With any hunt you need to plan your hunt and hunt your plan. If you're thinking of heading out West to hunt, then that planning calls for unique prep work, both physically and mentally.
Hunting Lead Clint Grenier has hunted in 12 states, plus Canada, and has been Western hunting for the last 10 years. All of his hunts are unguided and on public land. The success of his hunts rely on how well he has prepared. Here are his top tips for planning your Western hunt.
Most Western tags are limited and are acquired by a drawing conducted in the previous winter through spring, so you have to think ahead. Some of these limited hunts can be drawn with 0 preference points to well over 20+ points for others. You gain preference points after you are unsuccessful in applying for a limited hunt.
Some over the counter tags are also available. However, these hunts and areas usually get hunted the hardest and will have the most competition from other hunters. Another good opportunity is to purchase leftover tags. Leftover tags are any surplus of tags that remain after the regular draw quotas are filled. State wildlife agencies will usually post these on their websites shortly after the draw has concluded, along with a date when they go on sale. If you have any questions, most western state wildlife agencies have “hunt planners” - customer service reps that are ready and willing to help you. They are extremely helpful and I encourage you to use this resource that's so readily available to you.
A Western hunt is a completely different experience than most hunts in the Midwest or East. A typical hunt in the Midwest usually starts with waking up in your own bed, followed by a short drive to your hunting area, and then a short walk from there until you're hunting. Western hunting is more of a combination between hunting, camping, survival, and a marathon. Not only will you need proper hunting gear, you will also need specialized gear for all of these activities. From tents and sleeping bags to fire starters and water filters, there are a number of tools that are not even involved with the actual hunting part of the trip, but are essentials. Your pack, GPS, compass, and a good pair of boots are some other things that should be on your list.
Just like you need to be prepared with specialized equipment, you also need to be prepared for a different style of hunting, which can be very physically challenging. First of all, most hunting done in the West is conducted at much higher elevations then in the East. Being in good physical shape at 1,000 feet above sea level is much different than being in shape at 10,000 feet above sea level. Many hunters have been humbled when they get in those elevations and then try to navigate through some of the roughest country anywhere. In addition to the rough country and elevation, a hunter in the West will have to carry much of that specialized gear, water, and food with them on their back. With densities of game animals lower than in many other parts of the country, you may be carrying everything for miles to find the game you're looking for. Also, remember that, once you are successful, even more work and physical exertion will be required to get the meat out. The short story here is to try to get in the best shape you can long before the hunt arises. The better shape you are in the more you will enjoy it and the better chance you give yourself to be successful.
After you have figured out where and when you are going, the next step is to learn as much as possible to help your chances of being successful. If at all possible, try to plan a summer trip/vacation to the area. It’s hard to beat first-hand experience and knowledge of an area. Try to cover as much ground as possible searching for new or even old signs. One thing to remember in the West is that animals can migrate to different areas or elevations at different times of the year. Just because animals or signs aren't present or fresh, it doesn’t mean they won’t be there when hunting seasons come around.
With most people having to travel for a Western hunt, planning a scouting trip may be hard or impossible to do. This is where scouting from your computer or picking up the phone can be beneficial. You can find tons of information from state wildlife agency websites or by talking to their hunt planners on the phone. Examples of some of the information available there are:
- Migration routes
- Hunter success rates
- Unit maps and borders
- Draw odds
- Populations and density maps
Other good places for information are State and Federal forest offices, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offices, and also by viewing maps on Google Earth or Google Maps.
Field care of meat and trophies is similar anywhere you go, but can be different in the West because of the circumstances. For example, when someone harvests a deer in the Midwest, a common practice is to field dress it where it expires, take it home whole in your vehicle, then hang it up until you are ready to process or take to the processor. On a Western hunt, more often than not, you will not be able to drive a vehicle to the spot where an animal expires. The animal will have to be quartered and packed out on a pack designed to carry meat. The meat is usually placed in game bags that allow it to cool, but also keep it clean. Be sure to read up on the techniques of quartering and sometimes even deboning to reduce weight. Many Western hunters will not even field dress their animal, but instead use a “gutless” method when quartering their animals. It would also be beneficial to know the proper technique of caping out your animal, if it is something that you intend to take to your taxidermist.
Remember, a Western hunt takes the term "planning your hunt" to a whole new level. From tags, to gear, to studying and physically preparing, with proper planning you can go West and hunt successfully.
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