Colorado 2012 Second Rifle Season

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Colorado Elk Season 2012


Two friends and I set out this year to fill our first ever bull elk tags in Colorado. I've hunted elk in the past in other states, but this was our first time hunting second season outside of Durango, Colorado. {Story Spoiler!} We saw very few elk and no one harvested a bull. But learning the area and getting great exercise was everywhere we went.

There are lessons from this elk season I will keep with me for the rest of my life, and I will share those lessons in the hope that you all will be more fortunate than we were. I will say that I had one of the best times of my life with two great friends. And we all left with the knowledge that we couldn't have tried harder than we did. For all that, I'm extremely thankful.

Lesson 1:

 If you see ranchers moving their livestock out of the mountains it is either because the animals have started to gather naturally because of weather changes or another factor such as lack of food. In this case, the drought and light snowfall of last year made for little forage at common elk elevations for the weather we were experiencing. There was no food for the elk; therefore, there was no reason for them to be there. I will admit that we saw LOTS of sign that was approximately 2-3 weeks old, but the first indicator of where you will find elk is where there is food and cover.

Together we covered  about 5 miles of territory per day, and spike camped from our back packs. For the first 3 days, we saw two cows. We discussed the scat and sign of the animals nightly and never stopped our search, but after that, we moved to another area that was lower in elevation. The key here is to watch for these signs before the hunt. If the cows and horses don't want to be there, the chances of finding elk keep getting slimmer. If there's no food, the elk won't voluntarily starve themselves for the benefit of the cover in the area under any normal condition.

Lesson 2:

Choosing a spot on public land. Lower in elevation from our original location, we went to the Lizard Head Wilderness. Absolutely beautiful, full of water and food, our dreams were at a high after seeing this location. As soon as we were out of the truck we heard a bugle. As we geared up and hiked out towards the bugles, we closed with 500 yards. Soon after, and before getting a visual on the animal, a gunshot rang out and the 5x5 bull laid dead by a hunter whom we never saw, heard or new was in the area.

Learning where other hunters are is often the most challenging. As our trip progressed, we learned how to avoid these other fellows and there is not a clear cut guideline to do this every time, but staying away from parking areas and away from horse trails is a pretty sure bet. If you can, get 3-5 miles from a road or trail, you will only do good for yourself. This guideline applies heavily to second season in Colorado, but not so much to every elk hunt.

Lesson 3:

Pack light. I am a minimalist. I hunted with a friend who was a missionary in the jungles of South America and backpacked heavily, and another who had no previous experience. Guess who was the better off? Ironically, Pastor Shawn (And yes, I am calling him out.) was the most well prepared, but at the expense of precious weight. While his extra large 5000 cubic inch backpack could hold everything in the world, you don't want to carry that much weight at 12,000 feet. I will concede that his packable lantern was nice at the camp, as well as his coveralls. Your mobility is a huge advantage during second season. And Shawn found himself disadvantaged on this particular and unique occasion. Shawn is in better physical condition than I am, but the 40 pounds of gear I packed let me travel twice as fast as his 75 pounds.

All in all, I had a great experience on our trip. I learned some very basic signs to look for when choosing the specific location we were going to hunt. I learned that if there is no food, there will not be elk. I learned to watch for warning signs that the area I'm in might be pressured. And I reminded myself to keep light on my feet.

In another post, I will go over other lessons learned from the 2012 season. All this summer, I have been teaching the neighbor boy to be a better and more successful hunter for whitetail. So I'm having him write an essay for me about what it is I have taught him this year, what his mistakes were, and how he is going to fix them next year. I thought you all would be interested to see what the boy has to say.


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