View Full Version : CO Elk "Hunt" AAR

01-12-2010, 09:09 PM
This is my write up for the 3rd rifle season for elk in CO, 31OCT09 - 06NOV09.

28OCT09 - depart KC for Denver - this was a trip from 700 feet above sea level to 5,000'. The Lovely Spousal Unit & I stayed with Jon S. from the boards here. He very graciously offered a bed for the night, as well as the use of his Kifaru 4 man tepee and stove, as well as local info and feedback on the hunt plan. We ate dinner with Jon and his wife at good old Applebee's and then crashed. We came into Denver with a big snow front that dumped about a foot of snow. As we left out from KC I began to come down with a sinus infection, so we called the socialist medical care provider and got permission to purchase a bottle of antibiotics in Denver.

29OCT09 - We drove from Denver to Gunnison, (elevation 7700 ft.). We stayed in the hotel this night.

30OCT09 - We drove from Gunnison up to our camp location at about 10,500'. We set up Jon's tent. I go and retrieve firewood and we download gear. The stove is fired up and we heat water for our Mountain House dinner. As the Lovely Spousal Unit opens the door to the stove, smoke gets into the tent. Smoke + altitude+ sinus infection = no sleep for me all night. Just as I would start to fall asleep I would startle back awake gasping for air - you know, the dream you are drowning in the water type thing. Every 4th or 5th breath had to be a huge one to keep up on oxygen.

31OCT09 - 02NOV09 - By SAT/opening morning I am an exhausted, miserable, sick camper. I think about how a mistake in the mountains at this altitude can mean you die. I move us back down to Gunnison to a hotel room. We stay in the hotel SAT/SUN/MON. I try to meet some of the wife's needs for our "vacation" and we try main street shopping in Gunnison MON morning. I last 2 hours before I am back in bed.

03NOV09 - We leave Gunnison about 1000 hours for the base camp site. We run across a local who has hunted our area for 30 years and he confirms that we are in the right area to see bulls. We climb a small finger/ridge near the tent and glass the area. Nothing seen. We ruck up and begin a 3 mile triangle so I can begin to teach the Lovely Spousal Unit to read a map/use a compass. We see nothing. I am tempted to try and go farther out at the end of the 2nd leg of the triangle. I decide to be conservative the first day out of the sick bed. Wise choice. When we get back to the start point I am whipped from the altitude, my sinus infection, and the 6-8" of snow we walked through. We pack it back in to Gunnison about 1630. On the way down we see a young cow elk next to the highway. When we get back to Gunnison I am back in bed - too much too soon.

04 & 05NOV09 - I am in bed sick

06NOV09 - last day of the season. By now, the Lovely Spousal Unit has come down with a head cold from her night in the tent. She stays back in Gunnison. I go back to the base camp. I arrive just as the light starts to come on in the east. As I dismount and reach for the back door to don gear, the antibiotic induces a hearty rumble in my guts. Across the road and 100 yards up the hill to a suitable blowdown log to cop a squat. Projectile defecation at 10 degrees is something you just gotta experience to really savor the joy! Now I am freezing, my fingers are just about numb (can't do the paperwork in gloves!) and I have lost 30 minutes. I get back to the car and ruck up. I get on my map and head out. After 300 yards down a trail it is time for the first break/dump the parka. I leave the road/trail and begin the day's work sloshing through 6-12" of snow. About every 100 yards I must stop and catch my breath. I hit dead nuts on the Matchless pack trail I am shooting for on the side of the mountain. At least for that day all of the orienteering practice days at USMA paid off. I follow the pack trail up. I cut a set of tracks that are larger than my cartridges, so I believe them to be from a bull. They are old, so I keep going. As I hit 11,800' marking a point with the GPS I study the map. I have another mile (after already climbing for 3) to get to where I really think the bulls will be stubbornly hanging on. (The cows and yearlings all fled the area the night before the season opened into the area local people referred to as "the triangle" due to the snow front we came in with.) So IF I knocked down a bull right at the start spot for the suspected bull hideout, I have 4-5 round trips of 4 miles to haul out the meat. The gut check said not this year. I turned around and went back to the truck. I was pretty whipped when I got there about 1130 hours. Wise/the right choice for me that day. What a crappy, bust of an elk season and $550 tag, though!

