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Archery, Elk Hunting - October 2, 2017

2017 Colorado Archery Elk Season Recap – Part 1

By Adam Parr –

DIY public land archery elk hunting in Colorado is not only tough, it’s downright grueling. The terrain is vast, the elk are elusive, and the shot opportunities are few and far between. 2017 was a season that I’ll never forget and was filled with many heart-pounding encounters that every hunter longs for.

Here are the details and recounts of early archery season where I had two memorable days in elk country during the first half of September.

September 7th

The alarm strikes 4am and I awake from my cozy cocoon, not wanting to leave the warmth of my bed sheets behind, I struggle to get moving. For anyone who knows me, I’m certainly not a morning person but when it comes to hunting, I will force myself awake far before sunrise at the opportunity of a good day in the woods. After loading up the truck, I leave my buddy Sam’s place around 4:30am and make the hour drive up the mountain to the parking spot at the end of the road.

Upon leaving the truck, I traverse through the fallen trees for what I know will be an hour hike and arrive at my destination around 6:30am. The spot is located in dark timber approximately 3/4 of the way up the mountain and is in close proximity to bedding and feed. I let the area calm down and the forest comes to life as the sun brings light to a new day.

At 7am I begin to side-hill towards the drainage that I saw elk in a few days prior with hopes of getting a bead on an animal in the open network of meadows along the creek. Not five minutes into my slow approach, a bugle erupts above me and echoes the through the mountain approximately 500 yards away. September is here!

In under an hour, I’ve covered enough ground and have made it to the ravine where I can get a look into the high meadow above me, where I suspect the bugle came from. I take a seat, rip a bugle up the mountain and immediately catch movement in the upper meadow. Two bulls (a small 4×5 and a 6×6) emerge from a small stand of spruce trees. While attempting to reel them down the draw with a sequence of cow calls and bugles, I hear a loud crack in front of me and a cow pops out of the forest into the open at 75 yards. After 20 minutes of feeding, she had her fill and moved off on the opposite side of the ravine, vanishing like a ghost.

Elk Habitat

A network of high mountain meadows lead up to tree line where elk spend the majority of time during early archery season.

By this time it’s 9:30am and I know the thermals will switch directions (heading back up the mountain) at moments notice so I plan to execute a stalk on the bigger bull. I leave my pack behind and make slow calculated movements up the ravine, covering the first couple hundred yards within a few minutes. The last 200 yards are slow, as he is now somewhat facing me, and I move only when his head is buried in the lush grass. As I make my approach within 100 yards, he moves off into the dark timber with the other bull so I crawl up out of the creek bank to position myself on the edge, hoping for a shot amongst the jungle of spruce trees. I watch as they move through the timber and disappear over the hill, completely negligent to my calls. Damn!

With it nearing 11am, I elect to sit tight for 30 minutes because I have a hunch they won’t go too far before they bed down for the day. After what feels like hours, I slowly head in the direction of the bulls, peering around every tree with each step and I crest the hill to see an ear flickering on the flat bench below. It’s the 6×6 and he’s bedded only 40 yards away!

At this point, everything is perfect but the problem is that I don’t have a clear shot at the vitals and there is no background noise to cover my steps, so I attempt to inch my way to the left for an open lane. But after crunching leaves and sticks, I feel like I’m stuck so I prepare to wait him out until he gets up to feed. 30 minutes pass and I can feel the wind start to swirl and I get a bad feeling that they will catch my scent and bolt. Within a few minutes, the other 4×5 bull (that I couldn’t see) stands from his bed and I can tell from his body language he is alert with the intention to run. The other bull stands but I still don’t have a shot. By now pure chaos is ensuing inside my head. In a moments notice, they bolt from their beds and disappear into the distance as they crash over downed logs. Needless to say, the hunt ended with no shots fired.


