Balancing Acts

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While driving out for our last big game hunt of the year, my hunting partners and I have been kicking around ideas about how to incorporate all of our out of state in-laws, kinfolk, long lost and legitimate friends into the coming year’s hunts.  The challenge of showing them a good hunt is very satisfying.  We’ve kept them abreast of our hunting exploits, and it’s difficult to give out a blanket “no” to those who want in on our hunting adventures.  Anyway, what I’m going to walk you through in this article are some of the variables we try to consider when planning hunts.  It’s always a delicate balancing act.

Our Californian, Indianan, Illinoisan, Mainer and other friends and relatives see what all we harvest, but have little concept of how hard we have to work for our success.  And we doubt they would be capable of keeping up on our backcountry hunts, as most of them are smokers, out of shape and with unrealistic expectations of our ability to get them in on game.  It’s hard to say no and we enjoy sharing our success with others, showing off to some degree, or maybe just being good hosts. 

This is the danger of talking about great hunts:  others will soon want in on it, and it will no longer be what we first fell in love with.  For instance, our antelope hunts have quickly expanded into too large of an operation for us to be able to realistically fill all of our tags over an extended weekend.  So instead of packing more guys into the same amount of land or forbidding folks from joining us, we have created a new rule in our group requiring any new additions to purchase tags for neighboring or nearby units to force us to expand our horizons and reduce the pressure on limited amounts of public land.  

 Similarly, we are developing options for the in-laws, outlaws, long losts, sort of friends and acquaintances who want to elk or deer hunt with us.  Everyone has different expectations and values a hunt differently.  Our real struggle this year is dealing with Ryan’s uncle Phil, who has actually been out to Colorado for deer and elk hunts before, but has never gotten into elk.  He just wants to kill something and expects us to make it happen.  Ryan told him a few years ago he needs to save up some preference points to get in on a truly primo hunt.  His response, “Oh I’ve tried that before and it didn’t work!”.  We have no idea what that actually means. 

In order to appease him, we’re going to have get him in on an antelope hunt in order to guarantee that he kills something.  But because we need to do a Wyoming antelope combination, his elk hunt will have to be in October.  But he’s also a smoker and afraid of not drawing a first choice tag.  Fortunately, he has a physical job, and is in good condition.  We’re probably going to talk him into applying for a first season tag, which will dovetail nicely with antelope season.  If he doesn’t draw that tag, we still have the option of getting him on a 2nd season OTC hunt without screwing up the antelope hunt.  We haven’t settled on a unit for him yet, but another kicker is that it has to be a unit where one of us has killed an elk before.  While we’ve got quite a number of places to choose from, we can’t use his hunt to explore new country for ourselves this year.

Antelope hunting is one of the least physically demanding western big game hunts and suitable for hunters of all ages.

My old middle and high school buddy Wes just wants to get out of the house and hunting will be his excuse.  He has no expectations.  This kind of guy is a lot more fun to hunt plan for.   He doesn’t care about killing anything, he just wants to hunt.  He smokes, but is fit, yet has a shoulder injury that precludes him from bowhunting.  He’d like to go on a backcountry hunt, but I’m not sure he’s ready for the mental and physical difficulties of that yet.  He’s never been to the Rockies, and has little idea of what he’s asking for.  We’ll probably invite him in for either Ryan’s uncle’s hunt, or our 3rd season Colorado hunt.

 That 3rd season hunt is going to just be a fun hunt for us.  Our meat hunts are during the late seasons, and the rut is something we take very seriously.  We just want to have a good time, see some game, not many other hunters, and not kill ourselves with a backcountry operation, so the hunting grounds must be truck accessible.  We haven’t settled on what we’re doing exactly for 3rd season yet, but it has to be OTC for bulls, it would be nice, but isn’t necessary for it to be a list B cow area, and we have to be able to draw the deer tags with 0 points.  Some of our gang zeroed out our preference points on both deer and elk last year, so we have to accommodate these folks.  And since I’m one of the main hunt planners in the group, and I’m zeroed out, I’m going to accommodate my needs!  Another factor is that we can no longer afford to add Coloradoan friends and acquaintances on this hunt in order to keep our group size manageable.  Out-of-staters are ok, under the assumption that they won’t be returning yearly. While we’re listing various requirements, the unit would ideally be able to be drawn with a 2nd choice, so we could gain a preference point and draw the tag.  However, that really restricts our options, and I’m ok with not earning another point for 2011.  So we’ll see what we end up doing as various people voice their opinions. 

