I’m writing this piece for those who would rather be educated a bit on the hunt as opposed to perhaps just reading a story. I admit to sometimes just wanting the educational piece without the story myself, so here goes.
These lessons learned are a combination of what I learned directly from a 20 year Colorado big game hunter and my own experience this year.
See equipment list, below for suggested items but remember that we did this with horses and mules. If we had been backpacking I wouldn’t even think about taking half of that stuff along.
Get comfortable with your bow out to 60 yards. Yes you can get lucky and close enough to shoot an elk with a bow at shorter distances but give yourself the confidence to make shots out to 60 if you’re going to go all that way.
Learn to call elk—it adds to the experience and if done correctly can mean either taking a bull or not.
Invest in a good bow hook for your belt so that you can quickly and easily hike with your bow but also be ready for a quick shot if needed. I have no experience with the slings but perhaps they do the same thing.
Come prepared to hike, hike, and then hike more—and hike straight up and straight down. Straight down is killer on your knees. Straight up is killer on your quads and lungs. Cardiovascular conditioning is a must. I am a regular Cross fitter, runner, and weight lifter and at elevation I struggled the first couple days. You need to drink a LOT of water and for at least the first couple days don’t overly push yourself or risk real sickness. This is the one that perhaps caught me most by surprise. You hear it but until you see it and do it you just can’t really fathom it.
Bring either a GPS unit or download maps to your phone and use airplane mode so you don’t burn up battery life. If you think you are good with directions, trust me, you’re not.
Bring a battery charger (solar or a bank that will get you a few charges like you can find on Amazon).
Elk tolerate more movement than a whitetail and can be stared down even at closer distances. I still suggest full camouflage and a face mask. Position yourself in FRONT of trees and vegetation when expecting a shot.
Elk feed a lot like cows—they will often drop their heads and allow for you to range and shoot without rushing the shot.
Elk are NOISY. When they are coming out of the dark timber they tend to crash through, rather than around it. I often heard them coming before seeing them.
Elk do NOT tolerate human scent and staying sweat and scent free is nearly impossible on multi day hunts. Forget the scent killer at home—use the wind to your advantage whenever possible. If the wind isn’t right, back out and go around or just go back to camp. Blowing them out of an area just doesn’t make any sense. Use a chalk wind checker often when in the field.
Hunting elk in the mountains can be miserable—I was extremely lucky to have been with people who knew their way around this area and had horses, mules, and proper equipment. I see why people hire outfitters for either camping, horse and mule rental, and/or just packing out elk for them. I saw the looks on 3 other guys’ faces who were tent camping and they did NOT look like they were having fun. Elk quarters are HEAVY.
Don’t miss out on shooting opportunities—I was told I might have one shot opportunity on the week. I was extremely lucky to have two. Obviously I paid the price regarding ranging animals and proper pin use. Range twice and shoot once. Don’t think you know yardage, especially on the ground—you don’t. Be fully prepared when the shot opportunity comes.
Enjoy your time on these hunts. Try not to focus just on the killing. The mountains are an amazing place whether or not you’re there hunting or not. Slow down occasionally and soak it all in. What’s so cool about hunting is that it gets us out to these amazing places for a reason but as the old Thoreau saying goes “Many men go fishing their entire lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after”.
Archery spare supplies
Fire making bag
Matches and lighter
Bow and arrows
permit signing pen
3 man tent
cooler with ice, food, drinks for drive
cold weather clothing