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  1. #1
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    Elk - Routt/White River/Grand Mesa Nat Forests

    I've dabbled a little over the years in doing some very basic research on the elk hunting opportunities in Colorado. To further a goal of trying to be out hunting elk each fall, I have come to the conclusion that Colorado needs to be part of my 'bag of tricks' if things fall thru in Wyoming. Despite costlier NR cow tags, its just too close to Iowa for me to ignore anymore; with a large herd of elk.

    What are the members opinions of the herd health and hunting opportunities in the 3 national forests in my heading? (Routt, White River, Grand Mesa) I have come across many threads on this forum, and others, spanning many yrs, that give some ideas of the hunts in those areas; but wanted to hear from anyone with recent and long term experience hunting those areas on their impressions.

    I will probably be trying for a cow tag; muzzy or 1st rifle, with an OTC bull being the plan "C", if nothing panned out. Despite having hunted elk twice before; this would be an 'entry level' DIY truck/spike camp hunt, with an expectation of hiking up to 10 miles/day, each way; in possibly tough, alpine terrain. Trophy quality for me is the last consideration at this point; this is about a guy wanting to learn and work towards his 1st elk. Discussion at the forest & herd level is all I'm after; specifics could be discussed via a PM.

    Regards,

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    Last edited by Prerylyon; 01-12-2019 at 10:28 AM.

  2. #2
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    CPW publishes herd health reports on YouTube. Search for "colorado big game hunting forecast". They update this once a year in spring although last year they did it as a series of separate videos with different titles, rather than one big one.

    I've hunted White River and Routt, never Grand Mesa. My 2c it's all about the weather. A big healthy herd pushed down onto the private ranches due to early snow (which happened this year) will leave you hiking for miles without even seeing tracks despite the size of the herd. Colorado elk herds actually fall into two groups: resident and migratory. The resident herds stay low even in summer, and tend to "orbit" from ranches into nearby woods and back. Migratory herds stay much higher until they get pushed down. As always, access is the main thing. Some of those White River areas are beautiful... but hard to get into...

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  4. #3
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    Thanks for the insight & info 'Tkswp, will keep an eye for those videos from the CPW folks.

    How bad does that 1st storm need to be to push those White River forest elk out? Or is it more a deal where once the snow hits a certain depth & they can't eat, then they head for lower elevations and greener pastures?

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  5. #4
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    The snow needs to touch the bellys and or multiple layers that thawed and refroze so they can't dig for the forage. Reality is we haven't had the big migration snow for a few years now.

    Hunting two of the arguably biggest herds in the world is a pretty good starting place IMO. The numbers are there. Regardless of season they will be in a undisturbed area. I know I tend to oversimplify things. But it works, go into a GMU with big numbers, find a hunt that fits your style, find the unpressured area and get after em.

    The kicker is......getting the meat out.

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  7. #5
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    Really appreciate the suggestions and insights.

    Snow, food availability, hunting pressure will play roles on their whereabouts.

    Both the Bears Ear and White River herds are on my short list to learn more about. Herds with larger number of animals for me to cut my teeth on.

    The last 2 summers I've been able to take the kids camping & fishing near where I plan to hunt. While not a laser focused scouting trip, we have a lot of fun in the mountains and I at least get a good idea of the lay of the land for when I return in the fall.

    A summer trip into the flatops might be in the works.


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  8. #6
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    The Flattops has a number of elk however by the time that the rifle hunts come along they are all pushed into the canyons off of the top.

    I have seen very few elk up on top after the first of October.
    If you don't care where you are, you are not lost....

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  10. #7
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    Depends where you are, too - it's a big state. I don't know what the others above saw in their zones but I was in 27 for elk and they got 9" and then 5" in back to back snow storms at the start of Rifle 3. That's fairly high country there and it definitely pushed them. I was out that first weekend alone, and saw some on the move coming down from the ridgeline South of the Rabbit Ears pass. I had to work that week, and by the time my wife and I got back for the following weekend we only found three fresh tracks across an 8 mile hike - all headed downhill. It didn't help that there'd been a recent fire in the bottom end of the zone, either, but that wasn't what pushed them out, it just kept them towards the top end of the zone.

    Fires were bad this year. I wouldn't be surprised if they have lower quotas for 2019 in some spots, especially around Kremmling and Pueblo/Ft Garland.

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  12. #8
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    We often hear about the good, long term effects of the fires: openings for meadows/parks, more feed for elk; but not always the bad. I would think that some of the elk that have the bad luck to get caught in a bad spot perish, but honestly have no experience with it.

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    In a fire some wildlife will die that is just the facts of it. But I have seen where wildlife just walk around the flames and unless they get trapped into a canyon or somewhere that they just can't get out of they do fine. Also forest fires do not consume everything making it a scorched world, there are patchwork of trees and grasses that survive and the animals are driven to these area.

    Just as a example back in 2002 there was a fire in the Utah Book Cliffs where people 100 miles away could see the flames in the air. This same area had lots of green areas that the fires never touched and when I went into the area 2 months after the fire I found more elk than I thought was possible. We also found elk and deer living right in the smoldering ash munching on the fresh green growth that was coming up.
    If you don't care where you are, you are not lost....

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  15. #10
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    Interesting stuff.

    I've only experienced the good side of a forest fire as a hunter-well after the fact.

    We weren't getting into elk in 2017 one side of the mtn so we moved to change things up. The other side had burned a yr or two before and it was loaded with active sign, mule deer and moose everywhere too. They were feeding on the green growth coming up in the burn.

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