Training and Tips for your CO Elk hunt : Avalanche Outfitters Hunting, Riding, History and Outdoors

Training and Tips for your CO Elk hunt

by Josh Wamboldt on 04/06/19

Often, I am asked what do you suggest I do to prepare physically for my Colorado Elk Hunt?  This question has so many answers, many guys claim going to the gym is the best, others suggest cardio, some it’s all about nutrition.  Your routine should not start 2 weeks before your hunt but rather months, this is hard for some as life puts a damper on extra free time.  There are 2 requirements for being in “ELK SHAPE” one is obvious Physical the other is Mental. 


Personally, I have never gone from low elevation to Colorado as many of you do for your hunt, I personally do not work out, run or even do a lot of hiking during the summer, but I was born at this elevation and my job requires me to be physical.  I have compiled a lot of info from previous clients on how to get in better “ELK SHAPE”.  I will add a 6-week workout regime to the end of this written by Aram von Benedikt for Outdoor Life Magazine.  His 12-week routine is pretty spot on.



The first part of my suggested routine has nothing to do with physical shape.  But rather with your internal shape, I always suggest that clients begin drinking water daily.  One of the best things for your body is water and a lot of it.  You should drink your usual 8OZ of water a day but as the hunt nears I highly suggest you are up to at least a gallon of water a day.  Doing this will have many benefits during your hunt, one of the highest benefits is your body accepting the rapid elevation gain.  Altitude Sickness has ended more hunts than a lot of guides like to talk about, everyone quits drinking water when they get to camp and don’t drink nearly enough water as they hike.  This decline in water mixed with the altitude causes dehydration very quickly which will not let your body recover quickly from hikes and may take days instead of minutes to recover.  If you plan to drink any alcohol while at camp you should definitely be drinking water with it, 1 beer or 1 mixed drink should be followed by a glass of water.  The alcohol will also dehydrate your body which makes the early mornings and long days even harder on your body.  So, start drinking that water and continue with it even after you get to camp, force yourself to drink while you are hiking, at dinner and if you wake up in the night drink water.


Next comes your physical shape, so many options when it comes to this, running, treadmills, stair steppers, hill climbs, weight lifting.  All these can benefit, but if you are going to do this stair steppers will get you in that shape for climbing the mountains.  In my opinion the stair stepper is the next best tool besides actually climbing mountains.  Jogging is also a very good thing to do, not so much with weight as the added weight while jogging puts more strain on your joints and can make it unenjoyable.  They say what you can physically run at 1500’ Elevation you should be able to walk at 10,500’ Elevation.  I do suggest purchasing an Oxygen Deprivation Mask to get your body used to the thinner air than what you are used to.  This will help train your body and brain to work and be efficient with less oxygen.  Below is Aram’s routine I have not changed it and believe it is a great routine that will be low impact on your body. 


Week One: Start out easy on yourself to lower risk of hurting joints or tendons.
Mon/Wed/Fri cardio: Go for a brisk 45-minute walk, preferably including up and down terrain.
Tues/Thurs/Sat muscular: Spend 30 minutes climbing up and down the local bleacher stairs (or a nice steep hill). Take regular short rests.


Week Two: Step it up a little.
Mon/Wed/Fri cardio: Add short stints of jogging to your walk.
Tues/Thurs/Sat muscular: same 30-minute routine, just cut down on rest time.

Week Three: Start getting focused.
Mon/Wed/Fri cardio: Begin pushing yourself, walking less and jogging more.
Tues/Thurs/Sat muscular: Same 30-minute routine, add three squats and three lunges (don’t use weights) alternately during short rest periods.

Week Four: You should be feeling much stronger by now and hurting less. Remain careful to avoid injury.
Mon/Wed/Fri cardio: Try to jog the majority of your 45 minutes.
Tues/Thurs/Sat muscular: Try to spend the entire 30 minutes climbing your stairs or hillside, alternating between five squats and five lunges every few minutes. Only rest at the ten and twenty-minute marks.

