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Q&A with a Cool Coloradan: Gary Ellis of The Colorado Hunter

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With hunting season about to get into in full swing, we were lucky to snag a few minutes of Gary Ellis from TheColoradoHunter.com’s time for a quick chat about what brought him to Colorado — and why the state is such a hunting paradise.

How did you become interested in hunting?

My intense desire to hunt began a long time ago. I'm a Texan by birth, so hunting is kinda in the blood. My best friend and I got hooked on hunting during our mid-teens. We started out hunting rabbits and ducks using his grandpa's .410 shotgun, and then bought our own 12-gauge shotgun and hunting rifle before we graduated from high school.

Since neither of our dads were hunters and there were no mentors around, we just learned through the school of hard-knocks. Luckily, we managed to survive and ended up with thousands of lessons of dos and don’ts under our belt.

What drew you to Colorado?

Fast forward many years later, my wife and I decided to do something wild and crazy — relocate. With two small children it seemed simple enough and our requirements were minimal: enough population to support my financial-planning business and ample outdoor opportunities.

We began learning as much as we could about Colorado and our search revealed a place that really piqued our interest — the city of Grand Junction, out in western Colorado. We decided that if it were half as good in person as it was on paper, this was it. It only took one visit to make us believers. We moved here 23 years ago.

For those who’ve never been here — or Coloradans contemplating their first hunt — what makes our state such a great place to do it?

Since the very first year we were here, I’ve hunted and participated in a variety of outdoor activities, covering thousands of miles on foot, wearing out multiple pairs of boots, learning as much as I could about the mountains and big game animals. Guiding other hunters through the years was a real treat and made me even more appreciative of our hunting paradise and those responsible for ensuring its sustainability.

Hunting in Colorado is a dream come true. Like me, many who live here at one time lived somewhere else and only dreamed of becoming a permanent resident of this awesome and beautiful land. Now, our backyard is also our playground just waiting for our next adventure. Although elk is the most popular big-game animal, we have 10 species of big-game animals. You’d have to travel outside the lower 48 states to find another hunting paradise of equal caliber.

Tell us about your most epic Colorado hunt.

After years of saving points to gain access to one of Colorado’s premier hunting areas under the state’s draw system, I finally decided to cash them in for what I hoped would be an epic elk hunt 16 years in the making.

I began talking to folks and scouting draw-only units in the northwestern part of the state in hopes of finding a spot that had THE biggest and mostest elk around. I ultimately decided on Unit 10 [in Moffat and Rio Grande counties, near Craig and Dinosaur], where a scouting trip two weeks before the season opening revealed this location’s true potential. There were elk everywhere with lots of bulls and several gigantic specimens.

My excitement for that upcoming hunt was hard to contain, but I knew it would be tough to adjust to Unit 10’s very “un-elky” terrain. You see, I was used to hunting on steep peaks and valleys, in dark timber with trees out the wazoo, in a mountainous landscape that we all think of when it comes to hunting.

This terrain was just the opposite with lots of wide-open spaces, fields full of sagebrush and elk actually out roaming around. I could’ve run into one anywhere I stepped, so my awareness factor definitely needed to be bumped up to the max.

When hunt day arrived, it was muzzle-loading season and the elk had been pushed out of their normal routine and were quite dispersed. All the places I had previously spotted elk were barren, so I had to quickly transition into true “hunt mode” to find new areas to explore.

While searching, I ran across a cow hunter with experience in the unit and a local game warden, both of whom offered great insight as to where I should go. I hiked so much over the next few days that my feet needed a vacation, but I did manage to spot a few elk including the largest herd bull I’ve ever seen to date. It just wasn’t meant to be, though. But then my luck changed, leading to the most memorable kill of my life.

A few days later my son, Jonathan, was able to join me and we made our way to Moose Mountain, where I had attempted to shoot a herd bull a few days prior in a massive canyon that seemed to be a popular hangout for these guys. Sure enough, right off the bat before there were any signs of daylight, we could hear multiple bulls. And they all sounded humongous!

We spent the next hour slowly making our way toward the bulls, trying to figure out which ones sounded the baddest and meanest, and tweaked our path accordingly.

When we got really close — at least it seemed really close because the air was filled with the explosive screaming of two herd bulls enraged with one another — we came to the edge of an almost ridge-less looking ridge, over the edge of which the action was taking place. With no place to hide among open sagebrush, we had to set up right there among the scarce and thin serviceberry bushes — pretty much in plain sight.

As the lead-caller, Jonathan backed down the hill about 75 to 100 yards and gave the signal that it was party time. We both started cow-calling (the two of us can sound like a herd of lovesick cows too tempting for any bull to pass up) and when we were sure the bull would start coming our way, well, I’d stop while he continued to draw the bull past me. 

So there I am, set — right knee planted, left leg out, arrow ready — and I’m pumped! Right out of the starting gate, he was coming my way, but of course the cow was leading the way. I froze. The cow slowly passed by me toward Jonathan and, a few moments later, here came my elk. So majestic.

I concentrated on the task at hand, all the elements of making a successful kill shot, going through all the points like a robot. When he was 30 yards from me I drew back, drawing his attention. Jonathan was really cranking down like a lovesick cow serenading her paramour, and this bull was so bent on getting to that sweet-sounding mama that he ignored me.

Until my arrow came loose.

My steeliness now turned to panic as the bull froze and stared right through me, trying to figure out exactly what I was and what I was doing. But Jonathan’s melody continued and that bull’s burning desire was just down the hill, so he proceeded.

I slowly grabbed my arrow, reset it, drew back and … it came loose again. He stopped, stared and then moved on down the hill. I tried to get another shot, but my arrow failed a third (yes, third) time.

That’s when I thought, “What the heck, I might as well quit being so quiet and still, because he’s just going to get away.” So I knocked the arrow, arched my bow skyward, drew back and slowly brought it down horizontal (the arrow stayed on this time!) and I verbally squawked at the bull, which was now about 45 yards away. He paused and I let ’er rip … THWACK!

It hit a little high, but I knew it was still a kill shot. He bolted right past Jonathan who managed to snap a great photo with the tell-tale sign of blood pouring from the bull’s side. We found him a little while later in a brush thicket and discovered he was a really nice 6x6.

I’ve been hunting for a couple of decades all over this state, but that was definitely my best hunt ever. Not because this bull was my biggest trophy, but because my son had only one day to hunt with me — and we harvested my biggest bull ever together.

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