There is a lot that goes into making a successful elk hunt and lady luck always has her say as well. One of our hunters, who has been trying for years to get an elk, finally got it done this year. Everybody saw plenty of elk, we had a safe hunt and returned home with great memories and some elk meat for the freezer. You can watch the video of our hunt below.
Every elk hunt, successful or not, requires significant amount of planning and preparation. It takes a day and a half in travel to get to the hunting area. which, means an overnight stay along the way. And with trailers loaded with gear, a place to stay with adequate parking. Picking the right accommodations and make reservations becomes rather important.
Once we arrive at our camping area, then the work begins. Setting up Cook tent and sleeping tents and unloading a weeks worth of gear takes time. Then there is the trip to town for ice, last minute supplies and of course, licenses. Arriving in early afternoon means there is no time to waste. It has become almost automatic for us as we have been doing this for 24 years now.
We have been hunting this particular area of Colorado for 9 years now. We know the terrain, the game trails and migration patterns as well as the areas that attract other hunters. In other words, we have a plan that gives us an advantage. This always helps when hunting on public ground. If you know we the game travels and where the other hunters will most likely be, you can position yourself for the best chance of success when the other hunters start pushing the elk.
DIY Elk Hunt Base Camp
If you’re going to be camping in the mountains for a week, its important to have a good and comfortable as possible base camp. You will be hiking up and down the mountains and it will be cold. Temperatures can range from highs in the 60s to lows in the single digits. You need a place to get in out of the cold and warm up with plenty of food to replenish all those spent calories.
We use a 14 X 17 Montana Canvas wall tent as a cook tent. With propane stoves for cooking and heating. It makes for a good place to gather and get out of the elements to eat, socialize and share the occasional adult beverage after the hunt. Pre planned and prepared meals simplify meal time and minimize time spent cooking instead of hunting. We pack plenty of snacks to carry during the hunt which also helps to keep the body fueled up between meal times.
Sleeping arrangements we use the Cabelas outfitter tent. This is a large tent that allows for freedom to stand up and move around, as well as stow all your gear out of the weather. Also, cabelas outfitter XL cots with pads and a good cold weather sleeping bag make for a warm and comfortable nights sleep. In the morning, Mr Bif Buddy propane heater knocks the chill off while getting dressed and ready for the days hunt.
A good supply of firewood and comfortable camp chairs to sit around the campfire and tell stories of the days hunt and reminisce about previous hunts. Our base camp is a culmination of 20 plus years of trial error and refinement. It has become a very comfortable set up in everything from sunshine to snow storms.
Elk Hunting and the Weather
Where we currently hunt, in southwest Colorado, there is a wide range of habitat. Everything from the lower elevation sagebrush flats of the elk wintering areas, to the high alpine basins of the South San Juan Wilderness area. Elk spend most of their time in the higher elevations of the wilderness area. Only when heavy snows move into the high country do the elk begin their migration down to their wintering grounds at the lower elevations.
Our base camp is located at the mid elevation between the summer and wintering grounds. So, when the snows hit, we are well positioned to catch the herds moving through on their winter migration. If there is no snow, then we must travel from base camp to the higher elevation areas. This means getting an earlier start and preparing to make an all day affair. Pack a lunch, plenty of snacks and water, and bring the pack frames. You’re in for a long walk and a long day.
If you kill one back in the wilderness area, it’s either coming out on your back, or you had better know someone with horses as there is no motorized vehicles allowed. Just so happens, this year, we availed ourselves of the services of Sundown Outfitters owned by Ash and Trish Tully, to pack out the bull that Ken harvested over 3 miles from the end of the road.
It was an extra expense, but it also saved what would have been at least two trips packing it out on our backs and a very late night before we would have gotten back to camp. Maybe we’re getting older and wiser, well older anyway 😉
Success Requires: Timing, Preparation and Experience
When you combine good planning and preparation, with several years of experience hunting an area, you can put yourself in a good position for success. Combine that with timing the snow and elk migration, and in this area, you can see hundreds of elk in a day moving through.
We have harvested elk within 200 yards of base camp when the conditions are right. Or, as in the case this year, we ventured far from the road into the wilderness. Knowing the area and having alternate plans for the different weather conditions you might face is always a good idea. You never know what hand mother nature might deal you, so be prepared for anything.
Just so happens that this year we timed it right weather wise. Having knowledge of the area and where the elk like to travel, Ken Kuhn (one of our core group of hunters) was able to harvest his first elk. Three of us had hiked into the wilderness to hunt that day and when the call went out on the radio of elk down, it was all hands on deck. We all share in the work and each others’ success.
After some congratulations and picture taking, one of us hiked back to the truck for the pack frames while two of us tagged, skinned and quartered the elk for transport. It was a late afternoon kill, and by the time it was quartered and ready to pack out, it was well past dark. A command decision was made to haul out some of the meat and the trophy, then call in the horses to get the rest the next morning.
Trish with Sundown Outfitters made quick and efficient work of packing the meat out the next day, and Ken got a nice pony ride as well 😉 It was great to see Ken get his first elk after many years of trying. Almost better than getting one myself. I personally had plenty of opportunities at cow elk, but no tag for them. I had a couple of bulls at very long range, but I wasn’t comfortable taking such a long shot so I let them walk.
Everybody saw elk, and plenty of deer. I know of at least 5 bulls harvested within a mile of our base camp. It was a great time and great hunt. It’s already time to start planning for next year. The big game draw applications will be due the first week of April. With the holidays and New years coming up, before you know it, it’s time to apply for the draw. I always mark my calendar as soon as I get it in December for the next year.
Good Friends, Great times and Elk Meat for the Freezer
We have a core group of hunters that have known each other for 40 plus years and have been making this annual hunt for the last 24 years. We are getting pretty good at the whole process. Most importantly, we have a good time. Lots of stories, enjoying the mountains and being outdoors. The harvesting of an animal is just a bonus.
Its a lot of work getting ready, but it pays off when you get there. You put a lot of miles on your boots once you get there and maybe, just maybe, you get a chance to fill your tag. Then of course, it’s a lot of work to break it all down and then clean it up and put it all away when you get home. All just part of the process.
If you have a group of hunters that get along well with each other and are willing to pitch in and help with planning and preparation, it makes it much more enjoyable for everyone involved. Put a group together, make your plans, check out Colorado as they have over the counter elk tags, and start your own tradition. You will make a lifetime of memories whether you harvest or not.
Now it’s time to start planning my next surf fishing trip. Here in south Texas, you can fish all winter long and my salt level is dropping rapidly. As always, try to leave it cleaner than you found it. Stay safe and enjoy the journey. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comment section below. I will get back to you ASAP.