You have decided you are going on an elk hunt in Colorado this year. You have your big game brochure, and you lean back in your easy chair and begin to visualize your hunt. I know that when I get that brochure and open it up for the first time, I am almost giddy with anticipation. My mind starts racing, and I run through all the possibilities of what this season could bring.
While I can’t remember every harvest I've ever made, I can tell you that many of my fondest memories have been made at hunting camp. Some of them have been the stories spun around a campfire. Other stories were about how the elk weren’t acting the way we wanted them to but boy, did we get into the trout that year! One of the best meals I have ever had in camp was the year we weren’t seeing elk so we decided to go shoot some rabbits for stew.
It's the little things that can make or break a hunt. Many hunters become “driven” by the need to harvest an elk, making the hunt more about the harvest than the opportunity to enjoy the experience. In the end it's really just about the experience of getting there. I urge everyone to think outside of the box as you plan your hunt.
This "think outside the box" concept is all about looking to maximize the time you'll spend in the woods and enjoy it to the fullest potential. I have a couple of examples which highlight opportunities to help you plan an enjoyable experience.
A Big Game Combination Hunt
The first hunt I want you to consider is an elk hunt combined with another big game species, like deer or bear. This hunt requires extra planning in the license application portion of your overall plan.
You will need to look at the regulations and consider which units allow you to apply for both. Also consider which license options will give you the best opportunity to obtain both licenses. You can use either the limited draw application, the over the counter option or find a leftover license.
So let’s look at a scenario: You want to hunt elk as a primary choice, but you have never had the opportunity to harvest a black bear. Let’s build a scenario to explain how that can be done.
You like the terrain of the northern Colorado region in Unit 14. This unit is available as an Unlimited Rifle Unit for Elk during the second season (Oct 22 – 30) and an Over the Counter with CAPS bear license (BE004U2R). Unit 14 has an option to apply for a cow elk license (EF01402R) as a list B license during the draw.
You could apply for the cow license in the limited draw, plan to purchase an Unlimited Bull License (if you draw a cow tag or not) and plan to purchase the over the counter bear license. Think it through as you read this short story example:
I spoke to a hunter who was recounting his 2010 elk hunt. Armed with just his bull elk tag, he was in northern Colorado and hunting hard to find a bull. It was a tough hunt. Finding the cow elk was pretty easy, but the bulls were hard to find. As he crested a small hill, he finally spotted a good bull in the distance. He moved toward the bull in his stalk, and a few hundred yards into the game, he found a large chocolate colored black bear rummaging in the service berries, unaware of the hunter's presence- about 200 yards away.
With no bear license, the chance to harvest a quality bear turned quickly to a watching wildlife experience. The hunter knew if he busted the bear, the bull elk would head over the hill as well. In the end, there was no harvest, but in its place, there was a commitment to invest in a black bear license so the opportunity would not be lost again.
Few states offer habitat that elk, bear and deer all occupy in the same general area. Consider the options and think about the big game combination option.
The Elk/Small Game Option
Elk hunting is a tough hunt for most hunters and will be the focus of their effort. But as with the comment on big game habitat, there are a number of small game species who share the same ground. Consider taking along a shotgun, small caliber rifle or bow and adding small game to the hunting plan.
If we still use the Unit 14 scenario- with your elk license in hand, add a small game license to your wallet ($21 resident or $56 nonresident), and take the opportunity to hunt some species that can make the whole hunt more enjoyable. Dusky (Blue) Grouse inhabit much of the same early season terrain as elk. They are a good-sized bird which can be hunted without a dog.
Coyote, fox squirrel and rabbits are all in legal season during late October. For the hunter who ventures into the field during the third season, badger, pine martin, red fox, ring-tailed cat and grey fox can be added to the list of small game species which can fill the midday with hunting opportunities. They can also be added to legal harvest during the scouting trip in some cases.
Check the small game brochure and expand your hunt with the species that are in season.
Fishing for Supper
The Rocky Mountains have some of the finest trout streams and high mountain lakes in the world. Spin fishing with small silver spoons or fly fishing with a wet or dry fly can not only add to the enjoyment of the mountain experience but also provide a flavorful meal for the camp.
Recall the basics of elk habitat as Food, Water and Cover. Where there is water in the mountains, there is a good possibility of trout. Rainbow, brook trout, and brown trout all inhabit the mountain lakes and streams. A lightweight fly rod or spinning rod fits neatly in a backpack and can provide a unique addition to your elk hunt.
A resident fishing license costs $26.00. Buy it as a fishing/small game combination license for $41.00 and chase a blue grouse too. A nonresident can buy a five day license for $21.00. Take a look at the fishing regulations brochure.
CPW provides a good number of resources to identify fish, suggests places to go and even provides some insight into the type of lure or fly to use.
Make it work for YOU
When you are planning this year's elk hunt, I encourage you to consider everything the high country can offer. Imagine the memories you can take from this combination experience. Anytime you go to the woods, take the time to look at ways to expand your trip and relieve stress.
The whole point of these adventures is to get away from the day to day grind. If you are taking your son or daughter for the first time, remember that small game or fishing options can be a positive addition to the tough work of an elk hunt. It can turn hunting into something they want to do with you for the rest of their lives.
Think about your options, put a plan together and look at all the possibilities. Take a minute to kick back in that easy chair and daydream. It’s half the fun of the planning process!