murphy's Law

It all began innocently enough, with a boy in Southern Indiana watching Jeremiah Johnson on a cold winter’s day. However, twenty-three years later, attempting to make a Colorado mountain elk hunt a reality was getting more difficult by the day. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.

I started from scratch. I didn’t start hunting until I was an adult and even then, it was Indiana and Kentucky white tail. I didn’t even own a rifle when I moved to Colorado last year. All I had was a desire to go hunt elk in the mountains and hours of time in the car spent listening to Randy Newberg’s podcasts. 

Over the last year I collected all the gear I would need. I began scouting using OnX maps online and a paper topo map of the Game Management Unit I planned to hunt that I picked up at Bass Pro Shop. I thought, with a few suggestions from a new friend, that I had a pretty solid game plan.  Between having a third rifle season bull tag and a fourth rifle season cow tag, I was planning on being successful in bringing home some meat. However, bringing meat home wasn’t going to be a requirement of having a great hunt. I was just happy I was going to be out there doing it after dreaming about it for all those years.

The first thing to go wrong was my friend telling me he was not going with me for third season.  So, I was elk hunting for the first time on my own. At this point, I decided I would just go for half the season, see what I could get into or learn and hang on until he got up there for fourth season.  Then, the night before I was to leave, he texted me new GPS coordinates and told me his buddies had just tagged out in this other location where there were a ton of elk and very few other hunters around. He asked me to go grab their campsite and hold it down for him. I reluctantly agreed.

It was a four-and-a-half-hour drive to northwest Colorado. I really enjoyed the drive through new country, listening to country music and a couple podcasts. It was without incident up until the last mile and a half where I got stuck in some nasty mud, on the side of a mountain. I had no cell service, but I had my Garmin InReach and I sent a text to my friend and my wife. I started up the mountain to hike the last mile and a half and try to reach the guys at camp, but I could not find them. I tried the truck again, but I just made it worse. So, I decided to hike back down the mountain towards one of the ranches I saw on the drive in.

After walking a couple miles, I came to the first ranch. I reluctantly climbed the fence and walked the half-mile driveway to the house. I yelled from the drive since I didn’t expect that they get too many drop-ins, but no one was home. I walked out and continued on. After a couple more miles, I came within sight of a house that had a truck in the drive and dogs running around outside. No sooner than I noticed this, a hunter in a side-by-side drove by and I filled him in on my predicament. His name was Dave and he drove me to the house, where he knew the owner, Jack, and Jack let me come inside to warm up and call AAA.  

The man at AAA said he could get someone out to me. Jack had to go to work, so I thanked him, and Dave drove me the five miles back to my truck. Not long after, the two guys I was supposed to meet, Bercerra and Julio, came down to see what was going on. I was blocking the road, so they had an incentive to help me get unstuck. I used my Garmin to text with my wife and have her call AAA and check on the status. The guy who they were going to send to help me flat out refused to go, so Bercerra, Julio and I began trying to dig me out.

It took almost three hours to dig me out, put the snow chains on the rear tires and get started trying to get me out. Thanks to Bercerra guiding me, I was able to get away from the ledge and up against the mountain on the other side of the road where there was a nice rut. Bercerra guided me as I drove in reverse about a quarter mile down the mountain until I got to a spot where I could get turned around. From there, I followed the guys down the muddy two-track and texted my wife who told me that AAA had called Search and Rescue. I had her call them back to cancel, assuring them that I was okay, and I was going to town to get a shower to wash the mud off of me.

I tried to regroup that night and planned to head up to my Plan A spot the next morning. I had a warm dinner, got an okay night’s sleep and got up before dawn to head to the campground.  When I got to the campground, I immediately slid off the road and had to have a couple of nearby hunters pull me out. I then found the first available campsite and began setting up. After a couple of hours, I was ready to hit the woods. However, as I was getting ready I had a chat with a hunter from Mississippi who had tagged out. He told me the elk were all heading down onto private land. I thanked him for the head’s up, but set out for the woods anyhow.  

