2021 Colorado 2nd Rifle DIY Review: Success and Lessons Learned by a New Elk Hunter

ejsto

Junior Member
Joined
Sep 13, 2021
Messages
11
Hey everyone, I've been lurking here the past couple of years, and have yet to post but have done a ton of reading and learning. This year, I hunted CO OTC for the second year and as my second ever elk hunt, and was successful! I credit ya'll here at Rokslide for a lot of the learning that I've done over the past couple years, so I figured I'd post some lessons I learned, as well as try to get some feedback on a few mistakes I made along the way. I live in the southeast and a born and raised whitetail hunter, so I do understand basic hunting concepts. I am also an avid hiker/backpacker and have spent weeks in the backcountry out west, so I at least did have the advantage of understanding how to handle things in the backcountry. I was not at all familiar with elk or elk hunting except for what I've seen online or on the TV, so I did have a pretty decent starting point - I understood backcountry hiking/backpacking and know the basics of hunting cervids, but pretty much started from scratch on elk in particular.

First, here's a rundown of the hunt: My buddy and I headed west the Wednesday before the rifle started and reached the area we designated as our base camp on Friday morning. Our plan was to get our base camp set up and in order, then backpack up a ridge adjacent to our camp and spike camp for the first 3 days of the season. We took off up the ridge that Friday afternoon and hiked in about 1.5 miles. The hike-in took much longer than expected due to tons of beetle-kill deadfall littering the ridge, so we ended up reaching our first spike camp right at dusk. I had extensively scouted this area using google maps and onX and decided on a couple of spots down the ridge where we would try to glass the valley and adjacent hillside over the next few days, so we set up camp for the night with the expectation to glass from the opposite side of the ridge the next morning. We get to our glassing spot the next morning on opening day, and as the sun is rising, I realize that this ridge is not going to be great to glass from because it is shrouded in pine, blocking our views of the valley below. We start scouting the ridge (which consists of a series of several saddles) for sign and realize that each saddle is covered in very fresh elk sign (elk droppings, bedding areas that reek of elk, rubs on trees). Now, I feel like we have two potential choices: 1. head back to base camp and move to plan b in order to glass larger areas or 2. stay and hunt the ridge itself... We decide to stay on the ridge since we are in an area where elk definitely frequent, but we feel like we have blown out this saddle with our scent and movement. We decide to use the day Saturday to slowly move down the ridge to a saddle that we have not scouted, but assume is full of sign like the previous 2 saddles. We end up deciding to hunt it the next morning, basically using a tree stand strategy, setting up at the highpoint of one side of the saddle and hunting over the saddle, which runs about 250 yards. We get to our spot Sunday morning about 1 hour before first light. As the morning progresses, we aren't seeing any elk. Feeling discouraged, I pull out onX and start scouting other nearby areas. Then at 9:30am, I see movement across the other side of the saddle. A herd of 5 elk, 3 cows and 2 bulls, come filtering up onto the saddle. I am literally in disbelief that we are seeing elk and that we may have an opportunity for a shot. It's a dream come true. They end up moving directly toward us and I get a shot off at the smaller of the 2 bulls (a 4x4) at about 100 yards, where he moves about 10 yards and drops. We spend the next 2 days packing out the meat and moving it to our coolers at base camp and a third day to retrieve our spike camp and antlers. My legs are busted to s**t from the deadfall and we ended up running very short on water by the end of the hunt, due to there being no water sources on the ridge, so we are worn out by the time we get to base camp, but still, I am absolutely elated to have killed my first elk.

