Finalizing the Hunting Plans

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Over the next few weeks, your hunting plans should start to come together. Your final plans should not be just one plan, but building in a series of if “a” then “b” type plans. While there is no cookie cutter for hunt planning, I’ll hopefully be able to give you a few things to think about here. In addition to environmental or other hunting conditions affecting the hunts you’ve been planning for several months (or even years), I use this time of year to look for back up meat tags, for worst case scenarios.

Much of what I want to address is building contingency scenarios into your plans and how to gather information ahead of time so you aren’t surprised. What are you going to do if there’s a fire this summer? What if it doesn’t rain between now and mid October? What if road X is closed? What if I can’t really access the public parcel that I thought I could get to? How will a heavy snow affect my hunt? What if this area that looked good on paper is devoid of game for some reason? What if I’m biting off more than I can chew, and need to find a less physically demanding area? I’m sure there are other scenarios that you can go through (including medical emergencies), so make sure you think about a few things that could ruin your hunt before you head on out.

Regarding fires, much of north central Colorado and southern Wyoming are primed for a good forest fire with all the beetle killed timber those places have. However, these areas got a tremendous amount of snowfall last year and are benefitting from the increased moisture. But how do you keep track of forest fires or determine fire risk and drought impacts? The site I check almost daily is the National Interagency Fire Information Center large fire map at This site also has a drought monitor and you can download fire perimeter maps for use in Google Earth.

I use the NRCS Snotel site to monitor snowfalls. Last year, with a late season cow elk tag, I figured it would be pointless to hunt until we got enough snow to force them down from the high country that we would have a difficult time accessing with anything more than 6 inches of snow. Knowing elk really need about 16 inches of snow to be forced to lower ground, I simply watched the site, and waited. My partner and I went out the weekend before Christmas when a fresh snowfall indicated we now had 18 inches at the nearest pass, with more coming, and we were immediately rewarded with unsuspecting elk at low elevation two days in a row. You can use those sites, and similar ones to monitor freezes at high altitude, precipitation, accumulated snowfalls, river flows and other useful data.

But how will gathering this data fit into YOUR hunting plans? Looking for information that you can’t or aren’t prepared to utilize is pointless. Will a drought make you look for more permanent bodies of water, and not count on ephemeral streams providing enough water to hold elk in the area? Will an early summer fire in a nearby drainage entice you to hunt there because the green up will attract game, or will a late fire send you looking for someplace else to hunt? Your maps show that there is a seasonal gate on the road you want to hunt off of, have you talked to the forest service or BLM about when they plan to close it?

Many stochastic factors may explain why there’s no game in the area you chose to hunt from afar, or even in an area that you traditionally hunt. I like to build some kind of flexibility into my plans. How many times have you heard hunters whine about the elk being up high this year, or a hoped-for migration not taking place? My question for them is: Why don’t you hunt higher?  The usual answer is, “Well…. This is where we always hunt.” Or “we couldn’t move, because we had an outfitter drop our camp here." Or any number of other excuses to stay in camp and drink beer instead of getting out and hunting. The outfitter drop camp is a legitimate excuse, and is the very reason I would avoid using them during later seasons when weather will play more of a factor.

Mid summer is both leftover tag season and scouting season for me, so I’m scouting for both my potential leftover tag areas and still trying to focus on my draw tags. Now that all my drawings are complete, I at least know what time periods are open. Between myself and my girlfriend, we presently have one September bear tag, one muzzleloader (Sept) cow elk tag, 2 Wyoming October antelope doe tags, one 2nd season buck deer tag, one 3rd season buck deer tag, and one 4th season cow elk tag. Neither of us presently have a bull tag, but will likely combo those with our deer tags, despite the fact that I don’t like to do that. If I really wanted to pile on the tags, I could maybe add private land doe tags, but then I’d have to add door knocking and phone calls to my scouting.

This schedule doesn’t leave a lot of room for additional tags, so my focus in looking over the Wyoming deer and antelope leftovers has mostly been on the later seasons. Several units have seasons that go into late November and December, which would work better than trying to add an additional hunt in September, mid October or early November. One other option would be early October, which I haven’t crossed off yet completely. Yet another option for me is to just add more tags to units that neighbor what I have drawn, but that really isn’t an option for white-tailed deer tags. 

A problem with adding neighboring unit tags is trying to fill them all in just one weekend. It’s doable, but since our party is growing (again!), and many of the new people will need or want supervision, trying to fill my four tags in two units while also coaching a couple newbies over the Columbus Day weekend can be a bit much.

So here’s my dilemma, and you may want to refer back to some of my meat hunting philosophies for this: I want to already have a full freezer before I go out buck or bull hunting. For Katie, that will be 2nd season, and for me that will be 3rd season. The hunts that I have leading up to those two hunts are my muzzleloader backcountry cow elk, September black bear and the October antelope. I consider only the October antelope hunt to be a sure thing, leaving me with only 70-80 pounds of meat between those two tags I presently have, assuming I finish the rest of the meat I have now. That doesn’t give me much of a cushion in order to be able to be picky about what kind of buck or bull I take.

