Dustin Hardage
Unit 61 Colorado Elk Hunting

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.

Unit 61 Colorado Elk Hunting

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.

Unit 61 Mountain Views

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.

Unit 61 walk back to camp

My view each evening hiking back to camp (Unit 61 Colorado elk hunting)

You can also read the follow up to this story:

Colorado Elk Hunting Public Land: Success & Lessons Learned


Learn more about the preparation and details for this unit 61 Colorado elk hunt.

Unit 61 Colorado Elk Hunt

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I would like to get the email address of the guy who dedicated his hunt to his grandpa. that is great that he did that!!! we have drawn a bull elk tag for unit 61 and wonder if he would share the names of some of the places in 61 he narrowed down to hunt since we are from north carolina and cant come and do any scouting. I used 20 points that I had been applying for unit 10 and give up so this is a chance in a life time for me

    • Roger,
      That’s me, Dustin Hardage, the guy that dedicated my hunt to my grandpa. I’d love to help you out as you prepare to hunt Unit 61. I loved the unit. I just emailed you my contact information. Thanks for visiting the my web site.

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