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Colorado elk hunting de-brief and advice for newcomers

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There is nothing like advice, tips and suggestions from someone who has been there and done that.

This guest post (de-brief!) is from Nathan Cossey, who completed his first Over The Counter tag archery elk hunt in Colorado. He has some great insights on gear and hunting philosophy.

by Nathan Cossey

(Editor’s note: This post was re-printed from a recent Facebook post and used with the permission of Nathan Cossey. He sounds like someone I’d like to hunt with! Nathan is a former U.S. Marine – thank you, Nathan,  for your service to this country.)

Hey everyone, I got home Sunday morning from my first back country OTC elk trip in Colorado. Just wanted to share some stuff I learned for guys like me who want to give it a try.

Nathan Cossey during his Colorado elk hunt.

Cardio, Cardio, Cardio, and a lot of it with your pack on. My bag for my eight-day trip was right around 60 lbs. By the time we hiked in day one about five miles for base camp, that load was feeling pretty heavy. My conditioning was very good, but I could have used a lot more pack training and humps.

Be aggressive with Elk. We were on a herd of elk literally day one and two. We spotted them glassing from camp on day one, and found them at 11,500 feet on day 2. We attempted to ambush them in a known grazing location, and basically wasted an entire day watching a herd of elk that were in a prime spot to stalk in and get a kill. The elk disappeared after that.

Learn elk sign, and how to identify what is fresh and what it all means. Also learn the preferred food sources of elk, how they bed, and how they travel. We wasted a lot of time in areas that just don’t hold elk, and after a day of hiking and not seeing a single animal or sign, we figured ALOT out.

I packed WAY too much food. I had precisely calculated 4000 calories a day of food, and maybe ate 2000 to 2500 of it a day. In fact, my snack bag barely got touched outside of jerky and gummy bears. I did smash my alpine air breakfast and peak refuel dinner everyday.

Pack a small sliver of soap. The creeks are cold, but if you can find time to take a quick creek rinse especially for your feet, it will definitely give you a second wind and keep you in the hunt longer.

Crocs, pack them, just do it. They are the best thing for your feet in the back country.

Boot gaiters are something you should never leave home without. I lucked out and found a pair of Outdoor Research Croc gaiters right before I left. I never touched them until 4 feet of snow fell and we spent days not only digging out of a snowstorm, but trudging through knee and waist deep snow, I would haven’t been able to do it without them. (How to choose gaiters.)

If you are hunting early season elk, start as high as you possibly can elevation wise before you leave the truck. We parked at 8500 feet and by the time we hiked in and we’re hunting we spent all of our time at 10000+. That’s a lot of energy and calories you can save by starting high.

A survival situation can be caused by weather, or your reaction to it. 

Water filtration. If you are with a group, have a couple different options of filtration. There are scenarios you will run into where some filters work awesome, and some don’t work at all. We experienced this more than once.

Spend a ton of time in your pack, and do your hikes with the clothes you plan to wear and the gear you will carry. It took me a couple days to really get comfortable in my pack because I wasn’t used to hiking in long pants, jacket, harness, and with a bow sling over my shoulder.

Buy a bow slicker. Just do it, it’s your weapon, protect it.

Don’t skimp on boots at all. I have Zamberlins™, I’ve had them for years, they kick ass. Buy what works for you, just make sure you don’t skimp.

I really, really, really like wool now. I was always a synthetic guy. For this trip, I wore smart wool underwear, and wool base layers and socks/sock liners. It was warm, we sweated a lot, and they never smelled like synthetic does. (Here is why you should consider wool garments.)

Sock liners are amazing and cheap, cost nothing in weight, and protect your feet.

Pack fingernail clippers. For your toenails. They will grow, they will cut your toes, and they will cut through your socks. (Here are some other survival items to have on you.)

Have a backup tent in the truck. We lost our tents in the snow, and were stuck sleeping in a hotel for 4 days. This killed our hunting time, because there’s nothing in remote Colorado.

Verify, verify, verify weather reports. Our Garmin said six-eight inches of snow. We got four feet. It damn near got us killed.

Don’t feel stupid buying equipment that’s life safety. I never thought I’d need my Inreach™, but when my Jeep was stuck in 3-4 feet of snow, that SOS button was pretty damn handy.

Put a winch on your truck if you can afford it. If not, get a come along and long chains or straps. Search and rescue couldn’t get to us, and had no timeline or pin on resources when they would be able to. My Jeep, winch, and some grit got us off the mountain when others were stranded for days or getting rescued by helicopter.

Be nice to folks, talk to your fellow hunters and locals. We made a TON of friends from all over the country. They helped us with hunting areas that were dead after the snow storm, and you get tons of valuable info on the area. It’s nice to have friends around when you are new to an area.

Get up early, go to bed late. You might be tempted to only hike in the daylight, but you are missing valuable opportunities by not getting in the woods before daylight, and sitting there until after dark. The woods talk a lot more in darkness than in light. We screwed around and missed a ton of hunting time by not doing this daily. Lesson learned.

Nathan Cossey

Elk will be wherever the hell they want to be. We had been told that elk only stay higher than 10000 feet in early September. Day two we were blazing a trail back to camp and blew an entire herd of cows out of the woods at 9000 feet that we never dreamed would be there. Always be hunting.
Lastly, have fun. The terrain is unbelievable. I’ve traveled this planet for most of my adult life. I’ve been to countless countries, terrains, and climates, and there is still in my opinion, no where as beautiful as the high country Rockies.  (Editor’s note: AMEN!!!) I’ve only been home for 24 hours, and I can’t stop thinking about being back out there putting miles on my feet trying searching for animals.

I know there will be a lot of people that say this or that is wrong, and you are probably right. I’ve been a hunter my whole life, and have harvested A LOT of animals, but big game hunting in high country is just different. Be willing to learn, and work your ass off. I learn stuff on here (Facebook) every day, and I’m thankful for that.

Nathan Cossey is a self-described “obsessed outdoorsman and hunter.” He grew up hunting in the deep woods of the Arkansas Ozarks, and has expanded his hunting reach to all over the United States. He lives in Northwest Arkansas, and is a security professional and emergency manager by trade. Nathan is a former United States Marine Sergeant and Combat Veteran of Iraq. His primary hunting of choice is chasing Whitetail with his bow, but has a deep love for waterfowl and is becoming more and more obsessed with back country hunting as he grows older. There is nothing he enjoys more than sharing his love of wild game in the form of warm meals with friends and family. Nathan has a beautiful family, his wife Leah of 10 years and his 11 year old daughter Jenna.

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