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Author Topic: Longbows & Llamas - Mark Normand  (Read 551 times)

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Longbows & Llamas - Mark Normand
« on: October 01, 2003, 03:26:00 PM »
Longbows & Llamas

by Mark Normand

We began our adventure after arriving at the southern Colorado trailhead the afternoon of Saturday, September 20, 2003. Friends David Hanson and Jeff Davis had already spent almost two weeks in the mountains fighting bad weather, but had seen enough animals to keep interest up. After two years in a row, I just couldn’t get away this year at that time and resigned myself to reading about everyone’s elk bowhunts on the bowsite. They ended their trip without any shots, and in chatting with David Thursday, September 18th; I could tell he wanted to go back. I looked at my calendar and thought, “Hmm, next week seems to be clear.” We got the okay from our wives, and then I approached my boss, who delayed his final decision until the following morning. We packed that night just in case. He was quite willing to allow my leave, but we just had to work out a few details. This hunt week coincided with the final archery-only week, as the muzzleloader season ended that Sunday.

Drinking Gatorade nonstop, I left Lafayette at 2 p.m., drove to Shreveport, hopped in David’s truck at 6 p.m. and drove straight through, trailer with llamas in tow. We arrived and met Jeff (who lives in Denver) near the trailhead on Saturday afternoon. As I was somewhat out of prime shape, but still had exercised about two times per week during August, I had serious concerns about my ability to pack in two-four miles to 11,500’. This was unplanned, and I wasn’t going to miss the once-a-year opportunity. We had David’s two llamas, Elvis and Andy, both relatively young and only trained to pack during the last month. After loading up, I was left with about 40 lbs on my back. We took it slow and arrived with no problems, set up camp, and Jeff and I took off separately for a quick look around, as this spot was new to me.

View from our camp ...
   

Sunday morning dawned clear and cold, the temperature below freezing. We split up, agreeing to meet back for lunch and updates. Over the next two days, David twice called up a bull that somewhat surprised him and missed twice on less than perfect shot opportunities. That guy can nock an arrow on his longbow faster than anyone I know, but just couldn’t connect. He still was upbeat and pretty happy about finally having had some action after a number of trips. I was very excited for him, and this did nothing but fuel our fires to hunt even harder.

Tuesday morning found David heading out, and Jeff and I hiking out together. We spotted another bowhunter while crossing a huge meadow, heading in the same direction, so we split up, with Jeff falling down into the dark timber and I circling high above it, intending to move 1-2 miles farther out and then dropping down. The morning proved uneventful, as I made 3-4 calling setups. But as I still-hunted my way back through the dark timber, I found out some green marshy areas. The sign looked pretty good, then better as I found a large, recently used wallow. Wow, this is great, so I proceeded to throw sticks and leaves in, to check for activity later, probably hunt it during the next few days. All this time I moved slowly, quietly, and eased out into the small opening to save a GPS waypoint. While I waited for the lock, something caught my eye 20 yards away – a cow elk rose from her bed and stood broadside in a tangle of blow-downs. Whoa, steady now! Slowly, I let the GPS dangle from its tether, got the longbow loaded up with my cedar w\\Wensel broadhead and waited. I stood there, somewhat hidden by a small fir between us. All I could see was her back, as tall grass and brush stood between us. Then a large yearling popped up behind her, and looked right through me. There was a shot window about three feet wide right ahead of the cow, and as she slowly moved to the left, her head hit that opening. She looked right at me. But again, brush concealed most of her sightline, and finally, her ears dropped from alert to normal. Then her body filled the opening, framed by two large trees. I drew back and released for the forward 1/3rd line, watched in slow motion the perfect flight, but it seemed the arrow hit about midway. Yuck, not good. She whirled and crashed away, and the arrow fell to the ground. As I listened and marked her exit route, I was elated and crestfallen at the same time. I knew I had hit her, but didn’t know where. It was just too dark to tell in the shadows, and I never could see the legs behind the brush.

Jeff examining the bull wallow, shot at cow was at left ...
   

Jeff and I had heard each other call earlier, so I knew he wasn’t too far away. Sure enough I heard him cow call minutes later from downhill, so I called back, and he came in quietly. Together we surveyed the shot area, and immediately found my arrow and a blood trail. There was no doubt we needed to back out and give this some time, so I suggested we go back to camp, and return about 4 p.m., a five hour wait. I really would have liked even more time, but that would have put us too close to sundown.

Killing time before picking up the trail ...
   

