Caribou Gear

First time elk hunting, Archery or rifle?

Joined
Mar 3, 2021
Messages
17
Hello all,

I'm a flatlander from the midwest and my buddy and I are taking our dads on our first elk hunt to Colorado next fall. We originally planned to do Archery, thought bugles would help us find the elk along with a lot of e-scouting. However, the more I research and learn, I'm a little worried the elk will still be close to 12K feet in elevation in early September. Our dads workout, but I'm a little worried about hiking around in the September heat at 12K feet. I don't want to spend a bunch of time and money to end up with elevation sickness and not be able to hunt.

Do you feel that during the 1st rifle season (if we draw) or the 2nd rifle OTC in Colorado the elk would be at a lower elevation? Would it make more sense to start Elk hunting with a Rifle? None of us have done this before, but I'm already in love with the sport and plan to make it a life long obsession.

Additionally, I'm an avid bow hunter for whitetails. I' proficient with my bow and usually am successful and therefore don't do much gun hunting. Where I live in the midwest you can only use shotguns due to the number of hunters in the woods so I don't have a rifle and don't have any knowledge as far as ballistics go. Willing to learn and practice, but want you to have that background when you suggest what you would do for your first elk hunt.

Really appreciate all the help. Trying to learn as much as possible to increase our odds while also not pushing the old man too hard!
 

utah400elk

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Feb 15, 2012
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717
Location
Sterling, VA
In my experience, elk in general units are not usually very vocal. Unless you know the area well, the chance of finding elk by bugles would be very low. In certain units, glassing would be key. There are a lot of units that will take low numbers of points that will give you better odds of finding units. Maybe look to a muzzleloader hunt?

The better you know the unit he more likely you are to find vocal elk…IMO
 

3855WIN

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Jul 17, 2014
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2,059
Location
Mississippi
OTC NR Colorado elk hunting can likely be a camping and hiking trip where you bring your bow/rifle. Imagine Black Friday shopping in a pretty setting.
Since this is just a camping trip, go when the weather is nice. You know how to use a bow, but not so good at 300 yards with a rifle. This points to archery season.
Build points in multiple states so you’ll have a quality hunt one day.
 

elkhnter

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Aug 7, 2009
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On the road again.
Don’t overlook the weather in Colorado during rifle season, or any season for that matter. Snow can move in overnight and there you sit.
 

windymtnman

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Sep 17, 2014
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431
I'll limit my two cents worth to the area of Colorado I know best, which is Southcentral Co..
As for the elevation you'll typically find Elk at, that can vary with so many circumstances, there's no set situation. I live at 8600 ft. and am seeing the occasional Elk track and actual sightings near my ranch. Yet, some Elk will be up on top of the 13,000 ft. mountains. I happen to think some like the high country for a variety of reasons, including a better escape from the biting insects because of the stronger breezes. I watch Elk on my game camera and they are sometimes tormented by them.
As for bugling Bulls, often times the vast majority of bugling are other hunters. I find you might get the real deal if bugling before sun up? Then, I often don't let out a classic multi octave bugle, but a more timid yelp with some chuckling. I also think the rut is way later than mid September around here. I've seen as much rutting activity in October as in September. Maybe it's the Cow's coming back in heat that didn't get bred in round one, but the Bulls are still ramped up in Oct..
Lastly, if I were taking on a hunt like you're describing, I think I'd opt for Cow tags. Easier to get, and more odds of filling a tag. After all, four of you NR hunters have dropped a chunk of change for the opportunity to sweat it up out here.
 

Gila

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Jun 8, 2019
Messages
458
Location
New Mexico
In your situation, I would go rifle for that hunt. I recommend hot tents for your camp. With an experienced bow hunter, in quality units with little hunting pressure the odds are less than 20%. A bow hunt in that area would be exceedingly difficult for an athlete, let alone your dads. On your first hunt, make it as comfortable and enjoyable as you possibly can for your party. You are much more likely to have Lady Luck smile, if you are comfortable and confident. Let the most difficult part of your trip be getting your elk meat out. JOMHO
 

C17loadclear

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Joined
Aug 5, 2014
Messages
268
Location
Sandpoint Idaho
If you decide to rifle hunt, I would recommend a leopold scope with the cds system. Makes long range shooting much simpler. Pick a popular round and practice with an elevated heart rate. Also, try to plan to arrive 3-5 days early to get your body used to the elevation and really stay on top of hydration. Most importantly, have fun..😁
 

Bc1992

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Joined
Jul 12, 2020
Messages
45
I’ve gone the past two years and faced the same dilemma. I really wanted to go with my bow and get in on the rut action but talked myself out of it from what I read on here. I went 2nd rifle and eventually got a shot but it was a tough hunt and the weather sucked. I did hear bugling early one morning. This past season I went first rifle and first night camping had a bull start bugling around midnight outside of the tent. Set up at day light and called him in to 80 yards and dropped him with the 30-06. I’m pretty sure I got just as much thrill as I would have shooting him with my bow. I would definitely go first rifle especially if you’re planning on camping.
 

