I was lucky enough to get to hunt a private elk herd in Colorado last fall and as luck would have it a blizzard rolled in. Here’s how it went down.
First off this is a private herd managed by South Platte Outfitters owned by Jacob McIntosh. Jacob and Sky have done an amazing job with this place. The end goal is to return the area back to native grasses and animals including upland birds and buffalo along with the elk.
They have built an amazing lodge they call “The Fort” from the ground up, inside, outside, everything including the doors. It’s five star accommodations in the middle of nowhere.
I actually won the hunt on a drawing they had through their Facebook page and I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity to hunt there, it was one of my most memorable hunts. I’ll leave all the contact info at the bottom of the story. You can’t go wrong booking here and when I need elk meat again this is where I’ll go.
It’s a 13 hour drive from my house so I left early and the closer I got to Denver the more snow started to fall. In Denver I headed northeast to Hudson to meet Sky, and the snow was starting pretty good by then. We arrived at the ranch to reports on the radio of 18″ of snow by morning. To a TEXAS boy that seemed impossible and honestly I figured it was an exaggeration but I was wrong.
The next morning was brutal, single digit temps, wind 20+ and snow 18″ with drifts up to middle of my thigh.
Northeast Colorado is not a woody area full of timber and tall mountains, it’s plains, and with the tall grass under the snow and every hole and depression full of snow even though it looked like good level walking it was really a treacherous blind hike that left me wondering if mountains wouldn’t be easier to hike in. We had three or four days of it so we had no choice but to hunt, so hunt we did.
As I get older I like to think I get smarter, whether I do or not is up for debate but I did make a couple good choices for this trip. First I bought a Primos Trigger Stick tripod and put a two point gun rest on top. My thinking was the tall grass would be too tall to shoot through prone so I could stand up and shoot off the Trigger Stick. I did not anticipate two feet of snow but it worked out great having the Trigger Sticks because you can’t shoot in this kind of snow on grass laying prone, you just sink in below the grass and with a 20+ mph wind standing and shooting was very difficult as I found out, so kneeling turned out to be the way to go and the easy adjustment of the Trigger Stick made it possible to get the height I needed fast.
The other thing I got was tall snow gaiters. These are the things that go over your boot and pants up to the knee to keep the snow and water from running down into your boot and if you are long legged like me it is very important because my pants are always too short. I could’ve done without the snow gaiters but I would’ve been wet and colder and miserable. I don’t think I could’ve made the shot without the trigger sticks though.
Speaking of shot, onto the day of the kill. We left from “The Fort” walking after sun up. Wind still howling, snow still falling. We hadn’t gone a few hundred yards when Jacob spots a coyote in a line of cottonwood trees trying to get out of the wind. We figured this was a good opportunity to try out my shooting in a cross wind and blowing snow.
At this distance I don’t think the bullet drift was near as bad as how far I missed it by but the wind was pushing on me and the gun too so between those two things I missed the coyote wide left and he headed for Wyoming. Embarrassing yes, but lesson learned and it would come in handy later.
We continued on our hike with very limited visibility. It was slow going and I had to learn to walk through snow 2 feet deep which I had never done so that was interesting. I think walking on flat ground through this much snow was harder than hiking the mountains but step by step we plunged through, stopping every now and then for a breath.
I have no idea how far we had gone when we stopped to glass a little but you couldn’t see much passed a few hundred yards because of the snow blowing sideways. Jacob did spot some faint brown objects in the far distance but there was no way to approach them from where we were so we continued on our path.
We crested a small hill staying low so we wouldn’t be sky lined and down in the valley were several elk bedded and some bulls in the herd. When I say hills and valleys I’m talking like a dozen feet of rise not hundreds, but with the tall grass and snow we could stay low and sneak around. There was no chance of them hearing us and maybe not even smelling us with the winds so strong. We stopped to glass the herd.
Not being able to see the entire herd and them having no idea we were there we decided to back out and approach from different angle and try to get the wind where I wasn’t shooting in a straight crosswind.
We backed out and made our way around a little rise where we could get glass on them. As we scanned the herd Jacob says “there’s our bull”. He was bedded down on the edge of the herd but with no approach so we back out again and make another circle.
The snow is stupid deep and this walk is tough even though we weren’t going real far and were on mostly flat ground.
Finally we get to about 200 yards and see the bull bedded but to get a shot we would have to expose ourselves so we just laid low waiting to see how it played out.
Eventually a spike got up and walked toward us and I think he knew something was up but couldn’t quite make us out between the blowing snow and the fact there wasn’t much more than our heads sticking out but I couldn’t shoot from that position. I would need to at least get to my knees if the bull stood up and came our way.