Week Five: By now you should be enjoying your workouts.
Mon/Wed/Fri cardio: Warm up, then alternate two-minute sprints with walking to catch your breath. 45 minutes.
Tues/Thurs/Sat muscular: Wear a pack with 20 pounds of weight in it during your routine. Rest when needed.

Week Six: You should be feeling like a bonafide athlete.
Mon/Wed/Fri cardio: Back to jogging but pick up the pace a bit.
Tues/Thurs/Sat muscular: Try to get through your routine – hiking with pack and five crunches/lunges every five minutes – without stopping to rest.

Week Seven: Halfway there!
Mon/Wed/Fri cardio: Back to sprinting/walking. Push yourself.
Tues/Thurs/Sat muscular: Add five pounds to your pack (total 25), same routine.

Week Eight: Second amendment week.
Mon/Wed/Fri cardio: Trade the jogging in for a smooth relaxed 45 min run. (Faster than jogging, but not a sprint)
Tues/Thurs/Sat muscular: Same routine as week seven but carry your bow or rifle (empty of course) or object of similar weight/balance).

Week Nine: Hang in there.
Mon/Wed/Fri cardio: Sprinting and walking. Keep pushing.
Tues/Thurs/Sat muscular: Add five pounds – you’re up to 30 pounds plus your rifle/bow. Stay strong and focused.

Week Ten: Home stretch – only three weeks till the hunt.
Mon/Wed/Fri cardio: Smoother relaxed running. Keep it strong.
Tues/Thurs/Sat muscular: Same routine, add another five pounds. You’re up to thirty-five now, approximately the weight of a three-day bivy pack. Keep up the squats and lunges, they will prep you for big tough steps when climbing and crouching while stalking.

Week Eleven: Better be packing…
Mon/Wed/Fri cardio: Back to walking and sprinting, you should be traveling well.
Tues/Thurs/Sat muscular: Yep, you guessed it – add another five. You should be really strong by now, muscles bulging in your legs that you never knew you had.

Week Twelve: Congratulations! You’re probably in better shape than me now.
Mon/Wed/Fri cardio: Running, just keep it strong and relaxed.
Tues/Thurs/Sat muscular: Keep it up. No additional weight this week, just stay strong.

Another huge part of your elk hunt is the Mental game, your mentality can ruin your elk hunt in minutes.  This is not something you can exactly train your mind to do but rather something you can somewhat teach yourself that you can keep going.  The mental aspect can be destroyed by so many things, a blown stalk, the elk disappeared after you reached the summit, you shoot and miss, or the elk just don’t seem to be cooperating.  This game of elk hunting can be the most stressful thing you’ve ever done but how you handle it will make you or break you, and if you break yourself you can bring down the whole camp.  I personally elk hunted with a bull tag in hand for 17 years, not something to brag about as a guide, but I have watched 100’s of elk fall that I was a part of.  In my 17 years of hunting myself I had more than my fair share of screw ups, learning experiences, and incidences.  Some days I left the mountain so mad that I wanted to sell my gear and never look at an elk again, but I was always back the next day going again.  I have missed bulls (easy shots I might add), I have blown many stalks with 1 easy mistake, I’ve had other hunters blow my stalks, I’ve even chased other hunters over the mountain following their calls.  But in 2018 I finally had my chance at my bull and almost blew it, I walked into a spot not even thinking there was an elk, head down trudging across an opening, if he wouldn’t have been bedded in a bunch of deadfall, he would have escaped, this was the 5th day of my hunt and we put on 10-20 miles a day every day before that.  So, keeping your mental game strong is a huge factor, elk are hard to hunt they are ghosts, I have walked past elk at 15 yards and had no idea they were there until the left the area.  But in those instances, you have to stop look back and say what should I have done?  Every time something goes wrong stop take a deep breath assess the situation and see what you could have don’t different. 


