Elk hunting requires planning(First of two parts) Elk hunting seasons are long over, but if you are thinking of hunting elk somewhere in 2011, now is the time to begin planning. The days are gone when you could decide last minute to go elk hunting in the fall, drive to a western state and buy a license across the counter. Colorado was the last state where you could do that.
By: Bernie Kuntz, Outdoors, The Jamestown Sun
(First of two parts)
Elk hunting seasons are long over, but if you are thinking of hunting elk somewhere in 2011, now is the time to begin planning. The days are gone when you could decide last minute to go elk hunting in the fall, drive to a western state and buy a license across the counter. Colorado was the last state where you could do that.
So what to do and where to go? There are lots of options. Just don’t make the mistake that some Midwesterners do and think you are going to drive to National Forest land in a western state, park your pickup, hike a quarter mile and shoot an elk. It seldom is that easy.
Do-it-on-your own hunters have their best success going in a group of experienced hunters who own all the required camping gear, and have a routine. Many such groups of hunters travel west every year with decent success. It’s always good to have partners. You might hunt alone in the field, but if you get an elk on the ground you probably are going to need help getting it back to the trailhead.
One of my fishing partners a couple years ago was a guy from Mohall, N.D., who had a magnificent bull elk head mounted in his trophy room that he shot sometime in the 1980s on the Beartooth Wildlife Management Area near Great Falls, Mont. He used his own horses, had a couple hunting partners, but no guide.
Hunters who do not have reliable partners might want to consider hiring an outfitter. This, of course, boosts the cost of the trip considerably but it also increases the hunter’s chances of success.
Next, the hunter needs to determine his expectations. Are you wishing for an elk hunting experience in the West and happy to take a cow elk or a young bull? If so, your chances of success are considerably higher than if you want nothing else but a bull large enough to mount on the wall. (Consider that, while the world is full of better elk hunters than me, I hunted elk on and off since the late 1970s, shot 16 elk, but have only one large enough that justified a full shoulder mount.)
So where to go? The absolute best elk hunting in the West is in special permit areas and also on private land where there is limited hunting pressure. Conversely, many of the general hunting districts get hunted hard. And in Montana and Idaho you also are competing with wolf packs preying on elk so your chances are not great of finding a mature bull. The special permit areas, unfortunately, are very difficult to draw. So you might spend $800 on a non-resident license, apply for the special elk permit, fail to draw, and be relegated to hunting a general area … along with hundreds of other hunters. I should add that an early winter in Montana in 2010 allowed more hunters than usual to take mature bull elk. How that will affect 2011 success is debatable.
My advice is to apply for a special permit somewhere like Utah, Nevada, Arizona or New Mexico. Of course, it might take years to draw the permit. It took me 11 years to draw a Nevada elk permit, for example. But I only saw a couple other hunters in five days of hunting and saw good numbers of elk. (If you remember, I managed to shoot under a modest bull at 340 yards. It was captured on national TV on The Outdoor Channel, and it seems that everyone I ever knew has seen the segment, including Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton.)
If I were hunting elk for the first time and was willing to spend $6,000 or $8,000, I might apply for a Wyoming elk license somewhere in the northwestern part of the state and take a classic horseback hunt by packtrain into wilderness area. Or I’d go to British Columbia where there is good, albeit expensive, elk hunting. Otherwise, I’d start building preference points in a couple or three states.
The main consideration to keep in mind is that no matter what physical shape you are in, elk hunting is a lot easier at age 30 than it is at age 60. So go when you can. As a friend of mine says, “You’re gonna run out of health before you run out of money!”
Next week: Elk rifles and cartridges.