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First timer wants to Bow hunt in CO???????

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Unread 01-06-2008, 12:23 AM
Bronze Member
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Lapeer, MI
Posts: 80
First timer wants to Bow hunt in CO???????

Ok guys I've got lots of questions for ya so be prepaired.

First a little background. I'm from MI and I am planning to go to Colorado for an Archery Elk hunt with my buddies. None of us have ever been elk hunting but we all finally can go and are planning to go in 2009. (That will give us enough time to get in shape and do some over the internet scouting and lots of planning.)

My first question, Are the bulls bugelling for the archery hunt, I noticed in the 07 guide the season is about a month long. Are they bugelling more towards the end of september or through thewhole season?

What is the weather like in CO during that season? We are planning on taking a trailer and maybe staying at a campground. Sound good so far.

What are the campgrounds like there? I would much rather rough it in a tent but my older buddies, my dad and uncles want to take the trailer.

I heard that there are a lot less hunters during bow season than rifle season, so you wont run into a ton of guys, is this true? Also, is it easier to get an archery tag than a rifle tag? They are worried about applying and not getting a tag.

My final question I swear. What are some good areas to look into for public land do it yourselfers?
James (reloading apprentice)
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Unread 01-06-2008, 05:21 AM
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Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Utah
Posts: 1,375
Hey James,
Colorado is a great place to hunt elk. I'll offer some advice and see if I can answer some of your questions. My hunting partner and I have been hunting Colorado for several years. We have a 100 % OPPORTUNITY rate. This means we have opportunities to kill legal bulls at good archery ranges every year. We don't always find one big enough. And once, I missed. I don't know a lot of other places where I know I'll get a shot opportunity.

That said, we work very hard to get away from crowds and areas where the animals are pressured. It is not unusual to lose 10 pounds on a weeks hunt. Ya gotta be prepared to earn 'em. That means getting deep, and getting huge animals back out. If you have stock, I'd bring some. If you don't have stock, but have experience, you can rent some fairly cheap. Otherwise be prepared to carry a lot of heavy loads a long ways.

Areas: We hunt the Mt Zirkel wilderness area. This is 20 miles or so north of Steamboat. You do have to ride a horse or hike in. However, you can camp at or near the trailheads if you don't want to pack in. A lot of folks I talk to mention further south, around Gunnison. Elevation on Zirkel ranges from 7-11,000'. The country is steep and rough. But, is truly spectacular elk country.

Weather: You simply must be prepared for anything. You can pretty much count on snow or/and rain usually coupled with some truly beautiful weather. We've had it be hot, we've had it rain for three days straight, and we've had it dump three feet of snow. The one thing you can count on is it will vary.

The rut: We go the last week of the hunt. This is usually the peak. Activity can vary from severals bulls screamin' in every time you get into them, to wary spooky animals, to quiet (usually hot weather), seemingly uninterested bulls. Things to watch are:
1. pressure- Pressure makes elk wary. It also makes them seek out of the way pockets. Bring good topos and look for these. They are there. They also take a hell of a lot of work to hunt.
2. weather- Before and after storms the elk will be fired up. Cold snaps are great. Guaranteed to get 'em going. The early season can be very frustrating. If it's hot, the elk will not be very active. Wallows can pay off under these conditions. They are a patient mans proposition. With only a week to hunt, I prefer to get after 'em. Towards the end of the season, they will be screaming every chance they get.

Campgrounds: The campgrounds are on the highways. Too far from where you need to be at first light. There is plenty of public land to camp on right in the mountains. We use google earth to look at roads to see if we can get our horse trailers up 'em and find spots to camp. Topo maps are great for this too.

Pressure: There are plenty of bowhunters. The muzzleloader also overlaps the archery. It usually ends the day we arrive. Another reason to go the last week. It is best to be prepared to get off the beaten path. Backpaking or horse packing in deep will almost guarantee opportunities. Other than that, look for hard to reach pockets, and be prepared to work hard. Still, the pressure is infinitely less than rifle season.

Tags: We buy over the counter archery tags on the drive out each year. No problem. There will be leftover rifle tags for many areas as well. If you hunt rifle, I recommend the first season. It is really not difficult to fill an elk tag in colorado. However, it will take work.

Horses: Horses are a huge advantage! The amount of ground you can cover is tremendous. Elk are big and heavy! Nothing beats walking out with a light pack while your horses carry the meat and antlers. There are outfits that will deliver horses to your camp.

Shooting: The country we hunt is steep and rough. Be prepared and know how to shoot at exteme angles.

Calling: If you don't have much experience, the Prinmos Truth series has a lot of great technique for calling and making your set ups. Be prepared to shoot with pounding heart and shaky hands. Try shooting after a few wind sprints. Believe me, the first time you call an elk in the experience will pay off huge!

Quartering: Get 'em skinned and quartered now! It is infinitely easier to skin and quarter a fresh kill than one even a few hours old. If it's hot, an elk will sour fast! Two guys can do this in an hour.

Altitude: Altitude sickness is nasty. If you pack high, it's best to have time to take it easy for a couple days.

Navigation: Good topos, compass and GPS are imperative. The country is big and rough. Finding your way back to your horse, trail, or truck after dark can be damn difficult.