2rocky

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Joined
Jul 23, 2010
Messages
3,188
It is possible to kill your first elk with a bow. I know because that's how I did it. Given that you don't own a rifle then I would go with a bow and plan on hitting the high country. Map and scout out water. Sit water when you are whooped from hiking and glass as much as you can stand.

Nothing beats calling in a bull, and being right in among a herd of elk. If you get to experience this you will be hooked for life. Practice Shooting from your knees, uphill downhill and side hill. Watch calling videos. Practice calling. never miss a moment of daylight in the field during the season.

Good luck...
 

Wyominghunter

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Joined
Jul 8, 2021
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15
No experience in Colorado, but I have hunted all over Wyoming, I would recommend archery as well. Typically you won’t battle severe snow. Not as many hunters compared to rifle.
 

Wallydeuce

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Joined
Feb 24, 2021
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507
Location
NV
When you are so close to a massive 7X7 bull elk that you can see his eyelashes and watch his tongue hitting his nose and chin tasting the air trying to find the hot cow, knowing it was you he's looking for because you made that call, you'll never hunt long range again. Archery. Absolutely.

Important tip: when that time comes and that beautiful monster is standing in a shooting lane less than 25 yards away, don't stand there giggling like a schoolgirl because you are witnessing one of the coolest things you will ever witness.

Shoot him.
 

thebigredrock

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Joined
Aug 17, 2020
Messages
4
Since you are an avid bow hunter, I say go Archery. There's plenty of bugling elk a short distance from the roads if altitude becomes an issue. Last half of September would be my choice if time is a constraint. Was into Elk at 8500-9500 ft last year in SW Colorado.
 

Todd10

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Joined
Oct 18, 2015
Messages
13
I was in the same boat and chose archery. The most exciting hunting I’ve ever done. I’m 0 for 4 on harvesting and can’t wait for September. Just interacting with elk during the rut makes the hunt worthwhile.
 

ccc23454

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Sep 22, 2010
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Wyoming
Go whatever season allows you most days in woods! Learn some lessons, get humbled, have sore knees maybe some blisers then on drive home figure how to approach it next time. Just go
 

doakes

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Aug 29, 2017
Messages
11
If you decide to rifle hunt, I would recommend a leopold scope with the cds system. Makes long range shooting much simpler. Pick a popular round and practice with an elevated heart rate. Also, try to plan to arrive 3-5 days early to get your body used to the elevation and really stay on top of hydration. Most importantly, have fun..😁
This guy knows what he is talking about. Get a good rangefinder too. Shoot the first legal elk you can.
 

SCliving Outdoors

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Feb 9, 2018
Messages
266
Location
South Carolina
What do you like to do? I know that sounds simple but if you like to archery hunt go archery hunt if you like to rifle hunt go rifle hunt. I'm not an archery guy even a little bit so I always rifle hunt, but that shouldn't matter to you at all. I have a friend that invites me every year to go archery hunting in CO and I just look at him and say "No", lol.

In terms of altitude I live in on the east coast at 400' above sea level. I realize every person is different, but I've never had an issue with altitude and I've done hunts the last 2 years where I spent 5 days between 11,500 and 12,300. I'm in good shape and I know what my body needs. Last year my wife went with me up high she did great too and she'd never been up that high. Stay hydrated and I don't think you'll have an issue. If you're real worried about it get some meds before you head west. Whatever you decide to do just give it your all even if your tired and sore don't quit. Have fun. You'll learn a ton whatever you decide to do.
 

CMF

Member
Joined
Apr 25, 2019
Messages
31
Colorado September "heat" at 12k is probably nothing like you are used to in the flatland. It dang sure ain't like Mississippi heat! We had snow and 16-degree temps last September 8th on our CO hunt. If you're already a bowhunter, I'd do archery. We got into bugling bulls half of the days on our hunt in an easy draw unit.
 

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