Musings from my 2023 solo hunt

Green Hunter

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Joined
Sep 25, 2020
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92
Location
Denver, CO
I have been hunting CO solo for the past three years, typically pulling an OTC tag in hopes of building up points for other units. Last year I hunted third-season OTC and pulled a cow tag from the leftover tags to increase my chances of success. It was a great opportunity to learn the unit, trails, and expose myself to some FRIGID temps, waking up to 0* F several mornings.

This year I reviewed the leftover list and was excited to see a bunch of any sex tags available for first season and decided to try to get one of those. I thought I knew the country and had several run-ins with elk the prior year, but no success, this would be the year! I pulled one of the either sex tags so points continue to build and I am feeling good about this year!

I typically hunt from my car, sleeping in the back, hiking through the day and returning back for something to eat and sleep before going back out. Picked up some new ammo and sighted in the .308 so I was feeling good. Last year I got frustrated chasing zero with some factory ammo and didn't feel nearly as confident as I did this year.

Snow on Thursday night caused some hesitation on my departure. I wasn't looking forward to going over the pass with icy roads so I didn't leave until Friday morning. The other side of the pass was covered in ice so I was happy with my decision.

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Friday I parked at the trailhead that I had hunted from last year and took a hike up into the hills that I had seen elk in last year (3rd season) only to find old sign, before the snow, and tracks from fat-tire bikes. The snow provided a nice timeline for tracking but sign was very light... I planned on sticking with the plan of going in deep to access the higher elevations and hope to run into some elk. After the taking a drive to get service and completing my daily check-in I came back and chatted with a pair of hunters who were setting up camp hear the same trailhead. They were focusing on the north side so I shared I would go back and work the south side. Wished them luck and crawled inside the car for the night.
 
Saturday:

Going to sleep I realized, I didn't know what time the sun came up... so I set my alarm for really early with the thought that I would be hiking in deep in the dark. One can always get a sense of what time to leave by the volume of road traffic by the trailhead. A new pair of hunters parked at the trailhead and headed in 15 minutes before I was ready to depart. I loaded up and followed them down the trail. My pace in the morning tends to be fairly quick to stay warm so I caught up to them and chatted briefly in the morning before they let me pass and continue on. I shared with them the intentions of the other hunters I had talked with and they would be working the same side but come back from the road. Wished them luck and continued on.

Question - how often do you all chat with other people on the trail? I figure it's a good idea to know where they intend to go so one doesn't keep running into them.

I set up over a small clearing to scan the area and realized I had dropped my water bottle somewhere on the trail so after a short sit I headed back to retrieve it. I connected with the pair of hunters from the morning again who confirmed it was sitting along the trail right where I had taken off some layers in the dark.

During my walk I witnessed a fellow hunter traversing down the forest road on a "Quiet-Kat" in the same direction as I intended to go. It turns out that the forest road abutting the trail was still open and there was evidence of this road being traveled by a large number of people and vehicles. I spoke with this hunter later on who pointed out a nearby mountain which he indicated had a highly used trailhead with ATV and bike access, so much for my thought that I had to walk to get high and deep, all these hunters were started out up there and working their way towards me. That could be a good thing - pushing elk towards me, or a bad thing - they don't need to walk four miles to get to the elk! I carried along stopping at high points for a good vantage point but no elk but quite a few hunters all doing the same thing. The eclipse moved in and cooled down the mountain quite a bit. Saw a large bear track which I was happy to have missed by at least 12 hours based on the snow.

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Concluded the day with 21 miles, per COTrex - sore and tired!
 
Sunday:

I was tired still from the prior day and opted to take another approach for the area. Heading straight up from the trailhead, onto the ridge to get a high vantage point early and possibly catch any elk moving in and out of the various valleys. I loaded up and headed out. The snow had been melting and I was able to see old tracks from earlier in the year but nothing that appeared fresh or recent.

Something I wasn't prepared for... the sun! It was so bright and I could feel getting burned on my neck and face.

Do you all wear sunscreen during these hunts?

I tried to use my hood for shade but I always feel that I can't hear as well. I didn't see nearly as many hunters and even less sign so I wasn't feeling very confident with this approach. At one point I had been glassing the valley and crested the ridge only to find another hunter had a similar idea and was less than 100 yards from where I was. He didn't seem to notice me so I quickly dropped off the backside of the ridge and meandered down to the trail. I completed my nightly check-in and returned to my parking spot. The other two hunters who were parked at the trailhead were gone. I did witness a pair of foxes scampering across the road. One got very curious of me but eventually left.

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I'm confused with your post timeline. The second rifle season starts Oct.28th, today is the 26th!

From what I can get from your posts, it sounds like hunters have been all over the mountain which leads me to think the elk have left also. If you think that is the case, I'd depart that drainage (s) and go if possible a few miles in the direction you think the elk went. You know elk are in the unit, you just have to go to plan B and relocate them and separate yourself from the other hunters. This is why elk hunting is so difficult...dealing with other hunters, temperatures and yes, the sun. Go with as little sunscreen as possible, it smells. Hunt with the sun on your back and stay shaded if you can.
 
If you're fair skinned I'd definitely be cautious in the sun. It wouldn't be fun to deal with a sunburn while hunting. I fortunately don't have to worry about that...

I always have a merino base layer on and several ones I have also have super light weight hoods on them. It works really well as a sun shade similar to a fishing shirt with a hood. I use that in the summer months for long days on the water. It's almost unnoticeable, you'll know it's there, but I hate sunscreen with a passion.

