“Winterhawk Outfitters run a first class operation with all effort put forth to make your hunt a very memorable one. If you want a great western hunt call Larry & Laura.”
- Ralph & Vicki Cianciarulo
Guided Archery Hunting
Laura Amos' Archery Bull Elk
Imagine lying in your sleeping bag at the end of a full day of archery hunting and listening to bulls bugling close to camp. It makes it hard to fall asleep no matter how tired you may be.
For the big game hunter, nothing is more exciting than hunting elk in full rut. It's considered by many to be the ultimate hunt, period. The thrill of a close encounter with a big bugling bull elk is like no other, and at Winterhawk Outfitters, we specialize in making it happen.
At Winterhawk, guided archery and muzzleloader hunting is our specialty. Our guides are serious archery hunters and experienced callers who consistently bring elk in for good close shots. Our guides love this season; they are prepared, enthused, willing, and able to do what it takes to get their hunters on a bull. We have great respect for bowhunters and appreciate the challenge and skill that the sport requires. We are not just another rifle-oriented outfit trying to sell a few bow hunts.
Archery hunters and muzzleloader hunters tend to have the woods to themselves during this special time of year. The foliage is beautiful, the temperatures are moderate; elk are vocal and responsive to calls. It's not surprising that bow hunting and black powder hunting has become more popular and successful.
During this early season, when the elk are in rut, they tell us where they are, and we go to them. Instead of limiting our bow and muzzleloader hunters to specific camps, we take them to the elk. We may be hunting from Indian Cliffs Base Camp, one of our pack-in camps, or a remote spike camp location. We may also switch camps during the week. In recent years, this stay mobile and "go where the elk are" approach has dramatically improved shot opportunities to nearly 100% on good mature bulls.
Hunters should arrive in good physical shape, ready to ride, walk, and hunt hard. Conditioning is important and the better shape the hunter is in, the better our chances of getting him where he needs to be to have a successful elk hunt. As is usually the case with limited range weapons, success in taking the animal is highly dependent on the hunter's physical ability to get where he needs to be to make the shot. Come and join us for a great bow hunt or muzzleloader wilderness hunting experience.
NEW FOR 2013!!
Remote Archery Pack-in Opportunity: GMU 24
While Winterhawk primarily operates in Colorado Game Management Units (GMU) 25 and 26. We also have access to some of the Flat Tops Wilderness' most remote country in GMU 24. For those archery hunters desiring a guided, remote pack-in experience, you can consider applying a tag in Unit 24. It is a draw unit (unlike areas Units 25 and 26 for which licenses are sold "over the counter") and interested archery hunters will need to apply for a license with hunt code E-E033-O1-A .
In the event you do not draw, you can still buy an "over the counter"archery tag (or specify this as your second choice on your application) and we will provide you a remote, pack-in hunt within Unit 25 or 26. For more information on this remote Archery Pack-in Hunt Opportunity, please contact us.
(Note:this article appeared in Bowhunting World magazine Vol. 60 No. 6)
Horses get you two miles into Colorado stratosphere. From there you climb the Flat Tops Wilderness on foot.
Joe Byes' 2010 Bull
Just after 4:00 a.m. I gripped the horn and hoisted into the saddle, my mind a blaze with images of towering mountains, golden aspens, and bugling elk, adventure only partially tempered by a two-hour ride in total darkness. This Old West, ultimate horseback experience is a mixture of adrenalin rush and pure terror. Used to being in control? Forget that! Your safety (perhaps your life) depends on a beast that must navigate winding trails along steep canyons, rocky outcroppings and ford rushing streams in pitch darkness. Your mind strains to imagine the terrain as your senses toggle from the rush of swift water to the clack of sparking steel shoes on rock; the saddle jumps left, right, and forward as your mount maintains its balance.
With stirrups adjusted, bows stored in scabbards, we six riders, four horses and two mules rode into the darkness destined for the wilderness adventure. For the first five minutes we passed through a stand of Aspen, the white bark passing like anorectic ghosts, then emerged under a constellation kaleidoscope that nearly took my breath. The Milky Way seemed almost in reach and stars blazed from horizon to horizon. The nightscape was nearly intoxicating, a harbinger to what lay ahead.
