You know the Scouts motto: Always Be Prepared. It’s something to remember for every mountain outing. Although, it took on new meaning for me last weekend while I was up ...
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.
― John Muir, The Mountains of California
This weekend was a solo hike on Trap Park Trail on Long Draw Road. The first snow has fallen and remains on shaded sections of the mountains. I get a good deal of comfort from snowy, muddy trails while hiking alone; it clearly shows who is sharing the trail with me.
On this particular hike there wasn’t a soul in sight except for birds flittering about, woodpeckers knocking, and me. Not a single moose – no fresh tracks at all, even when coming across wallowing holes. This was a big change because the last time I attempted this hike solo, I was chased by moose and called it quits.
The logging project is finished on Long Draw. There’s not a single construction vehicle in sight and the roads have been repaired and cleared. Not only was I the only one on the trail, but there were very few people up in that area at all. There were only a handful of hunters, a few dedicated anglers, and a couple of families sitting around dispersed camping campfires to keep warm.
With snow sticking up in the high country, it’s time to start preparing for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Time is short on Long Draw Road. It will remain open until roads are impassable, closing on November 30th, depending on snowfall.
With getting ready to go on the hunt with Bill, my prepper personality has kicked into high gear. No, I’m not hoarding cans of soup. I’ve been feeling like I need to know everything about what we’re doing in order to have a successful hunt. Which every hunter should probably do, but I think I take it to a whole different level. I’ve looked for other blog posts and resources about prepping for an elk hunt. With the exception of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, almost everything has been painfully general. “Make sure you have great boots and a lot of water,” they say. Well, anyone who has been hiking knows you need that. So, I’m going to lay out everything we’ve done to prepare for our elk hunt. My hope is that this will be a useful resource for beginning hunters or people who have just moved to Colorado and aren’t sure where to start.
Since there is an incredible amount of information to share, I’m breaking this up into a two-part series. The first half will go over the education and knowledge expansion – the brains of preparation. The second half will go into gear and physical training – the brawn you’ll need to get the job done.
If you’ve just moved to Colorado, if you’ve never been hunting before, and well – if you’re hunting as a non-resident too – this is your very first step. You need to take this course in order to get your hunting license in order to pull a tag. Organized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, they go over safe gun handling procedures, hunting laws and regulations, survival skills, and a field dressing. We did the two-day course at Jax, and it was packed with information. Almost too much to take in at once.
Colorado began offering voluntary hunter education training in the 1950s. In 1970, the state legislature mandated hunter education for all persons born on or after January 1, 1949. Because of this mandate, hunting has become dramatically safer over the years. Here’s an interesting link that shows the reduction of incidences over the years since Hunter Education has been mandatory. Here’s the incident report for 2013 that includes summaries and details of fatalities. Colorado averages 2 hunting fatalities a year, and there are 20,476 new hunters coming out of Hunter Education (2011 stats report). It goes to show that carelessness is the number one reason for an unsafe hunt, and we’re fortunate that there are very few incidences.
While I learned a lot over that weekend, Hunter Education is basically a course you cannot fail. Everyone passes and gets a license. Even my 8 year old son who took the class with me and has limited gun handling experience with mostly the good old Red Ryder BB Gun. There were numerous questions that went above his head because the course is 99% verbal instruction through conversation rather than really studying any material. He had difficulty answering questions on the test on his own, and being the type of mom that I am, I didn’t help him with his answers. He had to go over his missed questions, and then he passed. He really shouldn’t have.
You are provided with materials during class and the very informative hunter education manual, but honestly, expect to educate yourself before and after Hunter Education. The course provides you with an outline of what you need to know and it’s up to you to fill in the details – including gun basics.
Apply For Your License (aka: pulling your tag)
I think this can be intimidating if you’ve never applied for a license in the draw. Essentially, you’re putting your hat in the ring for your ideal hunt. There are a certain number of tags allotted to specific areas that are determined by Colorado Parks & Wildlife wildlife biologists for wildlife management and population control. There are over 280,000 elk in Colorado, so there are some areas that need unlimited hunting through over-the-counter tags.
