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Hunting the West; where to go

By Staff
March 2, 2001
Where are the best areas to hunt western big game? Last week we discussed how to get licenses to hunt in the drawing units in Colorado. Other states have similar requirements and hunting areas. But which area should one plan to hunt?
The good news is you are part owner of millions of acres of fine hunting
land in the mountains. Colorado alone has 26 million acres of our land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
More private acres hold game too..
Let's consider only elk for this example. They are highly prized by hunters and are currently plentiful. Suggestions here can generally be applied to mule deer, whitetails, antelope, moose and bear. Many units require an application for a drawing and some units are open to an unlimited number of hunters who may purchase a bull elk license after they arrive in the area.
The odds
First, understand that your chances of bagging an elk on a given hunt are about 1 in 4 or 5 on public land depending on where you make the hunt.
Special highly managed drawing areas provide increased opportunities. The odds may be much better on certain private lands.
Decide if you are willing to take a cow elk instead of a bull. It takes fewer points (discussed last week) to draw a license for cows. Also you may get into quality areas with fewer points if you bow hunt or use a muzzle loading rifle.
Obtain all information available from the state department of wildlife.
Order a big game hunting brochure and application form for the state you plan to hunt. Colorado provides detailed statistics for each hunt unit. By studying these publications you can learn the size of each unit, whether the area is a "drawing only" unit, how many elk of each sex were taken the previous season, hunter numbers and more helpful information.
Call the state wildlife biologist for the area and ask questions about elk hunting there.
Other options
The above guidelines are for the hunter who is going it alone and starting from scratch. There are two other important ways to find your hunting spot. One is to hire an outfitter to take you to the elk. Ask for references and call them so you will know exactly what to expect.
Another approach is to make your first hunt with an acquaintance who has
hunted the state before and knows the country. You will learn the ropes from his/her experiences.
Study maps of the area before you go. The West is big country, and elk have a lot of places to hide in terrain where plenty of hunters get lost each year.
Tip: Unless you are in good physical condition, plan to hunt below 8,000 feet elevation in the juniper and oak brush slopes. If you are young and strong, camp in aspen country and hunt the rock slides and grassy basins near timberline as you pursue one of the finest antlered animals on earth.
Otha Barham is Outdoors Editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at olbarham1@aol.com.

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