IMG_1041.jpeg
  • First off, some tools that I used to scout and learn the basics of elk hunting. onX and google earth are indispensable mapping software if you are scouting from across the country and cannot get boots on the ground before the season. Just remember, boots on the ground will give you a real idea of the lay of the land. I would not have expected to glass from the ridge if I had seen it in person prior to the hunt. Also, the elk101 course by Corey Jacobsen was absolutely worth the cost. I did not use it my first year out, and thought I understood the basics of elk hunting, but purchased elk101 before my hunt this year and it made me realize how lost I actually was last year. If you want the basics of elk hunting consolidated in an easy-to-consume and use platform, get elk101.
  • It cannot be overstated how helpful it is to get off the trail or road and get away from other hunters. We base-camped at the end of a forest service road surrounded by at least 5 other camps full of multiple hunters. Once we got about 1.5 to 2 miles in on the ridge, we did not see one hunter the 3 days we were out. It also "helped" that this ridge was littered with beetle-kill deadfall, making the hike-in difficult and likely keeping other hunters away. Like Randy Newberg says, if you see an area and you think, man I would hate to pack an elk out of there, then that's where you need to be.
  • When you find elk or get into fresh elk sign, stay the course, even if it means adjusting your original strategy. Finding the elk seems to be the most difficult part of hunting public land. Once you find them, develop a strategy, and stay on them.
  • Plan your spike camps around a water source if possible. Not doing this was the most dangerous mistake we made. We entered the woods on Friday with 4 liters of water each, as well as water treatment systems, but it was not enough because there were no water sources along the ridge. By the time I killed my elk on Sunday, I was already pretty dehydrated from trying to ration my water over the days, and then I had to pack a load of meat back to base-camp with no water. Once we made it back to base-camp, we were both pretty severely dehydrated. We will not make that mistake again.
  • A good hunting-specific backpack is not necessary, but definitely worth it if you have the money. I used my Osprey Atmos 65 L that I use for my backpacking trips, and it was definitely serviceable, but my buddy used a Mystery Ranch Metcalf, and the meat shelf overload feature was amazing. It would have saved us an extra trip to retrieve our camp if I would have had one too because I could have had room for the meat plus the camp gear. Needless to say, I was impressed with it and ordered one on cyber Monday.
  • Make sure you have ample cooler space and enough room for your gear, plus elk heads. You would think this would be common sense, but we brought along a Pelican 50 qt and a RTIC 65 qt and just barely had enough space for the meat. If we shot two, we would have had to buy another cooler, and somehow made room for that and 2 elk heads. Plan ahead when it comes to having enough space for your mounts in your vehicle if you plan on riding home with them.
Lastly, I'd like to ask for some feedback concerning future hunts.
  1. We have met several guys over the last 2 years who claim to have hunted certain areas for decades and always had luck. I'm wondering if this area could become that for me. There were old rubs, new rubs, fresh droppings and established game trails all over this area. I understand that changes in weather and hunting pressure year-to-year could have an effect on the area, but overall, does anybody here have a similar area that they hunt successfully every year?
  2. When I make it back to hunt next year, should I hunt these saddles in a step-wise manner, hunting each saddle each day over a period of several days? Since each saddle seems to foster elk activity, this seems like the best strategy, but just wanted to see what y'all thought.
  3. How far do y'all typically spike camp from a water source? The nearest to us was about a half mile, so not too far, but being on the ridge, it would have been a hellacious half mile climbing over deadfall there and back up the steep ridge. Also, how many days in a row do you spike camp?
 

Gerbdog

Well Known Rokslider
Joined
Jun 8, 2020
Messages
532
Location
CO Springs
Firstly! Congrats!

Second: Man i dunno how you managed on so little water for that time... your correct: that was the scariest thing you did. Different water needs for different people i spose.

your questions :
1. Could be a great area, you already know there are elk there during the time period you hunted this year. No guarantees for next year , and all you can do is go back and check, and even areas guys have been hunting for "20 years with success every year" could dry up the next year they go... just no guarantees with elk hunting.

2. Same answer as number 1 basically, you never know what saddle they will be in, you move until you find them.

3. I spike down close to water (not right on it though) but usually within hearing distance of the running water. I also drink a ton of water when im hunting so .... there is that. I can drink through in a single day what you brought for the entire trip haha....
 

JacobW

Junior Member
Joined
Jun 21, 2020
Messages
30
Hey everyone, I've been lurking here the past couple of years, and have yet to post but have done a ton of reading and learning. This year, I hunted CO OTC for the second year and as my second ever elk hunt, and was successful! I credit ya'll here at Rokslide for a lot of the learning that I've done over the past couple years, so I figured I'd post some lessons I learned, as well as try to get some feedback on a few mistakes I made along the way. I live in the southeast and a born and raised whitetail hunter, so I do understand basic hunting concepts. I am also an avid hiker/backpacker and have spent weeks in the backcountry out west, so I at least did have the advantage of understanding how to handle things in the backcountry. I was not at all familiar with elk or elk hunting except for what I've seen online or on the TV, so I did have a pretty decent starting point - I understood backcountry hiking/backpacking and know the basics of hunting cervids, but pretty much started from scratch on elk in particular.

First, here's a rundown of the hunt: My buddy and I headed west the Wednesday before the rifle started and reached the area we designated as our base camp on Friday morning. Our plan was to get our base camp set up and in order, then backpack up a ridge adjacent to our camp and spike camp for the first 3 days of the season. We took off up the ridge that Friday afternoon and hiked in about 1.5 miles. The hike-in took much longer than expected due to tons of beetle-kill deadfall littering the ridge, so we ended up reaching our first spike camp right at dusk. I had extensively scouted this area using google maps and onX and decided on a couple of spots down the ridge where we would try to glass the valley and adjacent hillside over the next few days, so we set up camp for the night with the expectation to glass from the opposite side of the ridge the next morning. We get to our glassing spot the next morning on opening day, and as the sun is rising, I realize that this ridge is not going to be great to glass from because it is shrouded in pine, blocking our views of the valley below. We start scouting the ridge (which consists of a series of several saddles) for sign and realize that each saddle is covered in very fresh elk sign (elk droppings, bedding areas that reek of elk, rubs on trees). Now, I feel like we have two potential choices: 1. head back to base camp and move to plan b in order to glass larger areas or 2. stay and hunt the ridge itself... We decide to stay on the ridge since we are in an area where elk definitely frequent, but we feel like we have blown out this saddle with our scent and movement. We decide to use the day Saturday to slowly move down the ridge to a saddle that we have not scouted, but assume is full of sign like the previous 2 saddles. We end up deciding to hunt it the next morning, basically using a tree stand strategy, setting up at the highpoint of one side of the saddle and hunting over the saddle, which runs about 250 yards. We get to our spot Sunday morning about 1 hour before first light. As the morning progresses, we aren't seeing any elk. Feeling discouraged, I pull out onX and start scouting other nearby areas. Then at 9:30am, I see movement across the other side of the saddle. A herd of 5 elk, 3 cows and 2 bulls, come filtering up onto the saddle. I am literally in disbelief that we are seeing elk and that we may have an opportunity for a shot. It's a dream come true. They end up moving directly toward us and I get a shot off at the smaller of the 2 bulls (a 4x4) at about 100 yards, where he moves about 10 yards and drops. We spend the next 2 days packing out the meat and moving it to our coolers at base camp and a third day to retrieve our spike camp and antlers. My legs are busted to s**t from the deadfall and we ended up running very short on water by the end of the hunt, due to there being no water sources on the ridge, so we are worn out by the time we get to base camp, but still, I am absolutely elated to have killed my first elk.

