Andy's 2015 DIY Colorado Elk Hunt

We would be driving about eighteen hours from our home in Wisconsin through the night and hauling all of our gear with us. Scott and Matt own 2500 and 3500 series crew cab pickups with caps which would have been perfect for the three of us, but neither truck is reliable enough for a cross country trip like this, so my Nissan X-Terra would have to do. My X-Terra works really well for two guys and all our gear including a hitch-haul on the back, but three guys plus gear was going to be a stretch. We would need a trailer.

I have run my X-Terra up some of the gnarliest jeep trails the Rockies have to offer and it really is an excellent off-road machine. The forest service road to this year's hunting area isn't especially rough, but I was slightly concerned about clearance for the trailer axle if we happened to get a bunch of snow or really bad mud.

I decided I wanted to add a high clearance, off-road trailer to my DIY elk hunting gear. I wanted something that was rough-and-tumble and built like a tank where I wouldn't have to worry about dragging it up and down boulder strewn jeep trails in the future even when filled with a fair amount of weight.


I ended up buying a rusty, old, beat-up army jeep trailer off Craigslist for $200. It wasn't the prettiest thing, but it is built like a tank with the high ground clearance I was after and I liked its compact size for maneuvering on tight jeep trails. I ground off as much of the rust as I could with a wire brush wheel on an angle grinder and used a rust converting primer before a couple coats of Rustoleum flat black spray paint. A local tire shop helped source new rims and tires as the existing ones were in pretty bad shape. It took a little trial and error to find the right wheels but eventually we did.

My father-in-law offered some nice wide one inch thick pine boards he had milled from logs harvested on his deer hunting land and I used those to build up the trailer sides. I added a sheet of marine grade plywood for a roof and stained all the wood using two coats of semi-transparent deck stain.

The last detail I wanted to incorporate into my elk hunting trailer was a rack on top to lash gear and elk antlers. I ended up buying black posts and angles used to make chain-link fence gates to create the rectangular part of the rack and then used galvanized threaded pipe and flanges (spray painted black) to mount it on top of the trailer.

The trailer turned out exactly as I had hoped and meant that we could bring out as much gear as we needed and could bring home an elk or two if we were so fortunate. Now it was time to plan our camping gear.

Most, if not all, wilderness areas are located within National Forests, as ours is. Rules vary from one National Forest to another, but in our area and many others, you can camp basically anywhere you want. When possible, it is best to camp where others have obviously already camped rather than creating a new spot, in order to lessen the impact on the pristine forest.

Our base camp would be set up at the end of a ten mile long Forest Service dirt road just outside the wilderness boundary. There is a particular camping spot at the end of the road that we really like and the hope was that the spot would be vacant again this year.

Base camp is much more about comfort than bivy camp. We want to be able to dry off and warm up, cook a nice hot meal, and relax when we get back after a long day (or several days) in the wilderness. We also like to sleep up off the ground on comfortable cots to best recharge our batteries.

With that said, I have learned over the years to keep our gear as simple and easy to use and set up as possible so that all of our time and energy can be spent hunting rather than working on setting up camp. A DIY hunt in a Wilderness area of the Rocky Mountains is so physically challenging that we just cannot afford to waste any time or energy – period.

The largest and most important piece of gear for base camp is our wall tent. Our wall tent can handle any weather including snow and high winds and it allows us to use a wood burning stove to warm up, dry our clothes and boots and cook hot meals. I am very partial to Cabela's Alaknak wall tents. I own their 12'x20' model and a good friend owns their 12'x12' model and lets me use it whenever I want.

The Alaknak tent is made out of heavy-duty nylon tent material rather than canvas which makes it incredibly lightweight and much easier to pack up and haul cross-country than a traditional canvas tent. It also dries out much quicker and is less likely to get mildewy if not completely dried when folded up. Canvas is more durable than nylon, but I only use my tent once or twice per year and after several years it still looks brand new. I don't foresee any issues with longevity as a DIY hunter.


Before buying my first wood stove years ago I did a lot of research and decided on a Riley brand stove. I now own two of them in different sizes and I absolutely love them. Riley stoves are manufactured in Townsend, Montana and one of the most unique things about them is that they are made of galvanized steel which will never rust.

They are lighter weight than most steel stoves yet they are extremely durable and are designed in such a way that the bottoms will not burn through. The craftsmanship and attention to detail is outstanding. All of the chimney pieces plus a spark arrester fit inside the body of the stove for transport. The spark arrester mounts just above the stove and stops sparks from exiting the chimney which is especially important with a nylon tent like the Alaknak. Without the spark arrester there would be a risk of sparks melting small holes in the tent roof.

Here is a list of some of the other main pieces of base camp gear that I have come to rely on along with links to find them online if you are interested:

Cots - I like a traditional cot which packs down nice and small for travel. It is vital that the frame is open under the cot for storage. Oversized cots are popular but be careful not to get carried away, as cots take up a lot of room in the tent.

Sleeping bag – For base camp a lightweight, packable bag is not necessary. Synthetic bags are heavier and bulkier than down but way less expensive. In September I use a bag rated to 20 degrees. From early October on I prefer a zero degree rated sleeping bag - .

Sleeping pad – Should be comfortable and also provide insulation. Self-inflating pads pack down smaller for transport but there is always a risk of a leak. Foam pads are generally more comfortable. I use both types depending on how much room I have for hauling.

Folding table – We set it up in the center of our tent and use our two large coolers as benches.

Packable roll-up aluminum table – We set our propane camp stove and pots and pans on this table next to the wood stove. It takes up very little room when packed up. I really love this table.

Bag chairs – We each bring one for sitting around the campfire and sometime for sitting inside the tent.

Propane Camp stove – We could do all our cooking on the wood stove, but sometimes it is nice to quickly heat something up without having to start a fire. The two burners come in handy when making breakfast – eggs in one pan and sausage or hash browns in the other.


Hanging water purifier – We fill one large water jug with stream water and use that to fill the purifier. Hang it from a tree branch and walk away as gravity does the work of filtering the water into a second jug. This is a huge energy saver compared to pumping water through a filter by hand.

Coolers – We bring two 120 quart Extreme coolers. One cooler holds our food and ice and the other is filled with miscellaneous gear on the way out. A deboned bull elk plus ice fits in one cooler.

Lanterns – Two Coleman Two-Mantle propane lanterns. They light quickly and easily and give off tons of light and a little heat inside the tent. Get the hard plastic carrying case. It's worth the extra money.

Chain saw and Maul ax - We cut down standing, dead timber and split firewood with the ax for the wood stove and for the campfire ring. The ax is also used to pound in tent stakes.

Tarp – We like to string a large tarp from the entrance of the tent out over the campfire ring to a tall tree so we can have a fire in the evening even if it's raining. Some of our gear stays outside and it is nice to have it protected from rain. If it's hot the tarp provides welcome shade.
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