Almost everyone that hunts anywhere across the country at one time or another dreams of coming out West to hunt. It can be a daunting task deciding whether or not you should go with a guide or try a do it yourself adventure. Both have their place and it depends on the individual. Do you want to put in your hard work and team up with some good friends to help share in the trip? Some want to be able to come out and have all the home work done for them by an experienced outfitter who is familiar with the area.
In part one I will cover the unguided route. To do this hunt properly you have to do a lot of preperation prior to the hunt even starting. You must first decide where you want to go and for what species you want to hunt.
Each state out West has very different regulations, deadlines and laws that you must be conscious of. Some of the applications resemble that of a 100 page novel. Make sure you study the booklets and call all of the fish and game offices to help fill out these properly. Deadlines vary from the end of January up to the end of May. Applications can also be very complicated as to having to pay a partial fee or the entire tag fee up front. Seek help from friends who have been through this process before or have hunted the same state that you are choosing. You want to make sure everything is filled out properly prior to sending it in. I once lost a years point in Arizona just because my check was not addressed properly.
Now that you have sent off your tags its time to research your hunting area. With the Internet now it is far easier to scout. Google earth, Topo maps and GPS devices make this a breeze. You can not do enough home work and the more you put in now the better your hunt will be when you arrive. Scout now and hunt more later is a good saying. Check with local fish and game offices, biologists as well as game wardens. Call local taxidermists and they usually have some good current information of your area. It is always best if you have a few partners who will go on the hunts with you. This way you can share the work load and compare notes. Give each friend a task or two to handle and the research goes a lot easier.
The West can be very hard for the average hunter especially if he or she is not in top shape. It amazes me how many people spend a bunch of time scouring hunting stats, working on getting their tags in and do not work on their fitness. I believe it is by far the number one factor why people are not successful on their Western adventure. You have no excuse to not hike or walk and do some type of weight training. Put a back pack on and start walking. Altitudes range from 3000 feet to well above 10,000 feet. You can’t adjust for the altitude when living out East but if your body is in shape you can acclimate much quicker. Work on this at least 3 times a week and you will be much happier when carrying out your elk quarter on your back.
Having the right gear is a very important aspect of your hunt. Will you be hunting out of your truck everyday or using atv’s or even on horse back. Now is the time to get your equipment dialed in and be familiar with it. Make sure everything is is running order and tuned up. If it is a motorized vehicle make sure you have the proper permits to drive on forest roads. Some areas only allow you to use them for recovery during the mid day hours. A simple registration sticker is all you need. In Montana however you must have a working light, horn and rear view mirror to drive on roads. Spare gas cans and tires are also important. Most areas will be far from a local fuel stop.
Will you be hunting from a camper everyday or using it as a base camp. Are you sleeping in a tent and cooking over a fire. Another popular way is the bivy style hunting where you carry everything on your back as you go along. All have their place and people will choose a variety of ways to hunt. It does not matter to me just get out there and hunt. The weather can change in a minute’s notice whether you are out West in August or November. Having a proper shelter can make a huge difference.
Hopefully by now the mail man would have brought you good news and a tag is in hand for one of the great Western states for a fall hunt. Do not be intimidated by the process and do yourself a favor by coming out West and try it and I guarantee you will not be disappointed whether you punch your tag or not.