If many of you know me well enough, you know I have a passion for hunting. Just like fishing, this passion overwhelms me to the point that I obsess over it. I plan and prepare months ahead of time. Making sure I have everything I need to make my hunt the best. And just like fishing, there are plenty of times that the “Big One” doesn’t happen to show up. Deer, Turkey, wild Hog, and Waterfowl are my main targets, but Elk is by far one of my favorites, especially Elk hunting with a bow. The excitement of Elk hunting during the rut, is to me, one of the most adrenaline rushing experiences a hunter can have. Hearing the bugle of a big bull nearby makes me as excited as seeing a big Blue Marlin hot in the spread.
Now Elk roam quite a vast area in North America. From New Mexico to Canada, they dwell in higher elevations mostly along the Rocky Mountain chain. I have many friends that have their favorite spots they like, but for me I really enjoy Colorado. Colorado boasts the most Elk population in America than any other state. A big animal, Elk stand as tall as a horse, run as fast as a deer, and are as agile as a mountain goat, and have senses better than almost any animal on planet Earth. Males can exceed 700 pounds and have antlers over 5 feet long. Their meat is outstanding compared to venison, and to me is comparable to buffalo. Very lean and if prepared correctly, is very tasty. many people make into burger, roast, cube steak, and sausage. I love it all, even the jerky, and just like fish, nothing gets wasted. I will say say though, I enjoy hunting for the experience in the outdoors more than the kill itself. this is why I love Colorado so much.
A Mountain Paradise
The place I like to go is just outside of Aspen. Years ago I met a fellow named Jim who came to Key West to fish for Tarpon with me. Born and raised in the mountains, Jim is extremely knowledgeable, and a very avid hunter himself. Might I tell you his house is a taxidermist dream. Animals from all shapes and sizes, and from all corners of the globe grace his walls. A true sportsman, Jim invited me up to hunt this very special place he grew up hunting. Over eight miles up into the mountains on horseback brings us to an elevation of over 10,000 feet above sea level. For most people this elevation makes them sick. Altitude sickness as it is commonly called can cause massive headaches, vomiting, and a strong likeness to sea-sickness, not good. This place is also not for the faint of heart. The hiking alone can test even the fittest individual, with steep grades and loose rocks, a slip and fall usually ends up with a tumble down and broken bones or even worse… so don’t fall!! My size at 6’5″ doesn’t help me out either, but my fearless instinct gives me a slight advantage, at least thats what I tell myself. This place however is one of the most gorgeous places on earth.
We set up camp in a valley just shy of four peaks. there is a creek, which flows very hard I might say, that runs down through the middle of the valley. Surrounded by these four peaks its almost as if we are in a bowl so to speak. most of our hunts take place a 1000 feet or so in elevation above us, so a good hike everyday sometimes two, will wear you out. Sleep is a very easily obtainable thing on these hunts as being wiped out is an everyday occurrence, and the sound of the rushing water of the creek helps out a lot. Large timber such as giant pines and aspens grow from the creek up the mountain a thousand feet in elevation or so. Above these pines are small rocky plateaus which rise up a few hundred feet more to cliffs which reach up to the peak. Amid the pines there are large avalanche slides in which all the trees are gone on the mountainside and laying in a pile in the valley, which is a Beavers paradise as well.
Archery season in Colorado starts in early September and runs through the month. The best of it though is when the rut starts which usually happens at the end of September. The “rut” as I call it is when the females come into their heat, and mating takes place. the bulls are all vying for the same cows so many fights take place during this time of year. The majority of these fights are vocal ones. Bugling is the most heard sound these bulls make and each one use this vocal expression for both locating cows that are ready to mate, or to scare off would be adversaries trying to take the cows for themselves. This sound is very loud and can be heard for hundreds of yards. It is basically like a “hey I’m over here and I’m bigger and badder than you” yell. This time of year can be the hunters advantage, as the bugle can be used to locate big bulls nearby. Once a big bull is located, then the stalk begins. Cows use a light call to keep in vocal contact with others called a “mew”. This “mew” does really sound that way and has a bit of variances to it. Whether keeping in contact with bulls, other cows, or calfs, the “mew” can have higher and lower pitch, and different lengths. Many manufacturers out there have devoted their lives to mimic these calls and sell them by the millions. Just like fishing lures, these calls come in all shapes, sizes, prices, and gimmicks. Some of these calls work very well with little experience necessary to use them whereas others can take years to master the sound reproduction. Once a bull has been located the sound of a cow can draw them closer, and in most cases within 50 feet or so. Many archers who get to take down an Elk do so with shots of less than 30 yards. These shots have to be taken very quickly, which can test even the best of archers. Believe me this aint no tree stand hunt! You need to be smart, wily, crafty, and most of all confident. This is why I love it so much! With that being said, I wish it was something I could do all the time. I envy those who live within miles of Elk country, the same way I’m sure they envy me being so close to big game fishing.
Now for the prep
With all the excitement comes much preparation. I spend literally months getting ready for the hunt. The mountains can be a tricky place to hunt so all angles need to be addressed. The weather is the biggest factor as the mountain climate is rarely consistent this time of year. Seriously the first time I went, it was 70 degrees in the afternoon while setting up camp, and that night it snowed 6 inches. Wow!! I didn’t know what to think then. Clothing is a major contributor to this preparation as both warm and cold weather clothing should be packed as well as good rain gear. Making sure all your gear is in tip top working condition “just like fishing” is a must as during the hunt fixes are rarely easy and can end your hunt as quickly as it started. Not only your gear but also its weight plays a huge factor. In our hunts we set up and take down our camp in hours and leave the wilderness looking as if it was untouched, and carrying all the gear needed is heavy and sometimes bulky. A good plan of attack should be well thought out in packing your gear. Somethings are necessities while others are just adding to a much heavier pack. I try not to pack anything that I don’t absolutely need. Nutrition plays a large part of both your survival as well as your pack weight. Food is also well thought out as big bulky items are not necessarily giving the best nutrition. There is a reason that “trail mix” is called this, and it truly is one of the best things you can bring on a hunt. Grains, nuts, dried fruits, and sometimes chocolate provide you with lots of useful energy, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Foods such as these can be packed in small places as well keeping the size and weight to a minimum. Obviously we don’t live live on trail mix for 7 days, but you get what I’m saying. The last thing you need is a bunch of boxes and trash to have to lug around. Many of my foods are taken out of its packages and repacked into vacuumed bags or zip locks. this keeps them fresh and less bulky while keeping down on the trash as well as the weight. As said before the mountain is a risky place, and with it there is danger. Many things can happen while in the mountain and precautions need to be taken. A satellite phone or a “Spot” as many hunters use are always a necessity. Being able to alert someone of a possible dangerous accident is a must. Getting lost, broken bones, or worse can all be reasons to need to call for a rescue. Survival begins before you ever leave your home. Being prepared for worst case scenarios is your duty as an outdoorsman, and if not taken seriously can be the difference between life or death…