Similar to Toogie, I always have sunglasses with. Fresh snow on a sunny day is blinding. Sunburn your eyes a couple of times and you'll learn pretty quickly...
 
I'd recommend bringing at least 1 bacon cheeseburger on solo hunts. Cold but not too cold/late season hunts you could probably bring multiple days worth of burgers.
If you prefer it warm, you can put it inside your shirt while walking so it's warm by the time you get where you're going...
 
I'm confused with your post timeline. The second rifle season starts Oct.28th, today is the 26th!

From what I can get from your posts, it sounds like hunters have been all over the mountain which leads me to think the elk have left also. If you think that is the case, I'd depart that drainage (s) and go if possible a few miles in the direction you think the elk went. You know elk are in the unit, you just have to go to plan B and relocate them and separate yourself from the other hunters. This is why elk hunting is so difficult...dealing with other hunters, temperatures and yes, the sun. Go with as little sunscreen as possible, it smells. Hunt with the sun on your back and stay shaded if you can.
This is my experience from first season this year (10/14 - 10/18)
 
Monday:

I am not feeling good about this area, I haven't seen any elk yet and limited sign. I head out early and try the north side of the valley. Taking the morning and staying high allowed me to see additional valleys and areas with similar results - very limited sign. I was able to scan back to the trailhead and my vehicle was the only one there, I think I should take that as a sign and consider alternatives. I had been able to see additional trails nearby that may offer a different experience.

Went back to the car and took a drive through the unit. Headed to the northside and recognized that many forest roads were open to travel and in pretty good condition. It seemed like there was some hunting pressure but nothing to the point of being "overcrowded."

I headed up and along a forest road to a point that it was gated off, per GoHunt the forest road continued up and over the mountain, seemed to be "elky" and offer some possibility. There were four other vehicles, one set of tents and a camper. There seemed to be plenty of country to roam so I figured I would give it a chance. It was around 3:00 PM so I grabbed my gear and headed down the trail. It was my opinion that the elk were feeling pressured by hunters so they may be hanging out in the dense lower valleys or possibly feeding in them so I found an area that was in this dense valley, found a log to sit on and wait. I wasn't able to see any hunters during my scan of the nearby ridges.

It started cooling off as the sun was creeping down, knowing it wasn't a difficult walk back to the trailhead I kept sitting. Just like that, I saw two cows and calves heading down the adjacent mountain into the valley I was watching. Well, this is looking good! The area in front of me was pretty dense with burnt trees and brush and they were moving right to left. I left my backpack, with hat so I could find it, and sidehilled along with them in hopes of getting a clear shot. Creeping along I looked further left and saw a very nice bull watching the cows come along. Holy $hi%, it's a bull! He was about 100 yards away broadside. Took a knee, lined up and took my shot. He immediately went down with his back end so I repositioned and took my second shot. The forest erupted as the rest of the herd went over a slight rise and further down the valley. Seeing the bull was down, I went back to grab my gear and walked up to him. Wow, it was a great feeling knowing, I did it. I took a few pictures walking up to him and then got to work! Quartering a bull, in the dark, solo was an experience. Legs never seemed to cooperate or stay in position.

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By 11:00 I was back to the car, head strapped to the roof, it wouldn't fit inside the car. I left the game bags in the field so they could cool off and checked in. My wife was a little concerned with the lack of contact from the day but was happy to hear of the success.
 
Tuesday:

I didn't get much sleep as I wasn't back to the trailhead until after midnight, parked and tried to sleep. I had some concern for the game bags that I attempted to move uphill aware from the carcass. I didn't hang them as I had forgotten rope. Woke up before the sun was fully up, grabbed my larger backpack to carry out the meat and headed into the woods. During my approach, I made plenty of noise in hopes to scare off anything that found it over the last few hours. It was untouched. I loaded up a rear quarter and the scrape meat into the backpack and headed along a fading logging road up and back to the trailhead. This backpack was not built for this and I could feel it. I came across two other hunters who were further down the valley overlooking the area where the elk had run off to the night before. They didn't seem very talkative so I passed behind them with a nod and tried to move as quickly as I could. I was taking plenty of stops, attempting to readjust the weight and find some position that hurt the least. The next few trips in I followed my same path as I went in, crossing up the hill instead of sideways which yielded a 1.75 mile round trip. Got me thinking of all those stories I read about people hiking in miles and carrying their success out, I need to practice more before I am ready for that.

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Four trips later and the car was loaded and I am on my way. Almost made it to the highway before CPW pulled up behind me with lights. It was a friendly stop with a positive outcome so all good there. The head of an elk on the roof of your car appears to be probable cause for contact!

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I am now working on completing my euro mount of this nice 6x6 bull. The processor weighed the quarters at 207 pounds.

Once the euro mount is complete I will share it here, finding something big enough to soak the skull also required some ingenuity but a cooler seemed to fit the bill.

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You'll definitely need to up your backpack game if you plan on doing long hauls. I personally use mystery ranch. I have the metcalf for elk and the pop up 28 for deer/pronghorn. Its a life saver. There are a lot of good brands out there and a few threads on them here.

Congrats on a nice bull and getting it done. Ill be excited to see the euro.
 
Congrats on that nice young bull. The meat will be real sweet!! 1.75 mi. is plenty for a solo hunter with all that meat. Next time quarter it out ...much easier only takes a few minutes extra, but well worth the effort and much easier to pack out. My wife and I have used one of the ALPS frame packs for 19 years. You did a good job with the meat. Waiting now for your Euro.
 
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