So what do I do on leftover day? Add to the pressure of having to fill more of my own tags on the Wyoming antelope hunt? Plan for a second weekend of hunting immediately after the group hunt? Or utilize the late season leftovers to fill the freezer when I know I will actually need the meat? That would add some pressure to the hunts when I prefer to just go out and have a good time taking opportunities as they come.  As of right now, I’m going to split the difference by picking up just one neighboring unit tag to try to squeeze in during our 3 day weekend hunt. On top of that, I’ll add one late antelope tag and one or two whitetail doe tags whose season overlaps most of the antelope season. So even if I don’t kill an elk or deer here in Colorado, 4-6 Wyoming deer and antelope tags ought to be enough to feed me, leaving me no excuse to go back to Western Nebraska to take advantage of their new, longer, late doe season. Dangit!


Ca_Vermonster's picture

Thanks for another great

Thanks for another great article! 

It never hurts to prepare well ahead of time.  I am not going hunting to Colorado until 2012, however, I am already starting to plan out my trip.  I am compiling a list of what I need to take, getting advice on what areas to work, and learning about the draw.

I know it could all change, due to factors that you sdiscuss like a severe winter, or a fire, but you have to take that chance.  My biggest problem is trying to decide what is the most important for me in terms of meat or antlers.  I have always been a meat hunter, but when I think of elk, I think of antlers.  I could get a cow tag for the meat, but I am not sure... Ugh!

niceshot_smitty's picture

My planing start the day

My planing start the day after my last of the year ends.  i guess you could say i drive my wife Nuts! I just look at it every year like i am going on my last hunt and i want it to be my best hunt.  I look at everything i need to have fun and good hunt.  nothing wrong with that.  I spend a lot of time on the phone and at the game and fish office.  I guess you can most say they me by first name. lol  

hunter25's picture

This is another great article

This is another great article and one I really need to take to heart myself. I have many options available to me as I live in Colorado as well but too often get stuck in a rut and if things go wrong I'm in trouble. I rarely take extra time off and only hunt my regular days off so if I needed to travel a little I should be able to. I just have never scouted or hunted out of my regular areas. Even in other states I figure out where I'm going and don't have many other options if it doesn't work out. So far I've been very fortunate and not had much of a problem though. The worst problem I have had and it really falls into this category is when I drew my goat permit a few years ago. I scouted all summer and saw a lot of goats but no other guys at all. On opening day it seemed like every hunter in the unit was in the area I had been watching all year. Guys even spotted goats and camped under them to keep people away till the next morning when it opened. I failed to have a backup plan in place as I didn't expect to see anyone else and before it was all over I went home empty handed. I will make sure that never happens again with my planning on that or any other hunts in the future.

Thanks again for a great article.

arrowflipper's picture


Great piece on "being ready".  You can never be too ready for a hunt.  I like to think that I think of everything, but I'm sure I don't.  It's nice to see a reminder of all the little things that can go wrong or completely change a hunt.  It's nice to see them in writing.

Unfortunately, some of us don't have the luxury of so many options when it comes to hunting or tags.  Here in Washington, you can buy a buck tag or a buck tag or a buck tag.  We don't have such things as "meat" tags.  So that is one option I don't think much about.

As much as I'd like to say I have several contingency plans on a given hunt, I really don't.  I either go with plan A or stay home.  What might happen is how I approach plan A.  We sure can't control the weather but we can control how we go prepared for different weather patterns.  I always take plenty of rain gear and warm clothing.  I don't remember ever seeing snow here in October where we hunt so at least that's one concern I don't have.  And given that, there really isn't anywhere for the deer to go, even if it snows, rains, sleets, hails or sunshine’s on them.  They is where they is.  They might hunker down a bit, making me hunt harder, but they are usually there.

One aspect that I might want to consider more is housing.  I usually stay in a tent and it keeps us fairly dry even in wet, rainy weather, but if it got really bad, I might have to either move in with a friend at his nearby ranch or go into town and rent a hotel.  Fortunately, I've never had to do that yet, but maybe I should go with plan B in mind.  BUT, since we hunt in a desert area (less than 10 inches per year), I don't foresee that happening very often.

Good article on being prepared and having a backup plan.  If I lived in your area, I'm sure I'd have to do a lot more planning and be more flexible.


GooseHunter Jr's picture

Yet again another great

Yet again another great article...thanks for sharing.  Yes in deed it is getting real close to the seasons starting up. I have most of pmy plans in the work they all just need a little fine tuning.  As long as work does not get in the way I should be hunting antelope with stick and string in Wyoming in 30 days.  Can't wait should be a good year for antelope.  If I can close the deal on an elk with my bow it will be a season to be remebered for a long time to come!