My Colorado elk hunting public land experience turned out to be amazing. I was blessed to get a large 6×5 bull and my hunting partner got a 6×4.
I built up 8 years of preference points in order to hunt the Uncompahgre (unit 61) in Colorado. Some times it simply feels good to know that a year of planning, researching and preparation can pay off.
It came down to the last morning and my body was worn out. Mentally, I had almost conceded that this was simply not going to be my year. I had seen and heard many elk and even missed a 6×6 bull on day two. I had my chances and I thought I had blown it.
However, this hunt was dedicated to my grandfather, so I mustered up all my energy and gave it one more try.
On the evening before the last day, I ran into some fellow Texans and they pointed me in the direction of several bulls they had seen. That next morning at sunrise, the majestic bugling began. I could hear more than 7 bulls and we started communicating back and forth. A couple bulls got close, but they just wouldn’t fully cooperate.
It was 8:30 am and I faced the most critical decision of the entire hunt. Should I leave these bulls and head back to the saddle where I had missed a bull on the second day, or stay and see if I could make something happen. I chose to leave.
By now its 9:30 am, and based on previous experience, it was really rare a bull would be out in a saddle area similar to where I was headed. However, this was the coldest day of the entire trip and weather was moving in. My hope was the colder temperature would keep the elk out feeding longer.
Another advantage was my hike in would be much quieter than normal because the ground wasn’t frozen like on previous trips in, it was wet. This eliminated the excessive crunching noise of my size 14 boots and would be absolutely key to me encountering a bull.
Inside I wanted to move at a rapid pace because I was feeling the urgency of getting to the saddle. Fortunately, I kept it slow and steady, hunting the whole way.
As I tediously gazed left to right proceeding slowly through the mixed pine and aspen, I noticed some movement.
There was an elk about 80 yards away. I could see his entire massive body, but his head was behind a tree. I couldn’t tell how many points he had, but I knew he was legal (as a spike was legal in this unit).
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
- Roman philosopher, Seneca
When I hike in I always keep my shooting stick extended and ready to shoot from a standing position. This paid off big time. However, just as I laid my rifle on the stick, the bull raised his head and stared right at me. Now we were frozen, but I couldn’t attempt to move my eye down to the scope. I knew if I moved at all I would be busted.
We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Then he put his head back down and continued grazing. This was my chance. I lowered my eye to the scope, took a deep breath, exhaled, and pulled the trigger. He dropped.
As I watched him lie still, I noticed another 5×5 bull about 20 feet to the left of him, and then another 4×4 off to his right. I had never even seen them until now.
After I was certain he was dead, I stood there in the eerily silent woods just taking in the moment, reflecting on the last 7 days and the year building up to it.
Inside I screamed with excitement and felt my grandpa was in some way celebrating with me.
The emotion and memories of my grandpa and our many hunting adventures was overwhelming. There was such an empty void because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to call him and share the hunting story.
I couldn’t believe I did this with only 2 hours left on the last day and only 1/3 of a mile from the trail head.
Then I fell to a knee and prayed. I thanked God for watching over us the entire trip and for providing us with two glorious bull elk.
All the hard work, preparation and perseverance actually ended in success. My Colorado elk hunting public land experience was over.
“The mere fair-weather hunter, who trusts entirely to the exertion of others, and does more than ride or walk about under favorable circumstances, and shoot at what somebody else shows him, is a hunter in name only. Whoever would really deserve the title must be able at a pinch to shift for himself, to grapple with the difficulties and hardships of wilderness life unaided, and not only to hunt, but at times to travel for days, whether on foot or on horseback, alone.” - Theodore Roosevelt 1901
Related blog posts about the Colorado elk hunting public land in unit 61:
Resources for Colorado elk hunting public land:
- Hunting maps I use for Colorado elk hunting public land:
Northwest Region (6MB)
Northeast Region (3MB)
Southwest Region (5MB)
Southeast Region (2MB)
Do you have plans for Colorado elk hunting public land?
Have you already done a Colorado elk hunting public land trip?
I usually only do Colorado elk hunting on public land. I’d love to hear about your Colorado elk hunting public land experience.
Leave a comment or contact me via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
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It’s the last day of the unit 61 Colorado elk hunt and I only have about an hour left.
I’ve waited 8 years and pushed through seven long days, each beginning around 5 a.m. and ending in the cold dark night. My trophy bull elk hunting opportunity may end with just fond memories.
I had dedicated this elk hunt to my grandpa who passed away in April. I wanted so bad to get an elk in honor of him.
“Lord, just give me an opportunity. If I blow it, I blow it, but just give me a chance at a nice bull elk.”
This was our prayer leading up to the trip. All the months of preparation, studying maps, talking to other hunters and the Dept. of Wildlife, scouting, and more all leading up this. Let the hunting games begin.
On the first day, we wanted to be at the saddle we found on our July scouting trip. We arrived before sunrise as planned and both got settled in. I sat on the edge of Aspen meadow that allowed for wide variety of 150 yard shots. As dawn broke I saw two deer. Time passed slow, and by 8:30 a.m. I was really starting to lose my patience. Do I move? Do I stay put? Everything about this set up seemed perfect.
