What a whirlwind it has been the past couple months. Much like last year after my first DIY elk hunt, it’s taken me a while to finally get the time to sit down and write about it. It seems like the older you get, the more you have vying for your precious time – but I digress. After the experience my Dad, brother and I had on our first DIY elk hunt in Colorado last September, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t ready to go back this year.
Trying Something Different
Instead of going the over-the-counter tag route this year, we decided to put into the lottery to potentially draw a limited tag. We knew we eventually wanted to start building up preference points to draw a tag to hunt a good unit in the future, so we used our first draw choice for a guaranteed preference point and then applied for a limited tag in a unit as our second choice. Spring turkey season came and went, and by June we were surprised to find out we had drawn our second choice tag.
Fast forward three months. I had been doing a much better job than last year at getting to the gym and doing cardio to prepare for the hunt, but I still felt like I wasn’t quite there. The closer it got to the hunt, the more other obligations were getting in the way. The days until we left for our hunt ticked on by and we finally decided on what area we wanted to try first with only a couple of days left to spare.
Westward to Colorado! - 9/2-9/3
My brother flew into Cincinnati Friday afternoon after work. He spent an hour situating all his hunting gear he had shipped to me the weeks before, then we loaded up the rental and hit the road. Much later than we had anticipated. We headed to southern Indiana to pick up my Dad before finally hitting the road west to Colorado. We drove through the night, stopping only for gas and to grab a quick drink or two on the way.
We finally made it to the Rockies about the middle of the day on Saturday and saw a very nice mule deer on the side of the road. By the time we made it to our GMU it was already getting dark. The drive in was quite interesting to say the least…a two-track trail that probably wasn’t intended for our rental car. We made it several miles back into the wilderness and even saw our first moose before deciding it was about time we pulled off and set up camp for the night.
Bowhiking - 9/4
We woke up the next morning eager to strap on our packs, grab our bows, and start hiking. We walked for miles that first day to get into the area we had scouted online weeks before. We saw sign, but never saw an elk or heard one for that matter. The hike back to camp that night was less than enjoyable. It was a short couple miles back from the area we were hunting, almost all down hill, but the route back to camp was through a mile of blow downs. My legs were on fire by the time I got back to camp that evening. A quick Mountain House meal and it was time to climb into my Tarptent for the evening. I honestly don’t remember my head hitting my stuff sack full of extra clothes I was using as a pillow…I was out quick.
Lazy Monday - 9/5
The next morning I slept in late. My dad and brother headed off at first light to see if they could strike up a bugle but no luck. When they got back to camp, they mentioned they had seen a few trout in a nearby stream. Our elk tags included fishing privileges, so we grabbed the small packable fishing rod we bought last year and headed off to the streams. It wasn’t long before we had hooked our first brook trout. We spent a couple of hours fishing and after we had caught a handful of trout, we headed back to camp to cook them over a fire for a delicious campfire lunch. Seasonings and some aluminum foil are now on the list for our next trip.
We killed time around camp before packing up the vehicle and making the trek partially back out of the wilderness. We drove out roughly 3 miles when we hit an opening that looked pretty promising. There were a couple old log cabins nearby and it just looked like there may be elk in the area. We set up camp on a little knob overlooking the big opening and headed out shortly after to glass for the evening. Again, no elk, but my dad did see a bull moose that evening.
A New Area - 9/6
That next morning we decided that the area just wasn’t working for us. We spent some time arguing on where our next stop should be and finally settled on a spot roughly twenty miles as a crow flies from our current location. We packed up and headed off to our new destination. Our drive out was nearly fourteen miles of two-track road to the nearest paved highway. We stopped in a nearby town to refuel and grab a bite to eat before continuing on to our final destination.
We arrived at the trail head of the new location about two to three hours before dusk. Originally, we had figured we could drive to where we were wanting to hunt, however, after pulling up to a gate with a sign forbidding vehicles from passing, we parked and loaded up our packs for a couple nights stay. The walk in was pretty easy. We walked in for just over a mile when we noticed the unmistakable smell of elk. It was getting dark and we knew we needed to set up camp soon. We backed out and setup camp further back on the trail we had come from to avoid spooking whatever was in the area. Finally, we felt like we were getting closer to seeing something.
