Bulls screaming along the Little Snake River greet Tony Bohrer, left, of Ivory Tip Outfitters and me on the opening morning of Colorado’s second rifle season. Although it’s mid-October, the elk act like it’s a month earlier. Tony’s cow calls bring two young bulls to 60 yards, but I pass. We’re just 30 minutes into the first day.
With bulls still bugling—and battling—in the background, we sneak our way across a sage flat to an ancient cottonwood that supports a home-built box blind. Jimmy Solace, one of Ivory Tip’s guides and something of a handyman, erected the spacious stand for bowhunting, and it provides a view of more than 60 elk scattered in an alfalfa field along the river.
The setup seems perfect, but there’s a catch: The elk are more than a quarter mile away on a neighboring property, which we do not have permission to hunt. Tony blows his cow call in an effort to coax a bull away from the river and into the sage.
Although the bulls respond with more bugles, they refuse to leave their cows. We hang tight until almost noon before breaking for lunch, and then return to continue our vigil until dark. Elk from a treestand? I guess it could work...
… But it doesn’t. Two more sits in the stand fail to produce a bull within range. Rain clouds roll in the third morning of the hunt as we settle into the familiar routine. We glass nearly 100 elk along the river. Bulls bugle from the alfalfa. Tony calls. Bulls bugle back.
My Savage American Classic in 7mm Rem. Mag. is ready for action. Although the Bushnell Elite 4500 scope that tops the rifle affords 10X magnification, I keep it dialed down to 4X. If a bull charges in, the shot will be close and will likely require quick aim.
“There’s a bull right there!” Tony whispers suddenly, pointing to my right. My eyes immediately lock on the 4x5, which has snuck in silently from behind us and now stands a mere 25 yards away. As I grab the rifle the bull bolts, but Tony stops him with a cow call. I have time for two shots before the bull is swallowed by the sage, but we find him piled up not far from the blind. Elk from a treestand? Absolutely!
Meanwhile, others in our party enjoy elk hunting in its most classic sense: with their feet on the ground, hiking mountain meadows bordered by stands of aspen and spruce. With the Rockies literally in Ivory Tip Outfitters’ back yard, spectacular scenery is part of the hunters’ reward.
The other part, of course, is bull elk, and Bushnell’s Jake Edson takes a handsome 4x4 “on the mountain” the day after I tag out. Jake was watching a meadow in the afternoon when the bull appeared with some cows, and he claimed his first-ever elk with a 200-yard shot.
Meat on the ground soon becomes meat in the pack as guide Matt Moline prepares the carcass for the hike out. Despite the heckling, Matt is thankful for the crowd of onlookers; many willing hands makes packing the meat back to the Can-Am Defender XT side-by-sides a one-trip deal.
The sweat that flows despite the cool air, the sling that digs into a shoulder despite its padding, the boots that slip against the dampened bark of blowdowns despite their treads—all nearly become pleasures under a hard-earned crown of antlers.
A load of steaks and roasts, plus something for the wall—this is the bounty elk hunters seek in Colorado and elsewhere across the West. No matter the method of hunting, success brings tired muscles but high spirits at the end of the day.
Northwestern Colorado is often called The Elk Hunting Capital of the World. A trip to hunt with Ivory Tip Outfitters near the town of Craig showed me why. A drive around the area in mid-fall makes one thing clear: It’s elk season. Trucks full of hunters and trailering ATVs hurry down the dirt roads long before dawn on the way to promising spots. Tiny restaurants jam with blaze orange and excited talk. Meat processors work nearly around the clock to turn elk quarters into meals. Taxidermists offer specials on European mounts with 48-hour turn-arounds. The elk are here for the hunting—and some of the ways of doing it took me by surprise.