View attachment 353597
  • First off, some tools that I used to scout and learn the basics of elk hunting. onX and google earth are indispensable mapping software if you are scouting from across the country and cannot get boots on the ground before the season. Just remember, boots on the ground will give you a real idea of the lay of the land. I would not have expected to glass from the ridge if I had seen it in person prior to the hunt. Also, the elk101 course by Corey Jacobsen was absolutely worth the cost. I did not use it my first year out, and thought I understood the basics of elk hunting, but purchased elk101 before my hunt this year and it made me realize how lost I actually was last year. If you want the basics of elk hunting consolidated in an easy-to-consume and use platform, get elk101.
  • It cannot be overstated how helpful it is to get off the trail or road and get away from other hunters. We base-camped at the end of a forest service road surrounded by at least 5 other camps full of multiple hunters. Once we got about 1.5 to 2 miles in on the ridge, we did not see one hunter the 3 days we were out. It also "helped" that this ridge was littered with beetle-kill deadfall, making the hike-in difficult and likely keeping other hunters away. Like Randy Newberg says, if you see an area and you think, man I would hate to pack an elk out of there, then that's where you need to be.
  • When you find elk or get into fresh elk sign, stay the course, even if it means adjusting your original strategy. Finding the elk seems to be the most difficult part of hunting public land. Once you find them, develop a strategy, and stay on them.
  • Plan your spike camps around a water source if possible. Not doing this was the most dangerous mistake we made. We entered the woods on Friday with 4 liters of water each, as well as water treatment systems, but it was not enough because there were no water sources along the ridge. By the time I killed my elk on Sunday, I was already pretty dehydrated from trying to ration my water over the days, and then I had to pack a load of meat back to base-camp with no water. Once we made it back to base-camp, we were both pretty severely dehydrated. We will not make that mistake again.
  • A good hunting-specific backpack is not necessary, but definitely worth it if you have the money. I used my Osprey Atmos 65 L that I use for my backpacking trips, and it was definitely serviceable, but my buddy used a Mystery Ranch Metcalf, and the meat shelf overload feature was amazing. It would have saved us an extra trip to retrieve our camp if I would have had one too because I could have had room for the meat plus the camp gear. Needless to say, I was impressed with it and ordered one on cyber Monday.
  • Make sure you have ample cooler space and enough room for your gear, plus elk heads. You would think this would be common sense, but we brought along a Pelican 50 qt and a RTIC 65 qt and just barely had enough space for the meat. If we shot two, we would have had to buy another cooler, and somehow made room for that and 2 elk heads. Plan ahead when it comes to having enough space for your mounts in your vehicle if you plan on riding home with them.
Lastly, I'd like to ask for some feedback concerning future hunts.
  1. We have met several guys over the last 2 years who claim to have hunted certain areas for decades and always had luck. I'm wondering if this area could become that for me. There were old rubs, new rubs, fresh droppings and established game trails all over this area. I understand that changes in weather and hunting pressure year-to-year could have an effect on the area, but overall, does anybody here have a similar area that they hunt successfully every year?
  2. When I make it back to hunt next year, should I hunt these saddles in a step-wise manner, hunting each saddle each day over a period of several days? Since each saddle seems to foster elk activity, this seems like the best strategy, but just wanted to see what y'all thought.
  3. How far do y'all typically spike camp from a water source? The nearest to us was about a half mile, so not too far, but being on the ridge, it would have been a hellacious half mile climbing over deadfall there and back up the steep ridge. Also, how many days in a row do you spike camp?
Great job man.
 
OP
E

ejsto

Junior Member
Joined
Sep 13, 2021
Messages
11
Firstly! Congrats!

Second: Man i dunno how you managed on so little water for that time... your correct: that was the scariest thing you did. Different water needs for different people i spose.

your questions :
1. Could be a great area, you already know there are elk there during the time period you hunted this year. No guarantees for next year , and all you can do is go back and check, and even areas guys have been hunting for "20 years with success every year" could dry up the next year they go... just no guarantees with elk hunting.

2. Same answer as number 1 basically, you never know what saddle they will be in, you move until you find them.

3. I spike down close to water (not right on it though) but usually within hearing distance of the running water. I also drink a ton of water when im hunting so .... there is that. I can drink through in a single day what you brought for the entire trip haha....
Thanks for the response. Would you think scouting the saddle first in order to not waste time hunting it with no fresh sign or not risk entering the area beforehand and disturbing elk and setting up over the saddle in the morning, then if no activity, scout it mid day and move on if needed?
 

gilby

Well Known Rokslider
Joined
Feb 27, 2018
Messages
104
Location
Minnesota
Congratulations on the bull! Having a water source close by is huge. My first year hunting we didn't have one and the rationing of water definitely lead us to be worn out more. This past year we all carried 4liters to drink throughout the day.
 

