Going on your first elk hunt is both exciting and intimidating. Being from the midwest, the only knowledge or intel I had about elk hunting came from various internet sources. Many different people online were saying “You just need to go out and fail”. Now that is definitely not what any first time hunter wants to hear. I wanted to be successful of course, I mean who wouldn’t? In this article I will dive into a few different subjects that have stuck out to me the most and have been the biggest learning lesson. Keep in mind, I am from Iowa and have hunted Colorado OTC Archery two times.

Do Your Homework

When you set out on your first elk hunting adventure, it is important to know where exactly you are headed and have some plans in place. Picking a state, unit, and exact location can be tough when you have no idea what you are doing. There are some helpful resources online such as OnX Maps for example. Both of these played a role in my trip planning. Asking for advice online can be a double edged sword when it comes to Facebook groups or hunting forums. With how popular and crowded some hunting areas are beginning to be, most people are not willing to give valuable information away that they have gathered over the course of many years. While this seemed frustrating at first, I can now see why things are the way they are. There is a lot of time, effort, money, gear, and other things that go into play here. 

It really is as simple as picking a unit and just going. Now I will use Colorado as my example because that is where my first two experiences have been. Colorado has tons of Over The Counter units, these specific units you can show up and buy a tag without completing a draw application of any kind. Once you have figured out the different OTC units, begin to play around online and figure out what type of terrain you wish to hunt. Keep in mind, easy to access areas are appealing to everyone, and yes there are a lot of hunters in Colorado. Once you have decided on a unit, begin to pick it apart on OnX and start to lay a plan out. Having a plan A,B,C,D and beyond is a good idea. You never know what to expect and this can save you time on your trip if you have a backup plan. Start dropping pins in bedding, feeding areas, water sources, and specific features that elk are naturally drawn to. 

Once you have your plans laid out, it really is just a matter of going and seeing how it turns out. You will learn so much about what you did or did not do right for future hunting trips. If you truly enjoy the entire process of hunting, then failing should not be a fear of yours as it is always a possibility when you are pursuing an animal.


I was in a pretty good situation as far as my gear went on my first trip. The research I gathered emphasized having quality boots and a pack. These two particular items are on your body at all times and will dictate your level of enjoyment on your hunt. With as much hiking and moving around as you do, having boots or a pack that does not fit correctly can cause a lot of discomfort real fast. If you are uncomfortable you will not want to hunt to your full ability and will look for excuses to quit or take it easy. 

Boots and a pack were no concern to me fortunately, however when it came to sleeping I was not near as prepared as I could have been. Middle of the week came around and temperatures dropped and there was some snow. This was not very common in Colorado for this time of year. It was the first week of September and we were only around 8,000 feet. I was not prepared with an all season tent and it definitely affected my quality of sleep. I did have a good sleeping bag and pad but my knowledge of additional ways to stay warm was not very good. Some hunters will boil water and fill up nalgene bottles to toss into their sleeping bags and that is a good way to stay warm. Hand warmers are also another good idea for inside the sleeping bag. Nowadays there is a lot of information out there on how to layer up inside your sleeping bag for those colder situations. 

Being able to get a good night's sleep is definitely right in line with having comfortable gear. Hunting out west in the mountains is just as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one. Your mind is your biggest enemy and a lot of guys always look for the easy way out of quitting or cutting corners. You plan and prepare for these types of hunts year round and you want to be willing to be 100% ready for when the time comes. You don’t want to be in the situation of going home and then wishing you had put in more effort. So find that mental toughness gear and be willing to give it your all while you are out there.


Each year I have had the same level of excitement to get out to the mountains and hunt elk. I know it’s only a matter of time before I fill a tag and I look forward to that day. It will make me appreciate it that much more having worked hard year after year. It’s easy for some people to throw in the towel and give up if they don’t succeed. But what is succeeding for you? For me it’s having a great time hunting in the outdoors and learning new things. That’s why it’s easy for me to continue to go back year after year even though I have not filled a tag. The scenery, experiences, and memories will last a lifetime. The most important parts I will highlight as I close are: have comfortable gear, have a well detailed plan, train physically and mentally, and be willing to reflect positively on yourself during and after the hunt. Be safe and don’t be afraid to try new things!