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Seize the Opportunity

March 2019
Author: Garth Jenson

Growing up in Utah, I had far more opportunity to pursue and hunt mature mule deer bucks than mature bull elk. Even though Utah is known for its trophy bulls, the odds of hunting any of the units that had said bulls was only a reality in my imagination.

It wasn’t until I took a trip to Colorado hunting mule deer almost 20 years ago that I had my eyes opened up to a state that appeared to have more elk than deer. The fact that I could walk into Walmart and buy a tag to hunt most of these areas where I was seeing multiple bulls everyday was unbelievable. It was then that I made my mind up that I needed to figure the ins and outs of this state’s application and over-the-counter elk hunting to seize the opportunity that was in front of me.

Over the course of the next 8-10 years, I built points and hunted over-the-counter areas for elk during the off years I was not hunting deer in Colorado. I was having luck turning up elk during archery and rifle seasons in these units, all the while thinking I was in for a great hunt when I finally cashed in my points I had built up. I always looked at the muzzleloader season as the best season and weapon combination as it was during September. This would offer the potential of rutting bulls along with extended ranges over archery tackle. Once I finally cashed in my points and hunted the muzzleloader season in a unit that was controlled for all seasons, the trophy quality wasn’t much different than I had been hunting in the over-the-counter units. The only real benefits were that there were slightly more bulls and fewer hunters to contend with. Still, building those points and cashing them in on a controlled unit taught me that unless I had 20+ points, I wasn’t going to get into much better trophy quality. I shifted my focus to finding over-thecounter elk units that I could draw a muzzleloader tag in on a regular basis, so the knowledge I gained from hunting a unit was more useful year after year.

If you are not familiar with Colorado hunts, they have units that have overthe- counter elk licenses for archery, second rifle, and third rifle seasons, but all muzzleloader, first rifle, and fourth rifle season licenses are issued through the draw. Prior to my controlled hunt, I had always hunted either archery or rifle with an over-the-counter tag and had found some solid bulls. The areas I had hunted had muzzleloader hunts that could be drawn with 0-1 point. I slowly but surely whittled down the units I wanted to focus on until I found a unit that had everything I was looking for – good elk numbers, refuge areas that most hunters overlooked, and mature bulls. For the icing on the cake, I could draw the muzzleloader hunt as a second choice, so it allowed me to build points while hunting rutting bulls in September with a muzzleloader.

One thing I learned about hunting units with over-the-counter archery licenses is you can never predict how many or where other hunters are going to be on given years, so you have to be mobile. Due to this, I have found that hunting with a good partner can be huge. If you are having difficulty finding elk, it helps to split up and cover more ground until you have zeroed in on the elk. Once you’ve found the elk, it helps coming in on the herd of elk from multiple angles in hopes of covering escape routes and giving you the best chance at being in the right place at the right time when the herd bull decides to make his rounds checking cows in the thick timber. It’s easy to talk yourself into packing it in and heading home if you’re having tough luck, but if you have a driven hunting partner, you can keep each other motivated during the tough times.

Hunting over-the-counter units in Colorado for mature bulls wasn’t and isn’t an easy feat, but once we had our unit and locations dialed in, it has become one of the most anticipated hunts of the year. It will undoubtedly take a few years to figure out and fine tune a unit and locations to focus on, and because of that, this strategy isn’t for everyone. This is mostly for hunters who are not concerned with harvesting the biggest bull in the woods or for hunters with limited time to spend learning an area from the ground up. However, for those hunters who have the time and motivation to go back year after year in hopes of chasing nice bulls and enjoy the pursuit and gaining knowledge as much as the actual harvest, it is one of the best opportunities out there.

Keep in mind that my hunting strategy revolved around the muzzleloader season, but the strategy can be the same for all weapons. You can find controlled hunts for archery and rifle that only take 0-2 points to draw and can have great results on mature bulls. Expectations will need to be in check as these hunts will most likely not produce 330-340" bulls year in and year out, but not many of the top units in Colorado will produce that class of bull either. I think most hunters will be surprised at just how many hunts can be drawn with 0-2 points as well as how many hunts can be drawn as a second choice. We have listed a new table this year in the Colorado opportunity section with elk hunts that could have been drawn as a second choice in 2018, which allows applicants to build points and still hunt seasons that have a limited number of hunters. If you need help devising your own Colorado elk hunting strategy, you can give us a call to fine tune your personal strategy.

Utah Elk Hunting