First DIY backcountry hunt in CO: lessons learned

maconbacon

Active member
Joined
May 31, 2020
Messages
53
Location
Kansas
Just got back from my partner and I first backcountry elk hunt for first rifle in Colorado. To save some readers the time, there will be no success pics at the end as we weren’t able to connect. We did however learn a hell of a lot and had a blast doing it.

Day 1: got to our planned camping site about a day and a half before the season opener. Plenty of time to set up camp and do some scouting. Set up the seek cimarron at the truck and loaded our packs for an afternoon scout. Headed for a trail close by. Got there and there wasn’t much of a trail and quickly found that what had been a trail quickly petered out into dead fall hell. We got through it and explored some meadows and benches, finding oldish elk sign. Lost my glassing pad in the process, bummer. Tomorrow we would hike up the mountain for a spike camp and hopefully some good glassing spots. We planned to keep mobile so would only spend a maximum of 3 nights on top.

Day 2: packed extra water and food for the 3 days, guns, spotter, and the works. With loaded down packs we quickly realized the task ahead. We eventually made the 4 mile hike with 3000 ft elevation gain up to 10500, but boy did it kick our butts. Got to the top and the first of two big bummers hit us like a ton of bricks. First, there was no glassing to be done here. What had looked open on onX and other maps was treed thick with aspens. Turns out when the aspens lose their leaves they are hard to see on satellite, but the stands are still too thick to see through. Ouch, especially after hauling the heavy spotter and tripod up the mountain. After some rest we found a good camping spot, she’d some gear, and got to exploring the area/scouting. Walked a good many miles, mostly flat this time. We found some really good looking high mountain meadows that were littered with old, bleached bones, presumably elk. Though the most recent (maybe 3-6 months old) kill was of a horse or mule, still had horseshoes on what was left of the hooves. We didn’t find much in the way of fresh sign in these meadows, but found a lot in the surrounding timber where the elk were clearly doing most of their traveling. Now, the second bummer. On the edges of these meadows we started to find what appeared to be hunting blinds of sorts. Simple stacks of deadfall to provide some cover. Maybe hunters just set them up for their hunts? Maybe more for archery season? However, the third one we found had a plastic lawn chair set up in it. That could only mean one thing...outfitter. Ugh. Our suspicions were confirmed when we ran into some fellow diy hunters who mentioned an outfit that had passed them on the way up the trail. We discussed hunting locations so as not to overlap and went our separate ways. So, just like that we realized we had hiked high and far only to be surrounded by country with no glassing potential and an outfitter nearby. Undeterred, we decided to sit over one of the meadows we had found in a nice hill that provided great vantage.

Day 3: Opening day. We woke up early to get to our spot early in case anyone else had the same idea. Got there about an hour before shooting light and waited. About 20 minutes before shooting, two shadows hike quickly across the meadow. Great, any elk that might have been in the meadow are certainly now gone. First light comes and we hear some cow calling coming from down the meadow. As the call cracked over like a teenager in puberty, we knew instantly it was coming from a hunter wnd not the real deal. Sweet. About an hour later, my partner whispers he heard a shot from a long ways off. Before I could reply I didn’t hear anything, he whispers “elk 50 yards!” I look back just in time to see three brown bodies in the timber behind us and a nice mature 5x5 give me a nice profile. Of course, we had set up with the wind in our face and they had approached from behind. Within seconds we had been winded and they were gone in a flash. Damn! But exciting at the same time, elk were definitely in the area, confirming our suspicions. The remainder of the day consisted of looking for nearby water sources and exploring adjacent timber. When looking for some water we found a stretch of dark timber with a heavily utilized game trail and a lot of sign along it. No water found, but the area was promising. We then explored some really steep terrain down to a timbered bench I had e scouted. We found quite a bit of sign down below and bumped a massive mulie bedded in the steep stuff. At the bottom, we found what appeared to be an old outfitter camp. While we ate some snacks a forkie mulie stepped out and stared at us awhile. We returned to a creek we knew had water but far from camp and saw the wall tent and 5 horses of the outfitter nestled into the hillside. In the morning we decided to sit the same meadow as before since we’d seen elk.

