Hunting elk a challenge

Rugged terrain, animal’s intelligence make success difficult

Elk are smart animals and they can run easily for a mile or more when spooked. Hunters in Colorado last year had just a 21 percent success rate in making a kill. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of David Hannigan/Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Elk are smart animals and they can run easily for a mile or more when spooked. Hunters in Colorado last year had just a 21 percent success rate in making a kill.

Editor’s note: This is one of several articles from Colorado Parks and Wildlife to prepare hunters for the upcoming fall big-game hunting season in Colorado. For this and more stories, visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website at http://wildlife.state.co.us/NewsMedia/PressReleases/pages/pressrelease.aspx?PressId=7907.

By Colorado Parks and Wildlife

The popular hunting magazines often display colorful photographs of huge bull elk standing in open meadows presenting easy targets. The reality in the mountains of Colorado, however, is far different.

Stalking these animals is challenging, and most hunters won’t get easy shots. You’re more likely to find elk on a steep hillside, in a dark ravine or in thick timber than standing out in the open.

The hunter success rate for all manners of take in Colorado was 21 percent in 2011, and a total of 43,480 were harvested. A total of 211,392 hunters stalked elk last season. It is estimated that there are about 280,000 elk in Colorado, the most of any state.

If the weather is warm, elk stay spread out over vast areas at elevations near and above timberline. In those conditions, hunters need to work extra hard.

When snow falls, elk usually will start to move, bunch up and look for food sources at lower elevations or on slopes where vegetation is exposed. However, the snowfall must be significant; usually more than a foot of snow must be on the ground to get elk moving.

Hunters must get off their ATVs and hunt slowly and quietly far from any road. Elk are very smart, move quickly at any hint of danger and hide in rugged terrain.

Compounding the challenge for hunters is the fact that elk typically gather in groups of 10 or more. If one is spooked, they all move and they can run easily for a mile or more.

Elk are most active during the night and are likely to be grazing in transition areas – meadows next to heavy timber, where different types of vegetation meet and just above or below ridgelines. Hunters should watch these areas at first light and at dusk.

During the day, hunters need to move into the dark timber – cool, north-facing slopes – and not be hesitant to hunt in difficult areas. Hunters should move as quietly as possible for short distances and then scan the woods for 10 minutes or more before moving again. Even in dense forest it is a good idea to use binoculars so you can discern subtle movement or unusual colors in the trees.

If you find the areas where animals graze at night, it is likely that you will find them in adjacent areas during the day.

When hunting in areas with roads, move far above or far below the roads to find elk. In areas where two roads are in close proximity, locate the most difficult terrain in between.

Line up your shot carefully because elk are difficult to knock down. The best shots are delivered in the critical area of the lungs and heart just behind and below the front quarters. Never try for a head shot, as this can result in only wounding the animal.

Elk hunters can count on doing some walking to bag their prey. Elk rarely are found near roads and don’t venture below timberline until snow depths exceed a foot or more. This bull was spotted in an early snowstorm near Bailey. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of David Hannigan/Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Elk hunters can count on doing some walking to bag their prey. Elk rarely are found near roads and don’t venture below timberline until snow depths exceed a foot or more. This bull was spotted in an early snowstorm near Bailey.