Ford Edge - We have the middle package AWD package. We waited for a 4x4 pick-up in chains to get pulled out of the rain gutter by a 500cc ATV with chains on the rear tires after the truck's box trailer pulled it down into the rut. Then we motored right up the narrow, snow covered 6% slope like there was no tomorrow! While not a true 4WD, the thing handled 6-8" of snow and ice on the gravel road and the slopes just fine.
Parka - I took the Cabela's wool/dry-plus outfitter camo parka. It is a great piece of gear. the hood cinches down to your head well. There is a Napoleon pocket on each side of the chest. Inside there is also a pocket on each side of the chest. The handwarmer pockets sit behind two large flapped pockets. It is heavy enough to keep you warm, but not so warm you can't wear it hunting. If I needed more warmth, I had the wool vest to add underneath. Awesome piece of gear.
Gloves - The Outfitter wool/dry-plus gloves never let my hands get cold to the point I was in danger of frost bite. I had times where my fingers were cold (it was 10 degrees out!), but they never got to hurting or numb. These are thick gloves, so if you need driving glove dexterity, bring along another pair that is thinner.
Boots - Danner elk hunter 600 gram insulated boots. Similar to the wool gloves - after I slogged through 6-12" of snow for three hours, my toes were cold, but in no danger. These are particularly sweet for me as they were 1/2 price at the Bargain Cave at Cabela's. I actually did not have a chance to break them in before we went hunting and never got so much as a hot spot. I was wearing Cabela's heavy merino wool over the calf socks, but excellent comfort and traction.
1st layer - Wore polar-tech synthetic/wicking long sleeve undershirts and boxer shorts. I sweat like a lawn sprinkler going full blast. The dry air and these kept me dry to the point that I never had hypothermia issues.
Merino - I have a pair of the merino wool long johns sold by Boyt Harness. They are very reasonably priced and amazingly warm. The OD colored ones are lighter and used 90% of the time. I just about can't wear the heavier black ones - they are too warm! The 1/4 zip on the top helps to vent steam. Even when I was climbing the slopes and sweating, the undershirt passed the water to the merino and it dried quickly while keeping me warm.
Surplus pants - I have several pair of Swedish army surplus pants with the little ankle belt and hooks for the laces of your boots. These are awesome for durability and they do a very good job of keeping you warm. I also wore the Filson Mackinaw pants while in Gunnison and they would be nearly as good if you stacked 'em on your ankles.
Fleece Balaclava - the Cabela's 100 weight fleece puts you right into your warm and happy place. At $20, how can you not have several! Weighs next to nothing as well. I got the reverse-able 200 weight one for the chronically cold Lovely Spousal Unit. Her polypro balaclava just doesn't provide enough warmth for her.
Rifle - never got to fire it, but handiness in carrying the thing was a big victory. The FN Mauser action in a Bell & Carlson carbelite stock with a 20" barrel and Leupold scout scope never wore my arms out, even when I was sucking air due to altitude and being sick. I am thinking that the .35 Whelen Ackley Improved coming out of the 1-12" twist barrel would have done an adequate job on a bull.
Headlamp - The LED Princeton Tec light is priceless. Light to see/work with and your hands are free. A $30 must have, and maybe even a spare should be on hand.
Camelback Commander - I know it is sacrilege, but my Marauder was there as a back up for meat transportation with the cargo chair. I have had my hunt ruck set up on this platform for a long time and it just works well. The buckle down flap takes even the wool parka when I get warm from moving. I have a 3L bladder in it, my Noah's Tarp for emergency shelter, all the field dressing gear, survival gear (water filter, fire steel and tinder, some chow, 1st Aid, etc.), and I always carry the next level of warmth just in case I get into trouble. The Gun Bearer worked well on it's hip belt and when I used it, the thing carried my rifle well.
4 man - the tepee is not for me. Jon S. is 6'4" and I am 5'10. I have no idea how the guy ever crammed himself and his Lovely Spousal Unit and two dogs into the thing! It did what it was designed to do - provide back-packable shelter. I am a spoiled brat and need more space for gear/to stretch out/to stand up. Looks like $1,000 to Cabela's for a wall tent used as a base camp. I also am hamstrung on the wood stove. When the door opens to put wood in, you get a small puff of smoke that blows back in. This kills me as my nasal passages swell shut. Kerosene/propane heater in the wall tent for me. An aspect of not enjoying being bent over is my 1/2 sized first lumbar disc - a casualty of jump #5 at the Benning Home for Boys - it is now a factor to be dealt with at 47. I am glad that Jon let us try it out. Now we know much better what we need.
Wiggy Bags - we both had the FTRRS or whatever is the double bag system that is supposed to be good to -60. We didn't have a thermometer, but from judging the known temp in Gunnison and the air on our skin at the hunting site, we figure we had 10 degrees and sleet FRI night (plus 25 MPH wind). I stayed warm just fine on a self-inflate backpacking mat over a Tyvek sheet. The Lovely Spousal Unit cannot generate enough body heat to stay warm due to a slow metabolism. I dislike the mummy bag induced claustrophobia, but the thing never lets me down.
GPS vs. compass - I use a $12 beginner's compass and am pretty successful at shooting azimuths and staying found. I just don't see any need for the mirror, 6400 mil $50 compasses. YMMV. I was able to figure out how to plot a few waypoints on the yellow Etrex GPS. I never really used it, but rather stayed on the terrain association with the map.
Maps - The Nat Geo Colorado DVDs allowed me to print off maps that contained a dozen 8.5x11 sheets of paper which we protected with shelf paper/laminated with contact paper. Better would have been to create a map book like we made for the East-West/Czech border patrols back in the cold war, but I didn't have time - too much Guard drill (like moving the hunt from 2nd rifle season to 3rd to avoid conflicting with OCT drill!)
Room at Gunnison Inn - "Newly remodeled" - they got ripped off by the contractor. Old sink/plumbing and a 1" gap on the threshhold of the door. Clean. Stuffed extra towels against the door to seal out the cold air. The granola/Birkenstocker kids running it were nice. The Super 8 was nicer. The new Holiday Inn on the east side of town is posh (with a commensurate higher price tag).
Sunglasses are mandatory!
Hope these help you plan your hunt!


