By Jason Reid
West. The word means an earned adventure to every hunter holding onto DIY dreams. Hunting the West, especially for those living East of the Mississippi, is increasing in popularity. This creates new dynamics and regulations every year and to some this is a frustrating endeavor. However, the West is still the land of opportunity. The significance of the opportunity to hunt the West is finding the edge of human performance melded with the brutal gracefulness of the mountains and animals which call it home. A yearly trek to refill the soul many yearn to take but few ever do.
To hunt the West DIY style takes work. Dedication to preparation is paramount to putting the logistical pieces in place before ever stepping onto the trail. More western DIY hunts are a disaster due to the lack preparation. Precise preparation allows one to focus more on hunting and less on small frustrations which are a part of any hunting trip.
Knowing what adventure you want before making a purchase on a DNR website is the first step to DIY western hunting. There are drawings for special limited tags and hunting in over-the-counter units. Your choice of hunting implement is also a determining factor as to what units will be available. General archery tags are much easier to obtain than rifle tags in certain state, yet, gambling time and resources to hunt a species like elk with a bow is a huge risk as statistically speaking archery elk success is about 10%.
Regardless if you are a resident or a nonresident the investigative work is a big step to filling your tag in the fall. Answer these questions as you plan your fall.
- Look at harvest reports and look to see how many hunters reported spending time in the unit in recent years.
- How will I get the meat out?
- Have there been any recent wildfires in the unit?
- Is the unit national forest, BLM, or designated wilderness?
- What kind of road closures will the unit have during the season?
- Difficulty or ease of access.
- What is a general area and what is a draw area?
Tag and license sales tend to happen in the winter and spring of the year. Don’t wait until August to decide you want to try a new hunt. Plan on planning for a year.
What Hunt Do You Want?
Once you have answered these questions, it is time to decide what kind of hunt you are going to pursue. Are you going to park alongside a road and do day hikes? Are you packing ten days’ worth of gear on your back to get in deep? Will you pay an outfitter to drop you off miles away from the nearest trail? These questions all bring new scenarios which are a part of the logistical challenge. The biggest logistical challenge for any western hunt, especially an elk hunt, is how you are going to deal with the meat. Sure, hiking eight miles is not difficult until you have 300lbs of meat to carry. Choosing the way you deal with the meat will let you dictate the type of hunt you really want. If you can’t afford a packer to haul your meat out for a few hundred dollars, then you will likely need to hunt within six or seven miles of a road. Some states allow bikes on non-motorized trails. While this is a debate within itself many states are dealing with, having a sturdy mountain bike and trailer can help you get in and out of the mountains and extend your effective hunting range.
The last thing you want to have happen is to have any doubt as to where your bullet or arrow will hit on an animal. More often than not changes in elevation are not practiced for in the off season, and for many, unwelcome surprises wait when they pull the trigger. It is important to remember that geometrically your arrow or bullet flies consistently parallel to the ground, but the ground elevation changes which is why for down-hill shots it is traditional to hold a touch low. When you draw on a downhill target remember to bend at the waist and not just aim down with your arm. You will be fighting your body which causes accuracy issues. For uphill shots it is important to draw as if the target animal where on a flat plane in front of you then bend at the waist pointing upward to your target. This will keep your shoulders from fighting themselves and forcing a bad shot.
Your clothing is your defense against the harsh elements. Investing in a layering system like Sitka Gear is important since it provides a superior way for the body to regulate its core temperature in hot and cold climates. Sitka gear is also known for developing tough gear with the ability to withstand harsh conditions for many seasons. When planning a DIY hunt in the West, it is important to pay closer attention to the clothing you wear since the country you hunt is significantly tougher than your average whitetail woods. Aside from clothing, gear like backpacks will significantly increase the pleasure of your trip if the right pack is chosen for carrying meat. Packs like the Badlands 2200 Approach Pack gives you enough space to store necessities for a day hunt like food, water bladders, game bags, emergency gear as well as give you the ability to carry meat out of the mountains.
Scouting should always first take place on a topographical map with boundaries dividing public and private lands. If you are not familiar on how-to read a topographical map, it is imperative that you learn before heading into the mountains since they hold the keys to finding game. Regardless of what animal you hunt, the three basic necessities of life remain: Food, Water, Shelter. Western big game animals are no different. Seek points of interest like North slopes for elk or south facing avalanche slides for bears and deer. Make note of where the dark timber meets the feed and where saddles connect drainages. These will be fantastic hunt areas. For species like elk, always mark where you find old rutting activity like rubs. This indicates traditional rutting areas to be hunted during September. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see animals there during the summer since they may only be at higher grounds during those months. Keep in mind that patterns shift, and where you find elk and deer on warm July days may not be where they are during the season.
Taking the time to plan ensures the ability to have fun with your hunt. The logistics of the hunt are as important as the hunt itself. From where and when you will hunt to your gear, planning a DIY trip to the West to seek adventure is not far from reach. Plan it out, hunt it out and hopefully you’ll be packing it out.