View Full Version : Western hunting tips

March 9, 2007, 03:07 PM
I'm wanting to take my first guided or semi guided hunt for elk, and hoping for suggestions regarding locations and learning of services. I see the ads in the magazines, and have made some calls, but that seems like a pig in a poke, so I'm trying to get at least a little savvy. Idaho, Colorado, AZ?

March 9, 2007, 05:13 PM
Ask outfitters for a list of references (previous clients and phone numbers), then start calling to get first hand experiences. If the outfitter won't provide references, dump them and look for someone else.

March 9, 2007, 05:29 PM
If you want a chance at a massive bull, and you don't care what it costs, go to NM. Biggest bulls, but expensive.

If you want a chance at a big bull, and can afford to pay for the privilege of hunting on public land, go to Colorado. Big bulls, moderately expensive.

If you want to hunt elk, and mountains don't scare you, or you haven't planned far enough in advance to draw preference cards for the past two years in CO or NM, go to Idaho. You won't be sorry. It has some of the prettiest country on Earth, and a lot of tags are still over-the-counter. Good bulls, less expensive.

March 14, 2007, 08:22 PM
Depending on your budget (of course) the big elk can be found here in NW Wyoming as well. The place to go is called the "Thorofare" (Probably misspelled but oh well). Most of the outfitters that pack in to the area guarantee a 6X6 on a 7 day hunt. Prettiest country in the nation IMO. I live just outside the town where Eastmann (Eastmann's Magazine) lives. The Thorofare is not unknown for a reason. But you have to have the grapefruits to do it. It's about a 14 hour ride on horseback to camp.:D

March 14, 2007, 08:41 PM
Is there a listing for outfitters in that part of the world? (NW Wyoming)

March 14, 2007, 10:18 PM
I administered special use permits on the Gila NF for a few years--awesome elk country--and here are my suggestions:

Any public land worth hunting will have quite a few permitted outfitter/guides who are regulated by the land use agency. I'd contact five of them, then winnow down the list to three based on your budget and the type of services you want. Some questions to ask of the short list:

What's the guide's role? Will he/she guide you to animals, or to an area, or just pack in/drop off?

Think about how you want to hunt--western elk in most areas are not terribly challenging unless you want a really huge bull. If you're a pretty serious hunter, unafraid to cover ground and hunt intensely all day long, then I'd suggest you spend more money on the pack in/out, and camp comforts than on a guide-to-animal hunt. If you need the help finding the critter, then care a bit less about camp comfort and go for a guy who can sniff 'em from a mile. Well, at least a few hundred yards. And if you have time for preseason scouting, give serious consideration to just doing it yourself. And for that matter, if you just want a bit of elk meat and a great time doing it, think about hunting one of the less-hot areas that might have prettier scenery or interesting areas to poke around in while hunting, like old mining districts. Likely get your elk and see some parts of the country most folks don't.

If packed in by horse, what are the expectations of guests? Experience level needed? Will you have the use of your horse through the hunt, or just for pack in/out?

Food. Who cooks? What is the typical menu? What expectations of guests? What if anything does the guest supply?

Area: Where does the guide like to take hunters? Why? What's his philosophy of guiding? What does he look for for a "hotspot." Don't expect secret areas to be divulged, but he should show a strong, confident command of hunting the relevant species. Ask him the routine of a typical day--and I'd be a bit leery of a guide who doesn't hunt midday; I've bagged my last two elk right between 2 and 3 p.m.

BUSINESS: This is probably the most important for a happy hunt--is the guy a real businessman, or is he doing this on the side. It is not at all uncommon for folks in western rural areas do get by with 2 to 4 regular seasonal jobs--in Catron County when I was there, it was ranching or logging and guiding typically. So ask them if they guide year around, and if not, what they do off season. Find out a bit about their off-season business--the more stable, well grounded that is, the more likely they run their guide service the same way.

I would be reluctant to hunt with anyone who's been in the business less than five years in a given locale. Of the permitted guides we had, about 1/5 of them were pretty worthless; the others ran the gamut from fair to awesome. Business questions:

Are you incorporated? How long in business in this area, under your current name? Where are you permitted? Any business licenses (which may or may not be necessary) How many folks do you employee? Are they all within your family? If non-family, how long have they been with you (beware the guy who's guided ten years and has, say, three employees with only a year or two with him). What forests or districts are you permitted to hunt? Who is the special uses administrator who oversees your permit(s)? You might ask who the local G&F guy is, and if that person would mind a call from you.

