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How the Cow Saved Christmas - Late Season CO Cow Recap

JoMo

Active member
Joined
Oct 30, 2016
Messages
110
Location
Colorado
I thought it's about time for me to contribute with a write up of my recent late season cow hunt here in CO. I have struck out for elk in each of the last two seasons after having a long tear of success. Add on another steamy bowl of tag soup during the 2nd OTC season here in CO this year only added to my desperation. I had a feeling of optimism going into this hunt - I would be walking away with some meat to fill the coolers. *What kind of hunter goes into a hunt thinking they will get skunked?! There was also the added pressure from my 3 year old daughter. After I returned empty handed from second season, she asked "why you no get a elk dada?" I did not want to face that again.

Some of the high level details: Hunting solo, crashing at my buddies cabin, dedicating 4 days at the start of the 9 day hunt (and potentially the last 3 days if needed) to get the job done. The weather was really mild for being early December. There was some recent snow a few days before the start of the hunt, but levels still very much below what we would expect normally.

I got up to my buddies cabin early on Friday (hunt starts Saturday) after dropping the kiddos at day care to wrap up some loose ends with work but be in a good spot to drive around, glass and check out access Friday evening. I had hunted this area one other time in 2018 for the same late season cow hunt and only had a small amount of time to dedicate. At the time, my daughter was a little over 1 and my wife was preggers so I did not get that much of a hall pass that season. I had luck finding elk last time, so I was heavily influenced to start off in those locations again. I checked out the access points and with the low snow, more roads were open than normal. I made the plan to park near the boundary edge that has a small area to access between the end of the unit and some private. My game plan would be to start higher in elevation and work my way down as the days progressed until I found them.

Opening morning came and I was parked and hiking up the crunchy snow around 5:30. It took some time to climb up the steep hill and then once it leveled out to get through the deadfall toward the burn and open area I was hoping to get near sunup. I was only about 3/4 of the way in as the sun started up so I took it extra slow through the last bit of deadfall toward the opening. There were lots of what seemed like 2-3 day old tracks with the only fresh ones being from deer or larger, lone elk that I guessed was a lone bull or two. No luck as I slow hunted toward the opening and I posted up there for a bit to see if anything would cruise through. I decided to move and start my way back on a large loop making way through the timber in and out of small to medium openings. I typically struggle to find the patience to truly still hunt (take a step or two and then glass) and will usually take 10-15 slow steps and then glass. In this process I caught some movement in the timber and could not see anything with my naked eye. I started glassing and almost immediately saw some brown about 50 yards away. It moved slightly and I caught glimpses of tines. Elk, but not a cow. I stayed frozen and only ever spotted that one bull so after a while, I continued my slow trek. I would hear a branch break here and there and glass like crazy through the trees never turning anything else up aside from deer. Before I knew it I was back at the truck a little after lunch. I decided to relocate in hopes of finding a bigger group of elk. That evening was fairly uneventful as I decided to strap on some snow shoes to get to a point where I could glass the nearby, south facing mountain side that did not have that much snow. No action whatsoever on that mountainside that evening.

Trying to learn from folks much more experienced than I, I tried to view this as a success. I was able to check off one area from my options as not currently containing the group of cows I was expecting. For day two, I decided to drive to a different location that also has access above a long stretch of private. While the snow was deep getting back, once back the bowls and openings were very easy to access and had lots of available food. I got back about 2 miles as the sun was rising to post up and immediately had lots of action! Just the wrong kind of action I was seeking - deer everywhere. Virtually anywhere I looked I could find small groups of deer. Mostly does and small bucks, but the occasional nice buck. The only elk I managed to glass was a lone cow way off in the distance wandering out in the open sagebrush as they headed right into some private. Okay - option 2 was also checked off the list so I decided to relocate once again.

~11:45am - I had about a 35 minute drive to the other location I hoped to get to for the evening, but on a whim, I decided to pull over near a very popular area and glass up the edges of the open grass/sage territory near the base of where the mountains transition to getting really steep. Almost immediately my binos are locked onto a group of about 15 elk on their feet browsing. Game on. I pulled up OnX and found the closest access to skirt behind the private and got parked. There was one other truck there, but I had no idea if they were on the same same group or had gone a different direction. I knew I would have a difficult time navigating to them as it seemed to be almost all open territory with no trees for cover. They were about a mile and a half out and about 1,000' up in elevation, and the first quarter mile offered easy coverage behind the terrain contours. After that initial section, it would get more difficult to go unnoticed while playing the wind.