September 9th

Saturday morning finds me in a similar situation to Thursday but I head to opposite end of the mountain range with the hopes of getting into un-pressured elk. Again, I aim to slowly work towards a network of meadows in the immediate area with my hopes high because of the cooler weather. Just before first light, I bump something from its bed and I can tell from crashing sticks and deep hoof thumps that it is probably a bull. With so much sign surrounding me, I sit tight for 20-30 minutes but nothing shows.

An hour after first light, I begin to work through the area and with every step, I’m cow calling in an attempt to reel an elk into my setup. As I make my way into the second meadow, I see yellow spots on the opposite hillside and pull up my binoculars to reveal two cows and a calf feeding in the open. Even though they are way off in the distance, it feels good to lay eyes on some animals.

I keep working my way up the mountain and the elk sign gets better and better as I meander through a mix of young growth spruce, scattered throughout lush grassy meadows. It is really the perfect blend of food and cover so I remain on high alert with each step. I check a known wallow in the area and it’s destroyed with mud and grass littering the edges like a recent tornado touched down just hours before.

Elk Wallow

Wallows make great ambush spots for those who are willing to wait it out.

The latter of the morning is rather uneventful, with zero sightings and bugles so I head higher in an effort to explore more of the area that has been untapped by me in years past. By noon, I’m at the top of the world (at least I feel that way) at 12,150ft, where only the grass grows and a sheep hunters roam. The elk sign is decent at this elevation so I let off a few bugles to see if I can get something to answer below but to no avail. I hang out for another 30 minutes, soaking in the views of elk country before heading back down the mountain.

The remainder of the early afternoon is spent slowly working my way through dark timber with the hopes of locating elk with a cow call and slow miles on foot. My efforts prove to be fruitless and as the clock approaches 3pm, I decide it’s time to take a snooze overlooking the meadows I worked through in the morning. An afternoon nap on the side of the mountain feels good and it recharges the batteries for the rest of the day.

Around 4 o’clock, I awake from my slumber with raindrops falling on my face and faint cow mews in the distance. Am I really hearing what I think I’m hearing? I raise my binoculars to confirm my initial thoughts; a group of cows feeding in the meadow 400 yards below. I immediately gather my pack and begin sneaking down the mountain to close the gap with the intent to shoot a nice fat cow. Within five minutes, I’ve closed the distance to 25 yards of a cow and prepare myself for a shot, but as I ready myself, I catch movement across the meadow. I can’t believe my eyes but it’s a 6×6 herd bull feeding mere 70 yards away. I ponder the idea of backing up and sneaking over to kill him while he feeds but I elect to wait it out, knowing that he will join his herd of eight cows at any moment.

Colorado Archery Elk Hunting 2017

The yellow dot in the opening is the 6×6 herd bull feeding by himself. The cows are out of sight to the left, as I sit perched above the meadow on a rock cliff.

Although my heart is racing, I remain calm while listening to the cows mew back and forth to each other, while keeping close tabs on the bull. It sounds crazy but I feel as though I’m a part of the herd, which is a really cool experience. After 10 minutes of just watching and listening, the bull picks his head up and begins walking my way towards his harem. In a matter of seconds, he’s within 50 yards rounding up his cows. I move into position and range him at 48 yards, only to get busted by the lead cow. Shit! I quickly dial my bow to 50 as he takes a few more steps and I feel it’s only a matter of seconds before they all bolt for cover. Complete chaos inside my head ensues once again. The bull is stopped, I draw my bow and quickly release the arrow, only to watch it sail over his back and crash land behind him. Within seconds, the area is cleared and I’m left with a feeling of disbelief, anger, and a little bit sadness running through my body. A missed opportunity, but one of the most memorable experiences of my short elk hunting career thus far.

As a hunter, I dream of that moment all year and when I blow a chance at a great public land bull on an OTC tag, it’s a tough pill to swallow but hey, that’s why they call it hunting, not killing. The reality of Elk hunting consists of missed shots and blown opportunities, but I’m thankful for a clean miss rather than a wound on the big bull. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it sure won’t be the last.

Continue on with, 2017 Colorado Archery Elk Season – Part 2!

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