01-13-2010, 06:40 AM
As we left out from KC I began to come down with a sinus infection, so we called the socialist medical care provider and got permission to purchase a bottle of antibiotics in Denver.

This cracked me up. Better luck next time, great account though. You learned the hard way that getting to your spot a few days early is worth the time.

01-13-2010, 06:54 AM
I'm a bit surprised about the stove issues. That's just not a problem I have with the 8 man or the paratipi, and with my asthma, I would notice it.

Good story. The Gunnison area has got some animals, but a lot of "up" there, too. Being healthy would have helped a lot...a sinus infection takes you down at least 25%.

01-13-2010, 09:04 AM
It doesn't take a whole lot to derail us flatlanders on a mountain hunt if there is some weather. I had already made several trips to Colorado hunting, but my "revelation moment" came in 03 Gunnison up in the West Elks with sorry equipment spiked out in a lightning/sleet/rain/snow storm. A few Kifaru purchases over the years since have made things much better.

01-13-2010, 09:17 AM
Sorry to hear you had such a rough hunt. This will make the next one seem like a breeze though!

01-13-2010, 11:01 AM
Well that's a tough hunt and real bad timing on the sinus issues, better ones ahead for sure.

01-13-2010, 11:30 AM
The few days early was definitely desired, but Guard obligations and the military-industrial complex contracting system where my day job exists strips you of the ability to gather vacation days. I took 2 days without pay as it was!

It was good learning - you just wish that the tuition payments aren't this steep!


01-13-2010, 11:48 AM
Great write up.
I know what it is like to be a flat lander going to the west. Just moved from Michigan to AK. It has been a year and a half and I am still learning what it takes. Sounds like you made all the smart moves.

Strangely, it is good to hear a "real" hunting story from time to time. If everyone bagged a nice 400 class bull every time, it wouldn't be any fun. You got to have the sour before the sweet.

Once again, great write up. Hope to read another one someday.

PS. VERY jealous that you got to try out a 4 man/stove combo before making the $1000+ plunge.

Take care.

Jon S
01-13-2010, 12:44 PM
Good to hear from you Dan,
For those of you that don't know, he is a great guy, got to meet and hang with his lovely spousal unit (name withheld to protect the innocent) for a little while. Always nice to put faces with names here. He looked like hell when he arrived but kept pushing through.

His revelation about the size of the 4 man is why I sold it and got a 6, much better for a big guy like myself. I can vouch for his desire to be successful, we spent more than a few hours on the phone gazing over maps and talking about equipment and what to expect. If I had a job that wasn't new and school based, I would have tagged along to make that 4-5 mile roundtrip even shorter.
Thanks for the write-up, anytime you are back in D town, you are always welcome, get the wife into good mexican food, next time dinner is on me, at a great place, you can have a day or two to get the GI tract situated afterward.

01-13-2010, 09:33 PM
Good to see you are still kicking Jon

Wanted to return some of the great info I have gleaned over the years from the board. Hopefully you guys will gain from the reviews - like about the 4 man tidbits - I am a gear queer, so always love to hear what someone else tried that worked/didn't work

I think the 4 man is a good quality product, but it is not the right one for the needs I have - The Lovely Spousal Unit was a pretty good trooper to even go and try the hunt - I need to meet her part way on the creature comforts - also would rather not live like a troll when I camp/hunt.

When are you and your Mrs. coming to KC, Jon?


01-14-2010, 06:39 AM
USMA, pack some kefir in your ice chest. You can get it at the health food stores. It is like a liquid yogurt, high in calories, but replaces the bacteria in your system and can save you from the "going for accuracy and distance" events in the field.

Ed C
01-14-2010, 09:56 AM
Wanted to return some of the great info I have gleaned over the years from the board. Hopefully you guys will gain from the reviews - like about the 4 man tidbits - I am a gear queer, so always love to hear what someone else tried that worked/didn't work

I think the 4 man is a good quality product, but it is not the right one for the needs I have - The Lovely Spousal Unit was a pretty good trooper to even go and try the hunt - I need to meet her part way on the creature comforts - also would rather not live like a troll when I camp/hunt.


This has been a great post for people considering a western hunt. Since Co. has the most elk, that is a place many first timers consider.

Granted coming down with a cold will pretty much ruin a hunting trip, even if it is sitting in a tree stand. A sinus infection at high altitude disastrous.
This might affect some of your review of equipment [4 man]. The truth is
elk huntin ain't for everybody. I sure hope I don't have to apologise to all those dead elk ,because I was stayin in a 4 man or less. Better luck on your next hunt.