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Colorado Muzzy Elk....A Learning Experience

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I wanted to do a little write up on my Colorado elk hunt I went on the other week, a group of 7 of us went out for a week, 4 muzzy hunters, 2 bowhunters and 1 hiker/photographer/packer.  We have family that has a cabin in the area we hunted so we planned on staying there 1 night before we were going to camp for 6 nights in the wilderness.  A couple quick pics of what my meals and gear were for the week, after hours of reading I tried as hard as possible to keep it around the 100 calories per ounce for my food I think in the end I was around 105 after I got done with all my weighing measuring, the only thing not in there was my Mountain House meals.   


With having so many of us going we didn't need to double up on a lot of the items, water filtration, first aid, rope etc.  The night before we went out we took the scale out and made everyone get on we all average about 60 pounds with water except my father in law which at one  point was almost at 100 pounds and we slimmed it down to about 80.



After sitting down the night before and finalizing our plan we were going to hit a trail head up in the morning and hike back about 3-4 miles and make camp, based off of the maps and Google earth we saw water and large enough areas to get off the trails to get in some decent hunting areas....that was our first big mistake which we regretted. 

We got up early ate a good breakfast and hit the trailhead, most in the group were early 30s with my father in his 50s being the oldest but we were all in decent shape...so we thought it didn't take more then 15 minutes of up hill walking at 9,000' of elevation with 60 pounds packs to humble us very quickly.  There was a lot of stopping as we made it down the trail as our lungs go acclimated to the thinner air but the amazing scenery made the trek a little easier.


The trail took us about a mile in before we reached the wilderness and at that point we had another 2-3 miles back, as we got into the wilderness the terrain became steeper and steeper and our pace got slower and slower, it took us almost 4 hours to make it a little over 2 miles in, at that point we finally found a very tiny water source, we became concerned at that time not seeing any water, we checked our map and saw a creek about another half mile up so we headed on got there and it was dry as a bone.  We looked again and saw another spot about a mile up we walked about half a mile then split up with half the group relaxing, eating, and scouting and a few other going to check for water.  The area had great spots for a camp, elk sign everywhere but 0 water, the other guys came back and said it was dry up further to, we didn't want to walk a mile each day for water and didn't exactly trust the water source either so we decided we were safer to turn around instead of keep going deeper into the wilderness hoping to find water.  The trailhead at the start of the wilderness split off one direction so we sent one guy down that way to check one last water source before we totally scrapped that area and went back to the cabin.  He ran into a couple local hikers who said all the smaller creeks and drainages were all dried up and they hadn't had rain in awhile at that point we packed the trucks back up headed back to the cabin and ordered pizza.  8 miles of brutal walking for the day and we were right back to where we were at the start of the day.

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On the way back to the cabin we stopped at a gas station, we got out of truck and a local sheriff pulled right up to us and started asking us how we did, we got talking to him and he became a wealth of knowledge of the area, told us different areas to try, and helped clarify some access issues we thought we had, he even pulled out his phone and showed us 2 trail cam pics of monster bulls in a different area.  Where we were staying butted up to National Forest land but we didn't think we could walk through all the private land to get there, he said since we were staying there we could use it as an access and that would put us in a good area because most wont walk that far back.  We took the walking trails from the homes back to the forest land there we split up as a group

This is the type of country we were running into now


We ran into a hiker and his wife further down the trail who gave us a ton of good info and areas a lot of people over look, he said he had been hunting that area for 20+ years and always wants to help people out so we had our plan of attack for the afternoon, one group of guys went to the top of the mountain at 11k and myself and my father in law were going to side hill it about 10k, the hiker said everyone over looks the middle range of the mountain and the elk just sit on the saddles of the hills.  We had a decent breeze so that helped mask some of our noise, everything was dry so you could be heard a mile away if you weren't careful.  We slowed walked the wood the entire afternoon spooking 1 cow and 1 unknown was and elk but was hidden to much to see what it was. The bowhunters saw a small 4 point right away in the morning and the last group saw tons of mulies but no elk.  Compared to the day before we were all happy, we decided to use the cabin as a base camp for a few more days since we could hike back to where we wanted and it wasn't to far of a hike into the hunting area.

The next day my father law and I decided to hike across to a different mountain top, they had always seen elk there later in year and we knew it was steep and nasty so figured there would be some elk in there. 



Our goal once we got to the top was to head in toward the pines and slowly make our way down toward the aspens, as we got deeper into the pines the terrain got very very steep and unforgiving certain spots were almost a straight drop down 50+ feet so we found game trails and followed those toward the aspens as we got to more forgiving ground we found tons of elk sign trees ripped up fresh tracks everywhere and scat


As we walked we kept focusing up and down hill since we had good glassing areas, as we were walking I looked ahead of us and saw a huge body behind a tree, I stopped and singled my father in law to stop and pointed ahead the trees were blocking the front half of the body so I couldn't tell what it was he has a straight on view and knew it was a bull but couldn't see if it was legal or not his binoculars went up and his eyes got huge, he didn't have his gun loaded it was sitting on his pack but he looked at me and said its huge shoot...but I had no shot and I wasn't going to take a center shot on an elk even if we were at 60 yards, he was telling me to take 2 steps to my right and take a head on shot not something I wanted to do either but figured maybe he would take a step and present a better shot as I stepped to the right he saw me and I saw a huge 6x6 set of antlers running up the hill.  I ran the situation through my head after everything settled down and kicked myself I don't think the bull ever saw me until I stepped to the right if I would have taken a couple steps forward there would have been enough trees to probably block his view of me but open it enough for a vital shot....We marked the spot on GPS to hopefully come back later in the week.  When we got back to the cabin no one else had seen anything all day hot temps were killing us

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As the week went on I wish I could say each day got better but it didn't, the entire group kept seeing the same 4x4 and 2 cows but could never get close enough for a shot, the bowhunters had a couple different zone options we didn't so they did some day trips to different areas but never saw anything the 65-75 degree temps no rain made for a very very tough hunt.  Toward the end of the week I decided to head to the area my father in-law and I saw the bull as I got closer to the area I couldn't find a way to drop down to the aspens where we were and I didn't want to retrace our route we made to get in there and I don't think I could have figured it out either so instead I sat in a area that was close and with lots of sign I figured maybe I will get lucky. I sat for about 5 hours without a sighting and the winds were getting strong so I figured I better get moving so I didn't get caught in the rain stormIMG_0506.JPG

Was very cool to see the weather systems move over the mountains as I headed back the rain turned to a mist so I stopped at a small field we found early in the week with lots of sign and just sat till dark my only visitor had no I idea i was there got to about 15 feet from me.


It was a great learning experience weather played a major factor and taught us some valuable lessons that's for sure, I can wait to go back but it will probably be a couple years now. 

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3 hours ago, sportfish said:

Thanks for  good read ! 

Was this your first elk trip ? 

Yep for most in the group it was our first real trip out West, next trip will probably be mule deer, tag soup on elk hurts a lot more with how pricey those tags are.

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I hear ya , I just eat a Montana elk tag for $880 . I could go back with the rifle but it would be more money and time off from home 


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Sounds like you had a good trip even tho you didn't score, great pics to!

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Nice recap.  Lack of success always hurts, but an experience you'll never forget.


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