Public Land Big Game Hunting
So, you finally decided, you want to hunt Elk, Deer or whatever your passion is and its out of state. On public land with all the fun and difficulty involved.
Hopefully this will help you decide where and how you want to do it.
First of all
Most really good hunting is in the western US and its all draw hunts. Or at least if you don’t want to pay a ton of money to buy a land owner tag in New Mexico or another state with that kind of system.
There are some areas in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Montana which have over the counter tags for non residents in limited areas. Ive been on a few of these hunts and they can be a great time but it requires homework before you go.
Get your tag
Draw applications are usually early in the year for Elk, later for Deer as a rule. In Arizona, the Elk draw must be in by the deadline usually in early February.
I’m going to pass on my history with the drawing and you may find it works for you as well.
Most states publish draw results and success results for previous years. Take a look at the numbers first with a map of the areas you are considering. What you are looking for?
Small areas, with small numbers of tags. Most hunters apply for the large areas, with high tag numbers thinking the numbers game plays in their favor. Well, if you are lucky maybe, but that’s not how I get drawn.
Anyway, once you find the rough areas you are curious about, which actually have the animal you want to hunt in them get your application in and be happy.
From here on I’m assuming you have a tag.
Before your hunt
I never can understand the mentality.
Draw a tag in a great area.
Have what may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to hunt.
They have known they were coming for literally sometimes 7-8 months in advance and they have the same issues
a) Too fat to get out of the truck. Classic and very common. Combine this with high altitude. Elk live above 7000 feet in Arizona. And in most areas of the west. They are not sea level creatures except in Alaska.
This is no joke if you live at sea level or slightly above it. Elk tags are a sabbatical for me, rescuing you is not on my hunt schedule when you get exited over seeing a dairy cow out your truck window thinking its an Elk , and you stroke out …..
b) A brand new rifle you aren’t familiar with. Add a zero at sea level and then neglect to check zero at 7000 feet. Yes it changes as a friend found 3 years ago much to his dismay. Only legal animal he saw during his hunt and its still wandering the mountains in Wyoming.
c) Lack of research or complete unpreparedness for the terrain and weather.
Guys I have seen 80F one day, the next a foot of snow. 4 years ago we had tornadoes in Arizona, which ran every Elk in the area 30 miles away to hide out for a week.
Plan, Plan, Plan for every eventuality as far as weather is concerned.
d) Unpreparedness to deal with an animal which can weigh up too 900 lbs
I see this every year. Shoot an Elk and the brain goes to dust. The size of Elk, and some deer out here are much larger than people are prepared for. Just field dressing one becomes more than they can handle, and loading it in your truck? You have to have a real workable plan for that.
I plan on doing it myself, when I have help its a bonus.
Ok, I’m good with all that, Now what?
You need to make a tentative plan and have an idea what your plan is on arrival.
I like to get into an area new to me a few days before the hunt and look around. Most DIY hunts are camping hunts but local motels are an option if you have the finances. I much prefer a hot shower after being cold and wet all day.
Still, camping is fun.
Find a camp site you like, and get out your maps, compass and aerial photographs.
Yes I said Photographs. There are vast tracts of forest which burn every year, and those areas have new roads cut into them to fight those fires. This will open areas to vehicle access not shown on maps. Having a GPS with the Photo option is a huge help here
My group uses the Garmin http://quietsurvivalist.com/garmin-655t-uhf-hand-held-radiogps-review/
I like to look for areas with topo maps and the photographs having 3 key features.
- Cover. Elk like to bed on the north sides of ridges , with lots of shade and a good escape route over the top if the sense danger coming from below
- Access. This is going to hurt most peoples feeling but the majority of “hunters” never leave the front seat of the truck. So the trick to dealing with these guys is use them as a rolling game fence which I will cover in a minute. I look for hills, or mountains with roads around the base but no roads or trails leading up. Animals will get away from the roads quickly, they like to have a place they can bed and watch in peace.
- Retrieval– Can I get the truck or ATV to the animal, or more likely can I get the animal to the truck. Downhill is ALWAYS better than up hill when dragging or packing animals out. Seems obvious but…
In Az most Elk and Deer hunts are fairly short running a week starting on a Friday through the next Thursday. I break the hunt down like this.
Opening day to Sunday night is amateur hour.
The “Bubba Hunt”. They want to hunt, but by Sunday night they face work again on Monday, or they didn’t see anything and are convinced there are no animals except squirrels anywhere. They are the typical road hunters and they are useful to keep new tire tracks on the roads.
If I shoot something during these 3 days I consider it a bonus, but what I do is locate the animals staying off the roads as much as possible. What I am doing is seeing what changes the increased traffic is doing to the animals.
Monday after the opening weekend.
In some years with large numbers of hunters in areas Ive stayed in camp until late Sunday night.
