What should you expect before you make your way West to chase bugling elk this fall? That’s a great question that every aspiring elk hunter should think about. I know that when I went, I had a picture in my mind of what it was and when I got to the Grand Mesa and chased these animals for a week, I realized that most of my expectations were way off. I thought I had trained enough, I thought that there would be elk everywhere and that they would be feeding in open meadows on hill sides, I thought it would be consistent weather and temperature, but the one expectation that I was right on the money was how beautiful it was.
To be able to put yourself in the best possible situation of harvesting an elk you need to be in shape. You need to have strong legs and you need to be able to calm yourself after climbing quickly to steady for a shot that you may only have seconds to take. The Rocky Mountains are tough. If you’re not living in the elevation there really is no way to get prepared for it. Just know that you will get winded and tired but if you’re in good shape, you will recover quicker.
I didn’t train enough with the weight of my pack. It’s imperative that you work the muscles all summer long that you are going to use climbing up and down with extra weight. The third day is the hardest day because day 1 finally catches up with you after day 2. Your legs will hurt, and you’ll be slower to get out of your bed, but once you push through that initial tiredness it will get easier as the day goes on. Also be prepared with headache medicine because altitude sickness is a real thing. I can’t stress enough how important being physically prepared for this hunt is.
Where are the elk?
The elk are in the thickest part of the mountain. They act like every other animal that is hunted. They hang out in hard-to-get spots and they hide extremely well. They hang out on steep hillsides, tightly woven aspen glades, and thick oak brush. This is why being able to calm yourself after a quick climb to shoot is important, because you may only get seconds to get on an animal before it disappears into darkness or behind trees. You need a shot in the vitals. I watched an elk get shot in the front quarter that ran 1000 yards and jumped a log that we were able to walk under.
Weather and Temperature
I was hunting the second rifle season in Colorado. The first day I went up the mountain, it was a beautiful 55-degree afternoon with the sun shining. The next morning we woke up to 20 degrees and climbing trails that were snow-covered, and it shortly warmed up to 60 degrees by midday. In a 6-day hunt, I faced rain, snow, cold, heat and wind. It was different every day and it changed quickly. Layering your clothing is a must. The Mossy Oak Sherpa Lined pants and vest were perfect for me. Having the lined vest allowed me to be comfortably warm in the mornings and allowed me to cool off quickly when the temperature rose. Packing rain gear is a must as well.
Take your time to take it all in. If you’re not from the mountains, the experience can be overwhelming. It’s pure beauty everywhere you look. Respect the scenery and enjoy the fact that you are one of few that get to experience chasing elk.