My experiences in the mountains chasing elk do not reflect what you see on many outdoor TV shows. There are likely areas where bugling bulls are around every corner and multiple shot opportunities arise in a day, but my blog won't be talking about those areas. No, for me, it's been miles of hiking with intermittent calling sequences, and periods of sitting over waterholes only to go back to camp exhausted and no sighting of an elk.
Each hunt I have been on has had at least one elk within shooting distance but for whatever reason the encounter was brief and no tags had been punched. This can be the reality of bowhunting elk on public land in OTC areas. One should be prepared for this reality before embarking on your adventure. I've heard it said "elk live where elk live". You can scour google earth all you want, you can do all the research you want, you can talk to all the biologists you want, but if the elk aren't around, there's very little you can do about it. A harsh reality is that you may put in a ton of work and not see a thing. This is where having a Plan B, C and even D comes in handy. Believe me it stinks going through all that effort to get your gear in only to realize this isn't going to work and we have to start over, but the alternative is there could be a whole pile of elk just down the road.
The physical demands of elk hunting are many. Admittedly I've never gotten into "elk shape" but do try to exercise and at least get conditioned for the rough work ahead. Where we hunt it's a 3000 foot elevation gain over 3 miles from the trailhead to the top of the mountain where elk like to hang out. That's quite a hike just to get into position to start hunting. Then you can expect to put on a handful of miles each day, often times working through deadfall, slick grass, and crumbling rocks. I've not yet experienced it but a day is coming when I'll have to be prepared to pack out a couple hundred pounds of meat through the same treacherous terrain. That's a lot to ask out of a body. Remember these aren't your deer woods that sit on a few hundred acres, these are thousands of acres of thick timber. You don't get anywhere very fast in the mountains, so be prepared for long days.
I'll admit that my first elk hunt was overwhelming. I was not at all prepared mentally for the challenges of the mountain. Physically I've been in just good enough shape to make my way around, but mentally, there are many obstacles I wasn't prepared for. First is simply being away from ones family. In our area there is no cell phone service, there is no internet, there is no Facebook, and there is no catching up on Husker football news. Call me a sissy, but missing out on saying goodnight to your wife and kids for several days in a row can be pretty taxing. This is where I learned that renting a satellite phone is a worthy investment. It's a nice piece of mind knowing that your loved ones can call you should something happen at home. It's also nice just to check in and share the days events.
There is also mother nature to contend with. That's a fight you just can't win. In the photo above you can see Jay Novak of Lincoln and I spent a significant amount of time climbing up a peak to get to a glassing point only to watch a storm roll in and dump hail on us. It was obvious things were going to get bad and we needed to get right back down off that peak. That "wasted" effort can be pretty deflating. You may recall in 2013 Colorado received record rainfall and flooding. Well guess who was right in the heart of that mess, this guy. It rained on us non-stop the entire week we were there. We had a hard time getting dried out. Our clothes were wet, our gear was wet, and it was almost impossible to start a fire to dry us out. Without a good partner to keep you focused and persevere, it's easy to call it quits early on a trip like that. We took a day off in the middle of our trip, went to town, did laundry, had a good meal and went back up the next morning with renewed spirits. I recommend not being afraid to sacrifice one day to save the rest of the trip should you run into similar obstacles. All three of my hunts have had at least one brutal rainstorm with high winds roll through leaving us confined to our tents or camp. Another reality of elk hunting is weather can shut down your plans fast.
On day two of my first hunt in 2011 my partner CJ Novak of Brainard drew back his bow in camp to make sure everything was intact and ready. As bad luck would have it his D-loop broke essentially causing him to dry fire his bow. The strings popped off rendering the bow useless. It took nearly two hours for myself, CJ, and Jay Canada of Hastings to finally get that bow back together, and put a new D loop on and sight the bow back in. Fortunately we had enough foresight to bring along some spare tools to get us back in the game. These things happen. On the same trip I slipped and fell on the way down the mountain and didn't realize until I got back to camp that I had broken 3 of 4 arrows in my quiver and lost the fourth leaving me no arrows to hunt with. Fortunately Jay went back up our descent trail and found 1 single arrow that I could use keeping me in the game. Now that's a partner.
The elk have all the advantages in this game. Admitting that, and knowing you are in for a long, grueling contest, and surrounding yourself with quality, hard-nosed, never quit partners just might make the difference between success and quitting early guaranteeing you an empty tag.
I hope you've enjoyed my thoughts on what I've gone through and what I do in preparing for a hunt. Hopefully you can put these words to use and get out on a similar adventure soon. Check in next week as the events of my 2015 elk hunt unfold.
The Budget Bowhunter