Elk hunting On Your Own; A Place to Start…

Leupold's Fresh Track

Randy is glassing some public land elk grounds. (Photo courtesy of Randy Newberg)

Randy Newberg is the host and producer of Federal Premium’s Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg, making him the voice of self-guided public land hunters in America; where he shows the common hunter uncommon experiences available on our western public lands. You can catch his show on Thursday nights, only on Sportsman Channel and you can get more details about his hunts on his forum www.HuntTalk.com

As one who films and airs multiple public land elk hunts every year, I get asked most any question you can imagine, as it relates to hunting public land elk. I am always struck by the perception many have that elk hunting requires mountains of money, exclusive access and years of applying for tags. You can make it that way, if you want … but I don’t. For me, it is about going as often as I can, in as many places as I can, and not breaking the bank in the process. My objective here is to give you some ideas of where to start and how you can do this, year after year, eventually building a vault of elk knowledge that allows you to have more success than you ever dreamed of.

First, let’s talk about getting tags. Western states have these elaborate application rules for their limited-entry tags. Some states have over-the-counter or left over tags that can be really good hunts.

No doubt, the easiest hunts and those with the greatest age class of bulls, are the most difficult to draw. It can take decades to draw one of those limited-entry tags. And when you draw it, you may or may not, have the hunt of your life. Imagine waiting 20 years for one the great tags in Nevada, only to be unlucky to draw your tag in a drought year that drastically compromises antler growth. Sad, but it happens often. Point being, drawing those glory tags is no guarantee of a big bull in your sights.

The hunts I suggest you look for are the easier tags to draw. For ease of tags, with lots of public land, there are three states that stand out. Montana, Idaho and Colorado. Each of those states do have some limited entry areas that are consider trophy hunts. But, drawing one of those tags requires years of applications, or some serious gamblers luck. Each of those states allow you to go back year after year, allowing you to learn an area, almost as if you were a local hunter. A look at the record books over the last six years and you see that Montana and Colorado are in the top four states for trophy entries, with Montana being second.  Just because the tag was easy to acquire doesn’t mean there are no mature bulls.

A benefit of hunting these other states is that when you finally draw a once-in-a-lifetime tag in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, or New Mexico, you will have some elk hunting experience under your belt. And in the process of building that knowledge, you have a ton of fun, and hopefully put a lot of elk steaks in the freezer. Even the hard-to-draw states have some tags that are easier to draw. Most often, archery and muzzleloader tags have better odds than rifle tags.  In Arizona, an elk hunt you saw us on last season and again this season, is a late rifle hunt. Those tags have 20-35% draw odds, as most people are holding out for one of the early rut hunts. Fine with me. I’ve been able to hunt Arizona four of the last six years, due to this strategy.

Wyoming has some great hunting, lots of public land, and some tags that are pretty easy to draw. This season you will see us shoot two bulls in Wyoming, on a tag that required four points to draw. Is it worth waiting four years, and hunting over-the-counter tags in neighboring states, while waiting for the Wyoming tag? I think so, and I suspect when you see the episode, you will agree.

The amount of public land for elk hunting in the west is mind-boggling. Montana, Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming, the four states where tags are easiest to acquire, have over 120 million, yeah, MILLION, acres of public land to chase elk. That is lots of ground to have a fun hunt. As the season progresses, I will talk about a strategy for finding elk. The biggest mistake most beginning elk hunters make is worrying about the tactics to employ once they find elk, yet they know so little about where to find elk that their tactics are of no value.

We will explain that in more detail in later posts. Go elk hunting. I can assure you it is the most fun you can ever have. And, it is one of the most attainable hunts in America. Federal Premium’s Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg airs on Sportsman Channel every Thursday night at 9:30 PM (ET).