Six hours of walking around in six- to eight-inches of snow and I saw mule deer sign and small game sign, but I did not see one piece of elk sign. I gave up for the day and went back to my tent to read my Bible and try to regain my composure. After some soul searching and contemplation, I thought the right thing to do was to go home, regroup and then come back for fourth season where I could hook up with my friend, so that’s what I planned to do. The next morning when I tore down camp, the campground that was full the day before was almost empty. I thought for sure that was a sign I was doing the right thing.

Of all the mistakes and all the bad luck, that was my biggest mistake. I should have stayed there, at least a couple more days. I should have continued exploring the area, especially since I was going to have the area to myself. But if I’m being honest, after being stranded on the side of a mountain alone and not knowing how I was going to get down for the better part of the day, I think I was ready for the safety of having other people around.  

During the three days I was home, I poured over OnX looking for places to go on public land at lower elevation where elk might be. I thought I had a spot found that had water, lower elevation and food, but I forgot to look for cover. The place I had picked, which I couldn’t really tell by the satellite view, was all sage brush. Ignorantly and excitedly, I packed up the truck again and headed up to northwest Colorado.  

When I was driving into the BLM land, I knew I had screwed up. Mule deer were everywhere and I saw a lot of pronghorn, but it didn’t look good for elk. I drove from hilltop to hilltop, stopping, getting out and glassing everywhere I could. In that territory, an elk herd would be easy to see. There were none. 

My friend, who all year I had thought I would be able to rely on, decided to go to the spot where I had gotten stuck and the road where he knew I had no interest in attempting again. So, I was on my own again. Perhaps the first mistake I’d made is assuming he would make the same decisions I would. He has meat in the freezer from last year and he shot a 6x6 bull during first rifle season. If the shoe was on the other foot, my priority would be to help the new hunter, not pursue a cow for myself when I have two elk in the freezer already. This is not to say he owes me anything, he does not; but I apparently did not make it clear to him that I needed his help. If I would have been more up front about expectations, he could have set me straight and I could have dealt with it beforehand, rather than on the fly.

Now I’ve spent the entire afternoon glassing this sagebrush area and there’s no elk to be found for miles. Once again, I feel defeated and demoralized. I feel like I can’t catch a break. I looked at OnX and couldn’t find any other place to go other than the places I’ve already been. In hindsight, I would go back to the campground that I had left a few days prior, but the non-stop bad luck and bonehead mistakes wore me down. I decided to make my way home again. Though the bad luck would continue as my truck was hit by a large mule deer on the way out and then I met one of Wyoming’s finest on I-80 just west of Laramie.  

I learned a lot over that week. I learned that although solitude is important, it’s much better to suffer with a friend or family member. I learned to not let doubt influence my decision making too much, and to have confidence in the abilities I know I have already, such as orienteering. Most importantly, I’ve learned that I have even more to learn than I already knew I did.  

Elk hunting is hard for anyone, let alone someone who has never done it before and is striking off on their own. In spite of everything, I’m more determined than ever to do it again next year but do it better. I knew I was going to learn a few lessons. I expected different lessons, but nonetheless, I gained a lot from the experience and I’m excited to start thinking about next year. 

 

 

10 Questions With Mia Anstine

When I first started putting this project together, the first person I decided I wanted to speak to was Mia Anstine.  I’ve been following her on social media for about a year (ever since I read about her in Field & Stream) and she never ceases to amaze me with her passion and positivity.  She has a passion not only for wildlife, hunting and conservation, but a passion for life in general.  In a world of social media hate and negativity, her posts are positive and filled with love.  I couldn’t have been more excited or honored when she agreed to take time out of her very busy schedule (you’ll see all she does below) and answer ten very lengthy questions from yours truly.  Without inspiration from Mia, Steven Rinella, Randy Newberg and others, I would not be doing this.  Eternal thanks to Mia for getting in on the ground floor here at Mountain Climer!