By about about 10 a.m. I decided to move around a bit to get a view from higher up on the ridge behind me. Nothing. Then at 10:30 a.m. the action started. I heard Jimmy shoot and I received the ever anticipated call on the radio.
“I got a bull. He’s down.” I was so excited for Jimmy. I knew he had also dedicated this hunt to his dad who passed away this year. I was elated.
Jimmy with his 6×4 bull on opening morning. (Unit 61 Colorado elk hunt)
I couldn’t believe it. On the morning of opening day, the elk came out exactly where we expected. I thought to myself, this hunt is going to be amazing and dare I say, easier than I could have ever expected.
On day two I decided to set up in the same saddle. I was a little skeptical. Would elk really pass through the same saddle? But something in me said give it a try.
I was there in the dark waiting for the sunrise to wake the beautiful Rocky Mountains. I’m always stunned, amazed and grateful for the creation God has granted me the ability to explore.
Then at 8:30 a.m., I saw movement on the other side of the saddle. It was moving fast. It was a spike elk running from my left to right and headed straight for the north-facing dark timber. Trailing him was a large 5×5 bull.
Then for no reason, they stopped right before the dark timber the turned and ran right back into open meadow. Both of them were still running full speed. Again, I knew my chances of getting them to stop were slim, because they were spooked and on the move.
And then, before I could even get my call in my mouth to try and slow them down, the 5×5 bull just stopped and faced me broadside. Here was my chance. On the morning of the second day, my hunt is about to be over.
There were some spectacular views during the unit 61 Colorado elk hunt.
Then I did what I haven’t done in years. I rushed the shot. It was really more about what I didn’t do. Normally before every shot, I breath in, exhale, and shoot at the end of the breath. I then slowly squeeze the trigger straight to my shoulder. Yep, I didn’t do any of that. As soon as I had his vitals in the cross hairs, I shot.
I missed and he vanished. Later I went over scoured the area for any sign of blood. Nothing.
After searching for blood for hours, I felt confident I had missed him entirely and it was driving me crazy. I tried to hunt some that evening, but I was completely consumed with my missed opportunity. I finally built up the courage to call Jimmy on the radio and let him know what had happened.
I couldn’t stop beating myself up. Replaying the whole scenario and how missed a perfect opportunity. How could I miss, it was only 140 yards? Why did I rush so much? Had I bumped my scope and it was off now? Could I really be that bad of a shot?
I was discouraged and began questioning my gun and then my shooting skill. I wondered if I was going to get another chance at such a nice bull.
This is where the decision of who you hunt with becomes so important. When I got back to truck that evening, Jimmy was anxiously waiting to hear about the day. I think he could tell I was feeling down.
“Don’t worry, it just means there is probably a bigger one that you were meant to have,” he said.
Jimmy was a huge encouragement. He cheered me on and said I’d have another chance.
Over the next four days of hard hunting, I would only see cows and spikes and I was running out of time. I was getting run down hiking in the rugged country. Plus, as I sat in utter silence for hours, I couldn’t help but continue the negative talk in my head about the missed shot on day two.
The second guessing continued. Did I scout the right places? Would I find elk and be presented another opportunity? Would my knees hold up (I have no cartilage left and they can get so bad I can’t walk for days.)? Would I come home empty from the unit 61 Colorado elk hunt?
“You’re going to get one today, I just know it.” Jimmy told me that every morning before I left and every night before I went to sleep. His encouragement was crucial.
On the last day of the unit 61 Colorado elk hunt I knew my chances were slim. I could only hunt until around noon because we still had to pack up camp in order to leave around 8 a.m. the next day.
A part of me wanted to just call it quits, sleep in, and know that tried hard and given it my best.
“What? You goofball! How you could even consider that? You hadn’t given it your all,” I said to myself. I had to muster up every bit of energy in honor of my grandpa, get out there, and give it one more try. I still have one morning left to hunt.
I am not giving up.
My view each evening hiking back to camp. (Unit 61 Colorado elk hunt)
Hunting Games III: Colorado Bull Elk Loses in a Close One
You’ll learn more about how I killed my 6×5 bull, with only one hour left in my unit 61 Colorado elk hunt.
Unit 61 Colorado Elk Hunt
Hunting games are something I play every year. Its me versus the wild elk, deer and other big game in God’s majestic creation. This October the stakes are higher, but so are the odds of success.
All of my elk hunting has been DIY on public land and I’ve been blessed to come out on top most of the time. But, the elusive bull elk seems to dominate in the win loss column.
I’ve hunted elk for 10 years in Colorado and this is by far the best bull elk hunting opportunity I’ve ever had this state.
I was drawn for an elk bull tag in the Uncompahgre National Forest, unit 61. At a minimum, it takes 7 years to have the opportunity to hunt a bull elk with a rifle in this area because of the Colorado lottery system (preference points).
This hunting trip is also special because I am dedicating it to my grandpa, Papa Tooter, Mr. E.C. Fish, who passed away in April. He gave me my first rifle and was the most influential man in my life. He taught me to hunt, fish, and be responsible, caring person. Read more about about him and his influence on me.
