Colorado Elk Hunt 2016 – Day #8
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We decided that a final hurrah up the first drainage we hunted was the wisest use of our remaining time and energy. We decided to wait until afternoon to slip up into some areas that had heavy signs of feeding a week prior and then hunt our way into the areas with more rutting sign as the thermals shifted downhill later in the evening.

Only one-half mile into our hike, I glimpsed movement off to my left and could see a cow elk and calf standing just 30 yards away. Pete kept walking and they seemed calm enough that I may have a chance to knock an arrow and take a shot. I dropped my pack, got an arrow, nocked it, drew my bow, started to swing my bow back on the cow elk, and…spook, crash, crash, spook. No shot. 2 more seconds, maybe 3 and an arrow would have been on its way. SO CLOSE!!!

Now it was officially the bottom of the ninth. Upwards and onwards to the base of a rock slide above some wallow-infested meadows, a stand was made where we spread out 100 yards and cow called off and on for the better part of an hour. Thirty minutes in, Pete caught movement 100 yards down below him and a cow elk was picking her way into the rock slide. However, instead of coming up to investigate the new “herd” on the mountain, she laid down behind a few small conifers and made herself invisible. Through a series of hand signals, we communicated and hatched a plan to sneak downhill and toss a few rocks to get her to stand back up. It ALMOST worked. Unfortunately as the saying goes, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades – NOT elk hunting, that’s for dang sure!

With no bugling anywhere on the mountain – I mean none, zero – we decided to bail off in the twilight, tuck our tails between our legs, and begin the 24-hour drive back East. Defeated, exhausted, frustrated, confused, and two very expensive bowls of tag soup was the results of our 2016 elk hunt. So our original expectations – shot opportunities at legal bulls, probably multiple chances per guy on the first massive loop we had planned…pipe dream. We had no shot opportunity to kill a legal elk. We saw a quarter of the bulls that we’ve seen in past hunts, and we never got caught up in the “merry-go-round” rut-fests of prior trips. I wouldn’t have believed it based on our prior experiences in OTC Colorado, but the elk won this time. Hands down. Elk in a weird mood, post-wildfire hangover, dry high country, rut late, full moon, too many other hunters, excuses didn’t matter at this point though our brains were racing to explain our unfilled tags.

One thing’s for certain though, and sometimes it takes a few weeks for the initial bitter taste of an “unsuccessful” hunt to wear off, the success of a hunt doesn’t depend entirely upon a notched tag. Sure it’s nice, especially when you’re talking about having or not having 200 pounds of elk steaks in your freezer. But it’s a cherry on top. Nothing less, nothing more. I had a great hunt, I hunted HARD, the mountains were still beautiful, the weather still fierce, the elk bugles still enchanting, fellowship with a great friend still sweet, my legs still sore, my heart still content, my mind still planning the “next time”.

No elk steaks, but memories – you bet!

Colorado Elk Hunt 2016 – Days #6-7
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We jumped off trail within a half-mile of the trailhead and began our bushwhacking ascent. It was a grueling climb, hand over hand grabbing vegetation and shrubs, two steps up 1 slide down on scree, nasty kind of hike. But it was the price of admission to a secluded series of basins that was over 9 miles hike through similarly unforgiving terrain from another direction – it seemed a cost worth paying.

Some mid-climb raspberries gave us a needed boost and we were tramping through decent elk sign and closing in on the top with 2 hours remaining in daylight. Perfect timing, now to be rewarded with some elk rutting action!

Our hope was to hunt over a trail that appeared to connect 2 massive basins via a tight saddle. 4 years ago, one of our buddies hunted this spot and had a cow walk by within archery range. Unfortunately, the connecting trail didn’t appear real active and a closer inspection revealed an even worse type of sign. Boot tracks!!! Morale crushing discovery. We bailed on our “stand” hunting idea and started to canvas the mountain throwing cow calls and bugles into every nook and cranny…no response. NO RESPONSE!!!

