It’s about the experience

Courier publisher Keith Cerny, left, is shown with oldest son Zach after a successful bull elk hunt on the Monte Vista Refuge in late October 2021.

VALLEY– For many, hunting is about making memories. It’s not about killing a trophy or simply filling the freezer, it’s about the experience.

I have been fortunate over my 60-plus years to hunt with my dad, my siblings, my wife, and especially my two sons. Early years saw deer, pheasant, and duck hunts in eastern Nebraska with my father and brothers, and even some bird hunts there with older son Zach, including one time when he claimed he was sprayed with birdshot from one of the stalkers.

Late fall last year saw me helping both of my sons retrieve bull elk off the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge, an area that requires a general season permit from Colorado Parks and Wildlife as well as a special permit from CPW for the refuge. With second son Tyler serving as a District Wildlife Manager for CPW in the Monte Vista district, rules must be followed.

The refuge hunt with Zach became interesting in 2021.

Parked in an area on the east side of the refuge before sun-up, we waited to get enough light to scope the area to the west to “find the elk.” As legal hunting time arrived, Zach noticed a small group of bulls just south of where we parked, although they spooked before he could get in position for a shot.

After walking across the alkali and sage covered turf to the west and not seeing potential game, we proceeded west to the “Gunbarrel” highway as a bull and a small herd of cows crossed in front of us from the mountains onto the refuge. As we found a parking area in the northwest area of the legal hunting area of the refuge, we stealthily moved up a trail where Zach got a shot. His first shot hit paydirt, but as is often the case, the bull got up and trotted off although he had fallen behind his harem and walked into a cattail filled pond.

Zach went to the right around the pond as I proceeded on the left, myself unarmed of course. Not my hunt.

Seeing not much more than antlers, with a quick, but quiet shout, Zach told me to stop as he propped his rifle on his shooting sticks and fired another shot at the bull. I didn’t see it go down or run off, but I was convinced he finished him.

The next two hours were spent searching for the score, including more than an hour of Zach tromping through the pond in unfit footwear as I scoured the eastbound bank and beyond. Pacing back and forth, I was unsuccessful at finding him, or any trace of blood.

Soaked to the bones in icy cold, late October water, Zach called his wife to bring dry socks and waders. I stood watch as he walked the half mile back to his truck to change and return to continue the search.

After his return to wade the pond, I continued to pace the levy when suddenly I shouted to Zach, “I smell him!” Elk hunters know that this ungulate has a distinct odor produced by their scent glands in their hind legs.

As I stared into the water about 10 yards from shore, I finally spotted antlers. Man was I chastised for not seeing it earlier.

It was a chore retrieving the bull from the water, but well worth the effort even for this old man. No one wants to waste an animal as treasured as a Rocky Mountain elk. And remember, it’s more about the experience.