There are two important things you need to know before filling out the application:
- Your preferred season, and why
- Your preferred limited license GMU (game management unit)
You’ll already know what big game you want to hunt for and the means by which you’ll do it (bow, muzzleloader, or rifle). If this is your first time pulling a tag, it’s going to take some prep work so you know what you’re getting into. Mostly – know the area that you’re wanting to hunt in, and the GMU boundaries (I’ll go into more detail on this below). In the draw you’re applying for a license for your preferred game in a sought after area where limited tags are given, so it can be difficult to choose if you’ve never been out there before. But, this draw doesn’t mean that you’ll actually get the tag you want. Many times you may find yourself with an over-the-counter tag in a later season because you didn’t get anything in the draw. When this happens, you get preference points which increases your chances for getting a limited license tag next year.
Know Your Game Management Unit
Of all things, I think this is the most important in preparing for an elk hunt next to spending time at the shooting range. We’ve spent so much time researching where to go this year because in previous hunts we’ve been on private property with the land owner. It’s very nice to have a friend offer that generosity and mentorship through a hunt together, but I think it’s becoming less common for others – especially new hunters. The numbers are growing with new inexperienced hunters who are looking for that assistance and hands-on education. If you don’t have a hunting buddy, you also have the option of hiring an outfitter to guide you, or if you’re like us, you can figure it out on your own.
Our first step in choosing a GMU was by going over the unit map in the Big Game Brochure and filtering the selection through distance. We wanted to be close to Fort Collins and not driving out to Grand Junction. Then we started looking through the Colorado Big Game Hunt Guide to sort through the harvest statistics for our season. This helped us to narrow it down to a specific GMU.
After that, we used the Colorado Hunting Atlas to virtually scope our GMU. This is a really cool tool because it gives you elk migration patterns, tells you where there are summer and wintering areas, and a good deal of info before you actually start hitting the game trails to scout. I love how technology has helped change something that people have been doing since the beginning of time.
Finally, after we had everything nailed down, we called a Hunt Planner with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to make sure we were on the right track. They are incredibly helpful in making sure you have all of the information you need because your hunting success means better wildlife management.
This was all just the prep work before getting out there. Once I knew where we were going to be, I drove out to our unit, hit up the ranger station and poured over maps. The ranger station actually had the GMU boundaries mapped out on a master map that you could copy on your own map. We still need to get our private property boundary maps. It is a huge deal to accidentally hunt on somebody’s property. It’s a good idea to get those 2 weeks before you head out in case there are any changes. Some people have this all programmed into GPS units (which is a smart investment).
Then I drove. I drove all freakin’ over the place to check out the roads and what we needed to expect for the challenges of our season (like chains and snow tires). I timed the distance between hunting spots and where were setting up camp so I had solid timelines to work with. Then I started hiking around those areas to look for game trails and to get familiar with the terrain since we’re in a brand new GMU.
Whew! This was the busy work to prep for the real deal. The backbreaking work starts once you actually get an elk. The next post will go over the gear you need to field dress and haul out over 100 pounds of meat on your back, and the training you need to do to make sure you can do that (this is where my 10 years as a personal trainer come in handy).
This weekend I really didn’t leave the house. Sometimes you need to hole up in your room while wrapped up in your down comforter and not do anything.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t hit the trails because the weather was started to turn dark and drab. Sometimes I’d like to think that these things won’t influence my outdoor decisions, but in all honesty, I’m a fair weather hiker and angler. I’m not fond of the random cold bursts of wind and drizzles of rain. At all.
It’s something I’ll have to buck up and get used to while writing Fresh Air Fort Collins. But not just yet.
So, instead of heading out over the weekend, the family and I attended the Tuesday event at Colorado Youth Outdoors/Swift Ponds that Conserving Nature’s Resources put on. They were a sponsor of our sister blog, Growing Up Fort Collins, and the event sounded really interesting.
I had never been to Swift Ponds before but had heard about the awesome fishing from my husband Bill. He had cancelled a fishing trip just to fish in a tournament here one year. It’s a private pond that people really don’t get to fish on. There wasn’t exactly fishing at this event, but oh boy – you could see them jumping!
The whole idea of the event was to help people connect with industries related to our natural resources, have the ability to ask questions in person and learn more about how these industries work in our community. There were representatives there from Western Heritage Company, Colorado Youth Outdoors, Northern Colorado Water and Water Valley, Wells Trucking, Pawnee Buttes Seed, Colorado Farm Bureau, Platte River Power, and more.
We walked from tent to tent for activities with the kids – BB gun shooting, archery (which was a lot of fun for my boys), casting games in the ponds, petting cows, chicken, and goats, and we walked away with a ton of schwag. It was a fantastic event on some beautiful property. I’m glad we had the opportunity to go and learn some fascinating tidbits along the way.