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Bowhunting Elk in Colorado

by Justin Zarr 25. September 2011 11:31
Justin Zarr

Nearly two years ago our good friend and Bowhunting.com forum member Dan Mater (130Woodman) asked Mike Willand and myself if we'd like to go elk hunting with him in Colorado. Having prior obligations for the 2010 season we decided as a group that 2011 would be the year we headed West to chase elk together. So on Friday September 16th we packed up the truck and hit the road. Some 17 hours later we rolled into town and without sleeping, hit the mountain.

After 6 straight days of walking 8 to 12 miles a day (mostly uphill I believe) we returned home defeated this past Friday. We're not entirely sure what the problem was, but it seems like a very late spring has turned into a very late fall with the majority of the elk not bugling much. Those of you who have hunted elk on public lands probably know that when the elk aren't talking, the hunting can be tough. We only heard a handful of bugles during our trip, and most of those were far away and were unresponsive to Dan's calling. The lone elk who responded and came into calling was on the 2nd to last night of our trip, and the only night where Mike and I split off on our own to hopefully cover more ground. So while Dan had an angry bull at 40 yards, Mike and I were a mile and a half up the mountain watching nothing but squirrels and birds. Figures!


I'm no expert, but I don't think late September in the mountains of Colorado is supposed to be this green.

So instead of spending most of our time trying to coax an angry bull into bow range, we spent the majority of our time simply trying to locate elk to hunt. Many of the typical spots where Dan has has success in years past were nearly void of elk sign. So we scoured the mountains as best as our Midwestern legs and lungs would allow us, and in the end came up emptyhanded.


Mike and Dan listening for a response after letting out a bugle during our Day 3 climb to nearly 11,000 feet.


Mike and I were all geared up to capture some exciting footage for "Bowhunt or Die", but the elk just didn't feel like cooperating.

Although none of us bagged an elk on this trip, I have to say it wasn't a complete bust. The three of us shared more laughs than I've had in a long time, experienced some amazing scenery and breathtaking views, and solidified our friendships which will most assuredly spend more time in the field together in the future. I'm not going to say I'm not disappointed that none of us got a shot opportunity because I am, but hey, that's life!


Sunset on the last night of our trip.  It's not an elk in the truck, but not a bad way to end the week.

For those of you who have never elk hunted before, here are just a few tips that I learned during my hiking adventure, which was disguised as a hunting trip.

1. Make sure you have good-fitting, comfortable, waterproof boots. Us Midwestern guys may think we're used to walking a lot up some of these "hills", but trust me it's NOTHING like climbing 2,000-3,000 feet in elevation up a mountain side which takes sometimes 2 to 4 hours. Having boots that fit well, are comfortable, and waterproof will make your hunt 100x better. If your feet get wet, sore or blistered on the first couple of days you're in for a LONG week.  My boot of choice on this trip was the Rocky Lynx, which worked out great.

2. Bring plenty of food and water. During this trip I typically went through about 2-3 liters of water per day. 2 liters were in the water bladder in my pack, and the other in bottles I brought with me. Hiking up these mountains all day is tough work, and you'll be glad you brought the extra water. I also packed 2 sandwiches, 2 Nutrigrain bars, and 2 granola bars for the day as well. When you leave the truck at 5 am and get back at 8 pm you'll need the food.


Peanut Butter & Honey?  Don't mind if I do...

3. Have a good pack. Although after the first day or two I took out everything I didn't need, I still found myself bringing a lot of gear up the mountain with me. Whether it's extra clothes, 1st aid kit, water, food, binos, rangefinder, GPS etc you'll be taking a lot of stuff with you each day. Having a pack that is light weight, adjustable, comfortable and big enough for all of your gear is a must. On this trip I used the Blacks Creek 3:16 Lumbar pack, and it was awesome. Roomy enough to hold all of my junk, and comfortable enough not to bog me down. I'll be doing a full write-up on this pack in the next week or so. IMO, it's the best pack I've ever personally used/owned.


Mike glassing for elk.  Keep looking buddy!

4. Dress appropriately. Unlike some of the short walks to your treestand on a cold November morning where you can get away with wearing most of your layering clothing, you can't do that when hunting elk. After my first day of trying that, I learned my lesson pretty quickly. By the 3rd day I was walking up the mountain in the mornings in nothing but a t-shirt, with no hat. Once we got up the mountain and slowed down I would then add my Scent Shield Merino Wool insulating layer and top if off with a Lost Camo hoody from Gamehide.


Even though we didn't so much as lay eyes on an elk, I still had a great trip.  A big thanks to Dan Mater for bringing Mike and I out for our first elk hunt, and dealing with our ridiculousness all week!

So with our elk hunt now officially over, Mike and I are turning our attention towards our true love - chasing whitetails here in Illinois. Our season opens up next Saturday and you can bet we'll be perched up in a tree somewhere. After last week's bowhunting frustration I feel sorry for the first doe that wanders within bow range of us!

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