Colorado has more elk than any other state and our group of four archers was hell bent to tag one beginning the quest on September 10, just prior to the peak of the rut. Winterhawk Outfitters is one of the largest and most successful outfitters in Colorado and we relied on their extensive stable of stock and guiding expertise to delve miles into the Flat Top Wilderness, an expedition that began at two miles of elevation and went up from there.
Tackling the Wilderness
The Flat Top Wilderness comprises more than a quarter million acres of central Colorado complete with mountains up to 11,400 feet and an ever-expanding elk herd. Our first day originated from Winterhawk's main and as dawn broke and we neared our planned hunting area, a bugle broke from Sheep Mountain. Guide Bob Terwilliger took his two clients fellow writer Dan Beraldo and Justin Behnke, Product Development Manager for Danner/LaCrosse quickly up the mountain while Bowhunter TV Host Curt Wells and I pressed on. A mile down the trail, guide Dan Busch turned from an open park, across a crystal clear stream and paused as a cow and calf moose moved along the edge of the timber. We skirted the animals to avoid alarm, tied our horses for the morning and headed into the dark timber. Busch had hunted this region for 14 years and, as we would learn, knew every nook and cranny.
Busch moved carefully, listening for moving animals and anticipating bugles. After climbing for half an hour, he recommended I watching a wallow, while he and Wells continued up the mountain. Soon two bugles broke out, one above and one below, the kind of action we anticipated as the rut heated up.
Busch and Wells closed on the upper bugle, got the bull to respond and approach, yet offered no open shot, behavior that would predominate the week. Bulls cautiously approached cow calls, yet rarely bugled and came in downwind with barely a sound.
Busch's careful stalking style was not only effective, but a blessing to me. Wells had hunted in New Mexico at 7500 feet the previous week, while I was nearly two miles higher than usual. Altitude acclimation is nearly impossible to train for and devoured every ounce of my determination and conditioning. As noon approached, my buddies met me at the wallow and we began an energy conservation program typical to elk hunting- a nap. With a 3:00 a.m. arousal, a two-hour ride in the dark and mountain climbing for the next five, a guy can use a snooze.
A bit more rested, we headed up the mountain, hoping for a bugle to guide the way, yet uncharacteristically, we heard none. Two hours before dark, a pole cracked ahead of us. For long minutes we stood motionless as our guide assessed the situation. "I'm pretty sure there's a herd in front of us," he whispered in the softest tone and pointed for me to stand ahead while Wells dropped down wind.
The first cow calls brought immediate action, as sticks cracked every few seconds, sending my heart beating in anticipation. The timber was very thick and any shot opportunity would be at 20 yards, maybe 10. The barely audible sounds seemed to progress downwind toward Wells, while Busch moved noisily(emulating a feeding cow) in the opposite direction, to lure the animal into us. As I strained to hear the approach and catch a glimpse of tawny color, I coached myself: Stand in front of cover, not behind, don't draw until I can see the vitals, and aim behind the shoulder.
Suddenly, hooves pounded to my left and poles cracked as the bull burst away. Had Wells gotten a shot? Unfortunately, a shift in the wind revealed our location and the bull verified the cardinal rule of elk hunting; they will hear you three times, see you twice, but only smell you once.
Spike Seems Right
Dinner at base camp was a welcome energy boost after an 18-hour day, and although exhilarating, the prospect of duplicating this routine for the next five days seemed daunting. Busch and Terwilliger were both experienced aggressive guides and offered a spike camp option. If we packed minimal gear, we could head out at 4:00 a.m. as usual, but a pack string would bring our gear and enough grub and increase our hunting time.
The spike camp option seemed to offer many benefits and we quickly decided, let's do it. We had packed lightly for the hunt and really dressed down, taking basically the hunting clothes we wore, rain gear, tooth brush, and an extra set of undies. The Winterhawk main camp is a series of large wall tents equipped with comfortable cots and pad, a great eating area, extensive livestock, and great food. Despite these amenities, if we were going to hunt the wilderness, we'd live in the wilderness.
