Andy's 2015 DIY Colorado Elk Hunt

It was wonderful to be back in the valley where Matt had killed his bull the year before. It is just so beautiful. My mind had wandered to it many times over the past twelve months since the last time I was there. We stopped again to glass the opposite slopes and while we sat silently scanning for elk, a young bull moose appeared out of the willows very close to us across the stream. We watched him for a few minutes before he disappeared into the timber and then we kept moving.


I was in excellent physical shape for this hunt. I stay in shape all year long and ramp up my workouts beginning in spring. This year I also spent three weeks in the Wyoming mountains in August teaching our LRH shooting classes with Non-Typical Outfitters. My Dad and I took advantage of those weeks in the mountains by hiking a circuit including some very steep climbs to paint the class's steel targets many mornings before breakfast. I had also hunted mule deer in September in those same Wyoming mountains so I was in as good of shape as ever for this elk hunt. With that said, I was beginning to really labor as we continued deeper into this valley.

We were following the stream that flows along the valley floor so our elevation gain was fairly gradual, yet the three of us were dead tired when we finally decided we had gone far enough and would make our bivy camp. We all dropped like a ton of bricks in our tracks and lay there basking in the warm sun, eventually falling asleep.

When I awoke from one of the best naps I have ever had I realized we were laying in a nice blueberry patch and I snacked on a few handfuls of the sweet treats. The temperature had risen quite a bit now that the sun was out and it was down right warm.

Our bivy camp was at over 11,000 feet which is more than 10,000 feet higher than my home in Wisconsin, and the elevation was really taking its toll on me. It was difficult to get myself moving to set up camp, but after eating half a sandwich I eventually did. I find that at high altitude my appetite is quite small. I eat much less than I normally would. I sometimes have to force myself to take in some calories just to keep my energy level up.

Our bodies told us that we should just hang out in camp for the rest of the afternoon. We had a decent view of the opposite mountainside and we could glass a fair amount of country right from camp, but we were there to find elk and the next morning was the opener so we sucked it up and climbed the adjacent mountainside to glass across to the other side from higher up. We also wanted to check out the grassy bowl up there in which I had seen a herd of elk bedding two summers before while scouting and glassing from miles away.

The climb was tough, but we took it slow and steady. We eventually reached a huge rock outcropping and climbed up on top of it. It was a fantastic vantage point to glass from. While Scott and I glassed, Matt snuck up farther into the bowl to see what he could find. We met back up in time to scramble down to camp as the last light faded. We did not see anything, but spirits were high for the next morning's opener.

The night was quite crisp with temperatures right around freezing. The first night bivying my feet got cold in my 20 degree sleeping bag which made for less than ideal sleep. We awoke well before first light and ate a quick breakfast of hot oatmeal before gearing up and beginning to hike up the valley in the dark. We silently worked our way towards a large beaver pond where we sat and glassed for awhile. I let out a few locator bugles but got no response. We were in the shadow of the East ridge and it was quite cold glassing.

We spotted a sow black bear with two cubs on a distant hillside no doubt munching on berries. When we began shivering too much to hold our binoculars steady we decided to head up the opposite mountainside towards the spot Matt had killed his archery bull the year before. First we had to traverse a large boulder-field with boulders the size of Volkswagens and then we slowly climbed the steep slope through the timber at the edge of the boulders. We had to stop often to catch our breath and rest our screaming thighs.


We eventually made it up to where Matt had shot his bull but it looked very different from the year before. It was dry and crunchy now and there was no fresh sign at all. We climbed higher and found a good glassing spot to glass across the valley. We glassed for a couple hours as the morning sun began to light up the opposite ridge.

At around 10:00 Matt announced that he was looking at a bull skylined at the very top of the mountain across from us and above the bowl we had climbed to the evening before. He was standing next to a large patch of snow and must have come up and over from the other side.

We eventually saw that he was with a small herd of nine or ten cows. He was far enough away that it was difficult to tell what kind of bull he was with our ten power binoculars. I wished I had brought my spotting scope and tripod now, however I definitely did not miss them the day before when my pack felt plenty heavy on our way to our bivy camp.

We watched as the herd worked its way down along the slopes that surrounded the bowl and eventually bedded down in some scrubby vegetation where we lost sight of them. We were excited that we had put a bull and his herd to bed and we made plans to drop down to the valley floor and then climb up the other side and wait for them to come out of their beds in the afternoon. The climb down was steep and quite difficult but our spirits were high so it wasn't too bad.

When we reached our bivy camp, we decided to have lunch and take a short rest before heading up. We were all pretty tired and needed to recharge before attempting the steep climb. We ended up falling asleep and slept a bit longer than we had planned, but we assumed the elk weren't going anywhere so we were not too worried.

We pushed ourselves on the way up because we were feeling bad about leaving later than planned. Eventually we made it up to the bottom of the bowl and slowly worked our way to a group of trees where we could hide and keep an eye on the scrubby brush the elk had bedded in from about 100 yards away. The wind was in our favor and we were excited to think that it was only a matter of time before the elk would get up out of their beds.

The hours ticked by slowly with no elk and as the light began to fade I decided to let out a few cow calls. We waited until just before dark and never saw or heard any elk. To say we were disappointed is an understatement. The climb down to camp in the dark was challenging including a couple stream crossings and some steep sections where we had to almost slide down. It had been a good day but it had not ended the way we hoped.

On Sunday morning Matt volunteered to climb the opposite mountainside again and see if he could glass up the herd while Scott and I would head up to the bowl and hopefully hunt them. We agreed on some hand signals and headed our separate ways. When we reached the large rock outcropping we glassed across to find Matt. He was watching for us and gave us the signal that the elk were up there again.

Our hearts began to race as Scott and I discussed our plan! We decided to work our way towards the trees we had hidden in the day before, but before we reached them we spotted the herd out feeding on the hillside above the bowl. We could see that the bull was definitely a shooter! We changed our route and headed towards the scrubby vegetation on the hillside where they had bedded the day before planning to set up for an ambush.

As we worked our way over there, being careful to stay low enough not to be spotted, I felt the wind on the back of my neck and knew this plan would not work so we headed back to where we had just come from. We worked our way to the same trees we had hidden in the day before and set up to wait for the elk to wander over to the bedding area.