Colorado 2013 Archery Deer Hunt

My first hunt of the year started out with a Colorado high country archery deer hunt.  I've been wanting to do this hunt for a few years now, and since I didn't get drawn for elk here in AZ, I was free to go to Colorado for an early season archery hunt.

My friend Chris also drew the same tag, so as soon as the results were out, the preparations began.  I was able to lean on Chris's prior experiences in CO on where to hunt and what to expect.  I trained hard during the off season and tried to physically and mentally prepare for what I was going to encounter on this hunt.

We planned on a week long hunt in Southwestern Colorado wilderness.  Our plan was to drive up to CO and arrive at the trail head late Saturday afternoon, then hike in and stay until the following Sunday (or we both tagged out).  After hiking in, we decided to hike out the following Saturday, giving us all day Sunday as a travel day to get home.

Both Chris' and my pack weighed in at just slightly over 50 lbs (minus bows, binos, and clothes worn) with 13-14 lbs of that being food for the 8 days.  Chris carried our shelter (Go Lite Shangri-La 4), and I carried our stove, fuel, and pot.  I carried the load in my Mystery Ranch Metcalf backpack.  I was very happy with how it handled and worked out for me on this trip, though I did experience some slight squeaks and creaks from it.  I just wish I would have been able to haul some meat out in it.  For a sleeping pad, I used a Therm-a-Rest Neo Air X-Lite pad.  It compacts down very small and only weighs 12 oz.  Some people complain it crinkles like a potato chip bag, but I slept very soundly and comfortably on it.  For a sleeping bag I used a The North Face Cat's Meow 20 degree synthetic bag.  It was adequate, but I will most likely have a lighter, loftier bag next time I go back.  My sleeping bag is one place I could definitely shave off probably up to a pound off my pack weight.  Click HERE for my complete pack list.

The hike in began with an 800 foot climb up to a saddle in the first 1.5 miles, and then we hiked another mile and a half to where we made our first camp at 11500 feet.  After setting camp, we backtracked to a seep and got some water for that night and the next day.

Day 2 we hiked about another 2.5 miles to where we made our camp for the remainder of the week.  That camp was right at 12000 feet.  This camp was strategically located between the higher country we would hunt as well as down near the treeline where we would see a lot of deer come out.  We'd spend the rest of the week hunting from this camp.  The morning of day 2 we spotted 16 different bucks.  There was definitely opportunity around!

The week was spent finding and making stalks on deer.  We'd glass and make stalks, and also still hunt though the edge of the tree line.  We'd see several deer each day, but getting close proved difficult.  Midday was spent glassing, napping, and getting water.  Water was super abundant, but I was surprised at how much I went through at high altitude.  I know for a fact that for a couple of days I easily went through 200 oz of water by myself.  I used my Sawyer Squeeze filter to purify my drinking water.
Gravity filtering water into a Nalgene bottle
Gravity filtering water into the 2nd bladder in my pack
The altitude definitely played a role in the difficulty of the hunt.  To aid in dealing with the altitude, I used Wilderness Athlete Altitude Advantage and Hydrate and Recover.  I'll have more details on this later, but upon comparing how I felt this trip to previous trips at altitude, I feel both definitely helped in dealing with the elevation.

Chris and I both used KUIU and Sitka clothing.  My clothing system consisted of KUIU attack pants (Verde), Smartwool Merino t-shirt, KUIU merino 185 1/4 zip shirt (Verde), KUIU merino/polyester blend 230 shirt (Verde), KUIU merino 185 beanie (Vias), KUIU 185 merino bottoms (not used), KUIU Guide beanie (Vias), KUIU Guide vest (Vias), KUIU superdown hooded jacket, KUIU Chugach rain jacket (Vias), and Sitka Stormfront Lite Optifade pants.  I was probably a bit overkill on gloves, but I brought and used Sitka shooter gloves, KUIU 230 merino gloves, KUIU guide gloves, and KUIU Yukon gloves.  I wore the Sitka shooter gloves most of the day, only wearing the merino and/or guide gloves in the mornings or evenings when it cooled off.  The Sitka shooter gloves kept my hands from getting sunburned.  We lucked out and only had to don our rain gear a few times throughout the week.  I only wore my Yukon gloves once.  We weathered a couple of rain storms at night while in the tent.  For the temperature ranges we encountered I was more than comfortable.  The lowest temps we encountered were low to mid 30's on the last few mornings, and I had plenty of clothes to stay warm.  Temps during the day ranged from mid 60's to low 70's when the sun was out.  It was my first time using the KUIU Attack pants with hip zips for ventilation, and I really liked that feature for when the temps were warm.  Chris and I both utilized and appreciated a functional layering system and as quickly as temperatures would change throughout the day we would adjust our layers as needed.

