27 replies [Last post]
Offline
Location: Denver, CO
Joined: 02/13/2011
Posts: 19
Colorado solo backpack hunt, 1st rifle

This year I decided to hunt in unit 54 near Gunnison during the first rifle season. I've had success last year hunting the Castle / Pass creek side, managing to connect on a cow elk on the last day of the season. Last year was a backpack hunt with my step dad. We hiked in a few miles and set up camp, but didn't go in crazy far or do anything too physically challenging. That was fine for my first ever elk hunt. This year it was going to be a solo backpack hunt, and I knew that in order to get into the elk I wanted I'd have to push the limits. So I went on two summer and early fall scouting trips to find the best places to hunt in the unit. The Castle Creek side always holds elk, but tends to suffer from a bit more pressure than I care for, even up to 6 miles in, probably because of the flatter easier access. Also, it's hard to find the elk in there because there is no good point that someone can sit and glass large areas of productive elk habitat due to the lay of the land. Based on my scouting I found the west side of the unit to be more what I was looking for in terms of elk numbers and rugged terrain that is conducive to glassing. On both of my summer trips I saw tons of elk in this area, including some really nice bulls. I showed up three days before the start of the season to setup camp 7 miles in from the trailhead and do some scouting. As I was driving in I saw many large camps being setup down by the road, so I was a little worried there would be competition. Also there is an outfitter that sets up several drop camps throughout the area. While hiking in though, I was relieved to see that no other hunters besides those with the outfitter had moved quite that far. The weather was nice on Wednesday and Thursday even up above 11,000 feet on the high ridges and peaks where I was glassing for elk Photobucket When I looked at one of the peaks way above tree line (about 12,500 feet) near West Elk Peak, unbelievably there was a nice herd of elk up there. Photobucket Photobucket You can't tell from the pictures (my camera isn't the greatest) but there were two really nice bulls in that group. I doubt that elk way up on that peak have any hunting pressure whatsoever until heavy snow forces them lower. Doubt there is even a practical way to hunt them, given the extremely steep cliffs on almost all sides. Curiously most of the elk I saw were still herded up with a medium to large sized herd bull and anywhere from 5 to 15 cows. Several smaller groups of cows and satellite bulls were also present. The rut seemed to still be going strong in mid October, and the elk were still high - above 9,500 feet for the most part. On Friday some weather moved in with a mixture of snow and rain on and off throughout the day. I was bivy camping up on the ridge, so I moved back down to my main camp in the creek valley Photobucket That evening I hiked up to one of the ridges that allowed me to peer into the basin and one of the valleys I had seen good elk herds in the previous days. The elk seemed to be unfazed by the movement of people over the last few days and were keeping to their evening feeding routine and were leaving the security of the timber about 20 minutes before sunset. I set my sights on a smaller 5x5 bull that had about 10 cows with him in a canyon near my camp. At last light the herd was still quite a ways down the canyon, near the creek valley where I was camped. I assumed that by morning they would have likely made their way up the canyon to some of the better, steeper grassy slopes that I had seen them on in the days before. Opening morning I woke up to flurries of snow and cold temperatures. I was on the trail by 4:45am and made it to the canyon by 5:30am. I turned off the headlamp and started slowly making my way up in the near darkness. By 6:00am, without enough light to even read my watch I had arrived at the last known location of the elk and stepped out into the meadow. That was my first mistake... A thundering of hooves and crashing of heavy bodies through the timber signaled immediately that I had been busted. A bugle rang out as the bull elk, who probably didn't know I was there, suddenly wondered why his cows had run off. My heart sank.. I assumed the elk would have moved in the night, but apparently the snowy conditions with heavy overcast skies and waning crescent moon kept them sitting tight all night long. So I sat down on the edge of the meadow to regroup and come up with another plan. My thoughts were that they would run for quite a distance, possibly all the way up to the top of the canyon, where there is nice steep feeding areas and good cover. I waited on the edge of the meadow until 6:45 then got up and started moving up the valley. It was technically shooting light at this point, but still not good enough to see the edge cover at the top of the meadow. Moving slowly and cautiously, I walked only about 100 yards from my previous spot when I spotted a hazy form near the edge of the timber. Couldn't be an elk, I thought, there's no way. But when I put my binoculars on it, sure enough it was the 5x5 I had seen previously. He had spotted me already, and by the time I had my gun in position he was gone. Damn, busted twice! As the morning wore on, the