Following the advice and the lead of several on here who have either suggested posting our hunting stories, or have recently posted theirs, I decided to write down a recap of my first CO elk hunt, an archery hunt last fall, and post it here. Sorry its a little long, but once I started typing out the memories it was hard to stop!
Last fall was going to be my 3rd in CO, and I had been dying to get into hunting since moving out here. Grew up back east and never went as a kid. Lived a couple years in AZ in my mid 20’s and got to go along on a few elk hunts with friends/relatives, but never had a tag of my own.
First couple years in CO, life got in the way a little bit, moving, kids, etc, so by year 3 I was determined to get out in the woods and go hunting. Took my hunter safety course, and convinced a buddy from back east to put in with me for elk first rifle season. So I was finally set and on my way to hunting elk in the Rockies at last.
Then around last May, a month after applying for my rifle hunt, I started to get into archery. This was something I’d always wanted to get into, but again just never had the opportunity. So I got myself a bow, got all set up, and did a LOT of practicing during the summer. I figured I would do the rifle hunt in the coming fall and then the following year I’d give bow hunting a try. My neighbor, who is my age, and I became fast friends after we moved here and he is an avid hunter. He was going to be hunting archery and muzzleloader in the fall, and toward the end of the summer he asked if I wanted to go bow hunting with him. At that point, with all the practicing I’d been doing, I figured why not, I was feeling confident in my shooting ability and accuracy. So off we went in the first week of Sept, to an area he had been to before on a deer hunt, and thought it would be a good elk area.
We were camping back in pretty far, and it took a couple hrs to get to where the ‘main road’ ended and several more on the 4 wheelers to get to where we were going to set up camp. Got camp set up seconds before a nice afternoon thundershower rolled through, and by about 4pm we set out for an afternoon hunt…..my first ever with tag and weapon in hand….I was pumped!
We hiked up a steep hill and got into some dark timber, and we were just walking along for a while. The stillness of the woods, the really being ‘out there’ feeling, was just what I was hoping for and what I’d been waiting for years to be doing. Then after walking for a while, I started to have those thoughts of “well this is enjoyable, but the chances of us walking along and actually seeing something out here in all this huge expanse of woods has got to be slim to none!” Just about that time we started seeing some game trails that looked pretty well used, and then some fresh droppings, then some REALLY fresh droppings. We went into what I was hoping/thinking was ‘super stealth’ mode, made our way very slowly up a rise that opened into a nice size meadow and……ELK!!!!
There were two cows eating in the meadow, maybe 80 yrds from the treeline where we were. (I had a cow tag, my buddy had an either tag). I couldn’t believe it! Ten minutes earlier I was thinking about what a needle in the haystack task this was, and all of a sudden we were on elk, and they were close! We decided to split up, one going right and one going left staying in the treeline, trying to see if either would have the chance to close the gap. I went around to the left and up and down a little hill, losing sight of the two cows for a few minutes. When I got back to the edge of the trees I could only see one now, and she was just moving behind a little rise that would block our view of each other. At this point I wasn’t sure where my buddy was, but I knew I needed to close the gap if I wanted to get a shot. (I was comfortable out to about 40yds max, but wanted to be as close as possible). There was only one lone bush out in this meadow, maybe halfway between me and the cow, who was now hidden behind the small rise. I low ran out to behind the bush, probably 25 yards from the rise in the hill, and just kind of hunkered down there, not knowing if I should try to crest the rise or wait and hope the cow came out again. As I was crouching behind the bush something off to my left caught my eye, and I looked over back to the edge of the treeline and saw the other cow bedded down, now looking right at me! I stayed as still as I could, practically wearing the bush as a sweater, until my legs started to shake from holding the awkward position. The bedded cow just kept staring at me. After several minutes, the bedded cow jumped up, let out an “ET-ish” yelp, and bolted. My heart sank a little as I heard the other cow behind the rise, as well as several others off in the trees, go crashing through the woods. That ended the first day, but man was that exciting! I of course was hoping to harvest an elk on this hunt, but in reality knew my chances were very slim and just that experience alone was more than I figured I’d get, and already had made my hunt!
