Backcountry Hunters & Anglers first ‘Women in the Woods Elk Camp’ launches a season of beginners hunting, fishing, and angling weekends designed to pair novice sportswomen with seasoned mentors.
There’s a hint of cool breeze. The sun is setting just a bit earlier. Elk season, y’all. It’s coming.
For six mentees, three mentors, and a several volunteers Christmas came early in the form of a summer elk hunt in the beautiful San Luis Valley in SW Colorado. As each year in the field passes it’s easy to forget how formative the first years as a novice hunter can be. We launched Women in the Woods Elk Camp to provide an immersive big game hunting experience.
Image: The glassing scavenger hunt
The inaugural 2.5 day workshop started on warm Friday in July right as a summer storm cooled the air. While camp was set and lunch prepared, local CPW District Wildlife Managers William Miedema and Tyler Cerny talked to participants about how to apply for and successfully land big game tags, what wildlife management looks like in the west, and where to find additional resources for new hunters. Camp hosts Ryan McSparran and Brett Jones provided their own experiences on identifying big game habitat, the wide range of mapping tools available, and how to scout from home prior to hunting season.
As the sun went down on day one in the Outdoor Classroom we made the hunt plan for the next day. Two of the three mentors had bull elk tags and we wanted to maximize chances for harvest. But a family of bears had another idea for us.
Image: Camp host Brett Jones preps dinner on the first evening.
First light comes early during summer Elk Camp, and at 3:30am the first stirrings were heard. Coffee was prepped and breakfast laid out while mentors gathered their mentees to make sure everyone was prepared for a safe walk in the dark. The stoke level was high as the group of 9 started uphill. But around 8am, 4 hours before the scheduled time, the group was headed back down the mountain to camp. With everyone gathered back, while the air buzzed with excitement, one of the mentors explained moving her group towards an open lane on a tall spike (legal for the tag), but three bears, one sow with a cub and one boar, were surrounding the path they needed to take to close the distance. After trying to navigate the hairy roadblock, momma bear was not giving any ground. With plenty of warning growls and stomps, the seasoned mentor decided to pull the group back and allow time for the bears to clear the area.
This is, of course, as the midday heat begins to set in.
Image: Heading out at first light.
The landowner came by to chat about the morning sightings, and explained one bear had been spotted down at the pond the week before. This of course, was the pond we were camped next to. With two coolers full of food and lots of other exciting smells around camp, we decided to move. A fed bear is a dead bear, and no one wanted to be responsible for future bear conflicts on the property. After moving camp, and a refreshing dip in a nearby lake, mentors once again gathered their group for an afternoon scouting mission to plan the next mornings hunt.
The third and final day of Elk Camp brought the group into the field from a different approach. Again, the bears were talking nearby. We later reflected that because the group was all novice sportswomen, its unlikely they understood just how rare it is to hear three bears having a full conversation less than a hundred yards away in an aspen grove.
Image: Mentor Corinne Idler talking with the mentees as the other mentors discuss strategy after bear encounter.
As the sun slowly marched across the sky, one group of elk was seen moving away from the property to join up with a larger group down in an adjacent properties hay field. Alas, a filled tag was not in our sights for the weekend. Even on private land, elk hunting is no sure thing. Which, in all honesty, is what draws so many of us into western hunting. In the words of Dan Doty, when you’re in the field “you can’t predict anything”.
My metric of success for elk camp was to provide a safe, controlled learning experience by pairing mentees with mentors for an in-the-field hunting experience. Much was learned in the Outdoor Classroom, but nothing beats knowledge taken from the conversations in the field. Women in the Woods is meant to be the extra push to get people from curious to committed. We have the means to build confidence, dedication, and engagement. And we can expand the community of conservationists fighting for our public lands and all that inhabit them. Women in the Woods is our opportunity to strengthen the community around the public lands, waters, and wildlife that have shaped our values and identities. And we’re excited to have the opportunity to provide these Camp experiences.
Stay tuned and subscribe to the BHA e-letter for updates on future Women in the Woods Camp events. Our next events in Colorado include a Beginners Fly Fishing Camp with local guide Michele White, and a Waterfowl and Upland Game Camp with our friends at Heritage Sporting Club. We hope to see you there!