Today may have been my last day of elk hunting for the year, and the place I hunted this morning was way too full of people. I knew that this area, only about 45 minutes from home, would have some people in it, but I had no idea it would have so many people camping, riding dirt bikes and ATVs, and driving around on the forest roads. I had never hunted this area, but thought I would give it a shot after studying maps and information from the Colorado Parks & Wildlife. The stats and the maps actually made the area look good, and I thought it was going to be good until everyone started waking up and driving their various vehicles around.
Even though I went to a place that was fairly far from the motorcycle trails, I could still hear them in what was a silent forest at day break. And there must have been a party or something going on because it seemed like a hundred cars and trucks started pouring in through the forest roads, driving like they were in some kind of a race. I gave up at noon, actually long before that, but noon was when I got back to my truck and decided to go home. I was feeling a little dejected that my elk hunting is done for the year, but at the same time I thought about all of my readers who have still yet to hunt, and at least I can write about elk hunting and help some other people.
The archery season ends in Colorado a week from tomorrow, so there is still some time for someone to get out and hunt the end of the rut, not likely for me though. I wrote about some strategies for hunting the rut, which you can read by clicking here. But the majority of people hunt during the rifle seasons, which will begin October 12th and carry on through November 17th, you can see the specific dates by clicking here. As the elk transition out of the rut (their mating period), their behavior changes, and so should your hunting techniques.
When the rut is over, bulls are no longer interested in breeding and maintaining harems. Bulls slowly leave cows and start joining up with other bulls, some of whom they may have been fighting with only weeks before. This generally coincides with the beginning of rifle seasons for elk, and hunting pressure drastically alters their behavior. Animals react to the presence of humans in the woods and make the transition from breeding to survival. This transition period generally occurs in the month of October.
Elk Behavior: The onset of rifle season drives elk into deep timber away from roads and causes them to become nocturnal where human pressure is heavy. With cold weather coming on, forage loses its nutritional qualities, and animals often must find new sources and feed for longer periods. This is especially true of dominant bulls that have lost considerable weight during the rut. If the weather remains warm, elk are even more elusive, staying in the timber all day. They may never exit the forest until long after shooting hours. Some large bulls may retreat to lairs and hang out by themselves, remaining there as long as there is adequate food and water. As the season continues, hunting pressure will drive elk to locate shelter where they feel secure and undisturbed.
Hunting Strategies: This is the toughest time in the elk woods. In places where there are crowds of hunters on public land, get as far off the road as you can and look for elk from a high ridge or other elevated vantage point. Be at this spot in the dark, long before daybreak. Glass for elk as soon as you can see, concentrating your efforts in meadows, clear-cuts and old burns where elk normally feed in the night. If you see animals in the distance and can’t get to them before they head for the timber, carefully mark their location and set up on that feeding area in late afternoon. If the animals haven’t been disturbed from their day beds by you or other hunters, they’re likely to exit the forest where they entered.
During the day, elk will bed where they feel secure. In mountainous country, look for them in the upper contours, from the ridgeline to about a quarter of the way down the slope. Elk prefer thickets and blowdowns, especially where dense spruce trees grow. Blow your cow call occasionally if you’re making noise in the brush. Elk will hear your movements and the call will put them at ease, allowing you to move closer. The key to taking an elk at this time is deep penetration in the woods, as well as smart hunting. Stay out there all day, and be alert to other hunters moving elk around.
As with all elk hunting, you are likely to be far away from camp or your vehicle for the entire day, well before day light and long after sunset. It is extremely important to be prepared with food, water, adequate clothing for the elements, lighting, and survival gear, enough to spend the night out if you have to. There have been many times where I have run out of water during the day on an elk hunt, and water purification tablets have saved the day for me; you can only carry so much water. You will also need to carry what you need to process an animal if you get one, and all of this gear adds up to a lot to carry on your back as you are hiking up high elevations and over rough terrain. A good day pack is an essential piece of gear, and you should put a lot of thought into what you bring and how you pack it.
I used a new pack this year, and it worked very well for me. I carried a lot of gear with me, and because of the construction of the pack, with the frame and hip belt, the weight was very easy to carry. The other thing to consider is packing out your animal, and this pack I used converts to a meat-carrying pack very easily. There is nothing better than to be able to take a load of meat, or the hide, or the head down on your way back after you take an elk, because unless you have a horse, it takes 6 or 7 packs to get an elk out of the woods; one for each quarter, one for the hide, and one for the head. Of course you can try to do more each trip, but for me, that’s enough, especially in the terrain where I hunt. Click here to see a video of where I was chasing a bull last week. For out of state hunters or people new to elk hunting, your day pack is a critical piece of equipment, so don’t take it lightly.
So as my elk hunting season has come to an end, another equally depressing thing is happening; Kansas State University (my college) is going to lose to Texas as this night comes to a close. The loss is bad enough, but it also means I lose a bet to my friend Erin, and I am going to have to wear a Texas jersey or shirt to work one day, and I owe her a beer or two. The latter part of losing the bet is really not so bad, but that Texas jersey is going to burn my skin.