Here are some tips to help with your elk hunt

A.   Binoculars

a.     Elk are excellent at hiding, they have escape routes planned, eyes in every direction, add in a keen sense of smell and hearing.  Even in timber stop everyone in a while and scan the area with your eyes then with your binoculars.  Looks for anything that may be Elk, learn their color palate, dark legs, dark neck, white rump, yellowish body.  Look for contours of their body, straight legs, straight back, slightly un-naturally curved antlers, an ear.  Your binoculars are your tool both for near and far, do not leave them in camp.

b.     Buy a quality pair of binoculars and use them before your hunt you may spend hours every day staring through them and the headaches can be excruciating.  Get them properly adjusted, quality binoculars will have the main focus to focus both eye pieces and an adjustment on a single eye piece. 

c.      Adjusting your binoculars

                                               i.     Put your binoculars up and look with your left eye focus the main dial of the binoculars, do not let your eyes focus in the binos use the adjustment dial.  Once completed close your left eye and open your right now you will adjust the single eye piece adjustment to match your right eye. Once it is perfect mark it with a sharpie, so you know where it is.

                                              ii.     Look through the binoculars with both eyes it should be crystal clear, and your eyes shouldn’t be fighting to adjust.  Your main adjustment dial will now focus both lenses equally to adjust for your prescription

d.     Many clients begin using their binos in all aspects of hunting once they see how much of a tool they are, that spot you thought was a tree stump was actually an elk rump, or that branch was an antler, or that weird dark spot was actually an elks leg, and you were about to walk right through it without a thought in your mind that it was an elk

B.   Hiking

a.     Learn to hike by glancing at the ground a few feet in front of you, you don’t want to stare at the ground where you are walking, the elk aren’t there if they are they are probably already dead. 

b.     Learn to scan as you hike, in all directions, uphill, downhill, and cross hill.  All the while you are glancing at the ground to see your obstacles and mentally you will start to remember what’s where, so you can hunt, and your feet and legs already know what’s coming.

c.      If you make a noise a cough, break a branch, slip, or rocks fall stop and scan the area

                                               i.     If the elk don’t know you’re coming and they hear a noise they will look, and this can give you the chance to see that movement.  If you keep walking they will pinpoint you and head out. 

d.     You don’t have to be silent walking through the brush, elk aren’t quiet and have a sense of an eary quietness, if I am calling elk, and moving towards them then quiet is not an option, would a bugling bull come into a call dead silent if he is bugling himself? No, he is letting them know with his calls that he’s there so no point in trying to be sneaky

e.     When tracking elk watch the tracks out in front of you as far as you can, and don’t stare straight down at them, sometimes you can see the elks move a ways in front of you and see that it started up hill or downhill this gives you a chance to get ahead of it or see where it may be headed, Elk love to hook around you especially if they didn’t smell you and may hook around you and come straight back to their bedding area.  You may feel defeated and headed back to camp and stumbling along and there the elk are again.

f.      The hunt isn’t over until legal light is gone, when you leave camp you should be loaded and ready to shoot, most times you will not have an opportunity like all the TV shows to chamber a round before the shot.  Be ready and practice getting your rifle off your back in a hurry. Walking back to camp you can stumble onto a herd and if you are unloaded and not ready your opportunity was missed.

C.   Calling Elk

a.     I know everyone’s dream in the rut is to throw out a bugle and a bull comes crashing in and they shoot him at 10 yards.  This rarely happens especially on public land.  I highly suggest letting the elk make their own mistakes, if you can pin point them and see where they are going while they are making noise and calling you stay quiet and let them come to you.  If you call when they are coming to you you’re allowing them to pinpoint your position and they will be looking for another elk, if it’s not there they will hang up and head out. 

b.     I highly suggest you purchase a copy of Elk Nuts Playbook and read it, bring it with you on your hunt this book has real life scenarios in it and can be a huge tool for you as a hunter.  I carry mine and read it mid-day when I have downtime, or in camp.  It is my bible to elk hunting.

c.      Obviously, calling elk out of the rut can be challenging but I do suggest having a cow call just in case you need one to stop, the whistle or whitetail ehhhh, usually makes them say good bye, but throwing out a cow call can make them think and give you that opportunity.  Learn to use your call before the hunt, and diaphragms or hand free calls are the best in a pinch, bite and blows are great if you cannot use a diaphragm.  Primos Cow Girl call is a great one.  I use Rocky Mountain game calls diaphragms personally.

d.     Bugling has become a lost cause, but it can work, and Elk Nuts Playbook will outline these situations, and I have gotten into bugling duals with bulls but that’s usually all they came to be, was a yelling contest between us. Cow calls are golden, as well as extra elk noises like rustling and breaking branches.

e.     Decoys are good but also can be a safety hazard never sit behind them or use them in the rifle or muzzleloader season.