snow increased in intensity. I moved up to the top of the canyon but didn't see any tracks or sign. I came back and tried to follow the bull tracks, but fresh snow had covered them. So back to camp for an afternoon nap. That evening I came back to hunt an adjacent canyon to see if the herd had moved to there. Here's a picture looking down the main creek valley from where I was sitting Photobucket Right before last light I heard a crashing through the timber. The 5x5 and his 10 cows were moving fast down a hillside, like they had been spooked. Staying in the timber they made a quick turn up the creek valley and disappeared from sight. I never got a shot, even though they were only about 120 yards away at the closest point. The next morning the snow had finally stopped, but the skies were still overcast. I decided to try for the other herd I had seen way up in the basin. I knew there was a big bull with them, but I had never been less than 2 miles away, so I couldn't tell how big he was. I left camp at 4:00 am and made the 3 mile hike into basin. At about 7:15am, while slowly still hunting one of the larger meadows, a cow elk suddenly came into view. I froze in place and slowly dropped to the ground. Fortunately she didn't see me, and as I scanned the rest of the meadow there was another cow there too. I scanned the nearby timber, and about 2 minutes later, several cows started to appear in the aspens at the edge of the meadow. A bugle suddenly rang out and the large bull appeared with the cows. He was big, and he seemed unconcerned, chasing around his cows, while the other cows were especially cautious. After a few minutes of staring out at the meadow, the lead cow moved back into the timber, apparently not liking what she saw. I don't think she saw me at that point, but her sixth sense was right on the money. I took off my pack and laid down in the snow, hoping that they would come back, especially since the other two cows stayed in the meadow. Sure enough, the herd appeared back at the edge of the timber after a few more minutes, but they seemed really nervous. The lead cow ran into the field and stopped to stare directly at me. I was in a prone position with my rifle ready to fire. The bull joined the cows in the middle of the field at 200 yards away. I looked through my scope, but the thing was completely fogged up. As I was using my gloves to clean up the scope, the elk decided they didn't like what they saw and took off down the meadow to the creek at the bottom. Heres a pic from later in the day showing where I was (red) and where the elk were and how they moved (green) Photobucket Here's another picture from where I was standing looking towards the aspens where the herd came out. The aspens were about 400 yards away. Photobucket Now that the elk were out of sight I got up and moved down the meadow, using a patch of timber as cover and wound up on the back side of a finger ridge that looked down into the creek bottom. As I peared up and over the ridge, I saw the cows milling about nervously in the creek bottom. They didn't see me, and before long the bull joined them. Heres a pic from where the elk were located and where I moved to on the finger ridge Photobucket I fired a standing shot at the bull from about 120 yards, and nailed a single lung and the tip of the opposite lung. The herd started running towards me, confused about what was happening. I pulled off 2 more shots on him, both of them pretty wild, one nailed the back leg and broke the femur and the other grazed his face. He went down and laid there for about 5 minutes before finally passing away. Photobucket Turned out to be a really nice 6x7, with the 7th point on the left being a small kicker. You can see the obvious defect where my stray shot grazed the face. The taxidermist said that he can probably repair it, but might have to put a slight left turn on the mount so that the defect isn't obvious. Photobucket Photobucket That's where the real work began. Took all day to get him caped, dressed, and deboned. I stashed the meat in the woods by the creek and covered it with snow and sticks. It took me 3 more days to get the cape, some of the meat, and my camp packed up and out of the wilderness, 10 miles each way! Photobucket Photobucket Unfortunately when I came back to get the rest of the meat, a bear had dug it up and ruined most of it but I still managed to get about half of the total meat out, including the best cuts. Without a doubt this was one of the most intense adventures I've ever been on. The planning, preparation, and training has been an all consuming passion for the last year. This bull was one of the biggest in the area I was hunting, which is definitely not a trophy unit. I'm not sure what he scores, but people that hunt the area on a routine basis told me that only about 1 in 20 bulls in the unit is this big. It probably isn't that great compared to some other states, but to me he is a bull of a lifetime, and this may be the last time I am able to hunt elk in this completely DIY way. More importantly I got to meet some really nice folks who were hunting nearby, and were even able to drill a couple of the cows from the same herd the following morning. On top of that there was some really breathtaking scenery which to me will make any hunt, even an unsuccessful one, worthwhile. Photobucket

