Who Doesn’t Want to Hunt Elk in the West?

I have lived in the Intermountain west for over 20 years now. Not to “rub it in”, for all you in the East, but my state has over 34 million acres of National Forest, BLM and state lands or about 11.9 acres of public land per capita and most of the “capita” rarely leave the cities, so we have lots of room to roam. There could hardly be a better place to hunt and many people spend lots of time, effort and money to come hunt in my backyard.

Cow bison with calf

Seven species of big game can be found within a 90 minute drive from our house.

I can be hunting mule deer and elk only 15 minutes from my house (OK, now I am showing off). If I could ever draw the tag, I could include moose and mountain goat to that list and I could add antelope, big horn sheep and even bison with a 60-90 minute drive.

Over the years, a few old friends and relatives have asked about hunting with me. Toting them along will effect my hunt, but I would still love to share a hunt with them, especially the teenagers.

We could sleep at my house and drive up on the mountain every morning or we could set up the wall tent, their choice. They have to buy their own tags, but other than that, all they have to do is get here. This would be a hunt of a life-time for these southern guys and the offer stands as long as my knees hold out.

So, you would think my house would be busier than a three-legged cat in a litter box during the Fall,  with people constantly coming and going during the hunting season. Not so. So far, it’s all just been talk.

There are all sorts of reasons that people don’t make the effort. I think most of my old friends are just getting too old, or think they are. My younger relatives either don’t have enough money, vacation time, can’t miss school or the kids aren’t old enough to bring along yet. Truth is, some of them are intimidated about hunting in areas more than a mile from a road or are afraid of grizzly bears.

Reasons People Have Never Hunted the West

  • Not enough money
  • Don’t have the time
  • Too old or not physically capable
  • Kids are too young
  • Confused by the complicated lottery/draw systems
  • Never been out West before and don’t know where to start
  • Afraid of roadless/wilderness and/or Bears/or wife is
  • Rather fertilize, poison, mow and edge the grass

How many of you would pass on an offer for a western elk or mule deer hunt with a friend or relative?
Why have you never hunted the West?

My First Western Hunting Trips

Years ago when I still lived in the South, I used to spend most of my vacation time and extra money on hunting trips to the West and the mid-West. Between 1982 and 1992, I made five trips to Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah & Texas. Money was tight, so we had to scrimp and save and it took about two years to save enough money for the next trip. We also had to join forces and share vehicles and gas for the trips. Sometimes we made T-shirts to sell at the meetings to help pay for the trip. What ever it took.

Most of those trips were for hunting game birds and rabbits in open country with falconry birds at the North American Falconers Association field meets. The meets are always scheduled the week of Thanksgiving and are based in towns like Kearney Nebraska, Amarillo Texas, Lamar Colorado, Vernal Utah and Liberal Kansas. We mostly camped out and bought food at the grocery store except one year in Lamar Colorado, when Winter came too early for our thin Southern blood, we shared a room in the motel that allowed our dogs and birds.

red tailed hawk with rabbit

Red-tailed hawk feeding on a rabbit.

Going to organized meets made it easy to hunt in new areas, because the local meet organizers had done most of the scouting and if private land need to be hunted, they had already acquired permission to hunt there. Simple, all we just had to was drive ourselves between 1,300 to 2,000 miles one-way with our dogs and falconry birds.

First Western Big Game Hunt

My first Western big game hunting trip was a mule deer hunt in Colorado. A friend had moved to Colorado from Tennessee several years earlier and invited me to hunt with him. We stayed at his house since he lived close enough to the hunt unit to drive in every morning. He had done all the scouting and acted as my guide. Well not quite, because he shot a deer and I did not. A real guide would have let me have first shot.

That was my first real introduction to the vast public lands, the terrain and the varied habitats of the Rocky Mountains and the Inter-mountain West. I was amazed by the  amount of public land that was available to hunting. We hunted from sunrise to sunset everyday, and never saw another hunter except on the roads. We hunted high country at treeline, we hunted groves of aspen and we hunted low in the PJ. We saw game like I had never seen in the southern fields and forests.

high elevation habitat

My friend took his mule deer just below treeline at about 12,000 feet.

It was the high country just below treeline of some ancient bristlecone pines where my friend took his deer. It was a beautiful cool mid September day and we kept talking about how the hunt had gone down on the last day of the hunt. We were together when we saw a little buck about 1200 yards away. We split up and worked our way to the area from opposite directions, thinking one of us might get a shot.

I even enjoyed the mile long drag back to the truck. My low elevation lungs were burning at 12,000+ feet and I had to take lots of breaks. During one of those breaks, the local camp robbers (AKA Canada Jay or Gray Jay), came to see what we were doing. We picked small pieces of meat from inside the cavity and held them up for the jays to snatch. They would have let us do that all day.

aspen fall colors

Aspen in the Fall.

I was blown away by the mountain scenery, especially the golden color of the aspen in the fall.
A friend of mine that was into skydiving once told me; “If you ever do it, that’s all you will ever want to do.” I never did go skydiving, but it was the same for me spending time in the back country of the West. I fell in love with the mountains and deserts and it didn’t take long after that hunting trip until I found a way to move here.

I can’t fault a young guy for taking care of his family responsibilities. So, I listen when they tell me ” We sure would like to come hunt next year”, but I will watch what they do. For some people, other priorities always seem to get in the way. I think they like to think of themselves as hunters, but they don’t act like it. Maybe it’s just that the grass needs to be mowed.

I’ll bet if I offered a chance to hunt to many of you, I would have to get the wall tent ready.

bdc scope reticle with elk in
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