Long after most hunters have left the woods and are sitting at home watching football games or worrying about the upcoming Christmas, some lucky hunters are still chasing elk. Several Western states such as Colorado offer late season hunts for antler less elk that extend into mid-February.
Most people’s image of elk hunting includes large canyons, fall colors and high-pitched bugles. But for hunters who want to extend their season, a different type of elk hunting adventure awaits. These hunts usually don’t involve mountaintops and the heavy dark timber. The driving force on a late season hunt is typically deep snow and cold weather where hunters find themselves a challenge in harvesting an elk in the open sage flats.
I know many elk hunters and even as a guide I will acknowledge that any elk is a trophy. They might not all carry antlers, but cow elk are just as elusive and smart. If you’ve ever watched an Elk herd take their cues from the wise old lead cow, you know just what I’m talking about. The reward for bagging a cow elk is a couple hundred pounds of what I’d say is some of the best game meat in the world.
Late season antler less elk hunts are not designed to be a wilderness experience. In fact, many take place close to easy access points and often times hunting from the warmth of your own vehicle is the best option. In other words you can leave the wall tent at home and book yourself a hotel room or check in with local outfitter as they often times are willing to put you up.
The late season means that the elk herds are usually down low, making them more accessible to hunters. They are also generally grouped into large herds-sometimes more than a hundred animals and in instances I’ve hunted herds of more than a thousand animals. Amazing sight in itself, but the problem behind a herd of that magnitude is that lots of damage to rancher’s haystacks and property often times occur! And if they are hungry, very few fences can stand up to the force of a large herd of elk that want to be on the other side eating.
The main focus of these late season hunts is to control elk populations and to remove elk in areas where they cause problems. Although many late hunts are on private land, land owners often welcome hunters who are going to help rid them of nuisance elk.
In the ordinary case a late season hunt is an ambush hunt. During the winter, elk frequently travel several miles under the cover of darkness to feed in warmer lower valleys. As daylight approaches, they begin moving back up into the surrounding hills to spend the day. They often use the same travel routes repeatedly until pushed. Sometimes the elk are feeding on private ground down low, but spending daytime hours hunkered down on higher public ground. The key to harvesting a late season elk is to locate the herd and position yourself in their direction of travel with the wind in your favor of course! Ambush hunts like this can be very exhilarating leaving you with some spectacular encounters. I always tell my hunters you know the rush when your within 60 yards of a single bull now imagine that same feeling except now you have hundreds of elk all within 60 yards! It’s a feeling like no other!
If you want to try later season antler less elk hunts, check with game agencies for almost any of the western states. Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana all usually have permits for winter cow hunts. But any state that has elk is worth checking because these hunts can vary quite a bit from year to year as managers schedule hunts to remove elk in overpopulated areas or to reduce elk problems.
Late season elk hunting is a great way to extend your season and not a bad way to fill an empty freezer! Its also a hunt not quite like another and would suggest it to young and old!