After a good meal and bringing David up to date, we rested and chatted. It was somewhat a chore to keep those guys in camp; they were raring to go. I had to pull the choke chains a few times! But being the good hunters they are, everyone understood the necessity of waiting this out. Finally, we saddled up the llamas, hiked back in and staked them out at the shot sight. We started working the trail. I’m a little red-green colorblind, and after 30 years of bowhunting, I still envy folks that can walk a slight blood trail that would keep me patiently crawling forward. I just loaded up and glassed ahead, as David and Jeff worked it. After about 100 yards, our spirits peaked as we found a large pool where she had stopped or lay up. I distinctly remember Jeff whispering, “Start looking for an elk ahead.” Twenty yards later, the blood stopped, so we fanned out. David circled to the left. He was out of sight quickly and then shouted, “Elk!” He saw the yearling run off and then spotted the cow standing 20 yards to his right, hunkered and ready to bolt. Now, when things start moving quickly, this is one guy you always want on your team. He quickly pulled his longbow and put a laminated birch through the lungs. The cow spun and ran right by me wide open at 20 yards, my shot through the trees and passing behind. I’ll always remember that elk galloping nearby and away from me. I watched her through a gap in the trees for about 60 yards. She seemed to lose balance, and I expected her to go down. Instead, she disappeared.
 
Jeff is elated at David’s follow-up shot ...
   

We gathered up, examined David’s arrow, and my adrenaline peaked when I saw blood from end to end. There was no doubt now, but we waited about 10 minutes anyway, and moved to where we last spotted her. A small pond made us split up, with David and Jeff going one way and I the other. Something told me we were going too fast, so I stopped and scanned all around. There in the pond and hidden by the grassy edge, she lay – lights out! High-fives, yahoos and laughs filled the woods. We savored the moment, the finest in my hunting career for sure, and I suspect theirs as well.  I am the youngest at 45, two days before my birthday; Jeff is 50, David, 56.

Jeff, David, and myself celebrate! ...
   

Then the cameras came out, followed by knives and game bags – we had come prepared! They skinned, quartered and I de-boned – everybody worked efficiently. David had a short rodeo with the llamas, as the smaller one, Elvis, didn’t much like that swampy ground. But we got them loaded and piggybacked the bagged meat and gear out to a larger meadow, then loaded up everything and made one trip to camp. Elvis and Andy were overloaded, so we took it slow and even, with no problems. That was about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen: walking those animals through that tilted, busted timber directly to the kill site. Hauling them 1000 miles one way made everything worth it. A day earlier Jeff had found an unopened can of Coors Genuine back on the trail, and saved it in case we needed to celebrate, so that was another fine moment!

David and Andy with a load of boned meat ...
   

That night the bagged meat was safe at near freezing temps. The next morning we elected to make the hike out in one trip, so we loaded up the backpacks, overloaded the llamas again, and eased out the mostly downhill trail. A few times the llamas balked at the load and kushed (laid down) along the route, but we just took our time. When we arrived at the trucks, we had a letdown as someone had smashed David’s Tundra passenger window and had stolen various items. He lost a large cooler with expensive Hidden Wolf woolens, and my small fanny pack, a small cooler, and hard arrow case with spare arrows were also gone.

We bounced back, cleaned up, loaded up, and headed to town for a well-deserved Dairy Queen meal. We split up the meat, said our goodbyes and headed home with a cardboard window, nonstop 1000 miles. I hope I can speak for David as well, but the break-in was nothing compared to finally killing an elk. Upon arriving home on my birthday, I cleaned and packed my share of meat, and was tickled even more when my new Krupps grinder worked flawlessly with the trimmings. One episode with the “silver skin” then I got things adjusted, and it worked perfectly.

You may be wondering where my original hit was. This is the hardest part for me to write. After we hauled the cow out of the water and flipped it over, we found my arrow hit the rear ham from broadside, probably went through, and she kicked it out while running. Didn’t seem to hit a major artery, but the arrow creased the large bone, since two of the three blades were bent. There was major blood loss and clotting inside the skin and muscles, basically a huge mess, and we feel it would have eventually been lethal. I’ve replayed that shot a thousand times since then and come to the conclusion she moved at or near my release. This was at a totally relaxed animal at about 20 yards and with good cover. It was ironic since just lately my brother and I had discussed wait times after shots and had agreed we would put into better practice this year what we discuss around the campfire. It’s easy to say what you would do in that situation, but to walk away from a fresh blood trail and wait five hours is not easy.

We were all shooting one of David’s longbows, and Jeff and I were using my tapered cedars that I made up, while David elected to use heavier laminated birch arrows for a harder punch, especially since he can handle the added bow weight. My setup was somewhat lighter at 52# with 540-grain arrows, but a combination that can be shot all day under any conditions. Jeff had been practicing relentlessly and was in top form too, his arrows flying like darts.

Well, sometimes the moon and stars line up to give your team the home field advantage, if you do everything else right.

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