Do-It-Yourself Elk

Editor-In-Chief Todd Smith on a do-it-yourself hunt for big bull elk in the Colorado Rockies.

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Our first morning hunting out of base camp. Despite warm temperatures, we elk answered our Primos Hoochie Mama call almost every morning and afternoon.
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Rain our second day made hunting tough. A rare double rainbow raised our hopes for a good afternoon hunt.
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While we hunted in pairs, we were able to get together for lunch on a few occasions and exchange encounter stories.
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Altitude here is right at 10,000 feet. Colder temperatures up high left a skiff of snow above 11,000 feet.
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Taking a break in the rain. At elevations this high I was sure glad I had put the time in on the Lifecycle in the months before our hunt.
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A big spruce made a comfortable resting place out of the rain. Later that afternoon the elk really fired up.
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The higher you go, the less vegetation so walking actually was easier.
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The problem with hiking up so high was how long it took to get back to camp. Rain didn’t help. We got back to base camp around 9:30 pm. All of our gear was soaked. Fortunately, propane heaters were on hand to help dry things out.
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We decided to take the next morning off to try and get our gear dried out. Gators would have really helped save my boots form getting soaked. As it was, rain actually wicked back down through my socks leaving my feet sopping wet.
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My Lowa Tibet Pro GTX boots really stood up to the punishing terrain. You really need to be sure you have a stiff-shanked boot with an extra high cut for added ankle support.
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My lightweight rain pants were my only casualty. Bushwhacking back to camp in the dark, the brush simply ripped them to shreds. On backpacking trips like this, make sure your rain gear is beefier, even if it weighs a bit more.
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Simply shredded. Fortunately, I brought a roll of Gorilla tape and was able to patch them up.
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The next day we decided to head to the high camp for an overnight. Hydration is super important at high altitude. Even the horses needed to tank up before the long climb to our spike camp.
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The ride up was gorgeous and a huge help after several long days of climbing.
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The pay-off for the long ride up was gorgeous views in every direction.
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Some of the aspen groves we passed through were ancient. Note the girth on some of the trees.
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Hearing the wind rustle through the aspen leaves sounds like a million hands applauding–just one of the many benefits of a high-country hunt.
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Another breath-taking view not far from our spike camp.
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Dropping down into the sheltered grove where our spike camp was set up. Comfortable backpacking tents and even a propane-fired shower made it very comfortable.
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Sundown in the aspens high above our spike camp. Right after this photo was taken we bugled up a nice 5-point, but he spotted us first and spooked.
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Just a few cow calls was usually all it took to get bulls to respond.
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A disposable lighter makes a handy wind checker. In addition to the lighter, I went through nearly 2 talcum powder puffers as we constantly checked the wind.
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My Mystery Ranch Long Bow pack was very comfortable and allowed me to easily strap my bow on the back for long, hard climbs when I wanted both hands free.
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The view from a place aptly named “The Lookout.”
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On our hike down from our high camp, we came across these two bulls sparring.
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The wind wasn’t right and it only took a second for the bulls to move off.
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The long trail back to camp. Seeing it in sunlight was so different from navigating down in the dark on one of the rainy hunts when we pushed out luck and didn’t get back until really late.
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Mark Schaefer finished his hunt by taking this nice bull. It’s actually a 7X8 thanks to some short kicker points.
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Mark Schaefer’s bull was taken just at sundown. The bull came within 10 steps and Mark dropped him with a single shot. The bull ran about 60 yards (in full view of Mark and his guide) and fell over.
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A very proud Mark Schaefer with his first-ever elk taken with a bow. What a way to end our Colorado backcountry elk adventure!
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Bushnell’s Mark Schaefer took this gorgeous bull on the next to last evening of our hunt. He is actually a 7×8 thanks to some really cool cheater points. Mark and guide bugled the bull to within about 10 steps. One shot and they watched the bull run about 60 yards before he fell. A great way to cap our trip.
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Mark’s bull looks pretty fine as heading down the trail to the meat locker.
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On the last morning in camp everyone lingered by the fire for one more cup of coffee. No one wanted to go home.
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Outfitter Terry Commander took special care of all of our equipment. Bows were carried in special padded scabbards on our horses so nothing got beat up.
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Todd and Festus the mule. These animals were incredibly sure-footed and capable of carrying large loads with ease.
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Our crew just before we mounted up to head home. Outfitter Terry Commander runs a great camp. Food, equipment, accommodations and guides were all first class. For more information, contact Terry Commander at Commander & Company, Ltd., or call: 970-929-6202
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Another bluebird day to head down the trail for home.
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Photographer Luke McComb takes a moment to grab another shot from his horse.
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Back at the trailhead, friends Eric Barnes (left) and Mark Schaefer take a moment to snap a good-bye photo. We’ll definitely be back.

Editor-In-Chief Todd Smith on a do-it-yourself hunt for big bull elk in the Colorado Rockies.