Women comprise the fastest growing segment of the population with regard to hunting and shooting sports. The challenge of hunting elk in Colorado is not just for men. I asked Sabrina to write a story about her first hunting experience as a way to assist the readers in understanding the challenges and enthusiasm which accompany that first hunt experience. Follow along as Sabrina talks about her first hunt. - JB
By Sabrina Schnelker
My first big game hunt of my life was with my best friend, Trina, in 2010. We both had cow tags for Game Management Units 21, 30 and 31 during the third season. Trina had been big game hunting before and therefore knew the ropes of hunting. As for the gear, thanks to Trina, we had everything we needed. Anything I forgot to bring she had already packed for both of us. We were able to layer our clothing appropriately to the point that it kept us warm in the cold mornings and then we would need to shed layers in the afternoon. We stayed in a cabin close to our hunting units and brought plenty of food and water for the week. We even brought extra gas since we knew we would not be near a town with a gas station for the majority of the time. We were exceptionally prepared. One thing we needed help with was the weather.
During the first part of the week, it was relatively warm for November with highs around 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. There was not any moisture and the elk already had pressure from the previous hunting seasons. The elk did not have a good enough reason to come down to lower elevations because of the warm weather. We would have hiked up to them but unfortunately they were mostly on private property. Each year, it normally takes quite a bit of snow and cold weather to move the elk down on to the public land in this area. By Wednesday of third season, the cold and snow started to come in. Unfortunately, the several inches of snow we received was not deep enough to push the elk down to lower elevations but it was enough to make the roads horribly sloppy.
The very first day of our hunt we found a cow but not the one listed on our licenses. It was a moo cow and it was stuck in a fence. They are not the brightest creatures in the world and somehow had gotten its back legs stuck in the fence. It was obvious that it had been there a while because there was hair stuck to the fence in clumps. Even though we were eager to get to our destination to start hunting, we could not let the cow suffer no matter how few brain cells they have. So Trina and I tried to stretch out the fence and encourage the cow to head in the correct direction. We knew if she got free on the wrong side then we may have another problem on our hands. Especially since she did not realize that we were helping her. She was not in the greatest of moods and we thought we might be chased by an animal that could crush us easily. Luckily, after a few minutes of working with the fence she was able to free herself and went in the right direction. I think Trina and I were lucky that everything ended up okay. Our hearts were pumping a little bit harder than we expected due to the cows disposition. Just one more memory we will have from our hunting trip together!
Once we made it to our hunting spot, we started scouring the dark timber for elk but the elk sign (scat) was about a day old. We could tell this by the dryness of the scat and in some areas there was frost on the scat but not snow. We knew when the last snowfall was so that helped to determine the freshness. While hiking in the timber, we discovered something we should have brought with us. Trina and I split up at one point in time and could not find each other again. We both had the truck, known as Big Red, marked as a way point in our GPS units but we did not discuss when and where to meet before we split up. After scouring the timber for a while and not finding Trina or any elk, I decided to head back to Big Red. About 15 minutes later here comes Trina. She is hot from hiking in the warm weather and frustrated that she could not find me or any elk for that matter. It is still a little funny when I think about it! Yet another lesson learned, make sure you have some way to communicate when you split up. Hand held radios will be my choice next hunting season.
On Sunday of third season, we decided to take a different approach in the dark timber. We had information from some bull hunters that a specific block of dark timber had a few cows in it earlier in the morning. So we decided one of us would sit at the top of the dark timber. The other person would circle around to the bottom and then would head up through the timber toward the stationary person to push out any animals. I was ready for the hike so I volunteered to make the trek down to the bottom of the dark timber. It was an excellent idea but unfortunately there was not any elk in the timber.
During the entire week, we only saw one cow elk that we could shoot and it was running at full speed. Trina and I were driving to a new location to hike in and see if we could find some elk. We were driving past a section of timber we had scoured the day before. The cow raced out of the woods and crossed in front of us at about 100 yards. I got out of the vehicle, loaded my rifle and took aim but the cow was still at a full sprint. Trina whistled and got the cow to stop in its tracks for a mere two seconds. The brush around me was high enough that I knew I could not sit down to shoot because I would not be able to see the cow. I tried to steady my rifle while standing but I could not get my scope to settle on it. The two seconds were up. The cow figured out it was in danger and off it ran onto private property. This was a great learning experience for me. If I had dropped to one knee and supported my elbow on the other knee I would have a cow in my freezer right now.
The rest of the week we spent battling the weather. The snow started coming in but was not enough to move the elk down in elevation. It was cold enough to snow but still warm enough that the roads became very sloppy. We spent a day on ATV’s trying to access some steep terrain. Saw a lot of tracks and scat but nothing fresh. We spent another day sliding through the mud in Big Red. We had to put the chains on her and work our way out of the mud slide. Trina and I were just as muddy as Big Red when we were done!
Preparation for your hunt and bringing the correct gear is essential. Elk can be difficult to hunt depending on the time of year, location and weather conditions. Even in the worst conditions, your best preparation can help you be successful every time. We already learned the mistake I made by not dropping to my knee. A great way to prepare mentally is to think of scenarios and how you would react. Imagine yourself in my shoes and what would you have done differently? I am a small woman so for me to shoot standing up is not going to be the most effective way to hunt. This would also be applicable for youth hunters. The smaller you are the more support you will need in order to shoot accurately. Practice shooting from different positions and think about what you may need to shoot over or around brush and trees. In my case, the brush was too high to shoot from a sitting position but short enough that I could have shot from a knee. Hindsight is 20/20! Think about where you are and where you could shoot towards safely. When you move to a new area to hunt be observant and think of scenarios of where the elk could be and how you would react. Also think about where the elk will be once you shoot it. Is it in an area that you can access easily and get it back to a vehicle or ATV without too many problems?
All in all, the hunt was an awesome experience and a great way to spend time with my best friend. We saw two white ermines, mountain lions tracks, bobcat prints, elk scat and beds and plenty of deer we could have shot if we had the proper licenses. I cannot wait to get back out there and experience it all over again. There are many things I learned from hunting with Trina. Take the experience of an amateur hunter and learn from my mistakes. I know I did!