I have seen literally hundreds of Elk at last light on Monday after most hunters are gone. So many I couldn’t shoot without fear of a pass through shot and hitting more than 1 animal.
Theres an 8X8 bull still walking around because it was traveling in the middle of a herd of cows. I still want to cry over that…
Yes I know, I traveled and I want to hunt. Sometimes you need to let the animals adjust their behavior to suit your style of hunting.
Heres my secret to getting Elk almost every time I get a tag.
Ill watch crossings or openings on the sides of mountains/hills early. I want to see if anything is moving at first light. Most of the time theres nothing, but I’m watching the hillside where I plan to get up on, as soon as the wind decides what direction its going to blow that morning.
Every time I climb early it seems I’m on the wrong end of the ridge when the prevailing wind starts. This sucks.
ALWAYS hunt into the wind.
You have to give the animals time to bed down, get comfy and find some shade to sleep in during the warmer parts of the day. This is where your map scouting comes into play.
You want ridgelines running roughly east/west.
You want to get on the North sides of the ridges, just below the top, on what is called the military crest.
Always moving into the wind once you are up high.
SLOW DOWN. Every Elk Ive seen when another hunter has tried this has been running over the top of the ridge because they don’t slow down. They get exited, they think they are Daniel Boob and the animals see and hear you. When they lock on to you with 2 of their senses they are gone.
In the mornings scent rises, so you want to get on the mountain at the down wind side.
If there are animals on that end its a crap shoot if you will get to the top without spooking them.
Yeah, that’s why its called hunting and not going to the butcher shop.
Heres another tip you can take or leave and I don’t care. It works for me.
Elk and Deer have a distinct smell.
With the wind in your face you can smell them well before you can see them.
Most people who hunt don’t believe that, and they refuse to use the senses evolution gave them to their advantage. In the last 18 years Ive smelled Elk before Ive seen them every time.
And every time Ive shot Elk.
This technique is also why I love the road bound bubbas. They are rolling game fences. The animals know where the hills with little to no road traffic are, they live there. Hunters are more predictable than the animals are.
So the first 3 days of the hunt when the roads are literally being beat to death it pushes the animals up high where using my technique you can walk right up into sleeping herds of Elk and Deer.
So its down, now what?
You’ve killed your animal, congratulations. That’s great.
Now the real work begins. No matter what, you have to get the insides out of the animal fast. So first make sure its dead. I don’t like coming from the front of an animal. If it wakes up suddenly and departs in 4X4 high range you are in the way. This will leave a mark.
I like to poke it with a stick or rifle muzzle near the anus. yes, it will contract if you’ve failed to kill the beast. If it shows signs of life DO NOT empty your magazine into the animal.
Another round into the heart/lung area will normally finish it off.
Once it is satisfactorily dead, field dress it. After you tag it.
I prefer to start at the anus on large animals, moving 200lbs of gut pile trying to cut around the vent and pelvis is easier when the guts are inside. There are videos showing this all over the net. I hope you have done this on something before getting up on the mountain. Its a rabbit, only a bit larger.
I’m not going to spend much time on that, get your knife bloody and do it.
DO NOT stab, stick or otherwise try to ” bleed it out”
Look , if you think this is a good idea you really have no idea what you are doing
First, you stab a live animal weighing in at 700-900 lbs you are in for one hell of a rodeo. You deserve a chest full of antlers or hooves because stupid should hurt. A LOT.
Second, you are going to cut a 4 foot hole in this thing. Stabbing a dead animal doesn’t do anything but put a hole in the cape. Your taxidermist will be very pleased when you do this. I’m sure .
When you take the insides out, the majority of the animals blood will be sloshing around the inside unless you hit the spine or brain which will shut the heart off quickly without cutting any arteries. Get the insides out quickly, as soon as you cut the aorta near the heart the circulatory system will depressurize.
You will know immediately when this happens, trust me:)
Getting it out
This is why I love the Garmins
If I’m on the same side of the mountain as my crew, I get up on the radio as soon as I see the animal is dead. The GPS shows me where they are, and it shows them where I am. They can move the truck either to me directly or below me on the closest road.
I’m not dragging an Elk off the mountain whole, by myself. But if my truck can get close I can either load it whole or quarter it and load it. Help again is great.
If you are alone, and you have to walk out to get the truck, mark your animal as soon as you tag it so you can find it again. I use my GPS and flagging tape around it.
I like to take my Elk to a cooler whole. I know my area so I have 2 picked out. One is my first choice but occasionally they are very busy and full so plan B is vital. Get it out fast, get the hide off and get the meat cool.
This is another post but if you cant get the animal out you must skin it, and prop the insides open to allow the air to circulate and cool the meat. Heat is the destroyer of meat.
I hope this has been a good motivator for you to try a DIY western Elk or Deer Hunt. Please feel free to comment or email if you want to know more
Public Land Big Game Hunting