Colorado elk bow hunting is different from hunting deer back east. Instead of sitting 20 feet up a tree, waiting for a whitetail to saunter under your stand, you’ll be mostly on your feet, prowling the vast Colorado landscape. You’ll be hoofing it up and down hills, tracking your quarry and carrying all your gear while doing so. The going will be touch, but when your target is the mighty Colorado elk, motivation is rarely a problem.
You can’t just hop off a plane and start trekking around the sprawling landscapes of the Western U.S. You must condition yourself for the challenges that lie ahead. You don’t want to get all the way out there and find that the thin air, steep hills and miles of terrain are too much to handle. Start training for your trip a few months in advance.
Lifting weights at the gym will help strengthen your muscles and improve your overall conditioning, but don’t just go in and start doing curls. You are trying to prepare your body for the grueling miles ahead—mountainous miles. Try to focus on cardio, and strengthen your legs, hips, glutes and back. These are the muscle groups that you’ll need the most in the rugged Colorado terrain.
Another great way to train for your elk-hunting trip is to load up your pack and climb hills or steps. This has the added bonus of giving you the chance to double-check your hunting gear and ensure it still fits comfortably.
With your body ready for the task ahead, it’s time to turn your attention to the gear you’ll need for success. Elk are immense creatures, so you’ll have to use a bow strong enough to drive an arrow through its thick hide and into its vitals. Minimally, this requires a bow with a peak draw weight of 50 to 60 pounds. A 70-pound model is preferable. Be sure to use low-resistance broad heads, which will slide into your target more easily.
You’ll also need a high-quality pair of binoculars to help you find the elk amid the terrain, and you’ll want a range finder to be sure your aim is true. The sheer size of a trophy bull often causes hunters to underestimate the distance between themselves and their quarry. Make sure you have the right elk hunting gear to land your game.
Other essential elk hunting gear to consider is your clothing and outerwear. Look for high-performance hunting clothing that will allow you to hunt with confidence. Elk archery hunting is an activity of the Autumn, but in this high, harsh land of thin air, the temperatures may have already plummeted. You’ll want to wear several breathable layers, and top everything off with a quality camouflage hunting jacket, headgear, performance pants and boots.
It’s important to have your gear in perfect working order, but remember that a bow is only as effective as its operator. So, make sure to set aside some time to practice on the range. Get comfortable with every step in the process—nock, draw, sight, breathe and release—without taking your eyes off the target. The vitals of an elk form a circle about 15 inches in diameter, so try to keep your shots within a 9-inch group to give yourself a little leeway. If you want your arrow to fly true in the presence of the beast, make sure your home target is full of well-grouped holes.
Treat every shot in practice like you are trying to down an elk in the field. Remember that you’ll need to be this accurate with your first arrow of the day, as hunting requires you to shoot “cold.”
The first time you step out into Colorado’s high desert, you can’t help but feel bewildered. Everything is different from the forests you hunt in back home. The sandy soil beneath your feet feels different than the heavy, clay soils of the east. The evergreen trees lining the river valleys also stand in stark contrast to hardwood forests, which currently would be displaying golds, reds and oranges of Autumn. Be sure your camo is right for the environment you’ll be in.
And then there’s the air. The thin, dry air of Colorado feels harsh in your lungs, which if you’re form the Southeast may be accustomed to the thick, damp air you breathe back home. Running lean like this taxes your body and challenges your resolve. But you’ll adapt to these conditions quickly enough. Nomads are nothing if not adaptable.
Despite your months of training, hoping and dreaming, you’ll never be fully prepared to see your first bull in the wild. And yet there he stands, the magnificent creature known to the Shawnee Indians as the wapiti. He’s a full-blown trophy, brandishing a 6-by-6 rack and 700-odd pounds of flesh, bone and hide.
You spot him at 100 yards away, but draw him in with a series of seductive calls. Your excitement grows once he closes to within 45 yards. You could take the shot at this distance, but you’d be far more comfortable if he’d just come 10 yards closer. As the distance between you dwindles, you wait for him to turn broadside. He obliges, and you swing your sight right behind his shoulder blade...
But just as you are about to squeeze the release, he shifts away from you. You no longer have the shot, and he’s decided to flee the scene. You curse yourself for hesitating, as the hunting guide’s words echo in your ears, “Take the shot when you get the chance. Elk don’t stay still for long.”
You won’t take an elk on this day, but you can’t help but feel optimistic. This is only the second day of the hunt, and you’ve already spotted an incredible beast. You’ll get a chance to see another, and next time, you won’t hesitate.
Nomads relish their mistakes, because they always learn from them.
Browse our collection of of Colorado elk hunting gear to ensure you're well-equipped for your next hunt.
Read the second part of our Colorado elk hunting story here.