Easy Western Hunts

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The last article on introducing new hunters to the sport got me to thinking about what makes for an easy hunt out west.  Very few general season units have success rates above 30%, and finding units where the general public can score at least 50% of the time is pretty rare.  My focus here isn’t going to just be meat hunts, but high success, good opportunity to get into game types of hunts.  Some of these will require advanced planning and preparation and/or a few preference points.

So let’s define “easy” here. I’m talking about hunts that can be pretty close to a sure thing with only a fair amount of physical effort as long as you aren’t too selective in your harvest criteria.  Though I mostly intended an article like this for new or inexperienced hunters, these are the kind of hunts that I consider “meat hunts," with or without toothpicks (antlers). For a guy like me, who hunts enough (and raises chickens) and doesn’t really need the meat, I like an occasional casual hunt.  An easy hunt is something I don’t have to take too seriously, one where I know I’m going to get into game, the only question is how things are really going to go down.

Now, what is not an easy hunt?  Backcountry wilderness hunts are never easy hunts, so scratch those off.  Sure you can hunt with a rifle or muzzleloader during the elk rut in some places, but the physical demands are such that you cannot take these hunts casually and are a poor choice for inexperienced hunters trying to get a first notch or two on their belt.  Archery hunts are never going to be an easy hunt, stick with modern firearms.

Migration elk hunts can be easy, but I think more often than not they can be a pain.  The reason I say this is because you are depending on timing the herd’s movement through a certain piece of public land or off of a certain mountain and into a certain valley.  Things change, weather changes, migration routes change.  I’d rather focus on hunting them in the late winter when they reach their destination on their wintering grounds.  Which brings up my first “easy” hunt…

Late season elk hunts that take place when the elk actually arrive in their wintering grounds are easy hunts if you have access to the winter range.  There are some aspects of an antelope hunt involved here in terms of covering a lot of ground and looking for the herds.  These are December and January hunts, not November hunts.  Though elk may be on the move toward their wintering grounds, there is only rarely enough snow to really force them to move.  And when there is enough snow, you’ll have to time your hunt properly.  If you typically hunt Colorado’s 4th season, but they all moved during 3rd season, you’re SOL.  My point here is, if you’re looking for the one easy elk hunt, pick a late hunt with a long season in an area with public land winter range.  Colorado and Wyoming have several hunts that average around 50% success and are pretty easy to draw.

One caveat, don’t be fooled by Colorado’s not really late, late seasons.  Several units have a hunt that takes place during Thanksgiving weekend through the first part of December.  Those are late season, but you’re still stuck with a short hunt and hoping to time the arrival of elk through some transition range, as many of those hunts don’t really have publicly accessible wintering grounds.   Units 27, 28 and 37 come to mind as units to avoid for this hunt. 

Another easy hunt is river bottom deer.  I usually think of whitetails, but there are certainly places throughout the west where mule deer can really be thick along a creek bottom or agricultural area.  However, in my experience, getting access to river bottom muleys is a little tricky.  For whatever reason, landowners with whitetail problems seem to more readily allow hunting, especially through state-managed programs than those with obscene mule deer numbers.   My picks here are Eastern and Central Montana and Wyoming.  Wyoming’s Walk In Access Areas have some great whitetail properties, as does Montana’s Block Management Program.  I was just looking at picking up some more leftover tags for Wyoming, but I’m just not sure that I’ll have the time to put them to good use.  I’ve already got  2 whitetail only doe tags for use in Eastern Wyoming on some Walk In properties through mid December, so I dang sure don’t need to hunt even more country.  However, if you’ve got a gap in your hunting schedule in November and are intrigued by the $34 nonresident doe tag price, grab a few of those unit 10-15 type 8 whitetail only doe tags and go get em for me.  Included in those areas are also some Pine Ridge country that is usually teeming with deer.  And while we’re talking about cheap doe tags, don’t forget Nebraska sells 2 doe tags for just $55 to nonresidents.

What I like about river bottom deer hunting is that it is physically easy and the game density can be amazing.  It’s never a sure thing, but you’re probably doing something wrong if you don’t at least see game. 

I’ve mentioned numerous times that antelope hunting can be relatively easy.  There are hard ways to do it, but if you’re looking for a gimme hunt, a rifle antelope hunt should be near the top of the list.  Antelope is the only western species of big game where success rates are usually well above 80%.  Though most writers refer to antelope as some sort of exclusively long range affair (same with Coues deer), if you pick your spots and hunt hilly terrain with plenty of public land, you can easily approach to well under 200 yards of most herds.

For most new western hunters, picking the unit and figuring out the application is the hardest part of the process.  My advice is to just avoid the areas with lots of private land and/or mountains.  Stick to somewhere in Central Wyoming or Montana and you’ll be good to go.  Make sure you look into Hunter Management, Walk In Areas and Block Management too.  Many of the areas that I’ve hunted in the past supposedly have had poor public access, which would be true if restricted to only public land.  However, these states both have excellent public access programs.  Forget about hunting antelope in Colorado unless you’ve arranged for a private ranch hunt.

I’d like to talk a little bit about mule deer rut hunts as an easy hunt (if you aren’t picky), but there’s so many aspects to it, I think it would be best for another article early next week sometime.

So, while I’m sure everyone’s idea of easy may be a little different than mine, I think these hunts dovetail nicely with taking inexperienced hunters out, just trying to get a little experience under your own belt, or for a more casual hunt. 

