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  • Andy Hitch

Elk Shed Hunting in Estes Park Colorado

My daughter and I are avid shed hunters. We plan all year for the season. We live on Storm Mountain where there is a resident herd of 25+ bulls in the winter and spring months. However, we don't spend much time focusing on these smaller bulls.

Mady with the 340" matched set she found. Standing in front of her 1960 Ford F-250.

There is a lot of competition for the resident herd antler drops due to the fairly easy mountain terrain. Our favorite areas are much more difficult. It's our opinion that if you want the big bulls, trophy bucks, and moose sheds, you need to be higher, in difficult terrain, and prepared to put down some dangerous miles.

My daughter Mady is a mountain goat. She was born and raised in the high country. At only 120 LBS, she'll pack out 50 or 60 LBS of sheds + gear down a rocky slope most people would prefer to repel down.

There is nothing easy about shed hunting. As Mady and I always say: "You gotta go miles for piles" and sometimes, you come up with nothing. However, nothing is never really nothing. There is always something to nothing, LOL. Evidence is worth the trip. If there's recent sign during drop season Feb - April, you'll know where to go in May when the season opens. Sometimes we'll put down 7 or 8 hard miles climbing 1000 - 1500 feet up and down nasty slopes, just tracking big bull movement.

This is a video of one of our routes up to where the big bulls winter. This is the easy way up believe it or not.

The payday comes when you find that awesome shed where thought it might be. For me and her, the excitement of seeing that "shape" protruding from the ground is the best thing in the world. We call it "shape" because that's what you look for. Actually, you look for two things.

  1. Color (white for old chalky sheds). Or, brown for newly dropped sheds. She calls it "Brown Town" or Chalk City" when we find multiples.

  2. "Shape". We are actually looking for sticks in the that have a symmetrical shape. Sticks are bent in all kinds of funky ways. We are looking for symmetrical shapes. Browns are difficult to find in the distance depending on the terrain.

This is the "shape" we viewed from 2 miles away (as the crow flies) with our Vortex Razor spotting scope. We are so crazy about shed hunting, we hiked 4 miles for this piece of crap and ascended just under 1000 feet. The previous video is our hike to it. The picture below was the payday we got as we hiked back down a different way. So cool.....

Here's some quick advice if you're just getting into shed hunting:

  1. Have a good set of binoculars and a nice pack. We personally use Mystery Ranch Bino packs and backpacks that allow for shed strapping. We also use the Vortex Diamondback 10x32 binoculars. They are light weight, compact, and high quality.

  2. Come prepared. We wear high quality boots in our difficult rocky terrain. We have bear spray and pack a 9mm. We have run across a number of bears and mountain lions. We also use 2-way radios for communication because we will separate by a few hundred yards at times. We have a water purifier, plenty of food, and first aid.

  3. South facing slopes with a decent amount of vegetation is always best for elk shed hunting. However, don't neglect tight trees and north facing slopes. Elk like to get in the trees to bed down and sometimes they'll do it on north facing slopes.

  4. Look for sheds in areas where elk feed and play fight with each other.

  5. Look for sheds in areas where they bed down. Sometimes we'll find matched sets right on top of one another this way.

  6. Look for sheds in really rocky terrain and on nasty slopes. Elk travel a lot. Our 25+ resident heard does a 15 mile loop daily. They traverse the stupidest shit. You can often find sheds in that nasty stuff because they jerk their head as they stumble over down trees and the like.

  7. If you want the big bulls, you're gonna have to get further up and further out. They tend to hang out alone or only with one or two buddies.

  8. Elk, moose, and deer are creatures of habit. Even if there are better feeding grounds within a few miles, they'll always come back to their particular wintering area year after year. For example: We hand a major fire in our area last year. Amazingly, the bulls and bucks came back to the burned area for the winter. I don't know how they survived, but they did and we found the sheds to prove it. We didn't think they would come back. However, we tracked them in late winter and knew right where to go in May.

  9. Tell someone where you're going exactly and when they should expect you to return.

  10. Know your directions. If you're not good at relying on landmarks, the sun, and shape of the mountains around you, don't even bother shed hunting. You're going to get yourself in serious trouble.

  11. Don't go where they "might be", go where they've "been". This means you should recon some areas. Once you find some tracks or poop, follow the sign. You need to find where they're feeding and bedding down.

  12. Don't pay attention to some of these youtube guys finding trophy bull sheds by the lot. They're probably hunting private land with permission or an actual elk ranch where they don't even get to keep the sheds. If you want big sheds in the wild, you're going to have to put in the work.

This is a mountain lion kill we came across. This particular area is a virtual graveyard of elk bones. The mountain lions are thick up there. When came upon this, a large black bear was eating on it. We camped about 500 yards away. The next morning we cut the head off with a wire rope saw and packed it out 9 miles on my back. It stunk to high hell. We did involve CPW so they could investigate whether it was prey or killed by a hunter.

Another deadhead I got a couple years ago. I repaired some tines using pieces of another old antler and colored it up using oil based paint and thinner. Lots of sanding. He looks great on the wall in the cabin. Some might view it as sick hanging a dead animal head on their wall. Personally, I am a hunter, but I never hunt for the trophy. I prefer cow because the meat is better. I have him and others around because it immortalizes them. They each have a story. Elk are my favorite animal. My daughter and I love watching them. So much so now, I stopped hunting to be honest. Maybe I'm a wimp, but I just can't pull the trigger anymore.

This is the same bull, same side, from one year to the next. He grew a bit. He dropped both years only a half mile apart. Looks like he got some fighting in during rut.

In truth, my favorite part of shed hunting is spending time with my 21 year old daughter. This is something we love together and I hope for many more years of it.

Andy and Mady Hitch of Backbone Adventures. ATV rental. Jeep Rental. Scooter Rental. Ebike Rental. Dirt Bike Rental in Estes Park Colorado.

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