Coping with the Challenge
Awakening in the Flat Tops allowed us an extra hour of sleep, yet all of our travel was on foot. Dan Beraldo and I joked about climbing the hill behind camp heaving for breath just heading for your nature tree. Any extensive climb had us gasping for air and not until our third day, did stamina finally begin to return. To avoid hydration, we left each morning with five or more pounds of water, vital to extensive movement while Ibuprofen became a daily ritual to reduce joint inflammation.
The dearth of bugles was very frustrating. By mid September, elk should be screaming in the dark and into early morning, yet silence reigned. Busch, Wells and I headed for our first day encounter and split up early into the action. Wells, a very experienced hunter liked to hunt alone and broke off as Busch and I headed farther up the mountain. As dawn broke over the valley below, Wells cow called and a pole broke immediately. Within minutes, a pine martin nearly climbed into my lap, a curious distraction as I ranged in landmarks. More sticks cracked as my heart pounded in anticipation. Suddenly a distinctive "Uuuump" could be heard and I glanced dejectedly at a rutting bull moose.
Wells was also into action. Moving very carefully, he detected motion up the mountain and began a series of aggressive cow calls, a tactic that brought the commotion toward his location. Slowly, every so carefully, a bull approached, stopping broadside at 30 yards, offering the perfect shot. "It was an easy shot," he said to us later, "but the bull's head was behind a tree and I could only make out three points." Eventually, the bull moved into an opening where it's four points were visible, yet the opportunity had passed.
A Plan Comes Together---Finally
An hour's brisk walk below camp found us working toward an old burn, a likely feeding area for elk when a bugle stopped us in our tracks. Finally! Listening carefully, several ovations followed and Busch sprung into action taking full advantage of his extensive experience in the area. The bulls bugled 500 yards above us, yet he circled well to the south and eventually closed most of that difference by horse trail.
Our acclimatization much improved, we move quickly urged on by more bugles. Reaching an open meadow, Busch whispered for one of us to move ahead and the other toward the east. He'd use the decoy and cow call from the middle.
I set up in a small patch of spruce, hoping our chance had finally come. Busch cow called and a robust bugle burst directly above Wells. Then a second bull opened up ahead of me. With the wind in my face, I expected it to sneak through the timber and circle down wind.
Suddenly, a bull bugled directly up the ridge and dropped directly toward me. Instantly, I ranged a tree on its likely path and then concentrated on being still. Instead of going right or left, the animal came directly toward me, a nightmare scenario. On two previous hunt, I had elk within three yards and never got a shot. Could this possibly happen again?
The bull walked within 20 yards, it's movements silenced by the meadow grass as I gripped the release and resisted the temptation to come to full draw. Seconds passed like light years as the standoff continued. Finally, I saw motion to the right and the animal moved toward two tiny shooting lanes. Through branches, I saw the animal advance and stop. Tension reigned. Finally it moved and I began to draw and aimed behind the shoulder through a six-inch window among the bows. The shaft zipped to its mark and the bull burst up the ridge, my shaft protruding from its chest. In seconds it crested the slope, staggered, and then tumbled end over end, its antlers crashing against the rocks.
Wondering if Wells may still be onto the other bull, I eased carefully from my hide only to see my buddies fist pumping and cheering me on. With the bull laying in the open, trailing was unnecessary and we walked directly toward our harvest. I was delighted to see that the bull had a three-point crown putting six-points on one beam and five and a sticker on the other- let's call it a 6x6. Wells quickly radioed for help and by the time we had the animal quartered two mules and several packers were on the scene, and by early afternoon, the venison was in the freezer, a tribute to quality outfitted operation.
The last evening of the hunt, bugling began in earnest and nearly resulted in one of those buzzer beater success stories in the burn that we never quite reached. Ironically, Terwilliger and a Texas client would take a 6X6 bull in the 300-inch class there just after our departure. Although we missed the peak of breeding activity, we encountered terrain and adventure we'd never forget. Like those roller coaster-on-steroids rides that leave your inner courage screaming like a school girl, you end up beaten, battered and bruised, yet you can't wait to do it all again.
Author's Note:I found Winterhawk Outfitters to be a top notch. Great food, quality stock, knowledgeable guides and gear we could depend on. They offer guided and drop camps in fantastic wilderness locations.