We Were Almost Trampled! - 9/7
We woke up before daylight the next morning, packed up our packs and headed into the woods with high expectations. We bugled, cow mewed and raked trees in an effort to stir up a bugle. A little after 8 AM, seconds after Calvin raked a small tree and a bugle sounded off nearby! We split up, Calvin calling in back with Dad and I moving in to get set up – hoping to get a shot at the bull. We heard a couple more bugles but they weren’t getting any closer. Time slipped by and so did our hopes of the bull coming in. Assuming the bull was long-gone, we continued on towards the area we had pinpointed on the map.
It took several hours to hike in and we stopped for a few photos and to take a quick nap while we waited for it to get a little later in the afternoon. We worked slowly down a north slope; zig-zagging our way along game trails hoping to spot or smell another elk. Calvin and I were a little ways ahead of our Dad when all of a sudden we hear a loud ruckus from his direction. It sounded like my Dad had slipped and was tumbling down the hill. Calvin and I look back to see a calf zip by my dad mere feet away from him…following closely behind was a cow elk. The cow stopped just a few feet from my dad and turned to head off the other direction. The calf stood only 15 yards in front of Calvin and I. In the distance the cow mewed several times before finally drawing the calf her direction. Talk about excitement! After finally laying our eyes on some live elk, our enthusiasm grew. We worked further down the hill and ended up jumping another elk without getting off a shot. It was starting to get late in the evening, so we worked our way back to camp to prep for the next day.
Determination and a Little Luck - 9/8
I didn’t know it at the time, but this day would be the day I finally punched an elk tag. The morning started like all of the other mornings. Get up early…throw on my Sitka Gear, lace up the boots, strap on my pack, and grab my bow. It was another long and grueling day of hiking, calling, hiking, calling, and more hiking. We covered a lot of ground that day and had our fair share of debates on what we should be doing differently to see some elk. Were we in the right spot? Were we calling too much? Too little? Should we be at higher elevation or lower elevation? All of these things pass through your mind when you are physically and emotionally taxed from a week of “roughing” it and aren’t having any luck.
It was mid afternoon when we made it to a transition between a large clear-cut and a timber-covered north slope. We hiked in just a few yards before pulling out the cow call to let out a few mews, honestly expecting the silence we had heard all day. *mew* … *mew*….then we hear the unmistakable roaring bugle from only a couple hundred yards away! The three of us stood there for a minute trying to decide what the heck to do. After a few minutes we finally agreed on the next move. My Dad and I worked our way east along the north facing slope for a few hundred yards, descending a little in elevation as we went. I stopped roughly 100-150 yards before my Dad as he continued on before stopping at a good vantage point and getting ready for the action. My brother stayed back near where we had struck up the bugle. The north slope we were on was surprisingly very open so Calvin had to work his way up the slope to keep from being spotted as he moved around calling.
It seemed like an eternity of calling back-and forth when all of a sudden I spotted movement in the valley below at about the 10 o’clock position. I pulled up my Vortex binos and spotted a couple of cows working their way west to east. Having some idea of the direction they were going, I worked down to a lower elevation to get myself down within bow range of where I expected them to go. They kept getting closer and closer until finally, at less than 40 yards stood three cows and a couple of calves. I had my bow ready, but really didn’t have a shot except for one of the calves. Knowing they were heading in the direction my Dad we set up – and hoping that the bull was following behind – I elected to pass on the shot opportunity. The cows worked off to my right and out of sight.
Shortly after, I hear them coming back my direction looking over their shoulder. Did they see or hear my Dad? Did my Dad get a shot? They were quickly coming back my direction on a trail I had previously ranged at 32 yards. As soon as one of the cows hit my little shooting lane I drew my bow, quickly settled the top pin on my Spot Hogg Double Pin on her side and let it rip. The hillside erupted as elk scattered down into the valley below. I could see the green Firenock immediately after the shot and it looked like I had made good penetration with a 125 grain Grim Reaper Fatal Steel. The arrow appeared to be buried almost to the fletching but the shot was further back. Much further back than I had hoped. I waited for a little while and finally got the attention of Calvin and my Dad. I relayed the info on the shot to them before we headed down to look for blood.