Gerbdog

Well Known Rokslider
Joined
Jun 8, 2020
Messages
532
Location
CO Springs
Thanks for the response. Would you think scouting the saddle first in order to not waste time hunting it with no fresh sign or not risk entering the area beforehand and disturbing elk and setting up over the saddle in the morning, then if no activity, scout it mid day and move on if needed?
Great question with what im sure are a lot of opinions on how to do it "right":, are we talking scouting weeks in advance or scouting the morning of? If the morning of: i would do the 2nd option, get up top, glass as much as you can, and midday take a trip down and see what the sign looks like.

If you can scout it out weeks in advance well.... sure cant hurt to know there were or werent elk there at that time.... elk hunting can be tricky in that light. You can make decisions and think you have the best plan laid out and then the elk decided 2 days before you arrived to hunt them they were moving drainages, or that drainage you scouted that had no elk sign at all suddenly has a herd living in it that week.
 

FLShooter293

Junior Member
Joined
Sep 12, 2021
Messages
30
Thanks for the info. I went for the first time this year with a group that has been going for 20+ years and collecting waypoints. They have been very successful over that time and you can see by the groups of waypoints marked as a kill that the elk frequent the same areas year after year. I would give those saddles a shot next year.
Definitely going to check out elk 101. Thanks again
 

NickyD

Member
Joined
Sep 24, 2020
Messages
55
Location
Denver, CO
Congrats on the bull!

I’m still trying to get my first bull, but based on my experience with elk and deer it seems like they do return to the same areas. It might not be every year but if anything just use that location as a starting point. If you don’t see as much sign in the future, just go check out another spot after you think you’ve done the area justice.

As for the water situation I have a few suggestions:

1. Get dehydrated foods that don’t require much water. Peak refuel meals require half of what mountain house uses

2. Add drink packets and vitamins/nutrients that help with hydration. Potassium helps with hydration

3. Add fruits and vegetables to your backcountry diet. While not calorically dense, these are refreshing foods that will help keep you motivated. And while they are perishable, they will last at least a few days in the backcountry, especially during rifle season

4. Calculate how much water you believe you’ll need on a hunt and hike it all in. Think about how much you’d need day one packing in, an average day (multiply by # of days out), and a day of packing an elk out. Add it all up and add 10%. You’ll probably end up with quite a lot of weight but I’ve done it and it sure beats running out of water and going back to the car. I’d also rather add a few hours of hard work packing it in and not having to waste time during the hunt looking for water. Plus if you can’t handle packing in an extra 20-30 pounds of water to your spot, you’re probably too far from the car for packing an elk out 😂
 

jthreeidaho

Junior Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2021
Messages
14
I continue to go back to a spot I have seen elk for the last five years or so. They are not there every time I go but there is always sign and it is in their travel path. I think that there are a lot of variables that push them around but I'd bet that there are several areas where the elk feel safe enough to continue to frequent. Only one way to find out if they are in that area again....
 

Laramie

Well Known Rokslider
Joined
Apr 17, 2020
Messages
1,866
Hey everyone, I've been lurking here the past couple of years, and have yet to post but have done a ton of reading and learning. This year, I hunted CO OTC for the second year and as my second ever elk hunt, and was successful! I credit ya'll here at Rokslide for a lot of the learning that I've done over the past couple years, so I figured I'd post some lessons I learned, as well as try to get some feedback on a few mistakes I made along the way. I live in the southeast and a born and raised whitetail hunter, so I do understand basic hunting concepts. I am also an avid hiker/backpacker and have spent weeks in the backcountry out west, so I at least did have the advantage of understanding how to handle things in the backcountry. I was not at all familiar with elk or elk hunting except for what I've seen online or on the TV, so I did have a pretty decent starting point - I understood backcountry hiking/backpacking and know the basics of hunting cervids, but pretty much started from scratch on elk in particular.