~12:45pm - As I was heading up I saw some orange hiding behind some sage. I knew I wanted to try and meet up with that person to see if we could come up with a game plan as the only tags for this hunt are cows. I was able to close the distance and quickly determined it was a fellow hunter from our local BHA chapter also hunting solo. Small world. She opted to stay up closer to the ridge of the rise (toward the left on the pic) and try to remain below skyline as she inched closer. I opted to drop down into the bigger draw and hopefully find a small arroyo or gap where the water runs down and creates enough depth to provide some cover. Both of our plans had flaws as the wind was slightly swirly and could easily head up toward the elk from her path. My route would prove to have no coverage at times when the small arroyo seemed to disappear for 15-20 yards at a time. Here is a pic of the terrain. From this picture, I was roughly half a mile out in the bottom. My BHA companion would be just out of view on the left hand side up near the edge of that rise heading up the hill. The elk were directly above my finger point to the left of the lower-most aspens. At this point there were about 30 - half grazing and half bedded down. Wind was heading mostly from left to right across us and it was about 1:30 in the afternoon.
IMG_4381.jpg

Knowing one small move would send the herd bolting, I was crouched down as low as possible to sneak in a couple of "steps" at a time. Then I would glass to see what the elk were doing. Meanwhile my BHA companion was also inching her way up the edge slowly. At some point in this tedious game of inching forward, the elk seemed onto us. Some cows were looking down toward me, some were looking over toward her. We both remained still for some time as the elk chilled out - only temporarily. They did get up and were clearly on alert. As expected, they started boogying but instead of going straight up, they went to the left. I thought to myself, once they clear that small rise, there would be a small window in time for me to try and close the gap and put the rise between us before they could see me again. Before I knew it I was running (well as much as you can call a run with a pack, rifle and elevation...) and within a few minutes I was at a spot where I felt I had adequate cover. I could no longer see the elk so I was hoping that they would simply hang out in the next "bowl" instead of continuing their trek. As I got to the spot I envisioned, there was one massive boulder on the skyline up above. Since there were no trees, this was a godsend. I climbed toward that boulder and once near the top the elk were right where I was hoping they would be. I was able to use the boulder to conceal my approach to the ridge and I slipped off my pack to use as a rest. I slid it to the shaded side of the boulder, laid prone and ranged up the elk. 415 yards - but the elk were slowly feeding further away. I knew this had to happen and happen quick otherwise they would quickly be out of my comfortable range. I slowed my breathing and settled on a cow toward the back of the group just as she got situated clear of any other animals.
 

JoMo

Active member
Joined
Oct 30, 2016
Messages
110
Location
Colorado
~2:50pm - With the first trigger pull the group all moved about 15 yards and were looking around. The cow I shot was standing but had not taken a step. I fired again. This shot sent the group barreling down the hill but the cow I was shooting at still hadn't moved and was still on her feet. I have been taught to continue shooting at the elk if you can until it is clearly down. I was shocked that she was still standing. After a total of 5 shots (3 of which I later found landed right where they should have - the other two, not sure), she was down. I watched as the elk funneled down toward my BHA friend but unfortunately she was never able to get a shot. (In the pic, you can see where it looks like a highway through the snow heading down). Super grateful, I walked up to my cow and said my thanks. View attachment 165612
IMG_4385.jpg
At the time I was confused but my BHA friend was heading down so I started "guttin and gillin." I later found out that she was hoping to catch the elk but unfortunately by the time she did, they had settled up on some county owned land that is closed December through the winter to hunting... By that point she was back down the hill, ~1.3 miles from me so I was on my own again. This open territory is very deceiving how far distances actually are.

I was able to get her all cleaned up, quartered and bagged and was taking the first load down the hill to the truck a little after dark. I left the remaining quarters to retrieve the next morning. Here are some of those photos from the next day:
IMG_4395.jpg
IMG_4420.jpg

Pointing to where the elk were located originally. I ended up shooting the cow just down and to the left of where my finger is pointing:
IMG_4392.jpg
 

3855WIN

Well-known member
Joined
Jul 17, 2014
Messages
2,115
Location
Mississippi
Good thing you had an elk to show for it. The wife might not have liked the story about you meeting up with the friend, otherwise. 😆
 

RaiderRich

Well-known member
Joined
Apr 7, 2020
Messages
328
Location
Nevada
Great story, great hunt and the thread title made me chuckle a little. Thanks for sharing!
 

F250

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 9, 2011
Messages
1,167
Location
Vermont
Thank you for sharing. Really enjoy those late season cow hunts. Hope I am successful in the Wyoming draw for one this year !!
 

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