References are necessary--try and get a couple out of state and at least one that is close to the guide's hometown--all preferably repeat customers. Ask each if they know any other clients, and try to get at least one reference from a client rather than the guide.

Find out how they pack out the animal, and how they handle field dressing. Personally, I wonder about anyone who doesn't cool the critter as fast as humanly possible--if you use a traditional gutting process, then they should be skinned as quickly as possible and hung asap. My opinion, quicker chilled, yummier meat.

Obviously, you want to ask about success rates, quality of animals and so on. For the money you're going to spend, you should have at least an hour or two focused conversation to cover the ground. Once you've narrowed it down to your favorite, if the hunt is USFS ground, call the district ranger station where the person is based (guide can tell you that) and find out who administers special uses--it may be at the district, or nowadays with the stupid USFS budget cutting, at the next level up, the Forest Supervisor's office. Ask that person if the guide you've chosen has any complaints against his permit, and if the FS has ever taken action against him. If so, I'd start looking elsewhere. And hopefully, the FS person had done field visits to the guide's camp--so ask him what kind of camp he runs; how his animals are cared for; whether the camp is clean, etc. FS employees can't give you a personal recommendation, but they have to report formal action or complaints lodged--those are public record.

Lastly, chat the FS person up--again, they won't be able to say "great guy" or whatever, but you can talk generally about hunting areas, issues with guides, problems to watch out for. Be courteous, treat the FS folks as you would a friend, and ask first if "now's a good time to talk for a bit about my once in a lifetime trip out there, or should I call you back at a more convenient time?" Most FS folks are so used to being chewed on by irate enviros, mad ranchers, and stupid hunters that a kind, civilized approach can reap a harvest of information.

And yes, alas, there are stupid hunters out there--like two Texans that came in the day I started working on the district--demanded to know a good hunting area--and my secretary began to give them some info. One brusquely interrupted--"NO, missy! We want to talk to a MAN!" Well; she graciously didn't say anything, and I stuck my head in through the doorway, gave them a big smile, and then gave them directions to some random section on a forest that I'd never ever seen before. And what the hunters did NOT see was the photograph on my secretary's desk--facing away from them--which displayed the largest buck taken in the county that year--plopped square in the back of my sec's beat up old jeep. Yup--they diss'd the girl that brought home one honking huge mulie that year. Dumb.

You're smarter, or you wouldn't be reading this....so go forth, and have some serious fun! And alas, my time in the woods was a decade ago, so I can't really give any good recommendations any more. But a bit of work will get you a pretty good hunt..... And yes, most of the guides are as good a folk as you can find, but there are some ringers and the time you spend sorting through them is the next most important thing to that final stalk....

Fat White Boy
March 14, 2007, 11:36 PM
I was talking to an outfitter at a tradeshow. He says the biggest thing city hunters need to concentrate on is conditioning. You can't expect to work in an office or plant all day, fly to Colorado ride, a horse up to an 8000' elevation basecamp, get up the first morning and walk uphill for 10 miles. You had better be fit!

My favorite bit of advice for city dweller elk hunters comes from an article in Outdoor Life- Practice bending over and touching your toes. This will come in handy if you have a heart attack up in the mountains.If you feel a heart attack coming on, bend over and touch your toes. It won't make the heart attack go away but it will make it easier to load your body onto a pack horse...

Jack O'Conner
March 17, 2007, 06:13 AM
Wyoming has licensing requirement for Outfitters. That means a fee is collected and license is issued. The list of licensed Outfitters is available on-line.

Tender Foot Outfitters is reputable and they'll work hard for you.

Gap Puche runs Crystal Creek Outfitters. He is one of the best.

Jack Atchinson & Sons run World Wide Outfitters from Butte, MT. They have a very good reputation.

Good hunting to you.


March 17, 2007, 10:46 AM
If you can have the option to hunt on horseback take it. You can get closer to the elk and you can cover more ground on any given day. It's also easier to pack out what you get.

March 17, 2007, 08:36 PM
My advice get in shape first just like FWB said.

Next go to Colorado Div of Wildlife and check out the big game hunting link. Look for Ranching For Wildlife and contact the ranches listed and see how many tags or what outfitter you have to go through to get their tags. You can not apply for a RFW area if you are not a Colorado Resident, but the Ranches do have plenty of tags you can buy direct from them or thier outfitter service, be prepared to get your check book out.