The second day we were up in the same area where we had seen them, but didn’t see any action. We hiked up to the top of what was a very large high alpine bowl, and after glassing and hiking some more, we spotted 5 elk about ½ mile away at the edge of the bowl/meadow. They were moving in our general direction, looked to be headed back to the thick timber to bed for the day. We split up again and quickly covered some ground getting to what we thought would be a decent line to intercept them. The area was treeless but covered with bushes that were about head high, and thick. The wind was going exactly the wrong direction, but I figured they were heading this way and we didn’t have time to circle around, so why not give it a shot. I was in these bushes, just kind of waiting there not sure where to go, as I couldn’t see over them to see the elk anymore, and after several minutes I could hear ‘em coming my way, getting closer! I figured they’d have to pretty much walk right up on me in order to get a shot, because of all the high bushes, but they were coming and I didn’t want to risk moving at that point. I could see the tops of the bushes moving about 40 yrds away, then all at once….BUSTED! They took off in the opposite direction down the hill and were long gone before I could even curse the damn wind! I figured it would do me in, but I took a chance as it was playing out fast and I had to either try or miss the chance. Another thunderstorm rolled in that afternoon, and we went back out later in the day, but didn’t see anything else. Still, two days, two pretty close encounters, I was loving it!
The third morning we went back up to the large ‘bowl’ where we had seen them the previous day. Glassed high and low but didn’t see any sign of them. There was one area of the far corner of the meadow that we couldn’t see from where we were. I told my buddy I wanted to hike over the rise and just check out that area real quick. I got to where I could see the little area we couldn’t see before, looked for a while, but nothing. I glassed and looked, but it was pretty much one of those areas that if they are there you’ll see them, if they aren’t you won’t…..pretty much. I was heading back to meet up with my buddy, and for some reason decided to turn back and look one more time, and where there was nothing 30 seconds before, this time….a cow elk! I couldn’t believe it, there didn’t appear to be anywhere it could have been hiding before, but now it was there! It was probably about a ¼ mile away, but I hit the ground as I was just standing out in the open at this point. My buddy was a few hundred yards away and saw me drop down and knew what it meant. I motioned for him to loop around a small hill that would keep him out of sight of the cow, and when the cow went behind a bush I hurried down to meet him.
We got to some cover where we could see the area the cow was, and started looking for her. After a while of not seeing anything, and there really not being anywhere an elk could be hiding, I think he started to wonder if I was making up stories or seeing things….and so was I! Then off to the left of where I had last seen the cow, 4 elk came out heading down the hill in a line. There had been a little wash out there that we couldn’t see, and they had been down in it.
There were 3 cows and a decent bull, all heading down slowly from the meadow toward the timber maybe a ½ mile away. We knew we needed to act fast, but we also knew that this time we really wanted to try to get the wind in our favor. We were at the high point of the big meadow, with it gently sloping away from us on both sides, so we went down a little on the opposite side of the elk, and high tailed it down the meadow trying to get below them and then come up and see where they were heading. We got to where we thought we were below them, used the cover of the bushes that were more prominent in this part of the meadow, and got back up to the high point to see where they were now. We spotted them still coming slowly along the same line, and felt pretty sure they were heading for a finger of thick timber that crept out from the treeline at the end of the meadow. We went down lower, staying out of sight, and circled back around to the timber, which was down a pretty good sized hill until it flattened out in the trees.
When we got to the trees, we couldn’t see the elk any longer from where we were, but running right through the edge of the treeline was a very well worn game trail. We figured they had to be getting close now, and we didn’t want to risk moving around too much anymore, so my buddy went into the trees about 20 yrds and I was still at the edge of the treeline and not sure where to go. I figured, “well, this was a good plan, the wind is in our favor, but what are the odds its actually going to work out and they aren’t going to just move through the woods a little further on than where we are?”. About that time, as I’m standing there not knowing what to do, and not wanting to move, I see my buddy standing in the trees along the game trail and I see him draw! I still can’t see the elk, but him drawing gets my heart racing as I know they are actually coming up the trail!
