You have been looking forward to this for a long time, your first Colorado Elk hunt. You drew your tag, practiced shooting all summer, are in shape, are equipped with the latest blaze orange hunting gear, and are ready to hit the road.
But have you prepared your vehicle for winter in the mountains of Colorado? Weather and driving conditions in the mountains catch people off guard every year. What should you expect, and how should you prepare your vehicle for these sometimes challenging conditions?
What should you expect? We usually get our first snow in late September to early October. This early snow typically melts or burns off in a few days, leaving behind a layer of slimy mud that can gum up the best off road tires. That dry road you drove up this morning may be impassible by the end of the day.
Second rifle season is when we start seeing snow that sticks until spring. This heavy wet snow usually comes down hard for a day or so, and then it’s nice for a week or more. The snow is hard packed and well frozen by morning, and then slowly gets soft and mushy as the day progresses. As the snow melts the underlying dirt turns to mud. This mud / snow mix gets softer as people drive over it during the day. Snow in the later seasons tends to stay frozen (not melt during the day), and can run from hard packed, almost ice to very cold and dry.
Let’s start with the basic truck setup. It should be in good order, preferably a 4x4. The tires should have good tread left, and be properly inflated. Make sure the fluids are topped off, including the windshield wiper fluid.
Run a couple of bottles of gas dryer through your rig on the way out. The temps can get pretty darned cold up in the mountains, and any water in the line quickly freeze up and blocks the fuel flow. This is especially true if you come from the more humid states. Add a bottle at your last stop before heading up the mountain for some additional security.
Consider putting your vehicle in 4x4 as soon as you see the road conditions worsen. You should be ok as long as the wheels can ‘spin’ a bit. Do not leave the truck in 4x4 on dry pavement, serious damage to the drive train will occur.
Here is the first thing you need to know about driving in the mud or snow. Slow down! A truck in 4 wheel drive is still subject to the laws of nature. Test the road conditions by slowing way down, then tapping on the brakes. Remember you are here to enjoy yourself, no need to rush.
When should you put your tire chains on? It depends on the road conditions, but I normally start thinking about them if the snow is up to the axle (4 to 8 inches), or if the mud is making it difficult to steer. With a single set of chains you need to decide which axle to put them on. I usually start with the rear axle, adding the second set on the front axle when I need them. Immediately stop and readjust your chains if you hear them hitting the wheel wells. Failure to do so can cause serious damage to your vehicle.
Practice installing your chains at home on a good day. There are at least two good reasons for this. One to make sure you have the right size, the second is to make sure you know how all of the connectors work (including the chain tighteners). Do not take the rig for a test drive on pavement; you will damage both the chains and the road.
Like the tire chains, you should take the time to learn how to use your high lift jack before hitting the road. Make sure you know (and practice) lifting and lowering your vehicle. Lifting your truck in a driveway provides great support for the jack base, but the side of the road may not. Having a short piece of 2x4 or ‘off-road base’ to place under the base should provide the additional surface area to keep the base from slipping. Using a Lift Mate accessory simplifies the connection to the wheel.
But even the prepared hunter sometimes gets stuck. First access the situation. Is the vehicle ok? How stuck are you (high centered, in a ditch, deep in a mud hole, etc.)? What equipment or help do you have?
Lets assume you under estimated the depth of a hole or rut, and find yourself highcentered. Using your high lift jack, you lift the tire that is spinning freely and stack a bunch of rocks, trees, etc. to fill the hole.
You find that lifting your vehicle doesn’t release your truck enough to get it out. This is where a tree saver, come along and tow strap come into play. Using a tree as an anchor, you connect one end of the come along cable to a tree saver (wrapped around your anchor point), with the other end connected either to your truck / chain or tow strap (if you need the extra length). Ratchet the come along slowly to pull your vehicle from the hole. This may need to be repeated several times until you are free.
Finally, you may have a fellow hunter come along and offer to pull you out. After getting hooked up, roll your windows down so you can hear your spotter. You may find that placing the vehicle in gear and giving it some gas helps get your out. The biggest risk here is accelerating to quickly out of the hole and hitting your tow truck. Let them do most of the work, using the power to your wheels to steer rather than extract your vehicle. Listen to your spotter, he or she will be responsible for letting the tow truck operator and you know what is happening and when you can let up on the gas.
Now for the worst scenario, you are really stuck, the weather is terrible, and it’s getting late. Don’t leave your vehicle! Your survival kit will keep you warm for the night. By morning your contact person should have contacted the authorities, and they will start looking for you. Don’t get in a hurry to leave your vehicle, it is a lot easier to find from the air than you on foot. Blowing snow may quickly cover your tracks if you head cross country.
The following checklist is a good starting high country driving kit.
| Jumper cables
|High lift jack with base support
|Shovel (snow and spade)
||Sand bags for weight and traction|
|Snow and ice scrapper
A trip to the high country in the winter to chase your favorite big game species can be a rewarding experience. Be prepared, test your equipment before hitting the road, and slowing down can make all the difference in your ability to reach your hunting area safely, or having to wait for a tow truck.