The Grand Adventure

Outdoor Life's Grand Slam adventure winner tries for elk, mule deer, pronghorn and birds in the wilds of Colorado.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Belly-crawling 50 yards can be a punishing task when you're slithering through snow at 8,000 feet. Cradle a rifle in your arms, and the job becomes truly agonizing. Your biceps burn, your heart pounds and your breath comes in ragged gasps.

Stuart Littlefield had just completed such a crawl. Now he lay panting behind his guide. The duo had spent the better part of 20 minutes creeping under the very noses of a hundred elk, making for a small boulder that would provide cover and a steady rifle rest.

Ahead, the elk slowly fed. Some grazed while others lay bedded, soaking in the warmth of the late-afternoon sun. Out in front, several 5-point bulls alternately grazed and sniffed at passing cows, testing the breeze for estrous scent. Cows mewed and smaller bulls jostled one another. And occasionally one of the 5-points would raise his voice in a shrill bugle. Stuart settled in behind his rifle.

A policeman and former SWAT team member, he was desperately trying to find his zone--to block out everything around him--but it wasn't working. His mind raced, his heart thumped, his eyes burned from the glare of the sun on the fresh snow. The smell of sage and elk filled his nostrils. And somewhere in the back of his whirring mind a thought came: "So this is elk hunting."

Let the Games Begin

Six months earlier, Stuart had been reading Outdoor Life on his break at a Kansas City station house, where he works as a police detective, when he came across entry information for the first Outdoor Life Grand Slam Adventure. "Try taking an elk, a mule deer, a pronghorn and a grouse" on a single hunt, it read.

"I just entered on a whim," Stuart recalls. "I had nothing to lose. The worst thing that could happen was nothing. The best thing would be going on the hunt." So he filled out the form and began to write the required essay about what this once-in-a-lifetime experience would mean to him. Several months later, he received a phone call informing him that his essay had been chosen from among hundreds as a finalist.

"That's when I got really nervous," Stuart recalls. "I told a couple of close friends, but I didn't want to jinx it. I'm very superstitious." Stuart's worries were somewhat relieved a week later when he found out he had won and that he'd be joining me to hunt with Dick Dodds, owner of Elkhorn Outfitters, on the more than 120,000 acres that Dick hunts near Craig, Colorado. This is prime elk, mule deer and pronghorn country, made all the better through the "Ranching for Wildlife" program that Dick supports on the ranch. The result? Superior animals, in top-notch habitat, that are harvested with special permits that would give Stuart the chance to take elk, mule deer and pronghorn on the same hunt. And, if time allowed, maybe do some bird hunting, too.Â

Turning in the driveway at camp, we climbed a little hill that topped out in a tidy cluster of barns and cabins. At Elkhorn, hunters are housed in cozy cabinsÂ--all recently builtÂ--with showers and comfortable sitting areas that lead out to porches with grand views of the high prairies and the aspen-studded mountainsides beyond. Everyone gathers for meals in the great room of the main lodge, where gorgeous mounts of deer and elk provide a glimpse into the trophy quality that Dick and his staff have worked so hard to build over the years.

The warmth from the blazing pellet stove felt good when I entered the lodge, where Dick greeted me. He's a stocky, mild-mannered guy in his late 40s who has been guiding elk, mule deer and pronghorn hunters for more than 20 years. Dick played serious baseball in his younger years (he still pitches for the local team) and has an athlete's competitive spirit and self-assurance.
"Tomorrow's going to be a busy day," he said, his smile sending little creases dancing around his eyes under his wide-brimmed Stetson. "We have more than six thousand elk on the place right nowand more piling in every day." Following dinner, Dick's staff gave the group of gathered hunters a short talk about safety and what they could expect from their guides. As hunting buddies and guides exchanged handshakes, Dick sat Stuart and me down.

"We're going to be taking the mules up to Little Buck peak from a drop-off area about a half-hour's drive from the lodge," he explained. "This is one of my favorite spots, and if all goes well we should be able to look over a couple hundred elk at daybreak."

Dick said it in such a matter-of-fact way that I knew he was telling the truth. Still, to see a couple hundred elk on the first morning? I set our alarm for 5:30 but Stuart was up at 4:00.

**

**

On Little Buck Peak

It was still dark when we jumped into Dick's pickup and headed up the mountain, a trailer full of saddled mules clattering along behind us. The temperature was just 3 degrees above zero.

"We're gonna have a beautiful sunrise and a gorgeous day," Dick said. "Just enjoy every minute of it. I know we're gonna see a lot of elk. All I ask is that you stick close to me, because things can happen pretty quick. Communication is key. Don't shoot until I tell you to. And only shoot when you feel comfortable. Wait until we get a good broadside shot. I'll tell you when the time's right."

Stuart sat silently soaking in Dick's instructions. I could only imagine the superstitions dancing around in his head and assumed he didn't want to say much for fear of jinxing something. We climbed higher, finally stopping at a turnout where Dick could swing the truck around and unload. While Stuart and I assembled our gear, Dick was busy unloading mules and cinching up saddles. He likes to use mules rather than horses because he feels they're smarter and more sure-footed. They're also easier to get on and off ofÂ--something we immediately recognized when we swung up into our saddles and headed off through the sage flats toward Little Buck peak.

A storm two days earlier had left a few inches of snow by the lodge, but here the snow depth was easily 2 feet. The mule's footfalls were practically silent as we wound our way through twisted stands of oak brush and aspens. The sun oozed over the horizon in a fiery ball, and lacy hoarfrost on the stunted sage sparkled like diamonds.

