When someone mentions elk hunting we think of outfitters, wall tents, long horse back rides, solitude in the back country with no cell service, and little contact with the outside world. Of course that is the ultimate elk hunting experience, but its not the only way to get the most out of a hunting trip. Today I want to talk about ways to create an affordable elk hunting adventure.
DIY ELK HUNT
One of the most effective ways to save money on an elk hunting trip is to do it yourself (DIY). We can go on a ten day elk hunt in Colorado for less than $2000. That’s $661 for an elk tag. We spend $800 for an outfitter to give us a ride in and out of the wilderness and pack out any animals we kill. Since we live in Pennsylvania and drive to Colorado we spend $1200 on fuel that we split two to four ways. We choose to drive for two reasons, first we don’t trust baggage handlers with our bows and second it gets a little pricey to ship meat. We used to rent horses to pack our gear into the wilderness but for about the same money we pay an outfitter, so it was a no brainer to make the switch, when we found an outfitter willing to just give us a ride. That saved us a lot of work. We would get one horse each, when we rented, so that left us loading the horse with gear and leading it into the wilderness. The outfitter we use gives us a horse to ride and one for a pack animal. That’s a lot of work saved, plus we didn’t have horses to deal with everyday of the hunt. If you can’t find an outfitter and don’t want to spend the money to rent horses you can camp in a campground and hunt from there. It’s alot of fun and a great way to get started. If you want to avoid horses altogether some western states allow the use of a registered ATV.
OVER THE COUNTER TAGS
Colorado has more over the counter opportunity than most western states so that’s the state we started elk hunting in. We bought over the counter tags for second rifle season because at the time it gave us the longest season to hunt. We would get as many people we could to go along , the more the merrier right? Just be careful of who you invite because you will be spending a lot of time with them in a vehicle and camp. One year seven of us went and we killed seven elk. It was a great trip. We set up a big army tent in a campground and hunted from there, half on horseback and half on four wheelers. We were all new to elk hunting but thanks to all the over the counter game management units (GMU’s) in Colorado we were able to find a place to hunt and made a very successful trip of it.
There are millions of acres of public land in the west, to take advantage of, for the hunter willing to do a little research and work. We started out elk hunting with over the counter tags on public ground. As nonresidents we didn’t know any landowners, so our research efforts were aimed at public ground. We found National Forests, wilderness areas, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and state owned land all accessible to residents and nonresidents alike. There are all kinds of maps and satellite imagery that are good scouting tools. Google Earth and mapping/GPS apps make cyber scouting a lot easier now than it used to be. We spent a lot of time on the phone with Forest Rangers and Department of wildlife personnel. They were always polite and informative and can still be a valuable research tool. Research can only take you so far and public land is open to everybody. That’s where some of the work comes in. You must be willing to go farther away from the roads and campgrounds to get away from hunting pressure.
Preference points allow hunters to hunt in areas with more opportunities for trophy quality animals yet still be able to do it on a budget. Each year many western states give you the chance to buy a preference point for a small fee. Usually the more points it takes to draw a tag, the better the hunt unit is for trophy potential. These units all have public land that the game agencies manage for trophy animals through reduced license numbers issued and other regulations aimed towards sex ratio goals. Preference points also give the nonresident hunter the opportunity to get some of the other more coveted tags like muzzleloader or archery. These seasons occur during the fall when the weather is more pleasant, the leaves are changing colors to all their fall glory, and most importantly the rut is building and the bulls are bugling. There’s little chance of getting one of these tags without preference points so if you’re interested start gaining points now.
Affordable elk hunting is made possible by the people involved. When you pay for a service, like hiring an outfitter you’re paying for knowledge, equipment, hard work and experience. There’s not much you can do about your experience level right now , but that’s something that can only be learned and not taught. As far as knowledge and equipment, do your research, the information is almost unlimited. You can start with basic camping gear, the hunting equipment you already have, and by doing lots of research. Over the years as my packing lists evolved I never really added as much as I have taken away. After a few trips to the wilderness, you soon realize that items you don’t use are items you don’t need (except for first aid items), even my day pack got lighter. Sure I upgraded to smaller lighter and more efficient but my needs didn’t change all that much. There are still comfort items that I refuse to give up, mostly in the bedding department. I need good rest when I’m elk hunting because it is so much work. I know we eat better now than we ever did. Those early days eating MRE’s are gone for good. If you’re considering an elk hunt in the future start gaining preference points now, it will open up more opportunity down the road. Affordable elk hunting, in my opinion means a do it yourself public land hunt. To be a successful elk hunter you must be willing to put forth an incredible amount of work and effort, starting way before you step foot into the amazing places elk call home. Do your homework, watch as many videos as you can, practice calling and shooting, and never give up, but beware elk hunting is extremely addictive.
The Nonresident Hunter