Choosing the Right First Western Hunt: Elk

In my opinion Rocky Mountain elk offer the best hunt in North America. The combination of fall weather, bugling bulls and mountain hikes is hard to beat. That being said, it’s a demanding first hunt.

An elk hunt can feel both isolated and crowded at the same time, with trucks parked around every bend and no cell reception to touch base with family. In 2017 I harvested my first bull after spending 10 days alone in the woods and nearly losing my marbles.

While on an antelope hunt it’s hard not to see something, that’s not the case in the elk woods. Most archery elk hunts range from 10 to 20 percent success rates. The first time I caught a glimpse of an elk I remember thinking, “Holy sh*t! They’re real!” It seemed impossible that these massive animals were lumbering around in the mountains. Until you start to locate elk effectively the experience feels like chasing a leprechaun.

Though winter storms can pop up, you’ll likely hunt brisk fall days in the 60s and 70s. Expect cold nights as the thin, dry air won’t hold heat long after the sun goes down.

Physically and logistically elk hunting requires more fortitude than antelope or bear. Hiking over steep terrain at high altitude will leave many hunters wishing for whitetail season. I’ve had friends refuse to leave their tent on the third morning. Others have been turned off of elk and western hunting in general after spending a grand and a week of vacation without glimpsing a bull.

The trip can become a significant investment. If you’re a hunter from the midwest you’ll likely need to invest in a good pair of boots and a decent pack. A bull tag will set you back between $600 and $1100 depending on the state. But, filling the tag will leave you with several hundred pounds high-quality meat. High risk, high reward.

On the flip side, you’ll pay travel expenses and sacrifice vacation time for any hunt. From that standpoint it might make sense to chase elk. If you can only make a trip west every few years, why not go all out?

While regulations vary from state to state, most will feel fairly crowded during elk season, but a little leg work can get you away from crowds and into elk.

I have a tendency to only tell positive stories from elk season, then lead friends on the Bataan Death March Ep. 2. The hunt will require a significant amount of prep time, which could be seen as a positive or a negative. The internet is full of elk hunting articles and videos to make the process easy. Every hunter should experience an archery elk hunt at some point. Just know what you’re getting yourself into: a demanding hunt that leaves many hunters empty handed.

Conclusion

For a cost-effective, high-success trip out west grab an antelope tag. To get into the mountains and glass avalanche shoots as the wildflowers bloom steer towards a bear hunt. You’ll learn a lot of dos and don’ts from each. Finally, for those that seek adventure and don’t need any guarantees, start planning for elk season.

Depending on where you live, other first hunts might make sense. Consider mule deer, javelina,  or coues deer. Maybe travel out of state to hunt pheasants or fish for walleye. As with any hunt, prioritize the experience, and good luck wherever you end up.

Thank you for reading,

Stu

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