We receive questions from first-time clients each year about the challenges of hunting at high altitude and the best methods to avoid potential issues. Hunting in Colorado’s high country is a fantastic opportunity and pursuing elk through steep terrain can certainly be a challenge. Here are the top recommendations of our hunting guides for coping with high altitude hunting.
1. Physical Preparation
One of the best things you can do to be ready for the altitude, is to be in the best shape you can possibly be. Don’t try and cram in exercises the last few weeks before the hunt. Instead, start this time of year and gradually work yourself into shape over the next eight months. Focus your workouts on leg strength, core strength and cardiovascular conditioning. Getting your body ready ahead of time will directly affect your enjoyment and success on the hunt. We cannot stress this enough.
On your way to Winterhawk’s base camp for a hunt, spending a day relaxing in Vail or Glenwood Springs can help your body acclimatize gradually. Go for an easy walk, do some sight-seeing and allow your system to adjust. Unfortunately, taking an extra day may not be easy since most of us have limited vacation time. If that is the case, make sure you don’t push yourself to your physical limit on the first day of the hunt. Our guides are always aware of this, and we will help you accordingly. By the end of the hunt you should be tired. Just don’t wear yourself too thin on the first day.
Starting 24 hours before your hunt, make sure you are drinking plenty of water. When you’re actually on the mountain, staying hydrated is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Don’t wait until you are thirsty. Slowly sip from your water supply all day long. Colorado’s climate is extremely dry and we recommend that hunters carry at least two liters per person each day. Fortunately, the Flat Tops Wilderness is relatively wet compared to many places in the state, so refilling bottles during the day is a possibility. In order to keep your body hydrated we also recommend limiting your caffeine intake during your stay and abstaining from alcohol completely. Enjoy that morning cup of coffee, but try and limit to one cup. Remember that coffee is a diarrhetic, flushing moisture from your body.
Altitude has a tendency to suppress hunger, but with your body working overtime, you’ll need the extra calories. Consume plenty of carbohydrates and try not to go long periods without snacking. Take advantage of our home-cooked meals here at Winterhawk. We also provide lunch items and snacks to pack with you during the day. Whenever you and your guide stop for a break, munch on a cereal bar or crackers and drink some water. Eating a little bit every couple of hours will help keep your energy up and fight off altitude headaches.
Finally, get plenty of rest. To be sure, this is not always easy on a six-day elk hunt. You’ll be up by 4 a.m. and back to camp well after dark. During the early archery and muzzleloader seasons, this can make for very long days and short nights. Try and get some rest in the middle of the afternoon when you’re out in the field. Even a short cat nap can make a big difference in how you feel.
Colorado’s high altitude environments are one of the most beautiful and exciting places to hunt. Most people only experience very minor symptoms (if any) and by watching these five factors, the altitude should have very little or no impact on your hunt. You may feel a little more tired than normal, but when it comes to pursuing elk in the Rocky Mountains, that’s to be expected.