Many Bowhunters are under the impression that all elk hunting is either too expensive or just not feasible to do on your own, which just isn’t true. Here’s how you can plan your very own elk bowhunt, all on a relatively small budget.

By Mike Poulin

Have you been sabotaging or
limiting your hunt opportunities on false beliefs? Does
out-of-state elk hunting seem so cost-prohibitive you just
won’t apply? Do you think drawing an out·of-state elk tag
is nearly impossible? Do you think you can’t get a
public-land bull elk on your own? Well, l once believed these exact lies,
until a fellow hunter educated me. Come along with me while I share
with you how to obtain tags, and how an average hunter like me prepared
and connected on a public-land bull.

As a die-hard Nevada mule deer hunter, the thought of hunting elk, let
alone out-of-state elk, came slowly for me. As you may know, claiming a
Nevada elk tag is rare. On the other hand, an archer in this state has very
good draw odds and many opportunities to hunt mule deer.
But the lure of these “bigger” deer animals pulled at me, so I threw
caution to the wind and initially opted for the easier-to-obtain cow elk tag. By
alternating between applying for a cow elk tag one year and the bull elk tag
the next, I could start to build and retain my bull elk bonus points. In
short order, it worked; soon I was hunting cow elk in the Ely, Nevada
area. And this is how I got hooked on elk hunting.

I learned so much in those three seasons bowhunting cows as I encountered
huge bulls that I could only watch in awe. Observing the inter-
action between bulls and cows, I developed quite a respect for both sex’s
sense of vision and smell. One could argue that going cow elk hunting
those three seasons rather than staying home and just earning points helped
develop me as an elk hunter. So, word for the wise: Do whatever elk hunting
you can, even if that means chasing cows.

The longing to go after one of those impressive bulls just grew .
stronger with time. Building bonus points was good, but I knew it might
take 10 years or longer for me to draw a coveted Nevada bull elk tag.
One day, I was lamenting the fact that I wasn’t getting any younger and
it might take quite a number of years for me to get a Nevada bull tag. My
friend Mark Hueftle listened patiently before asking me why I had been
limiting myself to my home state.
I told him because of expense, and he basically laughed. He said not all
hunts are expensive, and many could be done successfully without a guide.
And plenty of western states had good elk draw odds for nonresidents.

Mark offered to help me research some nearby states and to apply along
with me. Over the next few weeks, Mark and I looked into hunting in
Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Soon thereafter,
we applied for a few limited tags, and purchased an elk point in a few states
that allow you to do so.

Our research had identified some good draw odds for certain hunts in
Wyoming. In the end, we applied for a Wyoming general bull elk tag. Their
system for out-of-state general tags is by draw, but with a special twist. If
you paid the regular license/ tag (the cost at the time, 2005, was $493), but
if you were willing to pay nearly twice that at ($895), you were placed in a
“special” draw pool. The reality was that few hunters would be willing to
pay the higher fee, and therefore, the draw odds in that pool of hunters
would be better than the more numerous “regular” pool of hunters.
We ended up paying for the “special” and ended up getting tags.

Not only did we each obtain a general-area tag, but one of Mark’s
friends, who had relocated to Cheyenne a few years before, was
about to be recruited. Soon, his buddy Bob Koehler, purchased an
over·the-counter tag too. One added benefit of Bob’s enlistment
was that, if we wanted to hunt in any of the designated wilderness
areas of Wyoming, law required you to have a resident
accompany you. Though we ended up not hunting in the wilderness areas,
Bob’s contacts in Wyoming helped us narrow down which general area to
hunt in the state.

Getting bull elk tags was just the start of our adventure. I knew that this
hunt was not going to be as easy as my broken-country cow elk hunts,
especially if the public area we picked was heavily hunted and heavily
timbered. Outlined below are the key activities we employed to narrow the
general areas down and to prepare for the hunt:

By using herd reports and differentiating the general area’s characteristics
and topography we were able to rule-out some areas. Neither Mark nor I
were fond of hunting in an area too populated by bears, and thus we
marked some bear areas off our list as soon as we found out.

Knowing we wouldn’t have a chance to scout the remaining areas,
we needed to get first-hand information. That meant person-to-person
contacts. Besides, talking with one of the biologists, we were able to have
Bob ask some of his friends in the state about a couple of different
hunting spots. This helped us narrow it down to just two places.

Whether online or hard-copy use maps to locate roads into the hunt
area. Vehicle closure areas and wilderness boundaries are very
important to identify before the hunt. We used some online topo map
services to review the areas and ended up making certain each hunter carried
a map of the area.

Gear preparation, clothing choices, practicing elk calling, exercising-
especially up hills—shooting up and down hills, travel plans, and almost
every facet of the trip needs to be planned out. Doing it yourself adds to
the fulfillment, but it takes some planning. Think about possible scenarios and bring the appropriate gear and some backup clothing. Due to my less—than-stellar directional aptitude, I brought along a GPS in addition to the compass and map.

By reading the regulations, we knew that our Wyoming “special”
general tag was really a rifle tag, but that by purchasing an archery permit
and paying, we would be able to hunt in the archery season. If we failed to
connect, we had the option of returning during rifle season.