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maconbacon

Active member
Joined
May 31, 2020
Messages
53
Location
Kansas
Day 4: sat the same meadow, saw no elk. A nice mature mulie stepped out perfectly had it been an elk but fun to watch. Didn’t hear anything from the fellow with the poor cow calling skills this time. Did more exploring and got more water. Boy was it getting tiring hiking a mile and 500 ft elevation for water every day. That afternoon, snow storm hit and we were locked in the tent for a few hours. Wished I had packed the stove instead of the stupid spotter. Oh well. Once the snow stopped, we decided to still hunt the dark timber we found so much sign in, hoping to cut some Fresh Tracks in the new snow. We got 80% through our planned loop and cut nothing. Finally, we found some tracks just off of the game trail. Maybe elk, maybe some of the moo cow left behind by the rancher? We decided to follow them anyways. The tracks themselves were poor and hard to follow but luckily as they walked they left a green line in the grass where they had rubbed the snow off which was easy to follow. As we kept tracking the tracks were definitely those of an elk, likely a bull. They got fresher and fresher. We slowed it down and unslung the rifles, eventually finding some fresh scat that had melted through the snow. Looking at the map we could see where they likely lead, to a point on the mountain before some steep timber. As we got closer and closer, a second set of tracks joined the one we’d followed. We could smell them. We were close. We made to the point and the tracks dropped off into the deep dark timber. Given the time of day and distance from the truck, we decided best to leave them be an sit in an opening nearby to try and catch them as they came out of the timber to feed in the morning. It was going to be a cold night

Day 5: We decided to sleep on, figuring the elk wouldn’t move until the sun was up enough to warm them up and melt some snow. As we were about to head to our spot about 30 minutes after sun up we hear a shot really close to where we had camped. Crap, elk are definitely moving earlier than we had thought. To make matters worse, the shot had come in the direction we had planned to head towards. There was one of the outfitters blinds in that area but we had yet to see it used and thought it more situated for an archery hunt. We wait 20 minutes and head that way. We found an older gentleman hobbling along the hill with a stick for support. We greeted him with no response. Louder, we asked had he shot something? He heard us and replied that a small bull and 3 cows had come up from the timber and he had shot the bull. He said he’d run down the hill and was “gone” since he only “nicked him”. We could see where the elk had been and some splatters of bright red blood. The fellow declined any help finding the bull and headed back to his blind. We headed to our planned spot miffed. Not only had this guy beaten us to the elk we had tracked, but had clearly wounded one and put little to no effort into tracking it. Maybe the outfitter would come help him out. We headed to our spot in the hopes those weren’t the elk we tracked and sat for a few hours. Nothing. We hiked back to camp and the fellow was gone. No further tracks could be seen of evidence of any further search fir the wounded bull. Senseless hunting imho. Bummed out, out of food, and foolishly dehydrated from conserving water since our source was so far away, we packed up camp and headed down the mountain. Our spirits were lifted by the lower elevation, warmer temps, an endless supply of water, better food, and larger tent with a stove at the truck. We made it down in half the time it took to get up. We had time to do a quick afternoon hunt. On the way up the trail a man offered he’d just seen a bull and two cows, further energizing us. We did some exploring and found a good meadow to watch but didn’t see anything.

Day 6: last full day of hunting as we wouldn’t be able to harvest an animal, pack it out, and get it to the taxidermist and CWD testing station and make it back to work in time. We decided to hike about halfway up the trail we’d taken to the top and cut over to some benches and stretches of timber away from the trail. Watched the same meadow and steep slope as the day before and didn’t see anything. From there it was an easy trek to a deep, steep, and dark little canyon with a creek running through it. We still hunted through it and found tons of fresh sign and beds underneath fir trees. We eventually ran into a spike feeding in the creek bottom on some green grass about 30 yards away. We watched him slowly walk off, hoping he was with a herd of cows. After awhile we kept following the creek bottom and never saw him again. We continued to find sign but no more sightings. Definitely a sanctuary for elk.

Final day: we decided to hunt a little closer to the truck since we head to head out late morning. We worked some benches a ways off the trail. Again found a lot of sign but probably preseason. Of course, we ran into two bull moose separately, one of which was really nice with 4 tines on each side. They must’ve known we didn’t have tags since they couldn’t care less about our scent or presence otherwise. We got within 60 yards of both of them which was really cool. We bushwhacked our way back to the trail, and just like that the hunt was concluded. We had a blast, put everything we had into it. We saw game and had some close encounters. Despite coming home empty handed, we are jazzed to try again next year.

