I'm going to give you some specific advice that I hope you find helpful. Before I do I want you to swear you will not let this get you discouraged in any way. These are lessons I have learned personally over the past 6 years and I wish I had someone giving me the following advice. It has been frustrating at times (to say the very least), but I have learned a great deal compared to when I was strictly a WI whitetail hunter. and so will you.
Do not rely on the locals, especially those who own hunting related stores. I have a story about one such archery shop owner in Pagosa Springs that I now kindy refer to as "Lying Larry". Hunting is good for their business and economy. Those who are local residents likely hunt themselves and won't be cluing you in on what they have learned over their lifetime out of the kindness of their hearts. They see out of state hunters every year looking for the same thing you are looking for.
If you are going in 5 miles, you won't be strolling out and heading to town mid-week. First, you won't want to make that trek but one more time. You will be questioning your sanity later in the week wondering "am I seriously going to make at least two trips to pack this animal out if I get one." Second and more important, if you really want an elk you can't afford to waste an hour much less a day.....Trust me on that! If you pack in - stay in. You will be glad you did.
Take the other gentleman's advice about taking the first legal animal you have an opportunity to take.....It may be the only animal you see. Don't let the TV shows set the wrong expectations. This is really big country. Elk are not like whitetails where they circle around and go back to their home area if they get pushed. Elk clear out. Look for fresh sign - bite marks on the aspens, droppings.
Use your nose! Elk have a distinct musky smell. If they're close and upwind of you, you'll smell them.
You absolutely need to get away from the roads to get away from the people and into elk. This is easier said than done, especially if you haven't hunted country like this. It's intimidating when you first get in it, but then you figure out how to read the land. Consider this first hunt a scouting trip. I call it hiking with a weapon.
Go in as light as possible without sacrificing your safety. Every single ounce counts when the hunt is being done on foot.
Get a good elk hunting instructional book.
Do your physical preparation (I hike a ski hill). You can't over prepare for the hunt you're doing. It will take 3 days to get your wind then you'll feel like you can run a marathon.
Do your mental preparation. You might only see some distant elk, if any at all that first year. If you get into some stalk situations, consider that a triumph. If you get one.....Congratulations and savor every single bite of the best meat on earth!
I didn't intend to write a book here, but I have been where you are now. I know the excitement that has consumed you. Enjoy it because it will likely be shattered during this trip. A hunt like this leaves you exhausted, physically and mentally. You question your sanity for all the hours and money you poured into preparing for what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime only to leave you wondering if there is an elk in the state at all.....but then you can't miss seeing your elk on another guy's truck! After all the disappointment and frustration, you will have your new and improved game plan for the following year decided before you even get home. Welcome to the addiction of elk hunting!
Feel free to send me a PM if I can help you further. I have researched a lot of gear as well.