First, here's a rundown of the hunt: My buddy and I headed west the Wednesday before the rifle started and reached the area we designated as our base camp on Friday morning. Our plan was to get our base camp set up and in order, then backpack up a ridge adjacent to our camp and spike camp for the first 3 days of the season. We took off up the ridge that Friday afternoon and hiked in about 1.5 miles. The hike-in took much longer than expected due to tons of beetle-kill deadfall littering the ridge, so we ended up reaching our first spike camp right at dusk. I had extensively scouted this area using google maps and onX and decided on a couple of spots down the ridge where we would try to glass the valley and adjacent hillside over the next few days, so we set up camp for the night with the expectation to glass from the opposite side of the ridge the next morning. We get to our glassing spot the next morning on opening day, and as the sun is rising, I realize that this ridge is not going to be great to glass from because it is shrouded in pine, blocking our views of the valley below. We start scouting the ridge (which consists of a series of several saddles) for sign and realize that each saddle is covered in very fresh elk sign (elk droppings, bedding areas that reek of elk, rubs on trees). Now, I feel like we have two potential choices: 1. head back to base camp and move to plan b in order to glass larger areas or 2. stay and hunt the ridge itself... We decide to stay on the ridge since we are in an area where elk definitely frequent, but we feel like we have blown out this saddle with our scent and movement. We decide to use the day Saturday to slowly move down the ridge to a saddle that we have not scouted, but assume is full of sign like the previous 2 saddles. We end up deciding to hunt it the next morning, basically using a tree stand strategy, setting up at the highpoint of one side of the saddle and hunting over the saddle, which runs about 250 yards. We get to our spot Sunday morning about 1 hour before first light. As the morning progresses, we aren't seeing any elk. Feeling discouraged, I pull out onX and start scouting other nearby areas. Then at 9:30am, I see movement across the other side of the saddle. A herd of 5 elk, 3 cows and 2 bulls, come filtering up onto the saddle. I am literally in disbelief that we are seeing elk and that we may have an opportunity for a shot. It's a dream come true. They end up moving directly toward us and I get a shot off at the smaller of the 2 bulls (a 4x4) at about 100 yards, where he moves about 10 yards and drops. We spend the next 2 days packing out the meat and moving it to our coolers at base camp and a third day to retrieve our spike camp and antlers. My legs are busted to s**t from the deadfall and we ended up running very short on water by the end of the hunt, due to there being no water sources on the ridge, so we are worn out by the time we get to base camp, but still, I am absolutely elated to have killed my first elk.

View attachment 353597
  • First off, some tools that I used to scout and learn the basics of elk hunting. onX and google earth are indispensable mapping software if you are scouting from across the country and cannot get boots on the ground before the season. Just remember, boots on the ground will give you a real idea of the lay of the land. I would not have expected to glass from the ridge if I had seen it in person prior to the hunt. Also, the elk101 course by Corey Jacobsen was absolutely worth the cost. I did not use it my first year out, and thought I understood the basics of elk hunting, but purchased elk101 before my hunt this year and it made me realize how lost I actually was last year. If you want the basics of elk hunting consolidated in an easy-to-consume and use platform, get elk101.
  • It cannot be overstated how helpful it is to get off the trail or road and get away from other hunters. We base-camped at the end of a forest service road surrounded by at least 5 other camps full of multiple hunters. Once we got about 1.5 to 2 miles in on the ridge, we did not see one hunter the 3 days we were out. It also "helped" that this ridge was littered with beetle-kill deadfall, making the hike-in difficult and likely keeping other hunters away. Like Randy Newberg says, if you see an area and you think, man I would hate to pack an elk out of there, then that's where you need to be.
  • When you find elk or get into fresh elk sign, stay the course, even if it means adjusting your original strategy. Finding the elk seems to be the most difficult part of hunting public land. Once you find them, develop a strategy, and stay on them.
  • Plan your spike camps around a water source if possible. Not doing this was the most dangerous mistake we made. We entered the woods on Friday with 4 liters of water each, as well as water treatment systems, but it was not enough because there were no water sources along the ridge. By the time I killed my elk on Sunday, I was already pretty dehydrated from trying to ration my water over the days, and then I had to pack a load of meat back to base-camp with no water. Once we made it back to base-camp, we were both pretty severely dehydrated. We will not make that mistake again.
  • A good hunting-specific backpack is not necessary, but definitely worth it if you have the money. I used my Osprey Atmos 65 L that I use for my backpacking trips, and it was definitely serviceable, but my buddy used a Mystery Ranch Metcalf, and the meat shelf overload feature was amazing. It would have saved us an extra trip to retrieve our camp if I would have had one too because I could have had room for the meat plus the camp gear. Needless to say, I was impressed with it and ordered one on cyber Monday.
  • Make sure you have ample cooler space and enough room for your gear, plus elk heads. You would think this would be common sense, but we brought along a Pelican 50 qt and a RTIC 65 qt and just barely had enough space for the meat. If we shot two, we would have had to buy another cooler, and somehow made room for that and 2 elk heads. Plan ahead when it comes to having enough space for your mounts in your vehicle if you plan on riding home with them.
Lastly, I'd like to ask for some feedback concerning future hunts.
  1. We have met several guys over the last 2 years who claim to have hunted certain areas for decades and always had luck. I'm wondering if this area could become that for me. There were old rubs, new rubs, fresh droppings and established game trails all over this area. I understand that changes in weather and hunting pressure year-to-year could have an effect on the area, but overall, does anybody here have a similar area that they hunt successfully every year?
  2. When I make it back to hunt next year, should I hunt these saddles in a step-wise manner, hunting each saddle each day over a period of several days? Since each saddle seems to foster elk activity, this seems like the best strategy, but just wanted to see what y'all thought.
  3. How far do y'all typically spike camp from a water source? The nearest to us was about a half mile, so not too far, but being on the ridge, it would have been a hellacious half mile climbing over deadfall there and back up the steep ridge. Also, how many days in a row do you spike camp?
Congratulations on the success.

I have hunted elk since the 80s. Many of my elk have come from honey holes. They don't produce every year but they have produced consistently enough to keep me coming back. I now have 10 such areas that I hunt with regularity. I always end up finding elk in one of them. I would encourage you to understand why you found elk where you did. Once you figure that out, try to identify other areas that are similar. This allows you to develop plan B, C, etc... Eventually you will need backup plans. In my experience, hunting pressure in surrounding areas has been the biggest key to understand why elk are where they are.