Things we’d change next time: No spotter! Too heavy and went unused. Pack a bigger tent and stove up the mountain for comfort. Stay on top of the mountain the whole time, that’s where most of the elk were. Camp closer to water, hydration is extra important at that altitude! And finally, LLAMAS. We definitely were limited by our feet and backs, not wanting to get too far from the truck with an animal on the ground. Already been looking into rental outfits and expanding my onX scouting past where we went...on to 2021 548FB1E8-8283-4976-8D84-0ADB13123CB8.jpeg 901A151C-E1CC-4972-85FE-6AA24F2CD570.jpeg 509D2C8D-75C3-4CF5-9CB2-05D03A889653.jpeg
 

Flyfish4ever

Active member
Joined
Apr 29, 2020
Messages
113
Location
Alabama
Great write up! Learning elk is like riding a bike, you have to do it to learn it, and when people ask how you do it, you really can’t explain. This year I hunted a backcountry unit in montana, I told myself I didn’t need my spotter, turns out, I absolutely did. I would keep the spotter, and add some protein to the legs. My lessons learned this year (my first year elk hunting) are:

1:being 23 and fit, I thought I was in good enough shape to handle whatever. My first day of 11 miles and almost 3,000 vert on my feet made me realize I was in good shape, but not ELK shape.

2: chasing elk with a bow is a ton more exciting than a rifle, but a rifle is a ton more realistic for putting meat in the freezer

3: breaking in your boots to your feet lasts forever, but breaking your feet into your boots should be an annual summer affair.

4: bring the spotter, use a bladder instead of a bottle, and bring a couple of whiskey shooters for when the weather gets bad.

5: share your hunting camp with people you not only enjoy, but people you can shoot the crap with. I didn’t think it would be nearly as fun as it was when we were just killing time glassing or moving from A to B

good luck next year! I won’t be able to go out west long enough for an elk hunt next year due to getting married in May, and having limited time off work. I’ll be doing antelope instead. My fiancé has come to the realization that the western states are part of what I do in the fall, and sometimes summer, so that’s a great plus for me, as well as my hunting buddies.
 

mstevens317

Member
Joined
Nov 20, 2020
Messages
98
Day 4: sat the same meadow, saw no elk. A nice mature mulie stepped out perfectly had it been an elk but fun to watch. Didn’t hear anything from the fellow with the poor cow calling skills this time. Did more exploring and got more water. Boy was it getting tiring hiking a mile and 500 ft elevation for water every day. That afternoon, snow storm hit and we were locked in the tent for a few hours. Wished I had packed the stove instead of the stupid spotter. Oh well. Once the snow stopped, we decided to still hunt the dark timber we found so much sign in, hoping to cut some Fresh Tracks in the new snow. We got 80% through our planned loop and cut nothing. Finally, we found some tracks just off of the game trail. Maybe elk, maybe some of the moo cow left behind by the rancher? We decided to follow them anyways. The tracks themselves were poor and hard to follow but luckily as they walked they left a green line in the grass where they had rubbed the snow off which was easy to follow. As we kept tracking the tracks were definitely those of an elk, likely a bull. They got fresher and fresher. We slowed it down and unslung the rifles, eventually finding some fresh scat that had melted through the snow. Looking at the map we could see where they likely lead, to a point on the mountain before some steep timber. As we got closer and closer, a second set of tracks joined the one we’d followed. We could smell them. We were close. We made to the point and the tracks dropped off into the deep dark timber. Given the time of day and distance from the truck, we decided best to leave them be an sit in an opening nearby to try and catch them as they came out of the timber to feed in the morning. It was going to be a cold night

Day 5: We decided to sleep on, figuring the elk wouldn’t move until the sun was up enough to warm them up and melt some snow. As we were about to head to our spot about 30 minutes after sun up we hear a shot really close to where we had camped. Crap, elk are definitely moving earlier than we had thought. To make matters worse, the shot had come in the direction we had planned to head towards. There was one of the outfitters blinds in that area but we had yet to see it used and thought it more situated for an archery hunt. We wait 20 minutes and head that way. We found an older gentleman hobbling along the hill with a stick for support. We greeted him with no response. Louder, we asked had he shot something? He heard us and replied that a small bull and 3 cows had come up from the timber and he had shot the bull. He said he’d run down the hill and was “gone” since he only “nicked him”. We could see where the elk had been and some splatters of bright red blood. The fellow declined any help finding the bull and headed back to his blind. We headed to our planned spot miffed. Not only had this guy beaten us to the elk we had tracked, but had clearly wounded one and put little to no effort into tracking it. Maybe the outfitter would come help him out. We headed to our spot in the hopes those weren’t the elk we tracked and sat for a few hours. Nothing. We hiked back to camp and the fellow was gone. No further tracks could be seen of evidence of any further search fir the wounded bull. Senseless hunting imho. Bummed out, out of food, and foolishly dehydrated from conserving water since our source was so far away, we packed up camp and headed down the mountain. Our spirits were lifted by the lower elevation, warmer temps, an endless supply of water, better food, and larger tent with a stove at the truck. We made it down in half the time it took to get up. We had time to do a quick afternoon hunt. On the way up the trail a man offered he’d just seen a bull and two cows, further energizing us. We did some exploring and found a good meadow to watch but didn’t see anything.

