The Western Hunter's blog

General Season Elk Hunting Compromises

Though exceptions exist, selecting a general season elk unit is an exercise in compromise.  The units with the lowest pressure, easiest access, most huntable country, best visibility and highest trophy potential will almost always be limited draw units.  However, when hunting a general unit, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a few of the above features, so figuring out where you’d most like to compromise is an important aspect of unit selection.

One of the biggies for me is hunter pressure.  There are a couple ways to minimize it, without even delving into the stats. For instance, pressure will almost always be highest in units closest to cities.  That seems like it should be a no brainer, but people choose to ignore or just accept it for the sake of convenience.

Big Timber Elk Hunting

One of the great myths perpetuated in books, magazines and TV shows is that elk hunting is primarily a spot and stalk operation.  This is just not the case in much of the west. Though you may see lots of elk killed in the open, these will often be in private ranch situations that have as much in common with public land elk hunting as Texas deer hunting has in common with Northwoods deer hunting. Elk are most comfortable in the heavy timber that many guys hate hunting in. It’s difficult for elk to live their entire fall there due to the limited forage availability, but the mountain pine beetle epidemic and older conifer stands with extensive blow downs open the forests up, providing just enough forage for smaller herds. As the seasons progress, the limited forage in the timber loses much of its nutritional value and the elk will be forced to use more open areas to make for the lack of quality with larger quantities of feed. So, the only hunters that can really get away with not being proficient big timber hunters are the later season hunters. Pretty much everyone else needs to be competent in the thick stuff to have a reasonable hope of success if the elk aren’t being cooperative.

Elk Hunting Flexibility

Sorry about all the delays in getting these articles out, but this is a busy time of year for me. These past few weeks have brought up the reminder of the need to keep your plans as flexible as possible in order to adapt to the varying conditions from year to year. 

This year here in Colorado it is still incredibly green, even in the highest country.  Since there was no dessication of the grasses as of last week, I have to assume that most of the elk are still in the high country, where plenty of good grass is still available.  Also, it seems that the rutting activity has been really slow around here until just these past few days.  So, for you archers who might still get out for the end of the season, but mostly for the rifleman, how flexible are your plans?  Are you counting on elk being in one area only?  Are you able to move as conditions indicate?  What are you going to do if you get 2 feet of snow?

The Elk Rut

As I’m packing for my muzzleloader hunt, trying to squeeze in an entry before I leave, this seemed to be as good a time as any to talk a little bit about the elk rut, early season hunting and the need to pace yourself or time your hunt as best you can.

Throughout most of the West, archery elk seasons usually begin either the last week of August or the first week of September.  These are typically long seasons, so it’s important to pace yourself.  I understand the temptation to be out on that opening weekend or taking advantage of the Labor Day weekend.  However, these are some of the least productive times to be afield as an archer. 

Central Montana Elk Hunting: Part 2

As I indicated in the previous article, Central Montana contains quite a few limited draw areas.  The herds are also lower density herds that are not widely distributed throughout Regions 4 and 5, but mostly in clumps or pockets that are seemingly isolated from the next pocket of elk.  The last article addressed the general permit areas in Central Montana, this one will cover some of the limited permit areas.

Hunting Districts 401, 403, 410, 411, 412, 417, 420, 426, 441, 445, 447, 450, 455, 500, 502, 510, 511, 520, 530, 570, 575, 580, and 590 are limited draw bull elk units.  Now, not all of these areas are worth bothering with for a DIY hunter.  For starters, let’s eliminate of few of these right off the bat, as they just don’t have enough public land to matter.

Last Minute Options for Hunting This Fall

Now that it’s late August, and the trees are just starting to change, the days are a little shorter and the nights a little cooler, those people who don’t eat, sleep and breath hunting are now thinking about sighting in the rifles, flinging a few arrows around the yard and dreaming of hunting big game in far off places.  For those who want to hunt this year, navigating the leftover and OTC license options can be very difficult.  If you’re coming from a place where you are used to having general licenses or the unfamiliarity of the draw processes was intimidating to you, you may have let too much time slip by and lost out on many of your options for the year.  I’m going to write this from the perspective of the new resident and/or nonresident western state hunter, but even those long time residents may be able to benefit from reexamining their options. 

Central Montana Elk Hunting: Part 1

As we transition into North Central Montana’s Region 4, we have far less contiguous elk habitat than we had in Western Montana’s Regions 1, 2 and 3.  Many of the units are nearly devoid of elk and/or public land, so I’ll also include South Central Montana’s Region 5 in this article.  Region 5 seems a good fit with Region 4, as it too suffers from access issues in many of its units, and the elk populations are thinly distributed throughout the region.  I’ll just focus on the major public land areas.  I’m still waiting on a current copy of the Block Management properties, which may change my assessment of a few of these places.  But until then, all I can address is public land hunting.  Region’s 4 and 5 are excellent deer country, so I’ll also try to make a point of pointing out some of the hot spots here if you’re after a combo.

Southwest Montana Elk Hunting: Part 2

To continue on with Southwest Montana’s Region 3, let’s take a look at the bigger, wilder country south of I90.  Most of the tallest peaks in Montana are down here near the Wyoming border, with Granite Peak at 12,799 feet in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area being the highest.  Some portions of Southwest Montana is extremely wild and primitive with both wolves and grizzlies, while others are right near ski areas, college towns and rolling ranchlands.  Districts 300 - 302, 309-311, 313, 314, 316, 317, 319-334, 340, 341, and 360-362 make up this area.

Southwest Montana Elk Hunting: Part 1

Montana’s Region 3, in Southwest Montana, is the state’s major elk hunting destination by residents and nonresidents alike.  This is reflected in the hunter densities, elk densities and total elk harvest.  Region 3 is a vast area with over 40 hunting districts, so it’ll probably be best if I split this up into two articles.  The most logical way to approach this is to follow Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ subdivision in their regulation book.  In which case, I’ll take a swing at the 300 series hunting districts north of I 90, from the western half of the Crazy Mountains to Butte for article, and those 300 series districts south of I90 for the next one.

Montana Elk Hunting: West-Central

West-Central Montana’s Region 2 is a little bit different than Northwest Montana’s Region 1.  You’re looking at a larger human population, some larger, and much more open valleys, less dense timber, fewer commercial timber operations, and no national parks, but you still have a couple of large wilderness areas.  The area we’re talking about begins just west of Helena, then Northwest towards Missoula and Southwest towards Butte, and everything west of there to the Idaho border.  You’re also starting to deal with higher elevations than in Northwest Montana.   While country above 7,000 feet was rare outside of Glacier National Park, 9,000ish foot ridges that you may actually have to cross to get to better hunting country are more common here (as opposed to just the occasional peak).

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