Going deep: As you can tell I believe a lot of our success is because we hunt further and harder than the majority. If you're going with a lot of folks, some of which would prefer to take things a little easier, I'd suggest a base camp for everyone and a spike camp for those who are a little more serious.

I'll be glad to answer any questions I can. Our archery elk hunt in Colorado is the highlight of my season each year. Good luck!
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Unread 01-06-2008, 08:29 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: Potomac River
Posts: 5,088
Thanks Grit

I am thinking that for the Fall of 2009 I will try bowhunting elk for the first time and that was a very informative post.
The Smokin Fur Rifle Club
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Unread 01-06-2008, 09:41 AM
Join Date: May 2001
Posts: 6,517

I emailed this link to my son who wants to try elk with a bow some time. Nice job.
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Long Range Rifles, LLC - Ready To Ship

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Unread 01-06-2008, 09:47 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Lapeer, MI
Posts: 80
Wow, thanks for the info. It is very helpful. About altitude sickness, other than exercising what can I do if anything to help aclimate myself faster? I only have a week to hunt and don't want to waste any of it sitting around camp. I do plan to exercise a lot with cardio and leg strength what other exercises to do you recommend?

How long does it usually take to get used to the altitude?

About the horses. I would love to rent some but don't have any experiance other than a 2 hour ride near yellowstone. I was wondering what I need to learn and if someone around here can show me. I'm mostly concerned about learning to pack them. Maybe some good packing horse booksto get me started? Are there trails for the horses or is it riding through the wilderness?

Thanks again, you have been verry helpful.
James (reloading apprentice)
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Unread 01-06-2008, 11:03 AM
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Join Date: Sep 2006
Location: Nebraska
Posts: 215
The altitude sickness isn't a huge deal but can greatly effect your abilities in this altitude. The first day won't be bad but the next can make you feel like a little girl. Make sure you drink plenty of water, keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum, and as you said be in excellent shape long before you go. Wilderness Althlete does have a pill called Altitude Advantage that is supposed to help, but I've never tried it or heard of anyone that has yet.

Another thing that might help with your trip is Cameron Hanes' book "Backcountry Bowhunting". There is alot of good information in there, although he does take it over the top sometimes.
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Unread 01-06-2008, 03:48 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Utah
Posts: 1,375
BB and Len,
Thanks, and you're welcome. Archery elk hunting is truly heart pounding excitement! I didn't mention it before, but calling elk is best done with a partner. It's best to have the caller set up a ways downwind of the hunter. Also, processing elk is really a two man job. Only mention it because of BB's story where he was alone.

Like Supermag said, the altitude sicknes usually isn't a big deal. I live at 6000'. I've had it once. My wife and I hike Kings Peak 14,000' in one day. We then camped around 12,000'. I woke with my head splitting in two. Severe throbbing headache. I'm not sure of the factors. Too much exertion that high, coupled with a radical elevation change, maybe I didn't stay hydrated.

Anyway, good cardio fitness and making sure you stay hydrated are pretty much key. If you're coming from real low elevation you may consider spending the first night at a mid elevation. We typically go from 6,000' to 11,000' in a few hours and never feal it (the horses might).

I like Cameron Hanes book as well. He reccomends emergen-c drink mix. I like this too, if for nothing more than flavor.

Gettin' elk out: We bring the four quarters, backstraps, tenderloin, head, antlers, and the hide out. This is a load for two horses. Quarters weigh 60-100lbs. Head, antlers and hide all together another sixty pounds. For backppacking, bone the quarters out. This makes four sixtyish pound loads with the backstraps and tenderloins spread out to make the loads equal, and the head, hide, antler load. For a total of five loads.

Cameron Hanes talks about having a packer on speed dial. There may be outfits that do this. I don't know of any. However, for the inexperienced horseman, finding a packer may be a more realistic option than learning horsemanship and packing in one year. Horses can get you killed! Especially for a guy who needs to get in shape, learn to shoot well, learn to call, make a living.....

As a horse lover, I would not dissaude you from using them. But, it's not a simple proposition. If you want to do it, you need horsemanship skills. If you took lessons from a competent person you could have adequate skills in a year. Some horses you will love, some you will want to kill. It's best to shoot them when you get back to camp. Saddles are heavy.

If you rent them: The outfits that rent them make you completely responsible for the horse and the gear. Without regard for wether you get a good horse and good gear. Make damn sure you get well broke horses who don't mind packing game! A lot of horses will stand quietly while you load dead critters. A lot will not. Some will stand quietly while you load and then come undone later.

You also need to know how to pack, and recognise wether you are getting good gear. I have two books I like. "Horse Packing In Pictures", and "Horses, Hitches, and Rocky Trails".

Bottom line is get some horsemanship skills. Find an instructor with some packing experience who can help you. The local pack stores (here) teach classes. Horses are like giant easily frightened children. They need an authority figure who is firm, confident, and gentle too. They need an anchor. You can't be one without confidence and experience. I hope you choose to use them, and enjoy the experience.

Trails: We use the trails a fair amount. The country is very steep and rugged. Lots of rock and deadfall. You can take horses off trail, and will generally have to to get your elk out. But, this can be an adventure in itself. We usually use the horses to get us and camp up high and in deep. Then, hunt on foot. Frequently we will ride several miles before dawn, tie the horses, hunt on foot all day, then ride back to camp after dark.
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