A 2010 Archery Hunting Story
October 11, 2010
Brian's Archery Bull Elk
We'd like to share a story written by one of our archery hunters this year. Brian Huckabay hunted the 4th week of archery season and was kind enough to write this wonderful story about his experience. We hope you enjoy it...
My lifelong hunting dream has been to take a Bull Elk with my bow. For me there is nothing like being in the mountains and hearing the bugle of the majestic bull elk.
Upon the recommendation of my friend from Archer's Choice, Ralph Cianciarulo, I contacted Larry and Laura Amos with Winterhawk Outfitters. I immediately felt comfortable with Larry. After listening to what he had to offer on an elk hunt, I made plans for the 2010 Archery Season.
My hunt would be the last week of archery season, September 19 th through the 26 th . When the time finally arrived, I couldn't wait to get there. As I pulled into base camp, I was very impressed with what I saw. The first thing I noticed was a nice archery range complete with life size 3D targets. The camp was very clean and organized. There were big wall tents complete with comfortable beds and heaters. There was a very nice cook cabin and a stock of horses and mules that were sure-footed and well taken care of.
The staff was very friendly and professional. I could tell they really loved working at Winterhawk. Larry and Laura immediately made me feel like and old friend and we talked about my hunt. The first few weeks of the archery hunt had been tough due to hot weather, yet all the hunters had been into elk and some nice bulls had been taken.
We spent the first day planning and packing. I learned that my guide would be Bob Terwilliger. Kyle Christensen, one of Larry's student guides from his Guiding School, also accompanied us. The plan was for us to rise at 3 am the next morning, eat breakfast and hunt our way to our spike camp.
After breakfast, we mounted our horses and mules with only the equipment we needed to hunt. Members of the staff packed the rest of our gear into camp later that morning. We rode in the dark for an hour and a half until we reached the destination where Bob thought we should hunt. We tied up the horses and continued hiking. We then waited for daybreak and began our hunt up the mountain. We had not gone far when I heard the first bugle of the hunt that answered Bob's cow call. We chased several bulls that morning but didn't get a shot.
After things slowed down we made our way back to the horses and continued on to spike camp. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. We arrived at spike camp, which was set up on a little knob above a mountain stream. This comfortable wall tent would be our home for the next week. It had a wood burning stove that kept us plenty warm and provided a way for us to cook meals. And let me tell you, we ate well. There was even a spring with good water right next to camp, the best water I've ever tasted.
The second afternoon we hiked to an area that had been burned a few years ago. We hadn't gone far when everything broke loose. There were elk bugling in all directions. That afternoon we had five bulls inside 100 yards. Two of them were inside 50 yards but as archery hunting goes, a shot opportunity just never presented itself.
We heard or saw elk every time we hunted with the exception of the first afternoon when it was very warm and windy. On the fourth afternoon the elk broke loose again and we heard numerous bulls bugling. We set up and called but just couldn't get them to come in.
Bob spotted a herd bull with cows down in a valley from where we were. We thought about going after him but we had two more bulls bugling up on the same ledge as us and decided to stay up there. We eased our way towards them and made a plan on how to set up on them. Before we moved on, Bob let out some cow calls. We immediately heard a bugle very close right in front of us. It turned out that the bull Bob had spotted below us earlier had pushed his cows up towards us. They were now inside 100 yards.
Kyle and I set up on the edge of the burned area and Bob went back behind us a short distance and began calling. Every time Bob would cow call the bull would bugle but he would not leave his cows. As fate would have it we saw a big 5x5 coming in from our left towards the larger bull with the cows. Then we could hear another bull coming in from our right. This was making the bull in front of us very nervous. We finally got a look at him and could see that he was a big 6x6. The closer the other bulls came, the madder the bull in front of us got. He moved in the direction of the big 5x5 and began thrashing some bushes with his antlers.
He was over 100 yards away from us now but his cows were directly in front and below us about 75 yards away. Even with Bob cow calling I did not feel like the bull was going to come our way so I knew we needed to do something. There was plenty of cover between us and the elk so I asked Kyle to go tell Bob what was going on. A short time later, Bob and Kyle moved down to the same level as the 6x6 and started cow calling again. It was starting to get dark so I decided to make a move.
