Maybe you've drawn an elk tag in a prime area, or just have big plans to bowhunt in an over-the-counter state such as Colorado or Idaho. You likely have a vague idea where you're headed, even where you'll hunt, but details still remain a touch vague. Your hunt area lies far from home and you've laid eyes on very little of a monstrous amount of habitat. Where to start?
A great deal of satisfation is derived from doing your homework -- studying maps, interviewing state game biologists, perusing government websites -- while researching new hunting areas, ultimately seeing that investment result in a trophy animal. But without plenty of luck on your side this is normally an ongoing, multiseason process. In areas where winning a lottery tag is difficult, the process is curtailed considerably.
For most, a full-boat guided hunt is simply out of the question. There's much to be said for a fully outfitted elk hunt -- gaining quick insight into productive techniques and approaches to bowhunting elk via longtime professionals -- but the brutal reality is even a modest guided hunt is well beyond the average working-stiff's budget; hunt prices now commanding five to 10 months of mortgage payments for many of us.
The obvious solution is a drop-camp arrangement with an established outfitter or packer. A professional assures you're installed in a productive area -- preferably far from the masses, using seasoned pack animals to safely ferry you and your equipment into roadless or wilderness areas. You're then left to your own devices hunting-wise. These arrangements also cost a fraction of a fully guided deal, especially when shared with a friend or two.
Costs hinge directly on how many additional services you require. For instance, added expenses might come from using an outfitter's equipment (tents, cots, cookware and such), midhunt check-ins during warmer weather to pack out any meat tagged early on, or the outfitter supplying all food, or a cook, or a wrangler to make pack and riding horses available throughout your hunt. Saving money means supplying your own camping gear and food, doing your own camp chores and packing meat to a central camp to await an established pick-up date (weather permitting). These are all details to be worked out with your chosen outfitter/packer.
Like booking any fully guided foray, your pack outfit should be researched thoroughly; all details worked out well ahead of arrival through frank telephone conversations with your outfitter and references followed up (after requesting both successful and unsuccessful past clients). Word of mouth is the surest insurance against bum hunts, while online forums, hunting magazines and booking services are other reliable avenues for locating honest outfits.
Finally, pick hunting partners for such adventures wisely. You want (a) friend(s) who'll keep their cool should unforseen weather or mishaps arise, maintain an even temper during a week or more of tent camping and little sleep, and especially, pitch in when chores need to be accomplished. More than one friendship has ended bitterly due to flared tempers during an extended outdoor experiance.
Editor's Note: This was originally published in 2008.
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