Day 6: last full day of hunting as we wouldn’t be able to harvest an animal, pack it out, and get it to the taxidermist and CWD testing station and make it back to work in time. We decided to hike about halfway up the trail we’d taken to the top and cut over to some benches and stretches of timber away from the trail. Watched the same meadow and steep slope as the day before and didn’t see anything. From there it was an easy trek to a deep, steep, and dark little canyon with a creek running through it. We still hunted through it and found tons of fresh sign and beds underneath fir trees. We eventually ran into a spike feeding in the creek bottom on some green grass about 30 yards away. We watched him slowly walk off, hoping he was with a herd of cows. After awhile we kept following the creek bottom and never saw him again. We continued to find sign but no more sightings. Definitely a sanctuary for elk.

Final day: we decided to hunt a little closer to the truck since we head to head out late morning. We worked some benches a ways off the trail. Again found a lot of sign but probably preseason. Of course, we ran into two bull moose separately, one of which was really nice with 4 tines on each side. They must’ve known we didn’t have tags since they couldn’t care less about our scent or presence otherwise. We got within 60 yards of both of them which was really cool. We bushwhacked our way back to the trail, and just like that the hunt was concluded. We had a blast, put everything we had into it. We saw game and had some close encounters. Despite coming home empty handed, we are jazzed to try again next year.

Things we’d change next time: No spotter! Too heavy and went unused. Pack a bigger tent and stove up the mountain for comfort. Stay on top of the mountain the whole time, that’s where most of the elk were. Camp closer to water, hydration is extra important at that altitude! And finally, LLAMAS. We definitely were limited by our feet and backs, not wanting to get too far from the truck with an animal on the ground. Already been looking into rental outfits and expanding my onX scouting past where we went...on to 2021 View attachment 158305 View attachment 158307 View attachment 158308
Llamas will carry the heavy spotter, tent, water and all the good stuff up. Good call for using them next year.
 

JAG

Member
Joined
Mar 2, 2020
Messages
50
Nice write-up... learning can be so hard, ha-ha. Hearing from others reminds me that both the drudgery and joy of learning is felt by lots of others. Can't wait til next time.
 

cjourd

New member
Joined
Dec 30, 2020
Messages
18
Elk hunting is probably the most physically demanding hunting next to sheep on earth but the rewards when you succeed.......priceless
 
Joined
Dec 11, 2020
Messages
74
Location
Durango Colorado
Good write up. You definitely put in the work. Once you know where the guides are it gets a little easier, in that you can stay away if you want. Just know that if you see signs of guides you are very likely in great country. Colorado is a really hard place to hunt and not see people, but it is possible. With the amount of work that you are obviously willing to put into your hunt you will be successful, if you keep at it. Good luck next time.
 

Paul from Colorado

New member
Joined
Dec 16, 2020
Messages
28
Location
Colorado
I like the write up, and welcome to Colorado elk hunting. E-scouting is a great tool but nothing beats boots on the ground. At least you saw animals and it sure gets in your blood for being up there exploring the wilds. If your planning on going back to the same area you might contact the outfitter about packing you in. They usually don't charge that much for the service, now packing out critters can get expensive.
 

trasko

Member
Joined
May 12, 2017
Messages
32
Location
Taylors, SC
OP you did great. Don't sweat it. Public land hunting is tough. Sounds like a good time. Some feedback:

1) sleeping in because the elk won't be moving: Ha! That was a trick your body played on you to get some rest. Don't fall for it!
2) the spotter: personally I don't own one (I bring 15X binos for that). When they are useful they are VERY useful. Of course if heavily treed then don't bring them that day. But don't over-optimize your pack. You're not there to do an ultra-light hike. You're there to hunt elk! As many times as you wish you didn't lug the weight you'll also wish you had brought them when you decided not to.
 

TommyCorrgs

Member
Joined
Jan 15, 2021
Messages
30
Seeing posts like this gives me hope as a new hunter too, congratulations on seeing elk that's hard to do. I loved the pictures.
 
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