Lacking a blood trail, we followed some deep tracks a little ways down the hill before we spotted a couple of cows in the valley below. Long story short, Calvin snuck to within 40 some yards before sailing an arrow over a cows back. Knowing the cows had run off down the hill and having a general idea of where the one I had hit went, we could follow the torn up tracks in the ground to help us trail her. Once she got into the meadow, the tracks blended with the other cows and we were no longer able to follow the trail.
Luckily, my father caught a whiff of elk as we made our way down the hill and we were able to pinpoint her location to a nearby knoll. We were elated when we finally found her! High fives and hugs ensued as we celebrated finally sealing the deal on an elk. Two years of the trials and tribulations of three flatlanders chasing elk in the Colorado backcountry had finally culminated in notching a tag. We took plenty of pictures and started the real work of quartering her and packing her out. Somehow, between the three of us we managed to pack her and all of our gear out in one trip. We were a little over a mile from where our vehicle was parked and climbed a little over 1,000 feet in elevation. A pretty “easy” pack out compared to some I’ve heard about, but challenging. Definitely something I can use to help motivate me to work harder in the gym next year.
Finding a Game Processor - 9/9
Now that we finally had an elk on the ground, I had to figure out what to do with all of the meat. We failed to think past the “let’s just find some elk” when we were doing our preseason preparations, and didn’t prepare for the “what do we do if we shoot one” scenario. Calvin and Dad headed back out to hunt while I headed back to the truck early that next morning to load up the meat and head off back to town to find a local processor. We had to head back home on Saturday, so I needed to find a processor…and fast! A guy at the local gas station gave me a name and number of a wild game processor almost forty minutes away. After not being able to connect via a phone call, and having no other options, I drove out towards the game processing place. All I could do was hope he was available and could process the meat in time for us to head back home. I had to pay an extra rush fee to the processor, but luckily was able to get it processed and frozen. We were able to pick it up on the way home the next day. I headed back to our camp that afternoon and met up with Calvin and Dad to go along with them to hunt the rest of the day, but we struck out again.
The End of a Great Week - 9/10-9/11
Saturday was our last day. My Dad and brother headed out close to camp to try to strike up a bugle in a last-ditch effort to fill their tags but like most mornings, no luck. We had to be on the road somewhat early to get Calvin back in time to catch his flight in Cincinnati on Sunday. Not to mention that we had roughly an hour and a half extra drive added to our trip to go pick up my elk meat. The flat tire – and inability to get the spare unlocked from the bottom of the SUV – did not help matters either.
Some Greenhorn Advice
If I have any advice to the greenhorn elk hunters out there it would be to always keep a positive attitude. Elk hunting is taxing on the body and equally taxing on the mind. There were periods of time during this hunt when I failed to heed this advice. It’s easy to get frustrated. You never know when your opportunity to fill your tag will come, so you always have to be prepared. I’d also highly recommend you check out Cory Jacobsen’s Elk101 site if you want to learn a thing or two about elk hunting. My brother learned an immense amount of valuable information from the Elk1o1 online course, and likewise, I learned a lot from Cory’s University of Elk hunting DVD. These resources are loaded with information for both novices like us as well as tenured, experienced elk hunters.
Brett’s Gear List:
- Hoyt Defiant 34
- Gold Tip – Velocity Pro 300
- Grim Reaper – 125 grain Fatal Steel 1 1/2″ cut
- Firenock – Aerovane II’s and Firenocks
- Carter – Too Simple 3 finger
- Kifaru International – Timberline 1 w/ bikini frame
- Spot Hogg – Hogg Father with Double Pin scope (triple ring)
- HECS Stealthscreen
- Sitka Gear
- Benchmade Knives – Nestucca Cleaver and North Fork Folder
- Vortex Optics – Razor HD 10×42
- Carbon Synergy
- TightSpot Quiver
- T.A.G. Game Bags
- Tactacam 2.0