Unless you live in the middle of elk country, and even if you do, an elk hunt is in the words of an old friend, “a major operation.” Elk are big animals that live in even bigger country. You don’t shoot an elk and drag it out of the woods like you might a whitetail. You can spend days packing it out on your back, and just getting to where you will hunt can be an arduous undertaking. Elk hunting takes planning, time and resources.
Hunts come in various packages ranging from do-it-yourself hunts on public lands using backpacks and pop tents to luxurious destination lodges on vast private ranches where you can hunt from horseback or a pickup truck. The cost of these hunts range from a few hundred dollars for the do-it-yourselfer to $12,000 or double that for hunts featuring guaranteed opportunities on world class 375- to 400-inch bulls.
I’ve never hunted one of the really exclusive destinations, but I have done a great many self-guided hunts. Though they are very rewarding, they are tough to pull off, especially for a first timer. For many, an elk hunt represents a trip of a life-time, and for those hunters wanting a good experience along with a high chance of success, I recommend one of Colorado’s 23 participating Ranching for Wildlife ranches. For an average cost of $4,000 to $6,000, you will get a 5-7 day hunt on a vast ranch, often bordering public lands, with good a number of elk. Your hunt will include knowledgeable guides, good accommodations and food, and a high probability of taking a bull, while you explore and hunt in some of the most beautiful country on earth.
Last year I experienced a first-class hunt at the Cross Mountain Ranch, which participates in Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources Ranching for Wildlife access and wildlife management program. You can watch my exciting hunt on Life in the Open beginning in October on Versus.
I’ve been hunting elk for over 25 years, and during my Cross Mountain Ranch hunt, I saw more elk in a few days than I have often seen in an entire season in my home state of Montana. Everybody in camp put a tag on a bull, even the bow hunters. That’s a heck of a record given that the elk were wild, free ranging critters that inhabited both the ranch and adjoining public lands.
Our guides were very knowledgeable and hard working, and the food was simply delicious. The views from the ranch, overlooking Steamboat Springs Ski Area and the famed Flat-Tops area, were drop-dead beautiful.
You can find comparable elk hunts in the same price range in a number of areas in the Rockies, but I don’t believe you’ll find any that are better. No matter where you decide to go, just go, because elk hunting in the Rockies is something every hunter should do at least once in his or her life.
Cross Mountain Ranch; www.crossmountainranch.com
Colorado Department of Natural Resources; www.dnr.state.co.us