 

  1. Let’s start with the basics.  Will you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, how you got involved in the outdoors, your favorite activities, etc.

I am a mentor. I’m a certified firearms and archery instructor as well as hunter education instructor. I strive to preserve our constitutional rights with a focus on freedom of religion and the right to bear arms. I work to continue traditions passed down from generations before with an emphasis on conservation.

I’m a freelance writer, podcast host, and guest at a variety of shows and publications, plus I’m a hunting guide.

I grew up in a small town in Colorado where my great-grandfather used to visit for annual hunting trips. My family moved there when I was a toddler. My father hunted to put food on the table and my mom grew a garden and taught me how to fish. I’ve pursued wild animals around the world and guide hunts in southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico for elk, mule deer, black bear, and Merriam’s turkey.

I am the first American woman, and of Latin descent, featured on the cover of Field & Stream magazine. Alongside 10 other women featured, we are “boots-on-the-ground” everyday women representatives of the many women who are making a difference in the outdoor and hunting industry.

I’m currently serving my second term on the Colorado Sportsman’s Roundtable committee. I’m a board member of my local SCI chapter. I’m a board member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association. I’m a lifetime NRA member, and a member of and support many conservation organizations.

Other Associations

I am a member of Safari Club International and the secretary for my local SCI chapter.

I am currently serving my second term on Colorado’s Sportsman’s Roundtable committee.

I am a board member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association.

I’m a lifetime National Rifle Association member.

I’m a member of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

I’m a member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

I’m a member of Ducks Unlimited.

I’m a member of the Pope & Young Club.

I’m a member of the Colorado Bowhunter’s Association.

I’m a member of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

2.              What challenges, if any, did you face when you first started to hunt? What are some of the challenges you face today? What do you do to overcome those challenges?

It’s always a challenge to get up close and personal with a wild animal. Over the years I’ve learned techniques and tactics that help to get closer to free-ranging animals for a clear, ethical shot. Today the challenge has evolved a bit as the woods have become filled with more hunters and the animals have adapted to the hunting pressure. I’ve been working on my adaptation techniques. Time in the field allows a hunter to learn how to overcome the challenges and have a successful hunt.

3.              What was it that inspired you to start a website and create YouTube videos?

I used to write about my days guiding hunters and email them to my grandpa. When some of the hunters noticed I would type away every evening they wanted to know what I was doing. I told them and they wanted me to send the stories too. After some time I decided it would be more simple to put my writing on my website for them. This grew to what I do today.

4.              If you could describe it, what is it about being outdoors that really drives you?  Beyond culture, tradition, hunting for meat, etc., from a spiritual or emotional perspective, what does time in the wilderness bring to your life?

Getting outdoors is good for your health. Doctors are even prescribing outdoor time to their patients. The majority of the population lists getting rid of that spare tire as their top New Year’s resolution goal. The connection that we gain while we pursue wildlife is priceless and cannot be replicated by watching TV or movies. I love to explore, discover, and see what’s on the other side of the mountain. I’m fascinated by bear piles, elk musk, rubs, scraps, mushrooms, aspens, and everything I come across in the outdoors.

5.              As you know, hunting numbers are going down at a good pace and the media and college campuses are growing increasingly hostile to hunting, fishing, etc.  What do you wish more people knew about the outdoors and the outdoor lifestyle?  As a follow up to that, how can we get more girls involved in hunting and fishing?  Women are the largest growing segment for hunting but we’re working off of a really small base. 

I wish more people knew that the news doesn’t report about the outdoor programs that we’re putting into colleges. There are hunter ed classes. There are wildlife 101 classes. We are finding ways to connect to the young adults and let them know it’s okay that they grew up hunting, or that we’re here to help them if they never had the opportunity.

