Colorado elk hunt

WeekendWarrior

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Joined
Mar 1, 2021
Messages
70
Location
United States
I'll give you a straight answer and all the details shy of the exact coordinates where I hunt.

I live in the state, I don't hunt the units you propose. Those units are on the i-70 corridor right where Beaver Creek and Vail ski resorts are located. There are a lot of summer backpackers and hikers in the area. The success rates are considerably lower as well. If you have a honey hole in the area, by all means do your thing, but otherwise I don't think you will be happy hunting. Lots of great food and bars as well as world class lodging right there, so it could make for a plush trip.

The biggest and easiest herds to hunt are usually the units around 1) steamboat springs, specifically unit 14 and 4 early season, elk start to move down to private by second rifle reason pretty reliably although unit 3 becomes pretty good by third rifle, and the deer and pronghorn in unit 3 are great too; 2) Mesa flat top wilderness units 12 and 24; and 3) units 64/65/66 down by the black canyon and Montrose. These areas also have the most applicants, the most hunters, and the most elk taken every year. Take a look at the harvest stats for these units going back a couple years, data here:
2019 - https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Hunting/BigGame/Statistics/Elk/2019StatewideElkHarvest.pdf
2018 - https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Hunting/BigGame/Statistics/Elk/2018StatewideElkHarvest.pdf
2017 - https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Hunting/BigGame/Statistics/Elk/2017StatewideElkHarvest.pdf

The page you want to look at to see all the data is here, scroll down to see the table of pdfs: https://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Statistics-Elk.aspx

These places feel like zoos during the season. Your best bet is to get there a few days early, get to the back of these units, and let the hunters push everything your way as the elk try to escape to private. And do expect company because many people have figured this tactic out. Open the PDFs above and onX and look at where the success rates spike in the surrounding units, this tells you the direction the elk run away from hunters in the early season and thus relocate in later seasons, and thus where you want to be setup. You will not be getting a trophy bull in these units, though a few do, but you will get opportunity at elk but do not expect many opportunities. It feels weird being in the woods with literally 500+ other hunters in your same unit, all competing to get an elk. The young hunters seems to chase, the old hunters lie in wait along private. Shoot a four point if you see one, five points will be harder to find, and you likely won't see a six point or larger. The biggest bulls are taken in archery season in these units, prior to rifle season.

The other part that sucks about hunting these units is dealing with stupid people. Elk have very sensitive noses, and you have to travel with thermals in mind to deal with this. The number of times southern and mid-west hunters with no experience in the mountains ruin a hunt is countless. For example, air moves down mountain when it's cold, and then the thermals switch to moving up hill once the sun comes out for about 30min or so. This means you need to move up hill when it's dark and down hill when it's day light, and position your camp accordingly. If you are a deer-blind hunter who knows nothing about thermals and you leave camp at 3:30am and start hiking down hill, every elk below you will smell you and run. Then the locals will give you mean looks and say passive-aggressive things. This is why if I hunt these areas, I get there early, park at the other side of the unit from where all the camps are usually setup, and relax on the edge of private, usually focusing on the edge of private with fields of alphalpha, and I let the other hunters push all the elk to me.

Trophy bulls are mainly located on the boarder with Utah, in the pinion and juniper, semi-dessert units with lots of agriculture, and private land in the foothills of the rockies. You will need a **** load of points for these units. Unit 201 and 2 are the infamous 360+ units in our state. You will need about 20 preference points though and phenomenal glass.

The way you want to plan your hunt is to open onX and look at the units I mentioned above, as well as the surrounding units. Open the harvest stats I listed above, and map out where the elk go through the hunting seasons by tracking total elk taken and success rates in surrounding units. Note that wilderness areas have a huge drop in success because no one wants to walk that far and you can't use quads or side by sides. This means if you have unit where the success rates drop but doesn't rise in surrounding units, the elk either moved in to a wilderness area or are sitting on private usually along side an alphalpha field. Once you have your units ans timing figured out, open the big game catalog for 2021, here: https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/RulesRegs/Brochure/BigGame/biggame.pdf, page 35 is elk, elk hunt codes start on page 40 and rifle starts on page 45; get a list of the hunt codes you like based on the units you want to hunt and the times you want to hunt them. Then search the draw odds and pick the units you will actually be able to draw based on your residency status and points, you will have to ctrl+f the exact hunt code you want because the draw odds table is about 1000 pages long. And finally, pick your units apply, and get after it.

Draw odds:
2020 - https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Hunting/BigGame/Statistics/Elk/2020ElkDrawRecap.pdf
2019 - https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Hunting/BigGame/Statistics/Elk/2019ElkDrawRecap.pdf
2018 - https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Hunting/BigGame/Statistics/Elk/2018ElkDrawRecap.pdf

To find where to hunt exactly, look at google maps or satellite imagery, focus on aspen groves with adjacent dark timber. Wilderness abutting private agriculture with few roads is your best bet to find herds in later seasons. Anything above 9000ft close the continental divide or in ranges with 14k peaks will be covered in snow by third rifle, and the elk will be moving down due to weather if hunting pressure hasn't already caused them to move, so 7-8k eleveation on the boarder of private is where you start to see a lot of elk by the end of second rifle. The western slope will stay warm into later seasons though, and elk will stay higher longer; focusing on these areas with the combination of cliff bands and tight canyons with water and some green vegetation are where our trophies hide.

