High Hopes and Tag Soup


Growing up, I was never a true fan of hunting. My dad has been dragging me out to stands from the age of 6 on. I could never sit still and complained of boredom and the cold endlessly. My dad was determined to keep hunting no matter what and even filled a few tags while I was along, including the buck that he said I could shoot if he came in 5 yards closer and might have missed some geese that flew right over his head. I tried to stay in the hunting cabin as many mornings as I could because, to this day, I am not a morning person. I didn't catch the hunting bug until I was 21 when I harvested my first deer. Now, I enjoy hunting with my boyfriend and sometimes solo. I never thought I would be a lie awake at night, consume my every thought, be the main protein component of every meal possible, super passionate about hunting kinda girl - until I went on my first elk hunt...

I have never experienced heartbreak as terrible as the end of my second elk season. My first season was such a fun yet humbling experience. I was hoping to put one down in 2016 when my dad took me for my college graduation present. The temperature was too high, there was barely any snow on the ground, and the elk were high and tight on the mountain. I knew deep down that this season was my season, yet here I am munching on my tag for a mid-day snack.

Top: 2016 elk hunt, Bottom: 2018 elk hunt

Top: 2016 elk hunt, Bottom: 2018 elk hunt

This trip was filled with so many hardships and obstacles, it's amazing I made it through the week without a breakdown. Opening day, I overdressed and ended up stripping 2 layers while battling the beginning stages of altitude sickness. Dad and I trekked up and down the hardest area of the mountain to maneuver on our first day because that's where he has shot elk in the past. He was certain we would see something in this spot. It was snowing and there were windfalls at every step on the steepest portions of the mountainside. I sat and called at the bottom of the valley while enjoying lunch for an hour and half anxiously awaiting a bull elk to appear from the Aspens. Around 2pm, Dad and I started making our way back up the mountain so we could reach the four-wheeler before dark. With my lack of oxygen, I was slowing us down. We were using a hand held way-point finder (read more here) to lead us back to the four wheeler. Dad got turned around (which is easy to do in thick timber with endless windfalls) and ended up leading us back down to the opening we had just came from. We miraculously made it back before dark.

The next day, Sunday, we had a mishap with the four-wheeler and miscommunication. Monday, the truck's exhaust pipe was disconnected and at risk of falling off. Soon after we discovered the exhaust issue, the four-wheeler was stuck in 4th gear while we were miles from the trailers. We made it back to the trailers safely but with the four-wheeler out of commission for the day, our only option was to hunt behind our trailers. This was a freshly chopped area covered in snow up to 2.5 feet deep. We were slipping and sliding all over logs hidden by the snow while whiteout conditions continued. Dad and I took cover on a slope in some short pines while I tried cow calling. This was obviously unsuccessful but I still was able to practice my calls. To see how I did, check out the video on my YouTube channel here.

Determination in my eye, cow calling was our last resort.

Determination in my eye, cow calling was our last resort.

Tuesday, we were 20 minutes late to a spot, the "killing fields" as they're called in our camp, and someone had just put down a nice Mule buck. Those folks were really nice to talk to and gave us some tips as they saw someone hauling a bull off the opposite side of the mountain. That was my plan for the afternoon, but with the truck in its condition, we weren't able to make it there. I walked down through the valley into the Aspens and thick timber in search of tracks or any sign I could find. That morning I put on 4 miles before noon.

Wednesday morning, we happened to find ourselves in a stare down with a bull moose. Dad was bending over to catch his breath after going up a steep hill and was about to point at tracks in the direction that the bull moose appeared from behind a pine. The bull moose was somewhere between 70 - 100 yards from us. Dad was looking at me as the moose appeared and I whisper shouted "Bull moose!" 3 times before he understood what was happening. Dad's eyes got super wide and he became nervous. I was nervous at first but the longer the moose stood there, the calmer I became. The moose kept his eyes on us as he moved down the hill parallel to us. Dad was in full freak out mode and told me to go back into the woods and put as many trees and distance between me and the moose. As I made my way into the woods, Dad saw the moose "go 10 yards in a second". Dad and I made our way up the mountain where we found fresh tracks and scat that we thought to be elk, but ended up being moose. There were fresh tracks over our tracks when we came back down the mountain. Dad noticed the bull moose again when we reached the bottom of our trail and there was a fresh cow bed and calf beds near our four-wheeler. This entire encounter was the highlight of my trip.

Size comparison: I'm 5'1" and this is a cow moose bed. The picture doesn't do this bed justice because my pack isn't even touching the back brim

Size comparison: I'm 5'1" and this is a cow moose bed. The picture doesn't do this bed justice because my pack isn't even touching the back brim

The entire trip I was getting updates from my boyfriend who was hunting a mountain 2 hours north of ours. While I was happy for him and his crew to be so successful, I couldn't help but beat myself up for how unsuccessful I was. I've never been more determined to do anything than I was to notch my bull tag. There were nights I would wake up in the middle of the night in a straight up fury that I couldn't fill my tag. I ran through hip deep snow to the four-wheeler so we could get to the next spot quicker. I was the first one ready to go in the mornings. I trekked over 20 miles in 5 days. I did everything right, but nothing seemed to go in my favor. The fact that I went home empty handed was absolutely devastating. I just felt like a straight up failure and I wasn't sure if I would ever have confidence in myself to be successful on an elk hunt. I'm still unsure if I'll ever get an elk on future hunts because the success rate for our area is somewhere around 10%. Nonetheless, I am grateful I have had 2 opportunities to hunt the Colorado Rockies with such a great crew. If you have ever been in this position or am currently in the same boat as I am, I feel you. I can't guarantee it will get better but there is always the next season to look forward to. The next step is to lick my wounds with leftover elk meat from my dad's hunt last year, start saving pennies for next year's hunt, and gather as much elk hunting knowledge as possible.

I've got my game face on and I'm out for blood.


Jess Wagner

ReelCamo Girl Brand Champion

Avid Huntress


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 ReelCamo Girl is a lifestyle brand focused on ladies who love the outdoors.There is a growing need for a place for women to share  their outdoor experiences, as well as an interest in clean eating and  self-sufficiency. Through our website and social media networks, we  offer a safe place where the ladies can share their pictures, stories, wild  game and fish recipes, and news articles about conservation and  hunting perspectives.

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