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Donald's Belt Buckle

By William J. Ciccone
CO, Elk

Donald, a non-hunter, is my younger brother. He was a great musician who played for decades with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Four years ago, to respect my hunting passion, he gave me a custom belt buckle with an elk head and a 7mm case base on it, like the gun I usually use. I have shot four elk while wearing that buckle. Would my guide, Josh, say these words this year, “Congratulations! Good job,” and I’d add another buckle accomplishment?

With many preference points, I drew an elk license in GMU 40 in Colorado. I researched this unit extensively with most of the help coming from the Huntin’ Fool staff, whom I spoke to numerous times. They suggested Biggerstaff Guides and Outfitters in Glade Park. They turned out to be an extremely professional, knowledgeable, and caring group that knew the area well.

After a six-hour ride on October 12, 2018, I arrived and went with the three other hunters to the rifle range. Everything checked out for all of us. With much anxious anticipation, morning one broke clear and cold. Of course, I was dressed for the North Pole and it soon became very obvious I was too warm. I was carrying my gun, backpack, and tripod in the dark over slippery shale, deadfall, and rimrock. My guide, Josh, had no problem, but I struggled. HIs encouragement and patience kept me going. Hiking became easier after Josh volunteered to carry my gun. Did I mention that I am almost 80 and have had triple bypass heart surgery?

We arrived on a rimrock ledge and watched many elk returning to their beds. This part of Colorado’s geography consists of immense sandstone buttes and rock formations interspersed with pinyon, juniper, and Gambel oak. It was October 13th, and we heard bugling. We then moved closer to a different rimrock. With careful glassing, Josh located a 5x6 bull bedded 150 yards below us. I passed on that bull, questioning myself slightly.

After lunch, we hiked into Pauly’s Valley. This area became known as the “executive suite.” Interestingly enough, a bobcat and a coyote were taking turns feasting on a gut pile. We only located one antlered bull. This GMU had been in a severe drought through spring and summer, and antler development had suffered. The antlers were smaller and appeared to be more fragile as most bulls had many broken points. Nutritional deficiencies may play a role in antler osteoporosis.

Day two was brisk and produced another arduous hike for me. My guide located elk returning to their beds. I had the crosshairs on a 5-point and later a 6-point bull but again elected to pass. Was I pushing my luck? Come on, belt buckle!

The afternoon was a different story. We hiked into the DuVal, which is a deep, wide valley of pinyon, oak, and rimrock. In the mid-afternoon, elk were spotted about half a mile away. We stealthily hiked through the pinyons to the base of a sandstone butte, and using binos and the spotting scope, four good bulls were located. One bull stood out because of his whale tails and wide spread. My adrenaline was starting to pump. It was 3 p.m., and they were 600 yards away in the scrub oak and sagebrush. Eventually, all 50 elk made their way into the adjacent pinyon forest. At 250 yards, some elk moved through a shot window in the trees. Unfortunately, the bulls went high and appeared out of the trees at 430 yards with the setting sun directly in my face. The shot opportunity was erased. Belt buckle, where are you?

Day three produced a beautiful sunrise, which was enough to recharge enthusiasm. We located 12 cows and a small bull running at full tilt. The evening hunt was devoid of elk, but a beautiful countryside with a blue sky and billowy clouds produced a great sunset that nourished my soul and made me glad to be alive. Was my belt buckle luck beginning to run out?

In the morning, we hiked into the DuVal. Nothing was spotted yet. We walked 500 yards beyond the pond with the wind in our favor and then looked back and saw many elk behind us. They were downwind. A bull bugled as we tried to conceal ourselves. This bull was extremely wide and starting to come our way. Some of the cows walked below us at 50 yards. The other cows and bull went high and caught our scent quickly at 330 yards and retreated rapidly. I had a brisket shot for a few seconds, which I passed on. Belt buckle, belt buckle, where art thou?

That afternoon, we returned to Pauly’s Valley. We again located our “executive suite,” which consisted of two metal folding chairs but no waitress or cocktails! The day was warm, but no elk were visible. Once the sun disappeared in the valley, the temperature dropped precipitously. Metal chairs were now a distinct disadvantage. I tried to delay the shivering, but it did not work. I was ready to give up, when all of a sudden, Josh exclaimed, “Cows!” We then heard one bugle. A bull with 20 cows appeared. He remained hidden by the cows and scrub oak. Meanwhile, some cows frolicked in the nearby pond. Now, not only was I shivering, but I also had a serious case of buck fever. It was a very bad shooting combination. I placed the rifle on the tripod, and the bull eventually appeared in the open. I missed my first shot. No wonder. Now it was also getting darker. I connected with my second and third shots from my 7mm Magnum using 165 grain Nosler partition bullets and the bull was down. I could hardly stand or walk as there was a whole lot of shaking going on. Belt buckle victory! No ground shrinkage here. Even in the dark, the bull exceeded my wildest expectations.

The bull was a heavy 6x6 frame with multiple extra points, bilateral broken G3s, and palmated tops. It was a gnarly old bull, just like this hunter! My brother passed away prior to this hunt, but his memory and his belt buckle luck will always remain. Thank you, God, for this experience and thanks to my beautiful wife, Patty, who endures my obsession. Josh was the best guide anyone could have, and he tolerated this old hunter with no complaints. Thanks also to the Huntin’ Fool staff who researched for me and suggested GMU 40 and Biggerstaff Guides and Outfitters.

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