Destination: The Lodge and Spa at Three Forks Ranch
Have you ever dreamed of hunting in superb, mountainous wildlife habitat and coming back to camp for a five star meal and a massage? Or, perhaps a dip in the hot tub to sooth those tired muscles? These amenities are standard fare for The Lodge and Spa at Three Forks Ranch in Wyoming and Colorado.
When you are used to hunting from tents, fully equipped with sleeping bags on hard cots and a meal of surprise stew, the accommodations at Three Forks Ranch are a bit overwhelming at first. But trust me, you can get used to it. In fact, by the second day we were pretty spoiled.
Kandi Kisky and I traveled to Three Forks Ranch in northern Colorado to hunt elk in early October. I am sure we looked like a couple of nimrods when our jaws dropped upon entering the foyer and great room of the main lodge. Exquisite western paintings, sculptures, oriental rugs and fine china decorated the room with a breathtaking view of the grounds. To say the designers and decorators paid attention to detail is an understatement.
We were escorted to our private rooms on the ground floor and stowed our gear. A quick peek at the spa revealed an indoor pool that also allowed you to swim outdoors. Two hot tubs and a masseuse were on standby. Kandi and I tried not to give in to temptation as we gazed at the inviting spa, we were here to work.
Our job was to film a hunt for SHE's Beyond the Lodge. The elk hunting at Three Forks Ranch is legendary, and along with our field producer Kenneth Chesson, we were assigned to portray that fact on film for Outdoor Channel viewers. I know, it's a tough job, but as they say, somebody's gotta' do it. Kandi and I would take turns hunting. We had one cameraman, one guide and five days to get it done with our Thompson Center rifles. Would Three Forks reputation for numerous bull elk come through for us?
We met our guide, Dave Clements, a veteran of the Three Forks operation. After sighting in our TC rifles we packed up and headed out. Our first foray into the wilderness was a 45 minute Polaris Ranger ride to the top of the world. Well, it looked that way when we got there. Five inches of snow made the mountainous terrain even more spectacular. We parked the Rangers and began working our way toward the bugling bull we could hear. The snow also hid every little branch, log, or rock waiting to twist an ankle or cause a tumble. Three out of the four of us did go down at one point or another. Only one of us face planted into the snow on camera. You will have to watch the episode to find out who.
We decided to pass on the bull we found the first afternoon. He was a youngster and the promise of greater bulls was still ahead. The second morning was a wild goose chase. We returned to the previous day's location and walked along an old logging road into the forest. Dave got a bull to answer his calls. He came to within 20 yards of Kandi, but once again, this bull was just too small. A second bull came in from behind and we nearly collided with him as we snuck along a slight rise in the meadow. This was a shooter, but circumstances didn't go our way. He disappeared before we had a chance to set up.
As we were about to give up on the meadow another bugle rang out. We tried to close the distance, but too many cows prevented us from getting close enough. The walk back to the Rangers required that we step over nearly every fallen tree on the mountainside. Okay, that's an exaggeration, sort of.
The next few hunts continued in this pattern until the afternoon of day three. This Polaris ride required low gear and four-wheel drive and took over an hour to get to the hunting area, but it was worth the drive. What happened next was pretty special.
We got within range of nearly 200 elk. Over a dozen bulls were bugling, chasing, fighting and doing what rutting bulls do. Dave lectured us on being quiet, saying he had been pretty lenient until now but if we did this wrong we might blow 200 elk off the mountain. We were as quiet as four people can be sneaking single file through the aspens.
A nice shooter bull started to come closer. It was my turn so I set up and tried to coordinate signals with my cameraman. Just as he edged closer to shooting range the bull suddenly decided to bed down. I could only see his nose and part of an antler when he turned his head. Dave tried all sorts of calls, and the bull responded, bugling from his bed. Unfortunately we were pinned down with cows all around and unable to get closer. Finally when the bull did get up, after almost an hour, he walked dead away, headed for the action further up the mountain.
We painstakingly snuck higher. Several shooter bulls were screaming and chasing and fighting throughout the evening. Just the audio portion of the experience was beyond belief. Try as we might, it was impossible to get a shot through the thick aspens. When I had an opening, the cameraman's line of sight was blocked and vice-versa. This went on until darkness chased us from the mountain.
Day four dawned grey and cloudy. Dave took us on an hour-plus truck ride to the opposite side of the Colorado portion of the ranch where very little hunting pressure had taken place. Lighting threatened to keep us in the truck. Dave explained that if we didn't get going as soon as we got there our chances were pretty slim. Fortunately the really bad weather didn't materialize and the rain was sporadic. We slipped to the edge of a meadow but no bulls were in sight. Bulges rang from high on the mountain and my hopes of calling them back down were not too high.
As we closed the distance to the next smaller meadow, Dave was able to turn the bulls back in our direction. A small bull slipped through the aspens at 200 yards. Dave thought the second bull would follow. We prepared for a broadside shot. Luckily the second bull was more amenable to the calling and headed in our direction. As he closed the distance to about 80 yards, Kenneth and I both had clear shots.
One shot with the TC Icon 308 was all it took and the bull went down, stumbled up for a couple steps and went down again for good. He was a great 6 x 6 symmetrical bull with a wide spread. As we photographed my bull, another one could be heard bugling on the mountain.
Kandi, Dave and Kenneth went after that bull, while I stayed in the meadow with mine. An hour later I heard a shot in the direction Kandi and crew had taken. She was able to make a great shot on her 6 x 6 as Kenneth recorded the action directly over her shoulder. They had to quarter Kandi's bull to pack it down the mountain.
We spent the next morning filming additional shots and scenes for the television show. Afterward, Dave gave us some fly-fishing lessons in what is a privately restored, world-class fly-fishing stream. Another storm blew in and we headed for the lodge. Kandi and I had a couple hours to kill before supper, and with all our assigned projects completed, we forced ourselves to check out the spa. I know, tough job.....
The Lodge and Spa at Three Forks Ranch is certainly a wonderful destination for elk hunting and fly-fishing. We were lucky to experience both during our trip. We also saw giant mule deer and antelope. They offer hunts for these species as well. All are free-ranging with guaranteed tags. In addition, Three Forks has many other activities. Winter sports include snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoe tours, doe sledding, sleigh rides and concierge alpine skiing. When not fly-fishing or shooting sporting clays you can take ATV rides, horseback rides and horse-drawn carriage rides. For more information visit www.threeforksranch.com