Florida Youth Scores on First DIY Western Elk Hunt

I received the following email from Brady Gaughan of Florida:

Thank you for your DIY guide. I used it to plan a first time elk hunt for my son’s 16th birthday. We live in Florida and are experienced deer hunters but have never hunted out west. We hunted NW Colorado for 2nd rifle in GMU 4 and my son bagged a 4×4 bull. Your DIY guide and a lot of online research enabled us to have a great hunt. Thanks Brady

I asked Brady if he and his son (Shane) could take the time and write the story of their hunt for my personal entertainment and for the benefit of others that would like to take their first public land elk hunt, but need a little more encouragement.

Here is their story, with a few edits and notes to clarify when and where they hunted.

The Hunt Plan

Taking a youth during the hunting season made it tough because they can’t miss too many days of school. So it was a short trip and we flew to Denver and back to save time.

We were flying in on Friday, hunting Saturday through Tuesday and then flying back home on Wednesday.

We flew into Denver, rented a truck and drove to Craig, Colorado where we had reservations at a motel.

Shane had drawn a cow elk tag for Colorado Game Management Unit (GMU) 4/441 (Moffat/Routt). We picked up an Over-the-Counter (OTC) Bull Elk tag for unit 4. The non-resident youth tags are only about $100 each.

I chose the 2nd rifle season because I also wanted to give my son the chance to draw the cow elk tag and we also tried to draw a mule deer buck tag. In addition, the end of the 2nd rifle season (Oct. 22 – 30, 2016) coincided with a new moon this year.

Shane didn’t draw the buck tag, but he had a bull elk and a cow elk tag.

The Hunt Unit: Colorado GMU 4

GMU 4 is in the E-2 (Bears Ears) Data Analysis Unit (download E-2 Elk Management Plan)

GMU 4 includes 299,183 acres, with 52% private, 11% BLM, 31% USFS and 7% state lands, which means there are 143,608 acres of public land available for hunting.

They were hunting the first four days of the Colorado’s 2nd Rifle Season and they hunted on part of the 92,000+ acres of GMU 4 that is on U.S. Forest Service lands in the Routt National Forest, Northeast of Craig Colorado.

The Habitat

The habitat in the unit 4 is about 23% Aspen, 7% Oak, 36% sagebrush, 15% agriculture (all private) 2% Juniper, 13% Spruce/Fir/Douglass Fir and 3% mountain meadow.

In this unit, the desert/basin zone generally occurs below 6,500 feet and is not used much by elk except for winter range.

elk in mountain shrub habitat

Elk in Mountain Shrub Habitat in Unit 4 (USFS Photo).

The oak brush, juniper and mountain shrub habitats occur between 6,500 and 8,500 ft in elevation.

Above 9,000 feet, the habitat is spruce fir and mountain meadow, with the meadows in flatter areas and with most of the spruce fir on the north faces.

The aspen habitats are generally anywhere above 8,000 feet that has sufficient moisture. Here, aspen usually grow on flat areas and east facing slopes.

The Elk Hunt

The 2nd rifle season in Colorado is fairly early in the season, so we didn’t expected to have much snow, but there had been a snowstorm before we arrived that left 8 inches of snow at the higher elevations.

Because of the snow, it may have been better to hunt lower instead of so high on the mountain. It was a decision I struggled with the whole trip of whether to hunt lower because of the snow.

We did not see any elk the first day. It was more of a scout day, but we did see Mule deer, but had no tag.

The second morning of the hunt we hiked up almost the top of the mountain (9,900 feet) and saw a big bull Elk. He was a 5×5 and had kickers that went back from his antlers. But we were not able to get a good shot at him.

The 3rd morning, we hunted the same trail but did not see any elk, just a coyote.

The 3rd evening we sat much lower on the same mountain around 9,000 feet. We watched an elk bedding area we found that had lots of scat, but didn’t see any elk.

We decided to try to hunt lower for the last day and hunted as low as 6,500 feet.

On the 4th (last) day, we hunted even lower in an area with a large pond with three drainages leading into it. In the morning we saw three cow elk, but once again we did not have a good shot and passed on them.

shane's first diy elk hunt

Congrats! 16-year old Shane’s First DIY Western Elk Hunt (Photo courtesy Brady Gaughan).

In the afternoon, we sat on the same trail where we saw the three cows. With only two hours left in the trip, a bull elk came walking down the trail.

Shane shot the 4×4 bull at 75 yards shot with my .30-06 rifle and dropped him.

We were about about 1¼ miles away from the truck and about 500 feet downhill. It took us five hours to pack out the meat and head.

We dropped off the head Tuesday night at a taxidermist to have a European mount made and we had the meat processed in Craig, all to be shipped back to Florida. We flew out Wed. afternoon.

It was quite an adventure and the trip of a lifetime. And it was a true do-it-yourself hunt on public land. Not bad for a couple of Florida boys.

Not bad at all guys. Congratulations to Mr. Shane on his first elk. You did better that I did this year (so far – I still have hope since I have a December cow elk tag).

Thanks for sharing your story; it means a lot to me that you took the time to let me know.


  1. That bullis what we call here in Colorado a “raghorn”, older than a spike but not mature to sport 6 or 7 with long brow tines. But nobody eats antlers except rodents and other critters that want calcium.

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