I am honored to feature a guest post by Al Quackenbush, from The SoCalBowhunter. Al is a passionate and generous bowhunter that is always looking for a way to help others, so it didn’t surprise me at all that he was willing to share some of the lessons he learned from his first elk hunt last year. Be sure to visit The SoCal Bowhunter and read all about Al’s successful elk hunt.
This time last year I was planning my Colorado elk hunt. While I planned well and had a successful four-day hunt, I learned many things along the way. Many things went quite well and some not so well. I am going to share a little of both in the hopes that your elk hunt will be fun, exciting and successful.
What I Did Wrong
Instead of flying, and with taking one of our family vehicles being out of the question, I opted to rent an SUV. My trip was a solo trip and that cost me dearly in fuel and muscle fatigue from driving. It would have been in my best interest to do the trip with a friend so that we could split the cost of the SUV and the fuel. On top of that, with a partner we could have divided up the food and necessities costs for the trip.
Always bring everything you might need every time. The morning I killed my elk I opted to leave my good digital camera, tripod and frame pack in the tent to save on weight and because we only planned on a morning hunt. Sure enough, I killed my elk in some thick timber, on the side of a mountain and we had to pack it uphill. Having my camera and tripod would have meant better photos (I hate auto settings, love manual). Plus, my frame pack would have been the cat’s meow had I brought it. Lesson learned.
After I shot my elk, my friend Eddy and I got right into field dressing and discussions about caping. This is where I wish I had been a bit more patient. We were both in kind of a rush to get the elk quartered up and off the mountain due to time constraints. If we had taken our time there are multiple things I would have done differently.
First off, I would have caped out the elk for the mount. I opted against it because I didn’t want to spend extra cash. I am happy with that decision, but I felt a bit rushed.
Second, I would have taken my time with photos and also set up the camera for the pack out. Again, I felt rushed and didn’t take my time.
Third, I would have boned out the elk. Sure, it was easier to have a bone sticking up to tie the quarter off, but I could have saved hauling excess weight had I done this.
Next time I will pack more energy bars and less Mountain House and my Jetboil. I never used the Jetboil, and honestly would have benefitted more from a few more lightweight nutrition bars.
I will also carrying in more water. I have a 3L water bladder and my buddy Eddy gave me a great tip. Always keep an extra 16 oz. bottle of water in your pack. When you deplete your regular supply you know you have at least a 16 oz. bottle on hand to drink until you can get to more water. My problem on this last trip was that the water source was straight down the mountain and I had killed my elk halfway down. I wasn’t about to hike down and then back up if I didn’t have to. It was steep!
Pack less rope and utilize paracord more. I packed a good length of rope for tying things off and hanging my quarters. When I look back on it the rope was heavy, bulky and a pain in the ass to work with. I love working with paracord and went against my better judgment and brought both. Just bring the paracord.
What I Did Right
Training and conditioning, both physically and mentally was a key factor. I trained for nine months prior by running, hiking, carrying sandbags in my pack in the heat and added together it all paid off. What I will also do for next time is practice walking on deadfalls, climbing over deadfalls and doing it all with a full pack and my bow in hand. Trust me, 90% of the situations were like this in Colorado. I also viewed the area I would be hunting in Google Earth over and over. The terrain look ominous, but in my mind I vowed to take it one step at a time. I went into this hunt thinking if I get an elk, that is great, but I am really in this for the hunt itself. I was mentally prepared to walk away eating tag soup, but we pushed hard and got it done.
I brought the right footwear. My Schnee’s Wilderness boots were utterly spectacular for my feet. They handled the terrain like no boots I have ever owned before. My feet felt great and the boots are waterproof. I will say that you need to tie your laces tight before you head out. Mine came loose a couple times and my feet paid the price. Once tightened my feet felt awesome.
Utilizing a SPOT Locator for more than just a beacon in case I got lost was great on many levels. I used it so my family could track me each day to be sure I was safe and also so they could get involved in the hunt with me. My wife was able to get a message from me every day saying I was ok and safe. My dad and brother tracked me as I traversed steep mountain trails and busted brush. They could see the elevation and ground I covered on a daily basis. It was pretty cool!
I brought my bear spray. While calling in a bull one day we actually called in a bear. I was prepared with my bear spray, but I did get a bit nervous. He came to within 60 yards before ambling back the way he came. I wasn’t so worried about a lone bear, but a sow with cubs scares the heck out of me.
Overall, I am extremely happy with the hunt and how everything went. I learned a great deal and know how to approach if for next time. Each person has their own way of preparing for a hunt and organizing their gear. Be sure to start planning well ahead of time and also lay out the gear you have to see if you REALLY need it. Good luck during your elk hunt and I hope this will help you plan for an exceptional hunt!