Waiting out a rainstorm...
In regards to optics, we only relied on binoculars, me 8x42, and Chris 10x42.  Chris and I each brought small Slik Sprint Pro tripods to glass from.  My tripod was topped with a Jim White Panning attachment and an Outdoorsman's Pistol Grip Tripod head.  I used the Outdoorsman's Ring Adapter to attach my Geovid to the tripod.  While the 2.5 lb tripods felt like a luxury, they were worth bringing on the hunt and were used daily to aid in finding deer.  In regards to having 8x vs 10x binos, there were a couple of times Chris identified that deer were bucks before I did.  One mistake I made was not replacing the battery in my range finding binoculars before the trip.  My rangefinder reading started blinking at me, meaning the battery was low.  It didn't turn out to be an issue, but it kept my finger off the range finder button as I didn't want the battery to die before I needed it.  I carried my binoculars in the new KUIU Bino Harness.  It carried very well and was very comfortable.  I chose the XL size to house my oversized 8x42 Geovids.  The side pockets were handy for wind checkers, but a little tight.  I was very pleased with the bino harness overall.  One of the best gear choices of the trip was a small Therm-a-Rest z-seat pad (2 oz).  The ground was often wet, and the rocks hard.  I used the pad multiple times daily and was very glad I brought it.

We saw does and bucks each day, and a couple of days had some close calls within a couple of minutes from camp.  I would say the wind was the hardest thing to deal with, and was probably the number one cause of blown stalks.  It was constantly changing and shifting, both due to thermals and shifting prevailing winds.

I ended up loosing one arrow at a smaller buck towards the end of the trip.  He was aware of my presence and ducked my arrow.  I managed to stick my arrow high out of reach in a tree.  Chris had several opportunities as well throughout the week.  We'll just say that no deer were harmed, but a couple of trees now have some scars.  It might have been discussed that Chris will need a bigger quiver next hunt...

In regards to food, I previously did a more detailed post about my food, here.  Overall, I was very satisfied with my menu and didn't have much extra at the end of the trip.  I probably could have stood to have a snack or two extra most days.  For breakfasts I had either oatmeal, Mountain House eggs and bacon, or granola, powdered milk, and dried blueberries.  Lunches consisted of either peanut butter, honey, and bacon on english muffin or tuna fish and bacon on pita style bread.  My dinners were a variety of Mountain House dinners.  Warm drinks consisted of tea and hot cocoa, and cold drinks were Wilderness Athlete Hydrate and Recover and Alert and Focus.  I also ate a variety of Lara bars and some energy gels and energy chews like Cliff Shot Blocks.

Overall the trip was a great trip, even though a deer didn't come home with us.  We were comfortable and well prepared.  In the week we were hunting, we got to explore quite a bit.  I was in awe the entire week as I took in the beautiful scenery.  We found a few remnants of old cabins, probably remnants of old mining camps.

On the last day, we packed up camp early, and then hiked to a spot we'd glassed from many times throughout the week.  After an unsuccessful stalk we hiked close to where our first night's camp was and dropped our pack bags, just carrying our NICE frame and Daypack Lid.  We still hunted a 2 mile loop, seeing deer sign but no deer until we were about 0.2 mile from our dropped pack bags where we saw a doe that we bumped.  Though unsuccessful in the harvest of a deer, I'm already looking forward to getting back up there again in future years and have already started planning how to increase my chances of success.  It was bitter sweet hiking off the mountain Saturday evening when our hunt was coming to an end.  I would miss the beautiful scenery, sunsets, and amazing views, but I was looking forward to getting home and seeing my family after being gone from them for a week.


  1. Looks like an awesome trip with some beautiful country. Thanks for the detailed report and packing list. Those pictures are awesome.


  2. Great story...what memories!! I agree with Ben...fabulous pictures and packing list is helpful!

  3. Thanks guys! It was a great trip and I'm looking forward to doing it again someday.

  4. Thought you might stop by on the way out, but know you were anxious to get home. Glad you had fun (good preplanning) & didn't have any problems. :)

  5. Always awesome to get into the backcountry!!! Great report, makes we want to go back......

  6. Thanks Cory! I'm already wanting to get back up there and I've only been home for a couple of weeks...


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