Comments

Retired2hunt's picture

Another Learning Curve Short Cut

 

Mark - thanks for another learning curve short cut.  Your knowledge of the types of areas involved for specific animals in the various states will allow me on future hunts to be more successful. 

I didn't have a hunting mentor once arriving here in the west so I started off not knowing any better and going with harder hunts - harder than they really needed to be.   Since taking on a first time hunter this year I focused our hunts back at the "easy" stages.  Not only did this ensure greater success for my newby it also assisted me in learning more how Western hunts are prepped for and how to be accomplished in order to generate that success.

I'm focused now on Colorado but this information will help greatly once I ventured outside of its boundries.  Thanks for yet another great article.  I look forward to your next one.

SGM's picture

As usual this is a good read.

As usual this is a good read. I totally agree on the Wyoming antelope hunt being the easiest of all big game hunts. There is more than enough public lands and in my 4 trips I have taken, all trips have been 100% fill each time. Doe deer being the next easiest hunt after the anti-goat. Not sure there is such a thing as an easy elk hunt but as you stated there are ways to increase your odds greatly. I like the fact you pointed out several states and di not focus just on one.  

COMeatHunter's picture

Yep, these are great "easy" hunts

I absolutely agree with the article here too.  We really enjoy antelope hunting in Wyoming for the basic reason of convenience.  Now that my kids are are old enough to begin big game hunting, antelope is almost ideal for a first hunt.  

Success rates tell part of the story for the ease of the hunt, but what I would stress with antelope versus the other hunts you mention is:  1) the ability to "sleep in" until after daybreak.  2) eating meals at the rig, no need to pack much food with you because it's usually spot and stalk from the rig/road, and 3) the time of year (September & October) for antelope season is generally nice weather.  All of this adds up to "easy" for us.

We also hunt whitetails in Nebraska, another great youth hunt for us.  We don't have as much experience with hunting Nebraska, but it has worked out great for us so far.

The other point mentioned about cost is also noteworthy when compared to most other western states.  The non-resident doe tags can be very cheap.  Youth tags in Wyoming are only $19 and in Nebraska only $6.  And the Nebraska tag is good for 2 deer.  Now that's cost effective tag pricing!

Thanks for another great article.  Really enjoyed the read.

Ca_Vermonster's picture

I think I am definately in

I think I am definately in need of an "easy" hunt, that's for sure... lol

Another great article Mark!  The one that sticks out to me is the river bottom deer.  I have always wanted to hunt someplace like the Milk river in montana, or the Platte river bottom in Nebraska for some of those big corn fed bucks. Granted, no hunt is truly "easy", but it does seem that if you get into the right area in terrain like that, the deer are either patternable, or at the very least, limited in where they can move if they want to stay concealed.  That help narrow down your search area.

Numb talked about doe tags.  Well, they are actually easier to draw here, but not so easy to fill.  I think the draw is around 75% for my zone, but the success rate is only 20%.  I have shot one deer out of 3-4 years of having that tag.  I have another one this year, and it starts this weekend, so I am hoping for a more successful year this time.  I also have land in Wyoming to hunt antelope some day, if I ever decide to put in for it.  I have been told that my family has antelope in their backyard, so maybe that would classify as easy. Wink

numbnutz's picture

Great article Mark. I agree

Great article Mark. I agree that getiing an inexpericenced hunter into "easy hunt" will increase the changes of a harvest and a great time foe the new hunter. I wish Oregon had some easier hunts. Antelope tags are hard to come by. Even Doe deer tags are getting tough to draw without a couple points. I think the easiest hunts in Oregon are the archery seasons. Those are the best chances to see game for both deer and elk because I can hunt both during the rut. However nothing with archery is easy and anyone who bow hunts knows this. I wish The ODFW would set up some better hunts for does. I guess there are a few but with the points I have bulit up for all the speices I dont't want to burn them on a unit that take 1 or 2 points to draw. So I guess I'm stuck. There are people here in Oregon that could probably draw a doe tag or a late season cow tag with 0-1 points. As far as the tags and areas you mention it's a bit of a drive and not very cost effective for me to do.But for those who are closer it sounds like a great oppertunity. Anyways thanks for the great work you do for all of us here and keep the articles coming.

hunter25's picture

I totally agree with your

I totally agree with your observations here. Elk are the least predictable as the weathre can play such a huge part of the puzzle. Some years they are everywhere and others we have none in the same spots. Even dee can be a bit strange at times as last year one of the only tags we didn't get filled was a doe tag. We got our bucks but just couldn't find a doe to fill things out. Antelope are my favorite when it comes to hunting easy and being to get into a bunch of them nearly anywhere you go. Wyoming is great as like you mentioned Colorado is getting to be a couple times in a lifetime event at least as far as bucks go.

I may look into some of the antlerless tags you mentioned in Wyoming or Nebraska as a chance to get some more late hunting in. I hate to travel so far and not get a buck but at least it would be exploring some new areas for low cost.

jaybe's picture

Great title and topic for a

Great title and topic for a hunting article. With so many people concentrating on big B&C scores, it's easy to give the impression that the primary reason animals were put here in the first place was for large antlers, and not for food. Add to that the fact that many people simply aren't in the physical shape required to reach trophy areas, and many could get the idea that hunting is only for the athletically-endowed body types that pursue only the largest of racks.

Thanks for bringing the subject back to basics and for the great tips and information on where to go and what to avoid.