We were physically high on a mountain but emotionally and mentally low as a valley. There was nothing to do but find our old camp spot from 4 years prior and hope a few bugles would echo through the night, perhaps indicating some semblance of promise for the morning.

The one bright spot of the day’s hunt was stumbling onto 19 bighorn sheep rams. Some bruisers, many 1/2 and 3/4 curlers, and a few sickle horns. 2 of them were definitely book-class animals though. Spread out over a 200 yard stretch of alpine meadow, we enjoyed close interactions with a few different subgroups for almost 45 minutes.

We climbed up on top of the mountain after dusk, peaked out to watch the lunar eclipse and touch base with our wives via sketchy cell coverage. It was quite the sight, but the evening air was also eerily quiet. Nary a bugle to be heard. We slept soundly and woke in the morning to descend back to the truck and come up with a Plan C. Somewhere down the mountain, we bounced 2 cows from their beds and heard a bull pipe up within 2 minutes. He was screaming – as hot as we’d heard in almost a week and he was coming! Cow call, cow call, he’d bugle. At one point, we could hear his huffing breath as he rolled off the last rise on the steep slope. We were going to be rewarded with a shot opportunity, and I was pretty sure he was coming in on a string.


He was following a hot cow, nose on her rump every step of the way. Bugling, huffing, glunking, all worked up… We knew instantly we were at the mercy of the cow’s next dozen or so steps. Unfortunately, she lined out down the mountain instead of closing from 75 yards to within a reasonable shot distance. He was gone before we knew it – a good bull that left our hearts pounding with excitement, so CLOSE!!

So close yet so far. Nothing to do at that point but hike down the mountain, hoping for another chance encounter, but knowing deep down that we needed a mental break from the hunt. Hotel time. We arrived back at the truck by late morning, found some real food, and bunked up in a hotel that night to recover physically and, more important than that, mentally. We had to hatch a Plan C and fast.

Colorado Elk Hunt 2016 – Days #4-6
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Back from WY…to finish up the elk hunt recap before moving on to speedgoats.

Thankfully we awoke to much clearer skies. Our spirits were much improved after being nearly broken by the unrelenting weather the day before. Heck, even a few elk were bugling up in the drainage we knew to hold a great bedding area. It was a zoo last hunt, let’s see about this time.

Hiking up into the crease, we had a few smaller sounding bulls bugling below us and one deep bellowing bugler above us. We went up. Pausing a few times for 10-15 minutes to make some calling set-ups, we didn’t receive any response as the bugling began tailing off just an hour into daylight. Never mind though, we had a great bead on the bull above us and we slipped into what we figured was 100 yards of his last bugling location. Even though it had been 20 minutes since his last bugle, we figured he was bedded and committed to a lengthy session of cow elk dirty talk and eventually worked in a few subordinate bugle squeals. No response. Frustrating.

We decided to check another pocket on the mountain to see if he had gone over the top. Within 50 steps, the same situation we had already encountered on the trip replayed itself in insanely frustrating fashion. We busted the bull out of his bed. Now why in the world a bull that had been bugling decently hot would be content to sit on his butt and listen to a “harem” of cows be courted by some infiltrating and inconsiderate smaller bull is more than I’ll ever know…but that’s the kind of mood we found the elk in. Perplexing and frustrating.

At this point, we decided to leave the general area, drop down across a series of drainages and try another basin that we hadn’t been to in 4 years. 4 years ago though, it was nuts! On the way over, we bumped into a small bull with 8 cows in a burned off section of country and watched helplessly as they side-hilled up and over the mountain. Midday – nothing we could do about it.

It was a slog up into the basin, but we found it exactly as we remembered it. All except one important ingredient – ELK! No fresh elk sign within several weeks in the basin, nothing but deer and moose sign and that wasn’t even that fresh. It was head-scratching time as we went to bed that night. Where to go? Where were the elk? Why the strange mood?