My grandpa gave me my first rifle for Christmas. I killed my first elk in Colorado with that gun, a Remington 270. Thanks papa.
I’ll be going with my long-time friend, fellow Texan, and Christian brother, Jimmy Pruett. This guy is a real “mans man” and wilderness backpacking maniac.
Jimmy is also dedicating this hunting trip to his dad, who also passed away this year. I am very blessed to get to hunt with such a good friend. Learn more about Jimmy at the bottom of the page.
Hunting Games: Where Am I Going
The Uncompahgre National Forest, unit 61 is in SW Colorado, just south of Grand Junction. It is about 7 hours from Colorado Springs (with the camper and all needed stops).
We leave Oct. 18 at 3 a.m. and can hunt until Oct. 27.
Oddly enough, this location has spots with internet access, so I plan to post updates on Facebook, Twitter and Intagram.
Some photos taken during our scouting trip in July … Jimmy kicking back at camp.
Hunting Games: Preparation and Scouting the Uncompahgre National Forest, Unit 61
My preparation for this trip has been very extensive.
- Extensive research to select the best elk unit with 7 preference points.
- I interviewed hunters, Colorado DOW staff and an independent hunting consultant. I also reviewed harvest statistics for my particular species and season.
- I spent countless hours investigating and being active in hunting forums. I gathered nearly 20 specific locations that folks had located elk.
- Real People
- I scoured the web and was connected with two bloggers that had hunted in Unit 61. I sent them emails and they were gracious enough to respond. I also was able to network and locate two others locally that had hunted the area. They were also very helpful. Never underestimate that other hunters are usually open to helping fellow hunters, especially when your talking about a unit you can only hunt every 7 years.
- Once I narrowed it down to 6-10 areas, I spent the rest of my time studying maps like, HuntingGPSmaps, Google Maps, National Geographic (print and TOPO), Colorado DOW Hunting Atlas (winter/summer ranges – migration paths), Startmyhunt.com, and Garmin BaseCamp.
- On each map I assessed access points, trails, private land, boundaries, water, dark timber vs aspen, saddles, campgrounds, canyons, and most importantly, how to places no one else would want to hike to.
- Scouting Unit 61
- Jimmy and I scouted unit 61 once this year in mid July. We had two full days in the area. After traveling for over 320 miles to get there, we drove nearly 100 miles around the area locating roads, trails and various access points. We then hiked about 9-12 miles each day, trying to learn as much as possible. In two of the areas we counted over 30 rubs and saw a lot of elk sign. We saw nearly every form of wildlife, deer, coyote, grouse, and turkey. We didn’t see a bear, but we saw tons of sign.
- Hunting Games: Made a Game Plan
- After scouting we identified our top two areas we want to start with. We plan on staying in my camper, but we are also bringing all our gear to backpack in if needed. Weather can play a big role so we are staying flexible. Because of all of our research and scouting we have several options. We do not have four wheelers, but we do have a 4×4 SUV and plan on hiking long and hard.
Top two photos are of rubs. Botttom right is of bear markings on aspens. Bottom left is just an example of how an “rubs” a tree (we did not see this bull elk).
Unit 61 is beautiful, rugged, and vast. It is unlike any area I have ever hunted. You are on top of a large plateau and everything is pretty much down hill…but you always have to come back up. There is a lot more scrub oak than I expected with tons of aspen and some dark timber mixed in.
More photos from the scouting trip.
Some elk bulls from the Uncompahgre National Forest, unit 61.
I am thankful to God for:
- the physical well being to be able to hunt.
- living in Colorado.
- Christian friends that love God and hunting.
- a great job that I love, and that allows me this time off.
- wonderful family and friends that love me, and support me in these hunting trips.
- my wife. She is amazing and has sacrificed so much for me to be able to go.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
More about my hunting buddy Jimmy Pruett…from the man himself:
My Eco Challenge is a personal challenge (by myself; me against the clock). It is in the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness Area and covers 30 miles, over 4 mountain passes (each one is 12,400 to 12,500 feet in elevation). The low points between each pass range from 9,500 to 10,000. The total elevation gain is 9,000 feet and since it is a loop, the total elevation loss is the same.
This personal challenge started as an attempt to complete the 4-pass loop under 24 hours. My first attempt I completed in 12 hours 45 minutes. That led to another attempt, which I completed in 10 hours and 9 minutes. The next attempt was 9 hours and 9 minutes; and my final attempt was 8 hours and 59 minutes.
I had to begin this solo challenge at 2am to ensure that I would get over the 4th pass before any storms were to develop in the area. To date, I would say this is the hardest and most challenging thing I have done.
My passion is the outdoors and backpacking. In 1997, I quit my job and spent 4 months in Alaska, backpacking, fishing, and hunting. I did 3 fly-in trips where a bush pilot dropped me off in a remote location and returned one week later. My favorite time of year for backpacking is the winter, and after being trained in winter survival, I have done a lot of snow caving and winter hut-to-hut trips as well.
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