Always camp within reasonable distance to water or have a plan to stage water jugs in the area you want to hunt ahead of time.
 

specneeds

Member
Joined
Aug 8, 2021
Messages
69
Congratulations on the bull nice job. Yes you may kill lots of elk in the same place I’m over 10 in my opening day spot. Some years they zig when I zag & I guess wrong every time. You will love the backpack for hauling meat.

I never scout my honey holes right before season except by glassing if possible. I use the time to scout new areas for when elk aren’t where you expect.

We bring enough coolers - pack duffles in them on the way out so when filled with meat we can pack other stuff in the truck.
 

Operator

Well Known Rokslider
Joined
Jan 7, 2022
Messages
145
Location
Southern Illinois
Thanks for posting your experience, this year I am going on my first elk hunt, at 66 and taking a 17yr grandson these tips and advice are greatly appreciated.
 

simpsonhntr

Junior Member
Joined
Dec 23, 2019
Messages
21
Hey everyone, I've been lurking here the past couple of years, and have yet to post but have done a ton of reading and learning. This year, I hunted CO OTC for the second year and as my second ever elk hunt, and was successful! I credit ya'll here at Rokslide for a lot of the learning that I've done over the past couple years, so I figured I'd post some lessons I learned, as well as try to get some feedback on a few mistakes I made along the way. I live in the southeast and a born and raised whitetail hunter, so I do understand basic hunting concepts. I am also an avid hiker/backpacker and have spent weeks in the backcountry out west, so I at least did have the advantage of understanding how to handle things in the backcountry. I was not at all familiar with elk or elk hunting except for what I've seen online or on the TV, so I did have a pretty decent starting point - I understood backcountry hiking/backpacking and know the basics of hunting cervids, but pretty much started from scratch on elk in particular.

First, here's a rundown of the hunt: My buddy and I headed west the Wednesday before the rifle started and reached the area we designated as our base camp on Friday morning. Our plan was to get our base camp set up and in order, then backpack up a ridge adjacent to our camp and spike camp for the first 3 days of the season. We took off up the ridge that Friday afternoon and hiked in about 1.5 miles. The hike-in took much longer than expected due to tons of beetle-kill deadfall littering the ridge, so we ended up reaching our first spike camp right at dusk. I had extensively scouted this area using google maps and onX and decided on a couple of spots down the ridge where we would try to glass the valley and adjacent hillside over the next few days, so we set up camp for the night with the expectation to glass from the opposite side of the ridge the next morning. We get to our glassing spot the next morning on opening day, and as the sun is rising, I realize that this ridge is not going to be great to glass from because it is shrouded in pine, blocking our views of the valley below. We start scouting the ridge (which consists of a series of several saddles) for sign and realize that each saddle is covered in very fresh elk sign (elk droppings, bedding areas that reek of elk, rubs on trees). Now, I feel like we have two potential choices: 1. head back to base camp and move to plan b in order to glass larger areas or 2. stay and hunt the ridge itself... We decide to stay on the ridge since we are in an area where elk definitely frequent, but we feel like we have blown out this saddle with our scent and movement. We decide to use the day Saturday to slowly move down the ridge to a saddle that we have not scouted, but assume is full of sign like the previous 2 saddles. We end up deciding to hunt it the next morning, basically using a tree stand strategy, setting up at the highpoint of one side of the saddle and hunting over the saddle, which runs about 250 yards. We get to our spot Sunday morning about 1 hour before first light. As the morning progresses, we aren't seeing any elk. Feeling discouraged, I pull out onX and start scouting other nearby areas. Then at 9:30am, I see movement across the other side of the saddle. A herd of 5 elk, 3 cows and 2 bulls, come filtering up onto the saddle. I am literally in disbelief that we are seeing elk and that we may have an opportunity for a shot. It's a dream come true. They end up moving directly toward us and I get a shot off at the smaller of the 2 bulls (a 4x4) at about 100 yards, where he moves about 10 yards and drops. We spend the next 2 days packing out the meat and moving it to our coolers at base camp and a third day to retrieve our spike camp and antlers. My legs are busted to s**t from the deadfall and we ended up running very short on water by the end of the hunt, due to there being no water sources on the ridge, so we are worn out by the time we get to base camp, but still, I am absolutely elated to have killed my first elk.

