This post continues our series on Colorado archery elk hunting. Get the best hunting stories and strategies to fuel your motivation and prepare for your next adventure.
There are definite advantages to hunting elk with a team. Your strengths work in concert with the aptitudes of the group, while your weaknesses are minimized, thanks to the skills of your companions. But the true value in hunting with a team comes not from the tactical advantages it provides, nor from the fact that all members of the group share in the joy of a successful hunt. It is the bonds you’ll make and the friendships you’ll forge while tracking this elusive game, which make hunting with a group the pleasure that it is.
Taking an elk with a bow is one of the most difficult tasks hunters undertake, but with sufficient archery skills, an understanding of elk biology and a sound strategy, you can succeed.
There are a few different elk bowhunting strategies. One thing is common among them, however. Bowhunters must stalk their prey, going unnoticed until the elk are only 30 to 40 yards away. Only then do bowhunters have a good chance of dropping a 700-pound elk with an arrow. Compare this to rifle hunting, and you’ll realize the challenge, and the thrill, that this game of stealth and patience provides. Hunters lugging rifles into the wilderness, for instance, often like to set up a firing position and then glass the area thoroughly. Because of the firepower they brandish, rifle-armed hunters may enjoy a target zone that stretches for 300 yards or more. Bowhunters fail to enjoy such a luxury, limited to a range 10 percent of that distance.
Accordingly, bowhunters must embrace a stealthy approach. Some like to pattern elk over a course of several days and then set up an ambush point along one of their regular routes. In the rugged Colorado terrain, this can be grueling work. Make sure you’re prepared. Other hunters like to use an elk call, to lure bulls into range. When working with a partner, it is often best to move into your shooting position, and then have your companion call the bull in while set up 10 to 20 yards behind you. With luck, this will draw the rut-enraged elk right by your hiding place, offering a high-percentage shot.
Despite the emphasis many elk hunters place on stealth, it is often helpful to create additional noise when trying to call elk. Large creatures like elk make a lot of noise while bugling, so it is often helpful to thrash a stick through some dead leaves or stomp on the ground a few times, as elk often do.
No matter the elk hunting strategy you’ve employed, the type of call you used or the type of broadheads you selected before leaving home, these considerations disappear when a glorious bull moves into view. From this point forward, all your theorizing, plotting and strategizing goes out the window, and you lock in on the elk. It is just the two of you, and the rest of the world fades away.
You peer through your binoculars, watching the bull slowly climb the hill. You have higher ground, but the wind is blowing straight down the slope. You only hope that he won’t pick up your scent until he is within range. But as soon as you see him pause and raise his nose in the air, you know there is a problem. He’s picked up your scent, and will come no closer. A moment later, he swings around to the left and heads off into a thicket of dense trees.
Watching a trophy bull come into view and then slide away without offering you a shot is always disappointing, but it is part of hunting. If you harvested every animal you saw, the sport wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable. It wouldn’t be an activity that appealed to a true nomad.
You encounter another bull a few hours later. Unlike the last, this one is approaching from upwind. You release your arrow once he comes into range, but you are forced to watch in horror as it sails over the elk’s back. He is spooked, but unharmed, and he trudges off into the forest, where he’ll remain safe for another day.
Failure is a bitter pill, and it makes your climb up the next three Colorado “hills” all the more exhausting. But this hunt isn’t just about you. It’s about your partners too. It’s your turn to call and help draw in a trophy for your companion.
Taking up a position behind your partner, you raise your mouth call and begin to cow call. It takes the better part of an hour, but eventually, you see a gigantic elk making his way across the terrain. Once he moves into range, your partner draws back and lets an arrow fly.
The shot is perfect, and hits the elk right through the vitals. For a split second, you feel a twinge of jealousy, but that quickly gives way to joy, as you celebrate the victory with your partner. Seeing the elation on his face is nearly as satisfying as making the shot yourself.
But the work isn’t done yet. Now, you must track the elk. And despite their large size, elk can be very difficult to find after a successful shot. Locating your quarry will take all of your observational powers and patience.
Sun fading and temperatures dropping, you must work fast. Equipped with the finest performance outdoor gear available, you don’t fear the cold. You are ready to stay out in the forest all night if that’s what it takes to find and clean the fallen elk. You scan the snow for tracks, look for blood on the trunks of white-barked aspens and check the tips of firs for a bit of your elk’s fur.
Finally, you pick up his trail. A few minutes later, the beam of your flashlight crosses the carcass—you’ve found your quarry. You take a moment to pay your respects to the noble creature before kneeling to field dress him. An hour later, you have disassembled the animal and strapped the meat to your pack. Covered in blood, sweat, snow and fur, you set off on the grueling trip back to camp.
But while you pack out the meat up one crest or another, you hardly grow fatigued. This hunt has filled you with emotion, and you can’t wait to get back and share in the joy with the entire group.
Walking back, you reflect on the trip: The last few days in the wilderness have changed you. They’ve made you a better hunter, a better hunting partner, and, most importantly, a better person.
They’ve made you a better nomad.
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