The sound was like a reverberating electric guitar as the arrow oscillated
back and forth, harmlessly embedded in the tree trunk. My dream of arrowing my first bull elk seemed to be vanishing as fast as the massive 6×6
and his harem showed up. Moments before, Bob Koehler and
I had split up to pursue different bands of bugling elk. Having more
than one band of elk within striking distance was a good problem to have
for sure. I had raced over the ridge in hope of intercepting that fast moving
herd that was working toward the thicker timber. Each time I heard a
bugle I could tell they were getting closer, and I needed to get in front of
them as quickly as possible.

Quickly I dropped down over the ridge into their projected path. I identified
a tree to crouch beside,
nocked an arrow, and tried to catch my breath. Moments later, the sound
of footsteps, mews and the shapes of sleek cow elk filtering through the
trees greeted me. My rangefinder read 39 yards. I knew the bull was close
behind and I had little time to prepare myself for his appearance.

Drawing my bow was effortless, and my confidence swelled as I
positioned my 40-yard pin on the walking bull. In a split second, the
massive form of a rutting bull totally filled the space in between two trees.
Still, something seemed wrong as I released the arrow. The bull had
stopped, but just as I let go he began walking again. My arrow missed and
struck a tree just behind the bull.

A sense of disappointment overpowered me like a thick fog. It
seemed like someone had just knocked the air out of me. Fortunately, a
thought crossed my mind: In videos, the callers all seem to call right after
the shot.
With very little faith, I reached down and grabbed the rubber
Hoochie Maina call hanging on my belt and gave it a push with my
thumb. The sound of the call had barely ended when a loud bugle
erupted just 25 yards away Looking through the pine needles to my left, I
could make out a large, tan body with dark legs, and I thought I could see
antlers. A whir of motion caught my attention as a smaller-bodied bull
trotted past while the other elk saw me and quickly vacated the area.

Satellite bulls, of course, I thought to myself I used the call again and
another enormous bugle erupted from the bull but this time at 10 yards! I
narrowed my eyes in hope that he wouldn’t see me through the tree cover
and wondered if he could hear my pounding heart. Time seemed to be
standing still as my emotions jumped back and forth between joy and {right.
The tree was the only thing between me and the bull, and he was
now peering through the branches trying to find the owner of that sweet
cow mew. Not seeing anything, the 6×5 stepped downhill to go around
the tree. I drew my Hoyt bow and swung my body around, just in time
to see his big body step out at 8 yards.

My 20- and 30-yard sight pins both appeared behind his shoulder
and I concentrated to hold them both behind his shoulder as I released. The
arrow was gone, and the bull raced away at break-neck speed. I finally
heard myself exhale and tried to follow the bull visually.

It took many minutes to collect myself, but finally I looked over and
saw the crimson-stained arrow buried in the ground just 20 yards from my
position. As different as the tree-embedded arrow was from this
reddened arrow, so were my emotions. The disappointment that was so real just a few moments before.

However, they were gone once I saw the bull approximately 600 yards
away on a rock shelf overlooking a beautiful creek. The sight of the 6×5
antlers gave me reason to pause. It is funny how a successful shot alters ones perception. Somehow, the landscape seemed different. The views of the
countryside seemed richer, more vibrant, even enchanting and heartwarming. I remember myself having a warm glow and I am sure I must have had a stupid grin on my face.

After packing the cape and backstraps back to camp, I found out
that Mark had connected on a bull too. With only the one day left to
hunt, I felt elated. “Thank you, God” is all I could say.

What a hunt. Earlier in the week, Bob had filled his mule deer tag on a
small buck. Then both Mark and I were able to connect with just one day
left. On our last day we called a nice bull to within 10 yards of Bob (that
almost walked over him) but he was pinned down and couldn’t get a shot
without spooking the bull. Unfortunately Mark and I made a costly
mistake thinking we should just hunker down and be quiet, rather
than try and turn the approaching bull with a soft mew. It cost Bob the shot.
and we learned an important lesson. Just because some bulls are call-shy,
this one was coming in to the calls and therefore the rule didn’t apply.

Subsequently the next year, we paid the regular general price and
failed to obtain a tag. We did, however, build a bonus point which, the
following year, allowed us all to draw tags once again, but this time in the
regular pool. Bob’s brother from California, Dave Kohler, got a tag along with us.

And so Dave, Mark, Bob and his brother, James, and I hit the slopes
about the middle of September. Within two days, Dave had arrowed
his first bull. Though it was a spike, he was elated. I missed a 6×6 on day six
at 54 yards, and on another day got surprised by a 5×5 that left me
without a shot. I had opportunities but ended up coming home empty
handed, but not without great memories.

Mark, on the other hand, passed on some smaller bulls early on and,
after a small snowstorm, arrowed a nice bull high up on a remote ridge.
Of course, as Murphys’ Law goes, the only two guys carrying real packs that
day were Dave and I. Mark used his very soft pack and did some MacGyver-like rigging to carry out the horns and backstraps.

In 2005, Wyoming general tag/license was $493. I spent nearly
twice that for the special tag/ license at $893. I believe the archery permit was
about $20. Above and beyond my normal food costs and gear, I figure I
spent approximately $1,200 total. This included my special tag, archery
permit and gasoline.

In 2007, the cost was lower. We each paid $591 for the general tag, and
about $900 each total for an entire 14-day trip. Now that} affordable do—it—
yourself elk hunting. My thanks go out to Mark Hueftle of Reno, Nevada,
and the Koehler brothers of Nevada, Wyoming and California. Let’s do it
again—very soon! <—<<

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