I crawled back up to my pack and got my elk bugle. I knew one of two things would happen. Either the bull would gather his cows and leave or he would come to me. Like I said it was getting late so I felt I had nothing to lose. I let out a bugle and the bull went nuts, he began screaming bugles at me and started heading my way. About that time the big 5x5 bugled and the bull turned towards him. I let out another bugle and chuckle and began raking a tree with a stick. That was more than the 6 x 6 could take and he came to challenge me.
I was up on a steep slope and the bull was below me. The wind was blowing straight down the hill to my left. The 6x6 continued coming towards me and was trying to get down wind of me. Earlier I had ranged a pine tree at the bottom of the slope. It was 60 yards away but with the steep slope the range finder told me to shoot 52 yards. The bull finally turned broadside at the bottom of the slope. I drew my bow and settled my 50-yard pin behind his shoulder and released.
I watched the arrow hit the bull. He bolted down the hill and crashed through the timber. I let out a couple more bugles and then just collapsed on the ground from the adrenaline rush. Oh man, what a feeling it was!
A short time later, Bob and Kyle came over and I told them what had happened. We waited about 40 minutes and then went down to where the bull had been. We found a good blood trail and easily followed it for about 100 yards then it quit. We followed some hoof marks down a hill and picked up the blood trail again at the bottom of another steep slope. We followed the blood trail another 75 yards and I saw the bull. He had piled up in some brush and fallen timber.
There was more excitement and then relief. I couldn't believe I had finally fulfilled my dream. I couldn't get to him fast enough. I had to hold his antlers in my hands. It was awesome. He was so big that I couldn't hold his head up. Hooping, hollering and hugs were followed by pictures and then the work began. Bob called Larry on the portable radio and told him we had recovered my bull. He congratulated us all and said he would send in the pack mules the next morning.
We caped and quartered my bull, and hung the quarters in the trees. We then hiked back to camp. We were exhausted. We slept a few hours and hiked back to meet the packers and pack mules in the morning. The bull's horns, head and cape were heavy but I gave the bull the dignity that he deserved and I carried him down the mountain to where the pack mules were tied. The whole week was just awesome. I want to thank Larry, Laura, Bob, Kyle and the rest of the folks at Winterhawk Outfitters for an incredible hunt.
There is some advice I would give to anyone who plans to hunt the Flat Tops Wilderness area with Winterhawk or any other backcountry elk hunt. That is, it is very important to be in the best physical shape that you can possibly be in. It is very hard hiking up and down the mountains and through the dead falls. I thought I was in good enough shape for my hunt but it wasn't enough. It cost me a couple of times when we had to move uphill quickly to get in front of some bugling bulls. I could not get up there fast enough to get in position and I blew opportunities at some bulls.
I enjoyed spending the week with them both of my guides. They became good friends. We had tons of fun and shared a lot of laughs. They worked very hard to make my hunt the best it could be and took very good care of me, keeping me in a positive frame of mind, even when the hunting didn't go our way.
I would have said this even if I had not taken a bull. Everything about Winterhawk Outfitters was first rate. The facilities were excellent, the staff was friendly, professional and very efficient, and the hunting was awesome. I would not hesitate to hunt with them again and I plan to do so.
Check out the latest news and updates from Winterhawk Outfitters. We post on a frequent basis so you can keep informed...(more)
Enter the Winterhawk Outfitters "Lets Go Hunting Sweepstakes" and win a Six Day, Fully Guided Colorado Flat Tops Wilderness Horseback 1-on-1 Trophy Elk Hunt With Six Time World Champion Elk Caller, Corey Jacobsen... (more)
The Flat Tops Wilderness lies within the White River National Forest and is one of the largest primitive areas in the Rocky Mountains. It is well known as some of the very best elk and deer country anywhere...(more)
See Winterhawk Outfitters on some of your favorite outdoors TV shows. For online episodes and listings...(click here)
We have an extensive amount of information available to help you plan your Colorado trip. Below are a few of the links to get you started: