advice on 1st hunt

Discussion in 'Elk Hunting' started by bigsal5353, Nov 16, 2008.

  1. bigsal5353

    bigsal5353 Well-Known Member

    Mar 4, 2004
    I'm trying to plan a Elk hunt for the fall of '09 for my dad and I. We are from Western PA and dont know the first thing about Elk hunting.

    Can you give me some advice on everything. which state? how to pick a guide? how long of a hunt? how do you get meat back home? etc.....
  2. Strick9

    Strick9 Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2007
    I just took my Dad on his first..Do not go to Mt there is a wolf epidemic. I would recommend for high success either NM or Co..

  3. elkstalker300

    elkstalker300 Well-Known Member

    Nov 18, 2004
    There are alot of things to consider like what time of year do you want to hunt and what weapon do you want to use. Do you like cold weather hunting or do you want to hunt them in the rut? As far as I know Colorado is the only elk state with over the counter tags, that being said you can only buy over the counter archery tags and rifle tags for the second and third rifle seasons. Price for the tags are 250.00 for a cow tag or 526.00 for a bull. The archery tag is 526.00 but is either sex. Out of state youths can hunt for 100.00. Get on their web site ( Colo division of wildlife) and they have great stats from past seasons on sucess rates and so forth. Guidesa are expensive but I guess worth it (I wouldnt know never used one) Alot of them will have you hunting on public lands right beside me but if you get the ones that have land leased then they would be OK. Bring 2 big coolers just to transport the game back in. Let me know any other questions you have plus there are others here that will chime in I am sure
  4. ARTJR338WM

    ARTJR338WM Member

    Oct 13, 2008
    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.
  5. royinidaho

    royinidaho Writers Guild

    Jan 20, 2004
    You're screwed right off the bat. From NW PA. What's the odds of that. :D:D

    How far noth of Eau Claire are ya.............

    The best thing going for you is beginners luck. That first elk hunt can and sometimes is awesome with great results. After that its a real brute.

    Here's a start. Call 724-458-7489 and ask for Mark. Tell him Roy from Idaho told you to call him. He'll wonder what in the heck is going on. He's my brother so he'll be slow to catch on.:D Ask him for the name of his friend in Salmon Idaho who is a guide. I believe his last name is Butch. He is from the Grove City area and has been in the Salmon area for decades.

    Then contact the fella in Idaho. He'll give good instructions.

    You'll want a guide due to the vastness of the area vs the smallness of the areas hunted in PA. Also with the wolf pressure there is more space than ever before between elk. If you road hunt you'll drive more in a day than you do all season back there. If you walk and stalk you'll walk many miles in a day.

    The most important thing is to have enough gun and be able to shoot it well out to several hundred yards. After the animal is down, preferable Dead Right There the hard word starts but if taken slowly it's plenty doable.

    Keep in touch and good luck.
  6. mike33

    mike33 Well-Known Member

    Dec 19, 2008
    I didn' t start the thread but thanks for you in put that took a lot of time to type. Im in the same boat that guy is looking of what to do.
  7. royinidaho

    royinidaho Writers Guild

    Jan 20, 2004
    Idaho was a bummer this year except for those who's years of local experience allowed them to go to their "usual" spots. Even with the early season end in some area with no snow to assist they were successful.

    Thus I still recommend a guide to at least put you in the area. Or a trusted local, one who has shot many elk over the years. They are pretty tight lipped, however.
  8. esshup

    esshup Well-Known Member

    Mar 23, 2008
    While this isn't specific to Elk, it might help. If you don't have Google Earth, get it. It will allow you to look at areas (albet they might be a few years old) and pick out terrain features. I also have used the program from National Geographic to make my own topo maps. The software is mostly state specific, and might cost as much as 2 to 3 maps from, but after those first few I look at it as the maps are free.

    I'm kinda the same boat as you. While I've never hunted Elk, a buddy and I want to. We've purchased preference points in Wy. since they came out, and while we have enough to pull a tag in most of the General Hunt areas, and a few limited areas, I still don't know whether a DIY is worth it for a first hunt for a couple of rookies.

    The guide fee is pretty steep, but my feeling is for us, with the preference points built up, it would be a shame to waste them on a poorly planned DIY hunt. I'm not worried about the shooting part. I'm sure Kirby will get me a first rate gun and it will be up to me to make sure it's pointed in the right place.
  9. jdmag

    jdmag Member

    Dec 13, 2008
    Check your PM's
  10. Guy M

    Guy M Well-Known Member

    Jun 4, 2007
    On my first elk hunt I was fortunate enough to go along with a very experienced elk hunter. We went to an area he knew well, packed in camp by horseback, nine miles from the road and up at about 9,000' in Wyoming.


    I was in good shape, but used to living at about 1,000' above sea level, so it took me a few days to get used to the altitude. We scouted for elk, hiked and fished for a few days before the season. That was a good idea, as we located elk and got me used to living and working at altitude. Other posters have hit hard on the physical conditioning aspect of it - and I'd have to agree, at least for where I hunted. It's not only at high altitude, but it's doggone steep up there! Several days we did a LOT of hiking.

    The area was NOT overrun with elk. We didn't see many, I did get a good clear shot at a nice 6x6 bull from about 180 yards and put him down with one 175 grain Nosler Partition from my 7mm Rem mag. My rifle was an inexpensive, off-the rack Rem 700 ADL that I'd done a trigger job on, and had shot a lot. It had a simple 3-9x Leupold, sighted-in at 300 yards. It's not the rifle, it's the shooter. Good bullets are a plus. I read a lot of posts from guys who swear that you need a half MOA rifle shooting 300 grain super slugs at warp speed. Not true, unless of course you're taking elk at a half mile or so. Most elk hunters I know use something like a .30-06 or .300 magnum with good 180 grain bullets. It's a pretty standard combo that works well. If you're pushing the long-range envelope, obviously a more specialized setup is nice.

    Once the elk was down this deer hunter finally figured out how big those critters really are... My goodness... Standing there, on a steep hillside a mile or so from camp, at 10,000' up in the Wind River Mtns, with 700+ pounds of dead elk at my feet. I was a little overwhelmed. My buddy was the brains behind dismembering the carcass and he did a fine job of teaching me how it's done. After we had it apart, he headed back to camp for the horses and mules to pack it out, while I carried elk quarters down the mountain to the trail where the horses could reach them. This whole time we kept our rifles and big bore handguns available, as apparently the local grizzly population has learned that a gunshot can mean lunch. It took much of a day to get the elk skinned, quartered and back to camp. It took another day to get the elk nine miles down the trail to our trucks, then to drive the quarters & the head to the meat processor and the taxidermist, and then ride back into camp in a blowing snowstorm. Big day that was.

    If you can't connect with a good local hunter, then I'd highly recommend going with a good, experienced outfitter. He'll have the knowledge and the tools to get the job done right. Although I haven't met him in person, I've heard good things about Lee Livingston who guides out of Cody Wyoming. We had a good conversation a couple of years ago about a backcountry mule deer hunt. That hunt fell through when I got hurt and couldn't do a backcountry hunt, so I didn't get to meet Lee in person. I'm sure there's a pile of other good guides too.

    Since that hunt I've done some more elk hunting here in my home state of Washington, but not deep in the backcountry like that high altitude Wyoming trip.

    Best of luck, do your research. By the way - if you want to hunt in Wyoming, you'll need to get your non-resident application in soon, I believe they're due in January.

    Regards, Guy
  11. jdmag

    jdmag Member

    Dec 13, 2008
    +1 to every thing Guy said. Even so, There is NOTHING you can do to get your lungs ready for breathing at that altitude short of moving out there 6 months in advance of your hunt, or a plastic bag over your head while working out on an elliptical. However plenty of leg work (both walking and weight lifting) will cause your leg muscles to use less of the oxygen available to your body.
    Good luck!
  12. esshup

    esshup Well-Known Member

    Mar 23, 2008
    One thing - drink plenty of water out there. My hunting partner didn't and had a splitting headache for 2 days. Also, the first day he climbed the hills by only using hit toes and balls of the feet - he never put his heel down on the trips up the mountain. His calves paid for it the next few days.

    Granted, it was 80* in the middle of the day when we were there, but I went thru 3 literes of water a day plus whatever I drank back at camp that evening. If you aren't stopping to pee, you aren't drinking enough.
  13. TerryLamb

    TerryLamb Active Member

    Feb 3, 2009
    Each of the traditional Elk states has much opportunity: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico etc. I would research online comparative non-resident license rates, then focus on filtering outfitters from the chosen state. Unless you had a solid and experienced contact somewhere, I would never, ever consider trying a DIY first trip for elk.

    Also, time runs short, as in many states some areas are by draw only for elk permits, and those drawing deadlines are arriving sooner than you might imagine. In some states, there are outfitters allocations, meaning that often times an outfitter can guarantee an available elk tag if you book.

    Good outfitters work incredibly hard to produce a memorable experience for their clients. As every real hunter knows, a good experience often does not include harvesting success! Do not even consider an outfitter "guaranteeing success".

    Pursue outfitter references relentlessly.

    From the outfitters standpoint he would like you to:
    Get in shape, including your horseback muscles. If you show up raw and then ride 15 miles the first day heading in, your legs and butt will be paralysed for half of the hunt!
    Be as proficient with your rifle as you have ever been in your life! Guides hate it when they spend five days getting you the opportunity of a lifetime on elk and you can't hit your butt with both hands.
    Do not show up with flip-up scope covers, they snag, come off and break in scabbards and in the woods in general. They will want you to have the retained-loop neoprenes, scopeshieldalaska style.
    The outfitter knows all the details on meat care and shipping and should make it easy for you.

    In the end, the power and majesty of the animal and its surroundings make a life experience like few others. I hope you and your Dad can put one together and have a fabulous trip!