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Colorado elk hunt

Discussion in 'Hunting, Fishing & Camping' started by Hummer, Nov 5, 2009.

  1. Hummer

    Hummer Big Member

    Mar 16, 2003
    Western Colorado
    This year I hunted the first combined deer-elk season in the national forest outside the Flat Tops Wilderness in northwest Colorado. With relatively warm dry weather it seemed to be a repeat of last year's hunt with game hard to find. Success in this middle season depends a lot on sufficient snow in the high country of the Flat Tops to spur the great migration of thousands of deer and elk to lower elevation wintering areas. One of the large river bottom ranches that typically hosts 150-350 elk lazing undisturbed in it's grassy meadows only held about twenty elk this year. There were, no doubt, local breeding animals around but their numbers had been whittled in the earlier archery, muzzle-loader, and rifle elk-only seasons.

    I know the country well and spent opening day carefully hunting my favorite routes to find sign and hopefully connect with a good bull. I carried licenses for both cow and bull elk, buck deer and black bear. It's a bummer going through a season with just a cow license and all you see are bull elk! Or vice versa. Been there, done that, more than once.

    The relatively poor elk harvests in 2007 and 2008 suggested to me that there could be a lot of unusually good bulls available. Everywhere I went I found elk antler rubs made in August and September, lots of them! And this year the bulls weren't just thrashing smaller saplings, but even larger stout trees 5-7 inches in diameter. Here's one stripped of bark almost all around with antler scrapes 8 1/2 feet up the tree.


    I ventured away from the edges of the open aspen stands into the dark spruce-fir forest and followed an old elk trail. As I walked by a spring I came upon an elk wallow where a bull had repeatedly urinated and mudded himself. In spite of walking slowly and quietly the swirling winds gave me away. With busting branches and cracking trees I looked up to see a cow closely followed by a bull appear and instantly disappear through the trees about 40 yards away. "One thousand one, one thou......", and the view was over but the sound of cracking and crashing through the trees went on for another thirty seconds. Forget about chasing them down to get another view. Elk are incredibly powerful animals that can run like Abrahms tanks at 35 miles an hour and bulldoze their way through the woods and over 3-4 ft. high downed trees that a man can only climb and crawl over.


    I was charged! This was an elk encounter of the third kind, one in which you actually get to see them!

    I slowly followed their tracks for another hour or so until they got lost among older ones. By mid afternoon I was about four miles from camp when I walked into a young 2x3 buck mule deer at about 40 yards. I hesitated and let him go but he really only gave me about two seconds, and I think I need about five.

    Despite the promising start the next two days ended with not a single deer or elk encounter after covering many miles of climbing with a heavy day pack. A cold weather front moved in on the fourth day blanketing the area in fog with the possibility of snow. At a balmy 31 degrees, frost was forming on the vegetation and covering the spruce trees in a hoary white. Starting before first light I climbed the mountain for two hours and made my way to 9800 ft. just below the crest of the mountain. The plan was to climb a steep semi open slope (photo), then make my way across under some cliffs and down through a hellacious stand of dark timber crowded with downed trees.

    I love hunting this patch of forest. I've never seen another hunter venture into it, it seems they only work the perimeter. There are few aspens here to drop their crackly dry leaves, so through parts of it you can maneuver slowly and quietly in the maze of dead and down trees. On about half my trips through, I've come upon deer, elk or bear, yet, in all the years I've never actually taken an animal in this stand of dark timber that plunges steeply into Hazard Creek. It's the wildness, the knowledge that elk hide there, and the rarity of hunting it that attracts me.

    The air was still heavy with fog and it began to rain, then sleet, then snow, which helped to quiet my movement. I spotted a gray-brown patch and brought up the binoculars. Nope, just a big log. A little farther in I wondered, ""Is that the same log?" Binoculars up. Nope, this one has ears and she's looking right at me. The cow elk is mostly hidden by trees but I have a clear view of the head and a spot behind the shoulder. Bang! She's gone and I see the rump of a calf, hear breaking branches and crashing through the timber, then quiet. At about 55 yards I found the bed she was in when I approached. A heavy blood trail indicated a good lung shot with the .30-06 200 gr. Nosler Partition exiting the animal. It was snowing heavily and I was worried about losing her but I moved carefully, marking the trail. A half hour later I found her laying down and I put a finishing shot through her neck.


    Incredibly, this elk, weighing roughly 500 lbs., ran about 220 yards over and through heavy timber after the lungs were destroyed and bone fragments damaged both the heart and liver. This was my 21st elk kill, and I respect them as much now as always. Elk are amazing animals.

    Thankfully, the snow had stopped by the time I took the picture, and I dressed, skinned and prepared the animal for packout the next day. It was cold enough and getting colder so the meat would keep just fine. My biggest concern was that a bear would haul off with the meat. I've had bears get part of three of my previous elk. Fortunately the bear problem didn't happen this time. I moved logs and busted branches to help make a way to get pack animals in.

    The next morning I asked my friend Cole Fritzlan, who operates Fritzlan and Family Outfitters, to see if he could get in there with his horses and mules to pack the animal out. Sure enough, Cole, a champion rodeo steer wrestler, got the animals in and the elk packed out. Whew! Saved me two days of backpacking so I could continue hunting.


    In the last few days of season I hunted well, got into bulls in the timber on two occasions but neither offered a shot as they busted off through the trees. It finally snowed about 2" on Thursday so I found and tracked one bull about a mile through heavy down timber but he out maneuvered me as I approached his bed from below. I could see it coming too as his tracks slowed and zig-zagged up a ridge, just couldn't figure where he was going to bust out from. He outsmarted me. It's a typical scenario with me and the bulls. I also came upon a nice buck just long enough to see his antlers and backside disappear, but no shooting opportunity.

    Well, that's pretty much the story of deer and elk hunting for me in western Colorado. Saw lots of wildlife including many Dusky Grouse and hundreds of migrating Sandhill Cranes in very beautiful country. I work hard at the hunt, usually go home with an animal or two, and the steaks over the next year will be mighty good. Next year those bulls will be a little bigger, me a little older, and any success even sweeter.

    Good hunting,

  2. RLB


    Nov 11, 2007

    Awesome. Great write-up and great photos.
    Congrats on the harvest.


  3. Mouth


    Aug 9, 2009
    Wow, nice write up and beautiful pics! I dream of someday getting to hunt out west for either elk or mule deer.

    Congrats on the elk!
  4. Zombie Steve

    Zombie Steve Decap Pin Killa

    May 31, 2007
    Old Colorado City
    Congratulations. I've had some success on private land up by Craig in the past (and some failures... like you said, depends on snow).

    Great writeup, and thanks for posting.
  5. GeorgiaGlockMan

    GeorgiaGlockMan Aggie in Exile.

    Nov 18, 2003
    Bad-Lands Ranch
    I love that area of NW Colorado for elk hunting.

    I missed bow hunting up there this year.

    Thanks for the story and congrats on the freezer fill.