Nichole and Mattox, I thought to myself as I snuck the last few yards toward Kicker, make sure you do this right for Nichole and Mattox. After all the applying, planning, scouting, and generally just thinking about elk, the last thing that crossed my mind was my wife and son. They sacrificed so I could live out my dream. They let me postpone my honey-do list so I could focus on my gear. They stayed at home for most of my scouting trips and only joined me for one awesome weekend. At the end, I shot Kicker as much for myself as for them—and everyone else who helped me. My accomplishment had as much to do with me as my friends and family and their involvement from start to finish.
I didn’t pay for a guide, but by no means was this a DIY hunt. From all the support and autonomy my wife and son gave me, to the countless other family members, friends, and business associates who helped, I took advantage of an awesome network. I made new friends over the phone and in the field, strengthened old relationships, and used everyone’s information to the best of my ability.
Thanks to friends, we had an awesome place to stay—an old stone-walled, metal-roofed cabin deep in the unit. I had plenty of suggestions about where to look and how to hunt different areas. I found bulls in almost every area I checked. I should have kept count, but there were so many elk and so many bulls, it would have been tough. I know I saw more elk and more bulls than anywhere else in Colorado. On top of that, I saw very few raghorns; most bulls had at least five points on a side and there many 6x6s in the 300-330-class.
All of my trophy-judging skills were put to the test on this hunt. Luckily, I was able to digiscope nearly all the good bulls I found so I could get help judging them. In addition, my friend Rick digiscoped a bunch more I did not see in person. For a spotting scope, the combination of the SWAROVSKI OPTIK ATX with 95mm objective and the TLS-APO digiscoping adapter proved its worth. Without quality images of so many bulls, I would not have been able to compare or make decisions as easily. Digiscoping was definitely a key to my success. Plus, I have all kinds of great memories of some awesome bulls!
My friends Rick and Macky initially found my bull. They described him as a big six on his left, with a solid six on his right, but also an additional cheater point sticking straight out from his fourth point. They nicknamed him “Kicker.” We focused on him and kept track of him until the season opened. He happened to live in an area where we could set up on a ridge about two miles away and watch his every move. The night before the season opened, we watched him until dark, satisfied that even if he was not the biggest bull, he was definitely the coolest bull we had found. On opening morning I knew where I wanted to be.
My brother Erik first spotted Kicker the next morning. We then watched as he and his cows slowly began climbing out of a canyon. Kicker bugled as he went, doing his best to keep track of his cows, and keep a pesky spike away from them. From a distance I was able to get a shot into him that separated him from his cows. I heard the distinctive thwack of the bullet, but could see no other sign that he was hit. His cows stuck around for another 15 minutes, confused as to what to do.
Since we had seen no reaction from the bull after my shot, we decided to treat him as though he was not hit at all. To get the wind in our favor, Erik and I hiked way out and around. We knew Kicker had headed down into a draw, but weren’t sure which one. To hedge our bet, we went further than necessary, and slowly worked up the first deep draw.
We proceeded slowly, glassing as we went. In addition to looking for an actual elk, we looked for fresh tracks and any other elk sign. After nearly an hour, we came to the end of the first draw with no results. We then decided to do it all over again in the next draw.
The second draw was not nearly as deep, nor nearly as juniper-choked, however, it held the jackpot! We hadn’t gone far when I spotted Kicker’s antlers. He was bedded looking directly away from us, with the wind blowing in our faces. He was 232 yards away, and in a perfect position for a stalk. However, before I could take more than two steps, Kicker stood up, turned around, and bedded again, facing directly towards us.
After watching him for nearly an hour, the wind began to shift, and so did our plan. We marked in our minds where he was bedded, and then backed out. We spent the next 45 minutes slowly stalking him. It was easy to see his rack towering over the sagebrush in the scattered junipers, so we kept track of him as we moved closer. Once we made it to 39 yards, I felt a second-sense that the gig was up. I quickly decided to shoot through a small window in the junipers, but as I crouched down and began to press the trigger, Kicker stood. I instantly jumped up and hopped around the juniper, placed the front sight of my muzzleloader behind his shoulder, and shot him as if he was a quail dodging through the brush. After a 77-yard death run, he crashed.
He was everything I was hoping for on this hunt. Besides being one of the biggest bulls I had found, he was definitely the most unique. His 6×7 frame grossed 363-7/8”. His kicker measured 12” and his inside spread was right at 40”. After looking at more bulls than I had ever seen in Colorado, and then getting him on the ground, he was definitely the bull I wanted. Even though the hunt was over on opening day, the memories I created during the hunt and the scouting will last a lifetime.
Most importantly, I succeeded in my goal to experience one of the best hunts of my life. When asked before the hunt what I expected to shoot, I told everyone that I wanted to shoot a 350”+ bull, but added that I just wanted to have a great hunt with my friends and family. After waiting over half my lifetime for this opportunity, the inches were just icing on the cake. With the support of my wife and son, and the dedication of my brother, dad, and three close friends, I was able to capitalize on a great opportunity. Without everyone involved, I still would have had an awesome hunt, but the simple fact a bunch of other people were willing to take off work and spend time with me in the woods made it all the better.
I also learned something very important on this hunt: success can be measured in inches, but it can also be measured by the smiles and happiness showing on the faces of all the people involved. At the end, the inches are just a number; the primary barometer for success comes from a far deeper place, a place where family, friends, hard work, dedication, attention to details, and a little luck all come together to create experiences, stories, and memories. That final thought of Nichole and Mattox proved to me that my success in hunting and life comes from the people in my life, not the tape measures.
Please note that most of these photos were taken by Rick Messmer. I want to make sure he gets credit for his awesome work!
Trent Swanson, a Colorado native, is the Mountain Territory Sales Rep for SWAROVSKI OPTIK. You might recognize his name since he used to work with us here at Western Hunter. He is a self-professed “optics nerd” who has been chasing big game critters for nearly 30 years. You can find the rest of the blog posts about his Colorado elk hunt here.