D.     Shooting (everyone has their beliefs, but this is what I have seen personally, this is my suggestions)

a.     Personally, I’m not going to tell you not to bring a caliber that’s legal, I have seen elk dropped with a .243 and seen elk walk away from a .338 Ultra Mag.  But a bow will also kill an elk

b.     I wouldn’t suggest having a 9-20X power scope, a simple 3-9 or 4-12 is more than enough for the shots you may be taking, personally I shoot my weaver 1X .270 out to 450 yards and I have harvested elk/deer at that distance.

c.      Your shots could be 5-500 yards I do not suggest shooting over 500 yards without a lot of practice, if I’m guiding clients I keep them shooting to my max range of 450 yards (I have to walk and check for a hit after shots)

d.     Practice shooting in prone, on your pack, kneeling, standing, leaning ETC just in case that scenario presents itself

e.     Shot placement for rifles

                                               i.     I have outfitted long enough to see the evolution of where to shoot elk, from the behind the shoulder, to neck, through the shoulder, and spine. 

                                              ii.     Personally, a rifle shot up to 75 yards and a steady shooting position I’m going neck or head anything past that I’m going behind the shoulder through the lungs and/or heart. 

                                             iii.     A spine shot usually ruins back straps and has room for error, to high they may drop but you just stunned them, to low and your hitting high lung and they may run a long way, a shoulder shot you risk a bullet not penetrating or exploding on the hard bone plus you are wasting at least one shoulder of your animal, if your bullet does not penetrate you are chasing a blood trail

                                             iv.     Follow up shots Rule #1 you shoot the animal until it is out of sight or on the ground!!! If you aren’t sure get in position and put another shot through the animal.  I have literally seen someone spine an elk, it dropped, and the client would not put in a follow up shot, while we were getting our gear to head over it got up and ran away, we never found it.

                                              v.     Calibers don’t have a lot of meaning to me, know your rifle, know your optics, know your abilities and know your bullets

1.     1500 FT/Lbs. of energy is suggested for an elk shot, if your bullet is slowing down below that you risk that it will not and expand as it should (yes everyone has their own beliefs a 243 has roughly 833 FT/Lbs. at 300 yards)

2.     Don’t take the shot if you’re not comfortable with it better to go home empty handed than regret a shot you weren’t comfortable with

                                             vi.     If you have questions about your setup don’t be afraid to ask I will give my opinion and the rest is up to you

f.      Bow hunting

                                               i.     Yes, I have personally seen an elk shot at 97 yards with a bow and it only went 75 yards before expiring, but I do not suggest it!!!!!!!

                                              ii.     Shoot your broadheads before your hunt, even expandables, practice with them so you know their trajectory, even field points can be different than a field point

                                             iii.     Know where to shoot an elk in all sorts of positions

                                             iv.     Know your shooting capabilities and stick to them

                                              v.     Practice shooting from any position you see yourself in and test yourself, kneeling, standing, bad form, leaned back, you never know if you will be pinned down and have to lean back around a tree to make your shot

                                             vi.     If you have questions about your setup don’t be afraid to ask, I have seen many broadheads, and every broadhead has failed at some point somewhere.

E.    Knowing what you want to shoot

a.     As the old saying goes don’t pass on the first day what you’re willing to shoot on the last, and this holds true in my opinion.  I always ask clients what are you willing to shoot the last day? A lot of times a legal elk, I highly suggest you stick to that!!!! Don’t be the guy who says should have shot that 4 point or cow on the first day, trust me you will regret it until you fill your tag

b.     If you are willing to shoot a cow, take the first one that presents itself, this is public land you may not see another elk

c.      If you are willing to go home with an empty tag because you had your standards for what you wanted that is up to you

d.     Either sex tags mean 1 bull or 1 cow not one of each, so this is big, if you want to hold out for a bull that’s your choice, but you got the either sex tag for a choice of one or the other I’d suggest filling it if possible.

