Article contributed by Field Staff Writer G. Thurman.
September in the high country of southern Colorado is an amazing yet harsh place. In its deep valleys and steep peaks live elk, mule deer, and big horn sheep. Elk is what brought me back to these mountains for the past five archery seasons. I look so forward to this hunt, throwing on a pack with everything needed for a week of hunting away from civilization makes for an arduous journey, but with great reward and mobility to hunt as many areas as possible.
As my hunting partner and I left the truck at the trailhead we had great optimism for the week ahead of us. We made a sparse spike camp after a three hour hike in, which gained us a couple thousand feet in elevation. Another friend of ours had already been up in the back country for three days and met us that evening as we planned the next morning’s hunt. Our optimism began to wane as he told us that he was not seeing the elk numbers we had in years past along with no bugling. It also seemed that our high country honey hole had been figured out by other hunters as we were seeing many more people than previous seasons. Still, we had the resolve to try and get on elk, just getting into this country is more work than any other hunt I do all year.
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The first morning I hunted alone, which I preferred since the elk were not talking. Still hunting very slow and quiet would give the best opportunity of spotting game. After hiking a half mile from our camp I hunted the perimeter of a peninsula that juts out between two massive drainages. Elk sign was abundant; massive trails that went every which way, tracks and piles of scat so fresh they were still warm, were every 20 yards. I thought to myself, I was going to get into elk for sure. By that afternoon I was perched on the edge of the peninsula looking at a herd of elk across the drainage. I knew where I wanted to be in the morning, but if the elk stayed in the steep chutes they were feeding in, there was no safe way to get to them. Elk are huge animals but their ability to feed and climb on rough dangerous terrain would impress even a mountain goat. I made it back to camp that night in the dark as I wanted to watch where those elk were going to bed, they had fed back up the drainage into a much more accessible area for the next morning’s hunt.
That night it rained and hailed like I have never experienced, riding this out in what amounted to a glorified tarp was terrifying, sleep did not come. The next morning we were awoke to snow falling and cold temperatures even though it was still in August. I was so thankful I had my First Lite wool clothes and good rain gear; I cannot even begin to explain how important good quality gear is when hunting in these conditions, it really can be a matter of life and death. We all made our way back out for the hunt with weather becoming increasingly worse as the day progressed. I spent most of this day in the dark timber trying to find elk to no avail. As I made my way back that evening I was thinking of every possible place in years past that might hold elk. I had hope my hunting partners had at least found elk. Getting into camp my two friends had a small fire going, a welcomed sight after a day filled with rain, sleet, and snow.
The third morning we decided to hunt the same area together in the hopes that even if we bumped elk, someone would get a shot opportunity. Unfortunately it was a repeat of the last two days; wet conditions and no elk. That evening we felt dejected at best, we had given this area all we had, but the elk just weren’t there. That night we had a discussion around the fire and came to the conclusion we were tired of hiking around with a bow hoping to run into something. We hatched a plan to try another unit on the west side of the continental divide. That next morning as I stared out over the basin we had camped in I thought to myself, we have to try something, but this might be the last time I look over this place for a very long time.