View attachment 353597
  • First off, some tools that I used to scout and learn the basics of elk hunting. onX and google earth are indispensable mapping software if you are scouting from across the country and cannot get boots on the ground before the season. Just remember, boots on the ground will give you a real idea of the lay of the land. I would not have expected to glass from the ridge if I had seen it in person prior to the hunt. Also, the elk101 course by Corey Jacobsen was absolutely worth the cost. I did not use it my first year out, and thought I understood the basics of elk hunting, but purchased elk101 before my hunt this year and it made me realize how lost I actually was last year. If you want the basics of elk hunting consolidated in an easy-to-consume and use platform, get elk101.
  • It cannot be overstated how helpful it is to get off the trail or road and get away from other hunters. We base-camped at the end of a forest service road surrounded by at least 5 other camps full of multiple hunters. Once we got about 1.5 to 2 miles in on the ridge, we did not see one hunter the 3 days we were out. It also "helped" that this ridge was littered with beetle-kill deadfall, making the hike-in difficult and likely keeping other hunters away. Like Randy Newberg says, if you see an area and you think, man I would hate to pack an elk out of there, then that's where you need to be.
  • When you find elk or get into fresh elk sign, stay the course, even if it means adjusting your original strategy. Finding the elk seems to be the most difficult part of hunting public land. Once you find them, develop a strategy, and stay on them.
  • Plan your spike camps around a water source if possible. Not doing this was the most dangerous mistake we made. We entered the woods on Friday with 4 liters of water each, as well as water treatment systems, but it was not enough because there were no water sources along the ridge. By the time I killed my elk on Sunday, I was already pretty dehydrated from trying to ration my water over the days, and then I had to pack a load of meat back to base-camp with no water. Once we made it back to base-camp, we were both pretty severely dehydrated. We will not make that mistake again.
  • A good hunting-specific backpack is not necessary, but definitely worth it if you have the money. I used my Osprey Atmos 65 L that I use for my backpacking trips, and it was definitely serviceable, but my buddy used a Mystery Ranch Metcalf, and the meat shelf overload feature was amazing. It would have saved us an extra trip to retrieve our camp if I would have had one too because I could have had room for the meat plus the camp gear. Needless to say, I was impressed with it and ordered one on cyber Monday.
  • Make sure you have ample cooler space and enough room for your gear, plus elk heads. You would think this would be common sense, but we brought along a Pelican 50 qt and a RTIC 65 qt and just barely had enough space for the meat. If we shot two, we would have had to buy another cooler, and somehow made room for that and 2 elk heads. Plan ahead when it comes to having enough space for your mounts in your vehicle if you plan on riding home with them.
Lastly, I'd like to ask for some feedback concerning future hunts.
  1. We have met several guys over the last 2 years who claim to have hunted certain areas for decades and always had luck. I'm wondering if this area could become that for me. There were old rubs, new rubs, fresh droppings and established game trails all over this area. I understand that changes in weather and hunting pressure year-to-year could have an effect on the area, but overall, does anybody here have a similar area that they hunt successfully every year?
  2. When I make it back to hunt next year, should I hunt these saddles in a step-wise manner, hunting each saddle each day over a period of several days? Since each saddle seems to foster elk activity, this seems like the best strategy, but just wanted to see what y'all thought.
  3. How far do y'all typically spike camp from a water source? The nearest to us was about a half mile, so not too far, but being on the ridge, it would have been a hellacious half mile climbing over deadfall there and back up the steep ridge. Also, how many days in a row do you spike camp?
Congrats,
A diy elk is quite the accomplishment.
 

TXJacob

Junior Member
Joined
Jan 4, 2022
Messages
14
Thank you for the info, currently planning my first western elk hunt and information like this is really helping me make decisions.
 

GunnersMate

Junior Member
Joined
Jul 29, 2020
Messages
13
Hey everyone, I've been lurking here the past couple of years, and have yet to post but have done a ton of reading and learning. This year, I hunted CO OTC for the second year and as my second ever elk hunt, and was successful! I credit ya'll here at Rokslide for a lot of the learning that I've done over the past couple years, so I figured I'd post some lessons I learned, as well as try to get some feedback on a few mistakes I made along the way. I live in the southeast and a born and raised whitetail hunter, so I do understand basic hunting concepts. I am also an avid hiker/backpacker and have spent weeks in the backcountry out west, so I at least did have the advantage of understanding how to handle things in the backcountry. I was not at all familiar with elk or elk hunting except for what I've seen online or on the TV, so I did have a pretty decent starting point - I understood backcountry hiking/backpacking and know the basics of hunting cervids, but pretty much started from scratch on elk in particular.

First, here's a rundown of the hunt: My buddy and I headed west the Wednesday before the rifle started and reached the area we designated as our base camp on Friday morning. Our plan was to get our base camp set up and in order, then backpack up a ridge adjacent to our camp and spike camp for the first 3 days of the season. We took off up the ridge that Friday afternoon and hiked in about 1.5 miles. The hike-in took much longer than expected due to tons of beetle-kill deadfall littering the ridge, so we ended up reaching our first spike camp right at dusk. I had extensively scouted this area using google maps and onX and decided on a couple of spots down the ridge where we would try to glass the valley and adjacent hillside over the next few days, so we set up camp for the night with the expectation to glass from the opposite side of the ridge the next morning. We get to our glassing spot the next morning on opening day, and as the sun is rising, I realize that this ridge is not going to be great to glass from because it is shrouded in pine, blocking our views of the valley below. We start scouting the ridge (which consists of a series of several saddles) for sign and realize that each saddle is covered in very fresh elk sign (elk droppings, bedding areas that reek of elk, rubs on trees). Now, I feel like we have two potential choices: 1. head back to base camp and move to plan b in order to glass larger areas or 2. stay and hunt the ridge itself... We decide to stay on the ridge since we are in an area where elk definitely frequent, but we feel like we have blown out this saddle with our scent and movement. We decide to use the day Saturday to slowly move down the ridge to a saddle that we have not scouted, but assume is full of sign like the previous 2 saddles. We end up deciding to hunt it the next morning, basically using a tree stand strategy, setting up at the highpoint of one side of the saddle and hunting over the saddle, which runs about 250 yards. We get to our spot Sunday morning about 1 hour before first light. As the morning progresses, we aren't seeing any elk. Feeling discouraged, I pull out onX and start scouting other nearby areas. Then at 9:30am, I see movement across the other side of the saddle. A herd of 5 elk, 3 cows and 2 bulls, come filtering up onto the saddle. I am literally in disbelief that we are seeing elk and that we may have an opportunity for a shot. It's a dream come true. They end up moving directly toward us and I get a shot off at the smaller of the 2 bulls (a 4x4) at about 100 yards, where he moves about 10 yards and drops. We spend the next 2 days packing out the meat and moving it to our coolers at base camp and a third day to retrieve our spike camp and antlers. My legs are busted to s**t from the deadfall and we ended up running very short on water by the end of the hunt, due to there being no water sources on the ridge, so we are worn out by the time we get to base camp, but still, I am absolutely elated to have killed my first elk.