After a bit he got to his feet sensing the spikes discomfort I assumed. There were 4 bulls in the little herd and a couple more bulls and some cows down farther from them but we had our sights set on one bull.
The spike was in front with a couple rag horns behind quarter away but slowly. They stopped to break through the snow and feed on something and the herd kinda mixed up with the big bull being in the middle now. The spike was still unsure of what we were but kept looking our way. The other bulls would glance but not having seen us previously never could make us out.
Jacob stayed down looking through his binoculars while I tried to get to my knees and set the Trigger Sticks up. Barely peeking over the little grass that was sticking up through the snow I found the bull in the scope. It seemed like ages before he cleared where there wasn’t another bull behind him.
The range finder was not working in the heavy falling snow and that was an inconvenience but we both agreed it was less than 200 yards so I was holding elevation dead on.
By the time the bull got into a position I could shoot him he had worked his way into a straight crosswind. Now, an elk is only about 20 times the size of a coyote but still having missed that coyote made me really bare down and pay attention to the wind pushing on me and the gun and the little bit of drift I would get. So I held for that and told Jacob get ready.
At the shot the recoil of course knocked me out of the scope a little, but when I found the bull again he was already falling. I heard Jacob say he’s done about the time he hit the ground and the others took off. We sat and watched for a few minutes just to be certain but he was done. I was happy, Jacob was happy, we had no tracking to do, life was good. A little cold but good.
We walked up to the bull, I was extremely pleased, he was a heavy 6×7 and nothing was broke and he had a huge body. That huge body was going to pose a problem though because I knew there was no way I was going to be able to make 3-4 trips packing it out and no truck was going to get through the snow we had to get through to get to the bull. After lots of pictures I asked Jacob what the plan was now, he said walk back and warm up and figure it out.
The trucks were useless in 3 feet of snow in places on the roads, I was going to be useless in 3 feet of snow too, this thing weighs about 750-800 pounds there’s no way we could pack him out in this snow. I was struggling by the time we got back to the fort without a load.
Jacob said he had a tractor if we could get a truck to it we could drive the tractor right across the plains to the elk. The snow was so deep it wouldn’t tear up any grass or even hit the ground so that was the plan.
On the way back Jacob spotted another coyote, well likely the same one I missed earlier that just circled back around since he could barely get through the snow, anyway he was bedded behind a big cottonwood tree with just his head out of the snow so I did what I couldn’t do earlier. He was mangy and ugly and was likely freezing to death right there.
We were almost back to the fort and could see a truck moving, Skyler had already started work on getting the truck out of the snow so we all piled in and not without some effort we made it to the tractor. It was gonna be a cold ride for me and her in the bucket of the tractor but honestly I had went numb hours ago so whatever. All this walking in freezing temps and snow blowing did make for some cool ice beards though.
Back at the elk more pictures and then get it tied up for the ride to the fort. We were tired and hungry so we went in for food and rest and would finish skinning and quartering the next day.
The next day the snow had stopped but the temps and wind had not improved but we had work to do so it didn’t matter. Skinning and quartering an elk is work, skinning and quartering a frozen elk is a LOT of work but we took our time tried to stay warm and got it done.
In the mean time Skyler was cooking up delicious food and we cut off some nice steaks from the elk for the nights meal and it was delicious. After the butchering was done we enjoyed our steaks and some rest.
The next day I took some pictures of few elk and the fort and just enjoyed the scenery and sunshine. I would have to leave the next day.
I hated to go as I throughly enjoyed my stay but like all great trips they have to end so before daylight the next day I set out for TEXAS and what an adventure that would be.
The first several miles out of the ranch were in four wheel drive on roads that hadn’t been driven much so snow was deep and honestly I may not have even been on the road part of the time. Once I reached pavement I felt better but the roads were icy. It was slow going to say the least. At one point I slid off the road, skid down a huge hill into a snow bank bouncing the truck off a creek bank which knocked my camper shell crooked and bent the bed of the truck. To make matters worse none of the roads going south were open so my route from Colorado to TEXAS went through Kansas because it’s the only roads I could take. My 13 hour trip took 20 hours. It was a brutal drive and very intense. I was physically and mentally beat down when I finally got home.
All told I think I seen a half dozen cars and two semis slid off the road and crashed, not including me and the 20 hour drive was one of the worst I’ve ever made but I’d do it all again today.
I can’t thank Jacob and Skylar enough for the experience, the food, the conversation, the laughs and mostly the 278 pounds of the best wild game meat in this country.
Give Jacob a call to set up your plains elk hunt in Colorado or contact me here or on Instagram at Chris.m.cook or Facebook at Cafes and Campfires and I’ll get you in contact with him and if you have any questions ask away.