Easy Western Hunts
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.