I wish people knew how that they are connected to the outdoors and that even though they’ve never gotten to plug in, the connection is there. When they finally get out to hike, fish, kayak, mountain bike, or hunt a primal instinct to their connecting with mother nature will be awakened.

People can get more people, including girls, involved in hunting by following what I and others are already doing. They can step up and teach hunter education. They can offer mentored hunts. They can volunteer for conservation organizations. The sky’s the limit when it comes to taking action and getting people, including girls, into hunting.

Women and men can look to hunting guides, mentors, and conservation officers for help with their start in hunting. Ask questions, book hunts, go with a mentor.

6.              What are some things that we as hunters can do to shine a positive light on what we do?  What are some things we should think twice about doing?  Or perhaps a better way to say it, is what does a good hunting ambassador look like?

Let your light shine and always recognize that YOU are a mentor. Someone is watching. Someone is learning from your actions. When it comes to hunting we have to always consider who is watching what we do. Whether it’s in the field, in town, at the sporting goods store, or on social media, people are watching.

Always consider the non-hunter in what you are doing. Non-hunters are the largest segment of our population. They are the ones who pass votes. They are the ones you need to win over. You may think that everyone likes the pictures of your dead animals. Do they? A good hunting ambassador will consider their audience before posting on social media.

Many non-hunters don’t have a problem with hunters pursuing animals for food but they don’t want to see it. They don’t want to see the blood and especially not the guts. A good hunting ambassador will clean the blood off their truck and their clothing before they go to town. A good hunting ambassador will have an immediate answer to the question “Why do you hunt.” The answer will encourage a non-hunter to vote in favor of maintaining hunting traditions.

7.              Is there an experience you could tell us about where you talked with a person who had never been exposed to hunting, perhaps they grew up in an urban area, and you were able to open their minds about it?  Not saying they had to go out and buy a rifle and a bunch of camo, but where you were able to educate them and explain things in a way they’d never heard before?  Conversely, has there ever been a time when an anti-hunter made you either change your mind or re-think an opinion?

I’ve had numerous conversations with people who don’t hunt and those who don’t understand hunting. I always work to inspire them. I don’t necessarily tell them the “need” to hunt. I always encourage them to ask me future questions. I always give them my contact information so they can get in touch.

I’ve met people who say they’ve followed my writing for years and one or two used to oppose hunting. Other than that, I don’t have much interaction with anti-hunters. If I receive a death threat on social media I document the incident and report the profile to the authorities. I don’t attempt to engage in irrational debates. Violence is never an answer.

8.              What do you think are the biggest issues or threats facing wildlife and hunting today?

There are numerous issues facing wildlife today. Get out and go to your sportsman’s roundtable meetings. Attend the public meetings offered by your Department of Natural Resources. Get involved with conservation organizations. I don’t mean become a member. I mean get involved. You’ll learn about all the work that is done and needs to be done. You’ll also see where the money goes. So many hunters complain about license fees. You need to become engaged to see where that money goes. Maintaining habitat, wildlife, hunting access, waterways, and more takes a lot of funding.

9.              If someone was interested in learning about hunting, shooting, archery etc. but didn’t have anyone in their life to teach them, what would you suggest to them?

You can always follow my website, YouTube, and social media outlets. If you don’t see answers to your questions, message me and ask. I’ll be happy to help. After that, look for mentors in your area. You can find these at Hunter Education class. You can find them via conservation officers. You can join shooting clubs. You can partake in group hunting events. You can hire a hunting guide. In all of these scenarios, ask them to teach you.

10.           Lastly, a favorite book and your favorite adult beverage?

My favorite book is the Bible. It’s the first thing I read every day. Adult beverage? I rarely drink beverages with alcohol so I’d have to list the one cup of coffee, which I sip as I read in the morning, as my adult beverage.

 

Find Mia online at https://miaanstine.com and all the usual social media platforms.