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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Bowhunt for Colorado Elk Proves Fun Yet Deflating

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

As an out-of-state visitor who pays nearly 10 times more than a resident to bowhunt Colorado’s elk, you’d appreciate a little local gratitude for your $851.24 subsidy of the state’s wildlife-management program.

But you’d be pitifully naïve to expect it.

Therefore, I wasn’t surprised to find no thank-you note beneath my truck’s windshield Sept. 21 when returning to the trailhead near Steamboat Springs after a 15-day backpack trip into a wilderness area. Lack of appreciation is nothing new. Some Western hunters will forever complain of nonresident “crowding” each autumn, even though all U.S. citizens share equal ownership of the West’s vast federal lands. I recall arguing such issues in 1975 during Navy boot camp.

I wasn’t even shocked when my host and hunting buddy, Dave Burgess of Aurora, Colorado, noticed my truck looking askew after we finished our 5-mile pack-out. My F-250’s right rear tire was flat and its left rear tire was half-flat.

We doubted I had run over nails or sharp rocks. The truck’s four tires were 5 days old and fully inflated when I arrived Sept. 5, and they were still full Sept. 12 when we returned to restock our food supplies for our second week in the backcountry.

Obviously, some weasel had noticed my Wisconsin license plates, and deflated the tires to penalize me for bowhunting “his” turf. Who would act so childish and cowardly? Probably the same mope who left an obscene sex toy on a nearby truck with Iowa plates.

This wasn’t my first such backwoods vandalism. Someone deflated a boat-trailer tire in Montana while I bowhunted downriver for a week in 2009.

Friends and family noted that things could have been worse in both cases: The vandal could have slashed my tires, not just deflated them. True, but that would likely trigger criminal complaints and follow-up reports that might eventually bite the culprit.

And so, Burgess and I spent the next hour reinflating my tires with his portable air compressor while accepting apologies from him and another resident hunter on behalf of the unknown jerk(s). (To be safe, I double-checked my tires the next morning before starting the 14-hour drive home. Both were still fully inflated.)

With that annoyance behind us, Burgess and I commiserated about our challenging bowhunts over a late lunch. We had heard little bugling day or night the entire time, but combined to spot three or four lone bulls, and one eight-elk herd pushed by a 5-point bull. Burgess even got to feel like he was hunting a couple of times, but failed to get within bow range.

We couldn’t blame the weather for anything, either. It rained only one day, and our “thermometer” – the drain tube on my Katadyn water filter – froze every night except one. Each crisp dawn raised hopes of bugling while we ate breakfast and drank coffee.

“Anytime now,” we assured ourselves between frosty breaths. As further proof, aspen leaves grew increasingly yellow as we studied the ridgelines and mountainsides above our campsite. Yet the bulls refused to answer our calls or offer other encouragements.

Meanwhile, Burgess and I traded sporadic text messages when pushing above 9,800 feet and within range of cellular signals. “Heard a few bugles over here at 7:30 – 8 a.m.,” Burgess wrote one afternoon. “Sounded like a herd bull and two satellites. A hunter, ‘Doug Flutie’ as Jason Phelps calls them, was bugling occasionally from the top. I’m in a cool older-growth pocket, sitting above a recently mucked up wallow. The last bugle sounded 400 yards or so west of me.”

Nothing further happened for Burgess that day, but other hunters fared better. Two days before ending our hunt, I learned from Jesse Brunk of Iowa that his nephew, Mason Owen, arrowed an impressive bull less than a half-mile away. I had spent most of that day hiding beside a ridgeline saddle where game trails connected two broad gullies. Whenever bulls refuse all audio appeals, I stake out such sites to wait them out, hoping they’ll cruise silently into range.

Instead, Brunk bugled his way in. I flagged him down before dusk one evening when he drew within 30 yards. As we compared notes, Brunk said he’s hunted that section of the Routt National Forest since 2012. He also said he wasn’t surprised I was from Wisconsin. “A lot of guys from the Midwest hunt here,” he said.

When I praised his bugling skills, Brunk laughed and modestly replied, “I call in lots of hunters.” He also apologized for stumbling into my setup but I assured him it was OK. “It’s public land,” I said, stating the obvious. “You have every right to be here.”

After Brunk and I separated, I hiked downhill about 300 yards to two wet, sloping meadows. I had spent much of the past three days in a good hiding spot there, watching two mucked-up wallows within 30 yards, one to the southeast and one to the northwest. A bull or two had also thrashed nearby shrubs and raked two 6-inch-thick Douglas firs, raining shredded bark onto the grass below.

All that fresh sign went for naught, however. I watched and waited between the wallows till sunlight faded to shadows in the treetops, and then started my trek to camp.

My family won’t eat elk the next year, but we’ve known such poverty more often than not the past 20 years, whether I’ve bowhunted Colorado, Idaho or Montana.

And yet I remain optimistic. The 2023 hunting season is still young, and many days of deer hunting remain here at home.

I also appreciate this: I’ve yet to have a fellow hunter deflate my tires while hunting Wisconsin’s woods the past 51 years.

Patrick Durkin waited many fruitless hours by wallows and big rubs while bowhunting elk in central Colorado the first half of September. Patrick Durkin photo

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These slobs consider themselves as the ultimate sportsman. I have heard these people brag in the bars during the hunting seasons and when the alcohol starts working they let everyone know how big of jerks they really are. I had tires deflated in Eldorado marsh over 30 years ago so it is not new. I beleave it was anti hunter folks because of nails found by the launch area. Sad !!


Wil Moore
Wil Moore

Theres a lot of vandalism in AR also. More theft than anything from parked trucks on WMAs for duck hunting. I had just the pin pulled from my receiver hitch last while bow hunting a WMA. Thankfully my 2 inch receiver hitch and ball didn’t fall out while driving 65 mph on the way back home and lucky I noticed something off about it the next day and it was 1/2 way slid out.



Too bad about the jerk deflating tires. I have considered setting a trail cam on my vehicle when in remote places, but I hate the idea of getting paranoid about something that rarely occurs. Still, these days, I think about it. Geez.



850 for an otc elk tag?

we need to start charging people more for non-res tags here in WI.

Were too friendly to out of state hunters. They are ALWAYS welcome here. Having the 3rd cheapest tags in the States makes us a target for everyone who wants to travel a bit and not pay for it.

we, on the other hand, go out of state and have our tires deflated.

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