Coming around a bend, we stopped to glass a nice muley buck and several does. He was high and heavy, but I knew Dick had his mind on elk, so we watched him pogo-stick away as we rode on. Ten minutes later Dick pulled up at a brushy saddle and motioned for us to dismount. Using the ridge for cover, we snuck up through the sage and then belly-crawled over the top. Stuart took a prone position on a large rock while Dick and I glassed. We made a few cow calls and a minute later they were answered by elk far down the valley.

On they came, streaming toward us seemingly from everywhere--here a group of 100, there a group of 40 or more. Within 15 minutes we had several hundred elk all around us, but Dick wasn't seeing anything he was really excited about. Stuart, however, was about to go ballistic.

"I would have shot the first one I saw and been really happy," he later recalled, but Dick's competitive spirit wasn't having it. "Let's ease back over this ridge," he whispered, "and see where that big bunch that moved off to the east went."

Sliding back around the mountain, we could see a couple hundred elk bedded off a half-mile to the east. We had the wind right and had closed the distance by half when we busted several bedded cows we practically stepped on. They blasted out of the oak brush. The whole herd was up now, moving slowly away from us down the canyon.

"They're not really spooked," Dick whispered. "We'll swing back and get the mules. I think I know where they're going to go."

**

**

A Big Surprise

The sun was blazing down on us now, and as we approached the mules, everyone started shedding layers. We grabbed the mules and made our way down the canyon, walking our animals and keeping a low profile. A mile or so on, Dick motioned back to me, holding his hands up to his ears like antlers and mouthing, "Five-by-five, mule deer." We snaked our way over the backside of the ridge and moved on, keeping the ridge between us and the deer.

Dick tied off the mules, then whispered in Stuart's ear: "We're going to have to crawl up to the edge of this ridge so they don't see us. Stay low and right behind me." The three of us took off, wriggling through the snow on our bellies. A little clump of oak brush sat perched on the ridge's edge, providing just enough cover for Stuart to sit with the shooting sticks out in front of him. Dick's voice was calm.

"Do you see the does down to the right?"

"Got 'em," Stuart answered, his eye glued to the scope.

"The buck's on the left. He's hidden in the trees but he'll come out in a minute."
Seconds ticked past and I could only imagine what was going through Stuart's mind. My first shot of a dream trip and the biggest mule deer I've ever seen.

"Here he comes," Dick whispered. "Are you on him?"

"I'm on him," Stuart answered, his voice sounding steady and mechanical.

"Wait until he turns broadside. Now! Take him now!" Dick said, his voice ringing with urgency this time.

Stuart's .300 Remington Ultra Magnum sounded like a thunderclap. I heard him rack a follow-up shot into the Model 700, but it wouldn't be necessary.

"He's down," Dick said. "Just stay on him for another minute."

Again, long seconds passed. Then Dick slapped Stuart on the back.

"Nice shot, man."

Then everyone was up and high-fiving.

I'd had the video camera trained on the two of them, so I hadn't seen Stuart's buck when he shot, but when we walked up on the deer 10 minutes later, I could see why Dick hadn't said much about how good he was before Stuart shot.

Later he told me, "It's an old guide's trick," which quickly became the running gag line for our trip. This buck, however, was anything but a gag. It was high and wide and heavy. And points seemed to be sticking out everywhere. All up, it had 14 scorable points, for those who keep track of such things. For Stuart, it was more than he could possibly have dreamed of. As his adrenaline rush subsided and he wrapped his hands around the old buck's antlers, for the first time he could hardly speak.

**

**

A Big Surprise

The sun was blazing down on us now, and as we approached the mules, everyone started shedding layers. We grabbed the mules and made our way down the canyon, walking our animals and keeping a low profile. A mile or so on, Dick motioned back to me, holding his hands up to his ears like antlers and mouthing, "Five-by-five, mule deer." We snaked our way over the backside of the ridge and moved on, keeping the ridge between us and the deer.

Dick tied off the mules, then whispered in Stuart's ear: "We're going to have to crawl up to the edge of this ridge so they don't see us. Stay low and right behind me." The three of us took off, wriggling through the snow on our bellies. A little clump of oak brush sat perched on the ridge's edge, providing just enough cover for Stuart to sit with the shooting sticks out in front of him. Dick's voice was calm.

"Do you see the does down to the right?"

"Got 'em," Stuart answered, his eye glued to the scope.

"The buck's on the left. He's hidden in the trees but he'll come out in a minute."
Seconds ticked past and I could only imagine what was going through Stuart's mind. My first shot of a dream trip and the biggest mule deer I've ever seen.

"Here he comes," Dick whispered. "Are you on him?"

"I'm on him," Stuart answered, his voice sounding steady and mechanical.

"Wait until he turns broadside. Now! Take him now!" Dick said, his voice ringing with urgency this time.

Stuart's .300 Remington Ultra Magnum sounded like a thunderclap. I heard him rack a follow-up shot into the Model 700, but it wouldn't be necessary.

"He's down," Dick said. "Just stay on him for another minute."

Again, long seconds passed. Then Dick slapped Stuart on the back.

"Nice shot, man."

Then everyone was up and high-fiving.

I'd had the video camera trained on the two of them, so I hadn't seen Stuart's buck when he shot, but when we walked up on the deer 10 minutes later, I could see why Dick hadn't said much about how good he was before Stuart shot.

Later he told me, "It's an old guide's trick," which quickly became the running gag line for our trip. This buck, however, was anything but a gag. It was high and wide and heavy. And points seemed to be sticking out everywhere. All up, it had 14 scorable points, for those who keep track of such things. For Stuart, it was more than he could possibly have dreamed of. As his adrenaline rush subsided and he wrapped his hands around the old buck's antlers, for the first time he could hardly speak.