First Cow Elk Hunt - Best Laid Plans For A Bust

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Having had what I considered great success at the bull elk hunt this year I figured the cow elk hunt, the original plan for the 2011 elk hunt, would be just as easy.  I could not have been more wrong!  The bull elk hunt was a success or at least easier because I was lucky enough to get a left over bull tag for the 1st rifle season while they were still in rut and even luckier that there were at least two herds of elk in or around the private property we were hunting.  The bull tag was just an “extra” hunt I was able to pull off with the wife.  The cow elk was the real deal, or in this case is still the real deal - luckily.

We were to leave on Thursday early evening to get to our planned hotel and hunt that planned Friday through the Wednesday just before Thanksgiving.  My hunting partner Deb and I spent countless hours planning this hunt – the tag drawn, the private property secured, the scouting completed, the dates starting and ending, the accommodations, and even the meals we would be doing.  All planned out and nothing like what we threw together for the successful bull elk hunt.  All of that changed in that last 2 weeks prior to the hunt. 

Deb is in her last semester of her Master’s degree and the professor decided Deb was more than ready to give a major presentation on her thesis so that Thursday we were to leave now became that following Saturday.  No problem we were hunting private property with a migration route that entered and exited the property in two different places – no problem.  My wife’s brother and sister-in-law decide to come for Thanksgiving with their two young children plus an older niece and nephew.  They decide to come the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  No problem – instead of hunting until Wednesday evening I would hunt until Tuesday evening and still be home in time for meeting them at their arrival time.  No problem as the elk migrates through all of the time and I should have my cow within the first 24 to no more than 36 hours of the hunt – no problem… or so I thought.

Deb and I Before Our Hunt

Deb and I arrive that Saturday afternoon around 2pm – not the plan as we didn’t consider the weather and we had gusts of wind up to 90 mph traveling most of the way. By the time we spoke to the ranch owner we didn’t get out into the woods until 3pm – so a short two hours of hunting was completed – not the full day we had planned. We saw no elk but some signs from the day prior or two.  Sunday was still fairly windy and the ranch owner decided they wanted to elk hunt with us as it was their last day of the 4th rifle tag they had.  Deb and I decide if we see anything we would allow the ranch owner the shot since they have been very allowing with our hunts – not planned but appropriate.   We heard a meow from a cow elk but we see nothing Sunday.  

Monday was supposed to snow and we are looking forward to it as it is difficult seeing elk or signs of elk in the dense wooded areas.  We get about 3 minutes of flurries that morning – that is it.  We still hold sure that we will see elk today as I started off the day saying I felt we would see some elk – I really felt it.  It took us 3 hours to still hunt down the east side of the property.

SE Corner Of Property

Glassing we see one coyote but no elk. We decide to move across the southern edge of the property. Two more hours to accomplish this and we see no elk. We then still hunted the western side of the property and after 3 more hours we see no elk. There is only the northwest corner of the property remaining to hunt.

SW Corner of Property

An hour into that I find glassing the adjacent land (we have no access to) 1 spike elk followed by three cow elk heading right for the area we hunted an hour ago.  We start back-tracking our steps to start our stalk on these four however, we are not fast enough and by the time we get to an advantage point we watch these 4 elk pass through the center of the property never giving us any clear shots.  It is now 3:30 and we only have about 90 minutes left of hunting time.  Glassing through the area we find a herd of 34 elk on the southern edge of the property – right where we were 4 hours ago.  We start our stalk only to watch every one of those elk leisurely hop the property fence line and start bedding down 20 to 40 yards into another area we have no access to.  We get no more than 80 yards away and watch as these elk bed down.   A great looking dominant bull elk with several satellite bulls and a whole lot of cows… all just out of our reach just beyond the trees in the background.

Herd of 34 just beyond the fenceline

Tuesday we see no sign of the herd as they continued southeast away from where we could hunt.  However, we did see throughout the day 8 different bucks with the last one being a very nice 5X5 that I estimated with about a 30 inch spread.  Too bad we didn’t have a buck tag!

Since then we have secured access to the property south of the ranch we are currently hunting but are still refused access to the property west of the ranch.  We will make do with that.  Since we have a special private property B tag, Deb and I are “planning” another hunt in late December and again in late January if needed.   At least one more hunt left to complete my “First Cow Elk Tagged” story.


ndemiter's picture

Bottom land?

Cotton woods?


so you were hunting some riverbottom land? was it possible to get up high and glass the entire bottom? that's almost one of those deals where you stay seated all day and watch where everything moves. too bad though. i've been there too!

Retired2hunt's picture

  Yes definitely river bottom


Yes definitely river bottom land full of cottonwoods - I hunted just outside of Del Norte, CO this year on private property that is adjacent to the San Juan National Forest.  The property hase a leg of the Rio Grande that runs through it.  Unfortunately there is no higher land nearby that I have access to.  There are three areas of it that I can stay seated all day... I will try that as I still have two more chances - I go out next week for another try and then again in mid-January.


ndemiter's picture

yeah, i have some experience

yeah, i have some experience hunting some land that is similar to your pictures. not many high points to glass from lots of cotton woods and rolling topography. 

first i would sit on one of the highpoints all morning, until they stop moving and watch them head into cover to bed for the day, then try a stalk into the cover and glass up the one you're after.

second i would just camp on one spot all afternoon, and see what you see. having the benefit of seeing them from a great distance is kind of nice, but if you can't get there in time for a stalk, it all means nothing.


i wish you good luck and can't wait to hear how it ends.

this time of year you may be able to narrow your choices down by where the cattle are located around the property. if there's snow on the ground, the elk might be feeding on hay left out for the cows.


Ca_Vermonster's picture

Nice story Retired.  But, I

Nice story Retired.  But, I wouldn't call it a bust. every time out is a learning experience, and if your screen name is how you are now (retired), then you know that it beats working. :wink Some nice scenery there where you hunt.  Nice photos.

Isn't that always how it is though.  You see animals, and they are just out of reach.  It happens out here alot, especially with turkeys.  You can see flocks of 30-40, right in people's front yards.  Very frustrating.

Anyway, I am sure you will get one, you are putting in your time.  Keep at it, and keep us updated about the upcoming december hunt.  Looking forward to the "First cow elk tagged" story!

BikerRN's picture

Great Story!

I can feel your, and Deb's, frustration with having those elk so close yet so far.

To make a glib comment, that's why they call it hunting and not killing. It's a lot harder than many people realize. Stories like your's help to remind me that we are lucky to be here in that our ancestors hunted these same animals and if they hadn't been successful they would've starved to death and we wouldn't be here. It makes me glad I have a grocery store down the road a bit from me at times.

Of course they didn't have to contend with the number of people we do today, and the hunting pressure that brings, nor were they focused on trophies. Thier hunting was for the primal act of survival. I look forward to reading the continuation of how this unfolds.


jaybe's picture

Good story Retired2hunt

Good story Retired2hunt (gotta love that screen name)!

I was surprised to see the hardwoods in the pictures - it's not the typical "elk country" that I have become used to seeing in other posts and on hunting programs on TV. No mountains or foothills, no pines and grassy meadows. Come to think of it, it probably looks a lot like the "elk country" in Michigan. We have a huntable elk population in the Northern Lower Peninsula, and it probably is also a lot of hardwoods.

Thanks for your story. I look forward to hearing how future outings go.