e.     We do have an antler point restriction for bulls it is 4 points on one antler, a point is at least 3” long (just to be safe, CPW states a point is atleast half the length of the diameter of the main beam, so a 3” main beam diameter a point would need to be 1.5” I say 3” to be safe) or a 6” Brow tine brow tines are the first 2 points of an antler NO MORE than 8” from the base of the antler.  IF YOU ARENT SURE IF ITS LEGAL DON’T SHOOT (I am required to turn you in if you shoot an illegal elk, my business is on the line if I do not) STUDY elk if you aren’t sure ask me and we can have some email fun of me sending you pics and you can decide if they are legal or not

F.    After the Shot

a.     If you shoot you should check the area even if you think you missed!!! Several times we have seen shots and seen snow or dirt fly high and behind the animal, they never flinched, 2-3 shots same thing.  Suddenly the elk turns down hill and falls over.  Even if you and your spotter think you missed, go to where the animal was and check you may be surprised how much a bullet can deflect in a body cavity. 

b.     Give the animal some time, unless you see the animal drop in its tracks give it 15-20 minutes minimum to go investigate.  If they are hurt bad enough they will usually go a short distance and lay down, proceed quietly and scan the area.

c.      Keep the celebrating to a minimum, I have seen shooters shoot and elk and drop it and proceed to start celebrating, yes, it is very exciting but sometimes other elk show up and if your second shooter is high fiving you they may not get a shot to double up!!!!! Give yourself 5 minutes before you figure everything is gone (unless you are by yourself and don’t have another tag).  Have seen guys shoot and drop a cow, only for the bull to walk out 45 seconds later and they got him to with their second tag.  If they were celebrating they might not have gotten that shot.

d.     When tracking wounded game go slow, look and listen, use your binos, walk a way stop and look around.  If you run out of blood or tracks, go back to the last blood or track and start circling until you find more, use decomposable flagging or toilet paper to mark your blood spots, you can look back and see direction of travel and also don’t have to go back and search for blood if you lose it. 

e.     I highly suggest learning the Gutless Method of skinning!!!! Check YouTube and learn it, proper knives are also huge I personally carry 5 knives with me on every hunt cause they all have different advantages and disadvantages. 

f.      Game bags are huge any season, it will help keep flies away from your meat and cause less waste when processing, have enough bags to cover your tags, and they don’t have to be super high end I use the $9 ones from Walmart and they work just as good as the $150 ones. (pepper also helps for flies and helps give the meat a little seasoning) later seasons you can leave hide on but there is still a portion of exposed meat

g.     Get your meat cool and hung up as quickly as possible, if it is not properly cared for and spoils you’re still required to take it home per the CPW

h.     Antlers always come off the mountain LAST, if you harvest an animal and I come in to pack it and there is antlers in camp and no meat I will be a little upset especially if the meat ends up spoiling, on another note if you harvest the meat needs to be on a horse accessible trail OR an area I can get a horse to, if you aren’t sure get it to a trail UNLESS you send me coordinates and I say it’s fine where it is.  I do Charge $75/Hour if I have to haul meat to my mules from a bad spot or have to skin and quarter the meat myself! (Minus Guided hunts)

i.       If you do pack meat to camp please do not pack one quarter and leave the rest, when I pack I need equal weight on both sides, so take even portions or leave it all. Preferably if you are planning to bring any meat back to camp bring your back straps, tenderloins, heart, neck meat. Leave the quarters or bring it all.  But it makes it a lot easier for me to pack 2 hams and 2 shoulders vs 1 ham and 1 shoulder.  The antlers and cape can go on top of the pack saddle so they will not need to have an equal part.

j.       CPW requires you to harvest 4 quarters, back straps, and tenderloins, I suggest the neck meat as well and rib meat if possible (you paid for the tag you might as well get your moneys worth)

k.     If you don’t want the heart I’m more than willing to take it!!!!!!!

If you read this entire article I applaud you and hope it helps you in your upcoming hunt, any questions please do not hesitate to call. 


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