Have fun.

My honest recommendation for someone who is out of state and probably not ready for the insanity that is Colorado elk season, is do not hunt Colorado for elk. Wyoming, Idaho, northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, and Utah offer better bulls for less points with less hunters. I am starting to build points in these states in hopes of getting a trophy bull eventually, and I live in Colorado, so that should tell you something. If you don't mind the rat-race and crowded units to have an opportunity, or trying to hunt units with seemingly no elk what-so-ever in hopes of trying to find someone's honey hole, then Colorado is fine. Get on Youtube and look up Hushin and elk 101 channels. These guys hunt elk in Utah and Idaho a lot and take big six points all day, and you see them passing on five points or smaller six points routinely. Compare their bulls to the four point and five point bulls you see Newberg or Born and Raised Outdoors take in Colorado, or other Colorado hunts you see people posting - for the tags you can draw with zero to a couple points in Colorado, the bulls are way smaller, and we have CWD, and we have way more people. A lot of the rifle opportunities for big bulls are gone in Colorado.
 

bamban

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Joined
May 13, 2009
Messages
291
Location
Austin, TX
Good luck and hunt hard. Last year a group of 6 of us hunted public land. 5 bulls and one cow. First one was taken 10 minutes after legal shooting hours started the first day and the last one was taken 15 minutes before shooting hours ended on the last day. Get in shape beforehand. Sight in at altitude. Don’t use flashlights. Use good binoculars. Stay out as long as possible every day. 70 degrees first day and 6” of snow and windy the next. Enjoy as it is a wonderful experience.

For the first time I plan on joining friends in SW CO to go after elk. I am reading and learning all I can about hunting elk. This "Don’t use flashlights" caught my attention. Why is this so?
 

WeekendWarrior

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Joined
Mar 1, 2021
Messages
70
Location
United States
For the first time I plan on joining friends in SW CO to go after elk. I am reading and learning all I can about hunting elk. This "Don’t use flashlights" caught my attention. Why is this so?
Elk can see the light. Its pretty common to use red light headlamps instead as elk have issues seeing this color.
 

Caveman0101

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Joined
Mar 3, 2008
Messages
181
Location
Colorado
I was wondering about that is there any better units close to Avon we have a place to stay there in Avon but we don’t care to get a early start and drive if needed
Just to let you know, I live in the Vail Valley and I do not hunt elk here. Our local herd numbers have been cut in half over the last 10 years, fish and game can't seem to decide why exactly. BS, they've built houses everywhere the elk winter, they built fences to keep animals off the interstate. This also stops them from getting to better food sources in the winter. I know plenty of locals that hunt here, it is not impossible to get an elk here, but if you are going to spend out-of-state money I'd be looking for an area with more elk numbers. Also, the beetle kill is terrible in a lot of areas. We usually pack a chainsaw so we can cut our way to a downed elk. Just a heads up.
 

ann brezinski

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Joined
Feb 12, 2008
Messages
211
Location
pa
any one hunt moutain zierkle wildernes area i 2nd season.had friends hunt there before but the one has passed away.
 

KurtB

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Joined
Feb 11, 2004
Messages
674
Location
Colorado
Last bull we killed in second season there was 10-12" of snow on the ground. My adult son and I got him out in one trip. Left the hide on one hindquarter and actually drug that one out. Worked amazingly well. Had about a 5' piece of rope tied through the tendon. Was only about 2 miles or so but helped a bunch.

Enjoy the experience and if you happen to punch a tag, its all the better.
 

GDKinCO

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Joined
Oct 25, 2019
Messages
132
Location
Arvada, CO
Beetle kill timber has become a more serious problem as the years go by, in my opinion, in more ways than one. I'm sure many saw the news of the massive wildfires we had in Colorado last summer ... wonder why? Well DUH! 1,078 fires with a total of 625,356 acres burned. Over half a million acres of timber! And there's that much or more standing or downed beetle kill timber waiting for the next fire season.
I hunted a small area the last few years near Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs that I've hunted on and off for the last 35 years with some success. I watched the original smoke plumes tower up on the Troublesome fire when I was out scouting, and honestly feared it was between me and my vehicle. It wasn't, and this little area was spared from the fire. However, 3rd season was unusually windy, and I truly lost count of how many beetle kill trees I heard crashing down in the woods while trying to hunt. I counted 12 trees coming down that I could see while sitting. Those didn't bother me as bad as the ones I could hear but not see.
Kind of hard to concentrate on hunting when you're expecting to get flattened by a tree at any moment.
 
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Deleted member 107796

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For the first time I plan on joining friends in SW CO to go after elk. I am reading and learning all I can about hunting elk. This "Don’t use flashlights" caught my attention. Why is this so?

Hey, thanks for your service in the USAF!

I thought I'd add this... it's such a slippery slope moving on the dark, regardless of lights or no lights. Elk move in the dark very easily, if you happen to hike near them, they will sense that and move, perhaps not far, but they will move and if they make you out as smelling human, they will move far enough. We all have to do that at some point, so we keep it very slow. Just my 2 cents and good luck.
 
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