HeavyC's picture
Offline
Location: Greeley, CO
Joined: 07/19/2008
Posts: 635
So awesome!!! Loved the read

So awesome!!! Loved the read too!!

Big congrats!!

Offline
Location: Colorado
Joined: 07/13/2011
Posts: 865
Great read and hunt. Well,

Great read and hunt. Well, maybe not the snout shot, but we'll ignore that.  Big smile

SoCoKHntr's picture
Offline
Location: Pueblo Colorado
Joined: 12/18/2006
Posts: 1776
Yes

Big Time Congrats! That is true hardcore hunting, much respect for your true grit in getting after it and make success happen. That is a beautiful trophy and testament to your hunting passion.

Again congrats!  Thumbs up

COMeatHunter's picture
Offline
Grand Slam Challenge Winner!
Joined: 06/01/2011
Posts: 604
Wow!  Great story and pics.

Wow!  Great story and pics.  Thanks for sharing it all with us!

I too have been surprised at how short a distance elk will spook, especially if they weren't exactly sure what you were.  If they smell you, the gig is usually spoiled.  If they don't smell you, but see or hear you they don't always run too far.  If you stop, give them time to regroup and settle down, many times you can hunt them again.  I had to chuckle when I read your story about opening morning--I've done the same thing and cursed myself afterward.

Thanks again and congrats on a great bull and WAY cool wilderness solo hunt.

Offline
Location: Denver, CO
Joined: 02/13/2011
Posts: 19
reply

COMeatHunter wrote:

Wow!  Great story and pics.  Thanks for sharing it all with us!

I too have been surprised at how short a distance elk will spook, especially if they weren't exactly sure what you were.  If they smell you, the gig is usually spoiled.  If they don't smell you, but see or hear you they don't always run too far.  If you stop, give them time to regroup and settle down, many times you can hunt them again.  I had to chuckle when I read your story about opening morning--I've done the same thing and cursed myself afterward.

Thanks again and congrats on a great bull and WAY cool wilderness solo hunt.

Yeah that was definately an eye-opener for me. These elk weren't particularly pressured given that they were so far from the road, so they probably didn't have too high of a suspicion for a random hunter stumbling into their territory. Later on in the season, that might change.

One thing that this whole experience taught me is that you can read practically every book on the subject of elk hunting (I read 5 this year), but there is no subsititute for "on the job training." So many aspects of hunting require that you have an internalized compass to direct every action that you take, and the only way to acheive that type of calibration is time spent hunting. I know that for me personally, my hunting skills improved tremendously this season. Nature really is the best instructor.

COMeatHunter's picture
Offline
Grand Slam Challenge Winner!
Joined: 06/01/2011
Posts: 604
I completely agree.  Books

I completely agree.  Books are great for general knowledge and such, or entertainment just for joy or reading about something you love to do.  But for hunting, you just have to get out there and do it.  That's one of the things I love about taking my son out hunting--getting to watch him learn first hand.

Anyway, thanks again for a great post.

Offline
Joined: 10/22/2012
Posts: 7
Im new to the site here so my

Im new to the site here so my very first post goes out to you as a BIG CONGRATS!!!!  I feel as if you lived my exact dream to every detail!!!  Very nice bull and Im sure all the hard work was rewarding too!!!

RUFFNECK's picture
Offline
Location: PUEBLO, CO
Joined: 11/24/2007
Posts: 143
way cool very nice story!

way cool very nice story! congrats thats a heck of a hunt

Ca_Vermonster's picture
Offline
Grand Slam Challenge Winner!Moderator
Location: San Diego, CA
Joined: 07/27/2007
Posts: 5735
Incredible story, incredible

Incredible story, incredible hunt, and incredible bull!!!!  A huge congrats to you!!!!!!

Offline
Location: Denver, CO
Joined: 02/13/2011
Posts: 19
Thanks everyone for the warm

Thanks everyone for the warm replies. This site has definately been one of the best resources for information in planning and executing a hunt. This unit in particular was tough to find information on. It's out there, but you really need to dig.

A couple different groups I ran into said that unit 54 used to have some serious trophy elk. This was way back in like the 1980s and 90s. One person even told me that the previous Colorado state record elk was taken from the West Elk Wilderness and the head is mounted somewhere in Gunnison. Can anyone confirm or deny that?

Related Forum Threads You Might Like

ThreadThread StarterRepliesLast Updated
Have 16 NR pref points in colorado...any sugestions?ccannon203/14/2011 09:21 am
2008 Backpack Muledeer Hunt7 Mag209/29/2007 09:38 am
Backpack huntRJ50707/15/2009 11:30 am
3rd season solo elkwolff2011/20/2007 16:45 pm
Solo Elk HuntRemington7424109/16/2011 12:43 pm