I am no elk hunting expert, but I have been on enough elk hunting trips to give you some sound advice. All the advice I will give you is based on a do it yourself hunt, as that is all I have ever done.
First off above all else you must first as honestly as you can evaluate your fathers and yours phyical condition, your fathers criticly so. The level of phyical difficulty of a elk hunt can vary greatly, but rest assured any elk hunt will be at the very least quite phyicaly demanding, most likly much, much more so than you are use to hunting the realtivly low elavations of your home state of PA. Elk out west for the most part are found in habitat at elevations varying from well over 6000' to 10,000' and above. You simply can not be in to good of shape for elk hunting and depending on your age and present phyical condition, you may need allot of time to be able to get in good enough shape.
Trying to elk without first loosing as much body fat as is healthy and getting into very good shape is setting your self up for at the vary least a dissapointing hunting trip and at worst endangering your health. Get into as good a shape as you can. A good bench mark to use for gauging what physical shape your in is try walking up 5 or 6 flights of stairs and if you are gasping for breath, your not near ready.
Second on my list of most important on a DIY elk hunt is land navigation. It is simply not possible to hunt elk efectively if your constantly worried about getting lost. Do not put blind faith in GPS it can and often fails, so do not go out west elk hunting without a map and compass on your person when ever you leave camp. Get good enough at land navigation to be able to hunt stange areas with confidence. If your skills need improving find a orintation club near your home and join. Its usually free and you will learn what you need to become confident in not getting badly lost.
Research. This is the single most important thing there is in elk or any kind of hunting, and it takes lots and lots and lots of time and hours spent on the phone talking to game biologists, game wardons, and anyone else you can find willing to help you out. Biologists are good info sources, but your best bet is to find a person who has hunted the unit in the last three years, perferably last year who is willing to help you out. Their info would be worth its weight in bull elk antlers. First you must deside on what states you wish to hunt and than which unit in that state. It is a whole lot of work just desiding on what unit in the state you wish to apply for, then trying to find good area in the unit to hunt is the single biggest chalange you will face. You must not only find out where in any unit you wish to hunt where the elk are, you must also find out where the best glassing points are. If where in the unit to hunt is the most important, glassing points are as close to second as you can get. Cant kill a bull if you cant see him.
The things you must know about any unit and I am sure I am forgetting some things are:
<>Always have a list of questions you wish to ask who ever it is your going to call and use them so as to avoid forgetting to ask them. You may only get to talk to this person one time so make the most of it.
<>Try to be the first hunter anyone talks to. Elk biologists get bugged to death by hunter every year, so talk to them when they are still fresh.
<> How meny bull permits do they issue every year as well as the last five
<>How meny cow tags do they issue, a cow hunter will negatively affect hunting just as bad as a holder of a bull tag will.
<>What is the access like in the unit? lots of roads or few roads" can you drive 4x4 on them OK or are quads a must to get around? Beware if anyone you talk to about the unit asks you if you have access to horses as that is a bad indicator about access.
<>Success/kill rate on bulls for the last five years, average age of bull killed if possable. It usually takes 6 or 7 years for a bull to became a mature 6x6
<>Bull to cow ratio of the unit
<>Is the unit had sufficiant moisture for antler growth
<>Any recent forest fires, if so exactly where and if last year is bad, 3-5 years ago good
<>Level of difficulty of the terrane to hunt
<>Make sure you have a good map of the unit spread out in front of you prior to calling anyone about the unit. Use "postits" to record info on or a pad of paper try to avoid writung directly on your map(s) untill your sure of the info or you will use it.
<>Look for areas that keep coming up when you talk to the unit biologist, but be carefull because my experience has been the unit biologist will tell most hunters calling him about same general areas. It is usually hard to get ahold of a unit bio as it is. Try when he is likely to be in his office first thing in the morning.
<>Use tact and common sence when talking to anyone about the unit. There are few worst things you can do than start out talking to some one by asking "wheres the best place I can cill a big 6x6"
<>Try to find areas as remote as you feel capable of hunting, even out west most hunters do not like to WALK more than a few 100 yards off the road, as road hunting by residents is the method of choice most of the time.
<>Find out if water is a factor in the unit
<>Do not rely on information on the unit that is more than two years old, three at the most as being accurate. Things can change dramaticly in a few years in a unit.
<>Anyone you can find to call whos job requiers that they spend anytime out in elk country is potentally a good source of info.
<>You can never have to meny areas of the unit to hunt, as at least 1/2 of the places anyone tells you about will not pan out for you. So reasurch the unit untill there is simply nothing left for you to resurch and then try to find more contacts to resurch.
<>The instant you get off the phone with anyone you talk to, go over your notes and rewrite anything sloppy and make sure all you wrote down is correct and you did not leave out anything while it is all still fresh in your mind. Try it a day or so lator and it will be much more dificult to do so.
<>Set realistic goals for your self. I have been applying for nine years for some states and still have not gotton picked. The quality of the hunt you want and the size of the bulls in it your willing to accept must be the first thing you deside on. Do not go into a general unit thinking you will see tons of elk or big bulls as you most likely will not. Limited entry units are great, but the odds of being drawn in some of these units with 0 points is litteraly less than 1:100 and some times far worse.
<>Once your in a unit take it easy for at least the first three days, as you do not want to get altitude related illnesses. A slight head ache now and then is OK, feeling a little light headed is also OK, but you do not want eithor condition to start to affect your ability to hunt.
If you deside to hire a outfitter and go on a fully guided hunt the only advice I can give you is resurch your choice of outfitters almost as hard as you would if you were doing a DIY hunt. The internet is a great place to find out info good and bad about elk outfitters and guides. I strongly suggest you go to:
That is a great website for elk hunting outfitters. When you talk to any outfitter you are seriously considering hireing try to get as meny refrences as you can, especially from UNSUCCESSFULL hunters. The more you know about any unit a outfitters hunts in the better off you will be. But remember a fully guided 1on1 or 2on1 elk hunt will cost you from $3500 on the lower end to $5000 and up for you and your father EACH!!! so make sure your hiring as good a outfitter as you can afford and this responsability will entirely up to you. Also do not hang up after talking to any outfitter without getting a solid idea as to the size of bull you will most likely encounter. Ask him what was the average bull killed by his operation, not the biggest, as thats as much a matter of luck as anything else. Make sure you fully understand how dificult a hunt it will be and make sure he understands any phyical limitations you or your father might have. Dont think just because your going guided you dony need to get into shape, as it would be ahuge mistake. You are being guided to your elk, not carried. You still have to walk/run to get to the point for the shot. Any reference you talk to have a list of questions you want to ask so not to forget what you want to ask them.
Also go to as meny different elk hunting info websites as you can and do searches at them on any unit you are interested in as well as any guide servses you have been told about. You will most likely get more info than you know what to do with.
Bottom line is your hunt DIY or guided will depend on two things above all else IMHO if you have done everything else rite. Reasurch and luck. One of the two you can do something about, and remember this "Luck favors the prepaired"
Best of luck to you and your father.