Outdoor Notebook: The quest for Colorado elk
About mid-July five of us were notified that we were successful in the draw for elk tags in Colorado. We had applied for tags during the second firearms elk season. When we first began elk hunting, we had been able to walk into a sport shop in Colorado and purchase elk licenses over the counter. That situation lasted for several years, but since so many hunters were buying tags, Colorado adopted a lottery system in certain areas.
We had drawn elk tags for the area where we enjoyed hunting three years ago, but since then we had simply received preference points. Our group was especially pleased to receive tags for this fall. Normally we apply for tags for the second rifle season since there are usually fewer hunters in that area of the mountains than there are during the first season.
As the date of our hunt drew closer, we kept the phone lines busy. Our group consisted of five of us from several locations in Wisconsin. Included were Mike Lange, who resides in Nekoosa, Dr. Dave Resen from Omro, our son-in-law, Shane Arneson from Chippewa Falls, of course the Osseo Jinx, Tom Twesme, from Osseo and this scribbler.
Dr. Dave was on his first big game hunt, and was using a borrowed rifle. Tom is an experienced elk hunter, logging 12 hunts. Mike was with us on six or seven previous hunts, and Shane was on his fifth hunt and has had tremendous success. During the previous three elk hunts he has killed a nice size bull each time. I have traveled to the Rocky Mountains to hunt elk 12 times.
We were well equipped for a comfortable hunt. Our shelter consisted of two white-wall tents, each 12×14 feet. They were joined end to end. A heavy-duty sheet of clear plastic was suspended above the canvas to keep rain and snow off. One tent was used for a sleeping area, and the other was used as a living area. We had a wood-burning furnace in the living area that usually burned out within an hour of crawling into the sleeping bags.
Our hunting season began on Saturday morning, however we set up camp on Thursday so we could get organized and somewhat accustomed to the altitude. Our camp was set up at 10,200 feet above sea level. Each of us had a tough time getting accustomed to the lack of oxygen at that elevation. I have always had a tough time at that height, and take a prescription that does help a bit. The first day or two I wondered why I do this.
On Saturday morning we spread out and sat for several hours in areas where we had seen elk on previous hunts. Our plan was to meet at camp, eat a hearty breakfast and lay a plan for the remainder of the day.
As we gathered for breakfast, Shane had a grin that one only gets after a successful hunt. He said that after sitting in his tree stand for an hour and a half, he watched a very nice sized bull elk enter the meadow that he was watching. He watched the bull until it stopped broadside. He shot, and his successful string stretched to four bull elk in four trips.
According to Shane’s GPS, the bull was located eight-tenths of a mile from where we could get a truck. We enjoyed a big breakfast, got our pack frames organized along with the tools we needed to butcher the bull, and took off.
The bull was piled up on an extremely steep slope against an aspen tree that prevented the elk from rolling further down the slope. It was time to begin the butchering process. The hindquarter was placed in a pack, and we watched as Shane began the packing out process. Dr. Dave followed close behind Shane with a front quarter in his pack.
By the time Shane and Dave returned, we had the remainder of the elk in packs. It was nearly 5 p.m. by the time we had the meat on the meat pole. The smaller cuts of meat were placed in a freezer that was powered by an electric generator. Obviously we pull a large trailer filled with all the equipment that we need. As we enjoyed a good supper, it was evident that we were five tired hunters!
Monday evening the weather radio reported that we could expect some rain and snow to move in. True to the forecast, it rained and blew Tuesday night, and we woke up to the sound of rain on the plastic over the tent.
Wednesday morning there was about two inches of snow on the ground. It snowed all that morning, and we ended up with six inches of wet snow. Our group missed two elk on Wednesday.
We agreed that Thursday would be the final day of our hunt. Much to our pleasure, we saw a lot of elk tracks in the new snow, and everyone saw elk on Thursday morning. While still-hunting back to camp, I found myself in the center of a small group of elk. The only shot I could get was at the rear of a cow. I passed up that shot.
Thursday evening I heard Tom shoot shortly before dark. He asked for help on the radio, and Shane hiked over to Tom to assist. I came out of the thick green growth to hear that Dr. Dave had also killed a huge cow elk.
Our plans immediately changed, and on Friday the entire day was spent packing out the two cows. Of course the success meant that our departure for Wisconsin was delayed by one day.
It may be interesting to our readers to learn that group hunting, which is permitted in Wisconsin, is not legal in Colorado. What that meant is that after traveling 1,200 miles and preparing for the hunt, Shane’s hunting was over after 11/2 hours. He spent the rest of the season without a gun in his hands.
At the beginning of the week I said that this was my last elk hunt. That proclamation has been amended to, “Let’s see how things look the next time we are drawn for elk tags.”
Elk hunting is a very demanding, difficult sport that is also very enjoyable.
Longtime Northwoods outdoors personality Roger Sabota writes a bi-monthly column appearing in the Star Journal.