View attachment 353597
  • First off, some tools that I used to scout and learn the basics of elk hunting. onX and google earth are indispensable mapping software if you are scouting from across the country and cannot get boots on the ground before the season. Just remember, boots on the ground will give you a real idea of the lay of the land. I would not have expected to glass from the ridge if I had seen it in person prior to the hunt. Also, the elk101 course by Corey Jacobsen was absolutely worth the cost. I did not use it my first year out, and thought I understood the basics of elk hunting, but purchased elk101 before my hunt this year and it made me realize how lost I actually was last year. If you want the basics of elk hunting consolidated in an easy-to-consume and use platform, get elk101.
  • It cannot be overstated how helpful it is to get off the trail or road and get away from other hunters. We base-camped at the end of a forest service road surrounded by at least 5 other camps full of multiple hunters. Once we got about 1.5 to 2 miles in on the ridge, we did not see one hunter the 3 days we were out. It also "helped" that this ridge was littered with beetle-kill deadfall, making the hike-in difficult and likely keeping other hunters away. Like Randy Newberg says, if you see an area and you think, man I would hate to pack an elk out of there, then that's where you need to be.
  • When you find elk or get into fresh elk sign, stay the course, even if it means adjusting your original strategy. Finding the elk seems to be the most difficult part of hunting public land. Once you find them, develop a strategy, and stay on them.
  • Plan your spike camps around a water source if possible. Not doing this was the most dangerous mistake we made. We entered the woods on Friday with 4 liters of water each, as well as water treatment systems, but it was not enough because there were no water sources along the ridge. By the time I killed my elk on Sunday, I was already pretty dehydrated from trying to ration my water over the days, and then I had to pack a load of meat back to base-camp with no water. Once we made it back to base-camp, we were both pretty severely dehydrated. We will not make that mistake again.
  • A good hunting-specific backpack is not necessary, but definitely worth it if you have the money. I used my Osprey Atmos 65 L that I use for my backpacking trips, and it was definitely serviceable, but my buddy used a Mystery Ranch Metcalf, and the meat shelf overload feature was amazing. It would have saved us an extra trip to retrieve our camp if I would have had one too because I could have had room for the meat plus the camp gear. Needless to say, I was impressed with it and ordered one on cyber Monday.
  • Make sure you have ample cooler space and enough room for your gear, plus elk heads. You would think this would be common sense, but we brought along a Pelican 50 qt and a RTIC 65 qt and just barely had enough space for the meat. If we shot two, we would have had to buy another cooler, and somehow made room for that and 2 elk heads. Plan ahead when it comes to having enough space for your mounts in your vehicle if you plan on riding home with them.
Lastly, I'd like to ask for some feedback concerning future hunts.
  1. We have met several guys over the last 2 years who claim to have hunted certain areas for decades and always had luck. I'm wondering if this area could become that for me. There were old rubs, new rubs, fresh droppings and established game trails all over this area. I understand that changes in weather and hunting pressure year-to-year could have an effect on the area, but overall, does anybody here have a similar area that they hunt successfully every year?
  2. When I make it back to hunt next year, should I hunt these saddles in a step-wise manner, hunting each saddle each day over a period of several days? Since each saddle seems to foster elk activity, this seems like the best strategy, but just wanted to see what y'all thought.
  3. How far do y'all typically spike camp from a water source? The nearest to us was about a half mile, so not too far, but being on the ridge, it would have been a hellacious half mile climbing over deadfall there and back up the steep ridge. Also, how many days in a row do you spike camp?
Congrats on your bull! You should look into the collapsible water storage options. Platypus makes a lightweight one. You can keep water at base camp and fill those when you navigate to your spike camp! I also second carrying electrolytes.
 

Old-Cat

Junior Member
Joined
Jan 9, 2022
Messages
26
Location
The South
Good stuff, your story is encouraging. I'm considering an OTC trip to Colorado with my son-in-law this year. Neither of us have been before and at appears this route would be the best way to get our feet wet.

As an aside, I'm thankful I stumbled across this forum, this place is a wealth of knowledge.
 

Sloth

Junior Member
Joined
Jan 15, 2022
Messages
19
Thanks for sharing!

I’m similar to you - long time lurker and this year I’m planning my first western hunt. This is helpful.
 
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