The Mainers hosted me and Wes on a deer hunt several years ago, and we owe them a good hunt.  As with the others we have physical limitations to accommodate, but they have the heart, outdoor awareness, still hunting skills and other competencies to really be able to enjoy a hunt with us.  All they need is to be pointed in the right direction.  They could be happy with a lot of different options, and ideally we wouldn’t want to conflict with Maine’s deer season.   Once again the 3rd season group hunt or the 1st season uncle hunt could work.  I’m leaning towards getting them in on the first season hunt.  They have little interest in mule deer, but they are interested in antelope.  They’ve never been out west, so they could be easy to please with an antelope hunt instead. 

Other friends of mine are happy to do whatever I tell them to do, but will struggle with the physical nature of some of the hunts we have in mind.  Thankfully Robin, my first hunting mentor, and her new husband Jim, listened when I told them to buy Wyoming antelope and deer preference points last year.  With just one preference point, we can draw a buck tag in many different good antelope units.  I can’t take them back to our usual units due to group rules so I’ve got to get out and scout some potentially new units sometime before the applications are due.  They also wanted to combine the antelope hunt with a deer hunt and because of Robin’s physical limitations, I’m mostly looking at plains deer units.  The one National Forest deer unit I’m considering is more of a mesa and probably within their capabilities.  Nearly all of our friends are afraid of the drawings or have little patience to understand what it is, so we have to be able to guarantee tags for them.  Jim has to plan his vacation nearly a year in advance, so if he didn’t draw the tags he put in for, he’s going to end up burning his vacation time. 

We are still in the early stages of our planning and haven’t settled on anything yet, but I’m just trying to walk you folks through some of our thought processes when trying to plan a hunt.  Physical needs, ATV avoidance, truck accessibility, draw odds, success rates and pressure are all playing a factor in our thoughts this year.   Though our backcountry muzzleloader elk hunt is somewhat of a trophy hunt, we aren’t putting much thought into trophy potential for any of these other hunts this year.  No one has stated much of a desire to risk success for antlers this year, so there’s no point in throwing unrealistic antler expectations into an OTC or easy draw hunt for our nonresident friends for this year.  Let’s let them kill their first western big game animals, then we can worry about getting them a mature animal in later years.  So that’s where we stand at this early planning stage, I’ll try to give you updates as our plans come together.


Ca_Vermonster's picture

Once again, a great article! 

Once again, a great article!  Thanks for the rundown.

I am in a similar boat, not that I am out of shape, or a smoker, which I am not, but I would like to sort of wet my whistle on any big game hunt first, and then go for trophies later.

That's why I put in for muzzleloader cow or either sek elk out here, and am thinking of a doe antelope tag in Wyoming.  Get the trip, expectations, experience out of the way first.

But, your article makes another great point, about how hard it is to appease everyone in the group.  The more people, the more accomodations that must be made.  I absolutely love hunting with my friends, but I usually leave the "party" hunting to doves, ducks, pheasants, and so-on. 

If I hunted with alot of people for big game, It would definately be a cow elk, maybe pig or antelope hunt, where the success rate can be higher, and you can hunt better in a group.

jaybe's picture

Wow! It sounds like you have

Wow! It sounds like you have your work cut out for you. You have to try to plan hunts so that they don't interfere with seasons in other states. You have to scout areas you are unfamiliar with to abide by your group rules out there. You have to figure out what hunts will work with the physical limitations of all kinds of friends, relatives, "sort-of friends" (I like that one) and a few other groups of people.

Whew! It makes me tired just thinking about it!

But it sounds like you are really going the extra mile to get and keep people involved in the great sport of hunting. That's great!

Thanks for the report.