We knew the answer. The answer was up and up and up. There was a basin that we had researched for several years but never had the excuse, reason, or desire to attempt and reach. It was time. All next morning and into afternoon, we climbed some brutally steep terrain but were finally rewarded with this view.

Our plan was to stay high and watch the wallowing playground until the thermals threatened to start shifting. We knew we were in the chips. And that’s when we saw it. Candy bar wrapper. Fresh and right at our feet. Teasing us if you will. That was all we could take, and our next several hours confirmed our worst fears. We were finding people sign in places we had never found people sign before. Even worse, there was no elk sign in areas that had looked like zoos in the past. For whatever reason, the area was a bust.

It was clearly time to pull out and try Plan B which was 25 miles away. It was a long, head-hung down trudge out that evening and continued into the next morning. Nearly 50 miles in the entire 5+ day loop and nary a legitimate chance to kill a legal elk.

Oh well, that’s hunting and quite frankly – we were experiencing Colorado as most people experience Colorado – frustratingly few bugles, scattered elk, too much hunter competition. It was a world we weren’t familiar with and it sucked.

Plan B held our hopes in its hands and we recouped in town for a couple hours before striking off on a 3,500′ vertical gain of bushwhacking.

Wyoming Bound
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Credits embedded in photograph

Headed West to convene with my dad, his hunting buddy, my old college roommate, and another good friend in Denver airport. From there, the caravan will head north to Casper, Wyoming, where we’ll re-check our rifle zeroes, stock up groceries, buy our conservation stamp, and take a quick whirl around nearby public land before dark. The next 7 days – Saturday to Friday – will be spent chasing pronghorns in Unit 73 – a tag that we drew in the Special Draw w/ 3 preference points each. As tags get filled, other opportunities to trout fish, scout mule deer for a year or two down the road, and enjoy Wyoming’s wild landscape will be explored. It will be an awesome time with a splendid forecast on the horizon!!!

Elk hunt updates will continue to post and stay tuned for our WY report upon return.

CO Elk Hunt 2016 – Day #3
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Our third day on the mountain dawned cloudy and with a cool mist in the air. It also dawned with a few bugles echoing off the mountainside and through the timber. The bulls weren’t firing on all cylinders, but there were a few talking and we made haste to close the distance. On the way up the mountain, we bumped into another hunter – actually one we had spoken with briefly and in passing the day before at a much lower elevation down in the adjacent valley. We made quick small talk and decided there wasn’t enough room for both us and he to chase the little group of semi-vocal elk. We veered off to investigate another basin and he kept on trekking towards the elk. (Turns out we ran into him a 3rd time the next day and he reported that he had an opportunity to shoot a small 4×5 bull but passed).

As the cool mist continued falling, heavier bouts of rain and even some hail began to mix in. Hop-scotching between clumps of live timber, we managed to stay dry while canvasing some great looking country but nothing was talking. A little while later, we bumped into an orange-clad muzzleloader hunter stalking along at timberline. He reported decent action 3-5 days earlier but things had slowed dramatically for he and his partner – 1 bull and 1 cow tag between them. By his physique, we figured he had been pounding the high country which had the more established trail network running through it. An executive decision was made to drop into the steep nasty stuff below and check out a ravine crossing we discovered 2 years ago.

Then it hailed some more.

We found the crossing just as we had remembered and while there was some elk sign it wasn’t smoking hot like it had been 2 years prior. Without any vocal elk and midday to kill, we still decided to sit the crossing until evening when hopefully some elk would be talking.

Then it hailed some more.

And more.

And more.

And somewhere in there, we threw up our tents and spent the next 6 hours hunkered down.

Then it hailed some more.

Then we saw blue sky for 10 minutes, so we scrambled our gear and ran 200 yards downhill to find some flatter ground for the night’s sleep.

Then it hailed some more. And then we heard a few elk sounding off on the hillside above us, but we didn’t chase them because it was hailing even more.

Then we went to sleep as it hailed some more.


Infolinks 2013