[Elk rut in RMNP by Estes Park. Photo: mark byzewski] Elk are one of the most sought after big game animals you’ll be able to find in the United States. And more than one person has taken a trek to Colorado to see how they can fare.
If you’re planning on gearing up and heading out you should be aware that it’s not quite as “easy” as when you’re gunning for white tail. Instead there’s a whole lot of extra issues you’ll need to prepare for while Colorado elk hunting.
Elk Hunting in Colorado
It’s all about proper preparation. Know your gear, know the local laws, know the land. Be safe and enjoy your time hunting in Colorado. Here are some of my favorite tips for a successful elk hunt.
Get Ready for Elevation
One of the biggest differences in hunting elk from most of the forest dwelling quarry that hunters chase after is pretty simple: elk country is hiking country. If you’re planning on bringing one back, you’d better be in shape and prepare accordingly.
Keep in mind that altitude sickness is very real and the symptoms can leave you with a whole lot of nagging, irritating symptoms. These include headaches and fatigue. If you’re heading in form a lower state, then in addition to being in shape you may want to spend a little bit of time acclimating yourself.
This can mean spending a couple of days in a motel above 6,500 feet, or just taking it easy for the first couple of days if you’re planning a longer trip.
Colorado Hunting Tags
Of course, you can’t just show up and start shooting. You’ll also need to make sure that you have the proper tags in order. These get pretty expensive, especially if you’re coming in from out of state, but they’re fairly easy to purchase.
The big thing to remember is that you have to plan the whole affair quite carefully to make sure you’re not breaking any laws. Check with the rangers in the area you’re planning on hunting in if you have any questions, it’ll definitely make things a lot easier on your end. Make sure you stay in your hunting zone.
Elk Hunting Season
In-state hunters will need a valid Colorado Hunter Safety card, along with the proper tag. The 2017 seasons varies by choice of archery, muzzleloading or rifle. Archery is first, followed by muzzleloading and rifle last.
- Deer/elk/moose Aug. 26 to Sept. 24, 2017
Muzzleloading (draw only):
- Deer/elk/moose Sept. 9 to 17, 2017
- Separate limited elk (1st season) Oct. 14-18
- Combined deer/elk (2nd season) Oct. 21-29
- Combined deer/elk (3rd season) Nov. 4-12
- Combined limited deer/elk (4th season) Nov. 15-19
All the big season dates can be found on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website.
Hunting on Public Land vs. Using a Guide
A small tidbit: not everyone who goes out hunting for elk is going to get one. It’s a numbers game and the usual success rate per tags bought in Colorado is about 20%. Even the most experienced, careful hunter really isn’t guaranteed success.
Of course, using a guide can increase your chances of success quite a bit. When you hire one they’ll generally know the area you’re in and the animals much better than any non-resident and since it’s their job to get you to the animals and their reputation is staked on it in most cases, it’s a good idea to try one out.
Hiring a guide can also cost thousands of dollar at the end of the day.
If you’re planning on trying for yourself on public land and you’re just used to less vigorous types of hunting you might be in for a shock. Set aside a week or two, gear up a backpack, and get ready to spend some time in the backcountry.
Your chances of success will increase exponentially the farther you get from roads, and there’s plenty of public land to go around in the state.
Some General Tips for Hunting Elk
– It’s not just a matter of sitting behind your hunting rifle’s scopein a stand. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re not on private land where you’ve carefully nurtured the local elk population and have set up blinds or stands around the property.
– This means you’ll need to know your quarry, and if you’re coming in from out of state you probably don’t have the benefit of having scouted year-round.
– Spend the first half of your trip carefully scouting out the area, looking for signs of elk. Don’t take an unsure shot. Elk spook easily and you might spend the rest of your trip without a single sighting if you screw up too much.
– During the rutting season you might get away with spooking a bull, but don’t count on it.
– Elk have a matriarchal structure, meaning they’re led by an old female, so if you spot a herd there’s something extra to keep in mind: spooking the big momma elk is going to ruin your trip and is something to definitively avoid.
– Your main advantage is the fact that you know you’re on a hunt but the elk don’t. Don’t lose that advantage for an unsure thing.
– Once you have the right area, you also need to make sure that you have a clear shooting lane. Quite often the areas the animals will inhabit can be filled with dense brush and other obstructions. Try to figure out a way to pull them in from a predictable angle with a clear line of sight.
– Be wary of using calls too much as well, elk are remarkably good at spotting a fake and it will alert them to danger instead of bringing in an unwary animal if you’re not judicious about how you use them.
Regardless of whether or not you manage to fill your freezer and score a huge pair of antlers, elk hunting in Colorado is bound to be a good time. Weigh the above carefully before you dedicate yourself to a trip and you’ll be on the right path.
Remember that there’s always next year if you don’t bring down the big one on this trip. Be safe, and happy hunting!