At this point I’m just standing out in the open where the trees end and the meadow begins. The game trail comes out of the woods and back into the meadow 30 yrds in front of me (in my feeling of ‘what do I do now’ while standing there, I had actually remembered to range a bush just behind the game trail…just in case). So after I see my buddy draw I just kind of slide back near the only tree around me, not much for cover at all but at this point I’m just watching him thinking I’m just about to see him shoot an elk.
Then all the sudden the lead cow comes out of the trees and is walking up the open trail right in front of me! I wasn’t expecting it really, as I was watching my friend and waiting to see what would happen. The cow walks out into the open 30 yrds away, turns her head and looks right at me. I figure I’m busted as I’m pretty much just standing there, very exposed. I don’t even breath, and she turns her head back to face forward and just keeps up her slow walk…..the wind was right!
All this happened in a matter of seconds of course, from seeing my buddy draw back, to now looking at a nice large cow broadside at 30 yrds. And the fact that I wasn’t really expecting to see an elk come out of the trees once he drew, I think I was a little stunned for a second. I remember thinking something like “this is happing, you’re going to get a shot, do it now!” I only kind of remember drawing, finding my 30 yrd pin, and releasing the arrow. I think all that practice time I had put in, although in a relatively short amount of time, had paid off as the shot just kind of happened naturally when the time came.
In an instant it was like the woods exploded. The cow I had shot at did a 180 in about a millisecond and headed back into the woods and all we heard was the woods blowing up from the 4 elk busting through them and down the hill. My friend came over and I said something like “I shot it! I shot the cow! I’m pretty sure I hit it good!” Although I never saw the arrow impact, I had a good feeling that I had made a good shot, but I didn’t want to get too confident as this was the first arrow I’d ever shot at an animal. We talked for a few minutes in that awesome excited tone that I’m sure everyone does after an encounter like this. It turns out that as my buddy crept into the woods he saw them coming up the trail, close. He froze where he was, which was right at a 90degree turn in the trail, and the elk came right up to within a few yards of him, but head on and he didn’t have a shot. Lucky for me he did the right thing and let the elk slide past him and through the woods where they then turned and came into the meadow broadside to me. I found out later that right at the time I fired on the cow that was the first to come out of the woods, the bull who was last in line was only about 3 yards head on to my buddy. Bet that got his heart going when that thing turned and bolted after I shot at the cow! I also felt kind of bad after, knowing that he may have had a shot at that bull, but since he had to stop so close to the trail, as with the cow that went right past him, its hard to say if he would have or if he was just actually too close to get a proper shot. But again, I’m glad he did the right thing and didn’t force the issue, which may have resulted in neither of us getting a good shot off.
Anyway, we went over to where the cow was when I shot at her, and after looking for a few minutes found my arrow in the bushes beyond where she had been. The arrow was coated in bright blood from tip to tail, a clean pass through! We waited a half hour or so, saw a couple of the elk circle back up the hill in the distance, and weren’t sure if the one I had shot at was one of the ones we saw off in the distance or not. We started looking for a blood trail and found it without much trouble. We spent 15 min or so tracking blood up and down a couple of steep gullies, and when we were starting up the side of the second little drainage in the direction the elk had gone after the shot, I happened to look over to my left and there was the cow, downed about 100 yrds from where I had shot!
That was my first elk hunt, and it could not have turned out better. I truly believe I used my quota of beginners luck, but at the same time we had practiced hard, worked hard on the hunt, come up with a good plan when we needed it, and it actually worked!!
The first rifle hunt I had been scouting and planning for all summer, was a great time but the only elk we saw was opening morning when a nice bull came crashing through the trees all worked up, out into a meadow we happened to be hiking up. We had cow tags, figures. We watched him run around showing off in front of a couple spikes that had joined him in the meadow, and then mosey off into the trees beyond.
As luck and circumstance would have it, the hunt I planned for all summer was the one where I never even saw a cow, and the spur of the moment hunt to a place I’d never been before is where I had success, but I guess that’s hunting. Both hunts were a ton of fun and made memories that will last a lifetime. That was my first elk hunt in CO, and I can’t wait to get back at it this year!