If you want to hunt public lands just put your name in the draw and take your chances. The best area to apply for a tag is the area of the North West corner of the State. Probably the best area to get a tag is around the Meeker and Craig area. Again check the CO DOW web site for a list of guides and outfitters in the area you want to hunt.

If you don't draw a tag in Colorado don't worry you can always still hunt with a leftover tag. If you hunt any season other than first you can get a deer tag as well to go with your elk. You can purchase these on-line and a lot are Private Land only where you will either have to use a guide service or pay a trespass fee to access the land. You can get a cow tag as well for the public lands as a left over and some bull tags as well. If you want to bow hunt there are always a few leftover tags for bulls North of Ft Collins every year.

I've never used a guide to hunt Elk, Deer, or Pronghorn so I can't recommend one to you. I'd just check their refrences and see if you can contact some hunters that used them before. I'd rather talk to the customers who have used them than the service themselves.

December 6, 2008, 06:32 AM
To get a general idea of the best areas to hunt, look at state harvest statistics and big game records. However, using these data tables can be very cumbersome. Check out the maps I've made in Google Earth. You should be able to get a good idea of where to hunt (http://www.kmlers.com/wheretohunt.html) or where quality animals/animal numbers are located rather swiftly.


December 6, 2008, 11:16 AM
Like most have said, it depends on your pocketbook and goals. NW Wyo has some of the best elk and outfitters in the world. If looking for a first time hunt and it doesn't have to be a royal bull, look into NW Colo. I hunt the opposite side of the border from the famed...Three Forks Ranch in the Craig,Co,,Baggs, Wyo area which is gaining a national reputation for excellent quality hunts. They are in the middle of what is considered the second highest elk density in the U.S.. I'm sure they charge a lot though./


December 11, 2008, 12:58 PM
Thanks elkman. I checked out that place and you are right that's it is very expenxive. The highest I've seen so far. Too rich for this old retired guy. It looks like a beautiful place though. Maybe a bit too luxurious for my taste.

December 11, 2008, 06:12 PM
I have thought of doing a public hunt out west somewhere myself but seem to get lost in all the reading because it all seems some much a like it's hard to understand or make good out of what I have read.
Maybe I will get more time to study this huge pile of information so I can come up with something or some of you good folks out there can share some good information to help break through this mess for both of us.

December 13, 2008, 02:14 PM
you can buy over the counter tags in idaho for about 500 including the hunting license, the west side of bear lake is loaded with elk

December 17, 2008, 12:34 PM
If you are looking for a good area to hunt elk come to Western Colorado. We have more elk than anywhere in the country, but do your homework first. You do not need a guide, just information. Check out my website www.tumbleweed-camping-shooting.com and get good tips on hunting elk, what to expect, and what you need. Make sure that you use my Info Links page and you will be able to get information on selecting a good area that has access, the right terrain, and success rates.

Brian Pfleuger
December 17, 2008, 12:45 PM
If you want a chance at a big bull, and can afford to pay for the privilege of hunting on public land, go to Colorado.

I've got a friend that hunts Colorado every year. He drives out (from central NY), stays in a tent and hunts public land. He almost always gets an elk, though rarely a bull because he's after meat and doesn't care about horns. He does the entire trip for $1500-$2000, depending on fuel and other variables.

December 17, 2008, 01:19 PM
The Elk are big here
Depending on your budget (of course) the big elk can be found here in NW Wyoming as well. Prettiest country in the nation IMO.

I can vouch for the pretty part. A few years back I had the pleasure of seeing twenty some odd states for a work contract. NW Wyoming is without peer in stunning beauty. I decided to take a tour of the mountains in my rentafrontwheeldrivejap car and stuck it good on a windy little snow covered gravel path called "Tie Hack Road" near dusk. The lion tracks rattled me a bit. I wish I could share some photos, but they are only of the lion tracks and the tow truck in the dark. It really is breath taking landscape.

December 17, 2008, 03:36 PM
Check out Diamond Hitch Outfitters out of Dillon, MT. Still very reasonable and Chris runs a first rate operation.

December 17, 2008, 05:06 PM
No guide needed in colorado. Elk are everywhere. There is a huge herd that lives on the backside of Pikes Peak. Hundreds. (OK they werent there this hunting season dangit,but they are there!)

my son got a nice bull hunt before last up there.