So you want to come out West?
So, you’ve just about had it! You have looked through every western hunting magazine that is in existence, watched every hunting show out west, and just can’t take it anymore! The West is calling. The Mountains are screaming in your thoughts. It’s time to go on your first western hunt.
First off, let me say, CONGRATULATIONS, and I am super excited for you! The world of western hunting is filled with adventure and memories that will last a lifetime. Be it the views of our vast landscapes or the animals that call them home, they will for sure leave an imprint on you for life. Going on your first western hunt can be pretty overwhelming though, especially if you are coming from another part of the country. I am gonna do my best to lay some basic information out for you that you NEED to know.
What and Where?
I guess the first question that you need to ask yourself is “What do I want to hunt?” and Where do I want to hunt?” Where is going to largely depend on what you want to hunt. We have a variety of species out west and each state offers a unique experience. Say you want to go elk hunting. I would suggest that you focus on states that have OTC(over the counter) tag opportunities for elk. This will ensure that you will actually get to go elk hunting and not have to wait years and years to draw a tag. That goes the same with all species. Whether it is Mule Deer, Coues Deer, Black Bear, Elk, Pronghorn, and so on, I would try to find OTC opportunities for each and narrow your search down that way. In the meantime you can build up bonus points/preference points in other states to draw those coveted tags. Also, keep in mind that a bowhunter has more opportunity than a rifle hunter does out here. The seasons are longer and the tags are easier to get a lot of times.
Your equipment can mean the difference in you having a successful hunt and being absolutely miserable. On this account, I would not skimp. Down below is a basic list of things that I think you absolutely need to consider acquiring before you come out west.
If you can’t find them, then you can’t hunt them. We have HUGE areas of public land out here and trying to walk it all, in search of your quarry, in one hunt is not only daunting, it’s just not practical or productive for that matter. Many times I spot deer from over a mile away, that I wouldn’t even know were there had I not had a good pair of binoculars. Buy the BEST optics that you can afford and put them on a tripod. Personally, I would suggest a pair of 10×42 binoculars on a good bino harness when they aren’t mounted on a tripod. I am a big fan of Vortex Optics, not only for their quality, but their warranty is the best in the business. For tips on finding game with your optics see a previous post of mine entitled, 5 tips for Glassing the West.
For me, this is for sure one of my most important pieces of equipment for western hunting. Having a good quality backpack is not only going to let you carry everything that you need conveniently right on your back, it is gonna save you a lot of pain, especially if you harvest an animal. You aren’t just gonna be able to drive your vehicle right up on your kill out here. Chances are, that deer or elk that you shot is going to be far away from any road for the most part and it is your job to get it out of there and get that precious meat cooled down. I don’t care how tough you are, you will not drag an elk out of the mountains whole. This is where your backpack is gonna come in handy. Getting a good pack with a good suspension system and frame is VITAL to getting critters out of these rugged mountains. I am currently running an Exo Mountain Gear 3500 for my backpack and I LOVE it, but there are a lot of great companies out there to choose from. Please trust me on this one. Get a good pack!
This might be one of the most overlooked pieces of equipment where a lot of people will skimp and just buy a cheap pair of boots. Let me tell you something though. If you can’t walk and hike, you probably aren’t going to have a very productive hunt out west. It isn’t uncommon at all to be hiking in upwards of 10 miles a day on these hunts. That isn’t 10 miles on flat even surface either. A lot of times you will be hiking through some pretty rough country that will eat away at your feet in a hurry if you don’t take care of them. Just like optics and a backpack, buy the best boots that you can afford along with some quality pairs of wool socks. Don’t even consider bringing your cotton socks from home. The merino wool is not only going to help keep your feet warm, but help prevent you from getting blisters. Since I started wearing them, I have yet to get one blister from hiking and I hike a TON! As far as boots go, I have been wearing the Salomon Quest 4D 2’s and have been extremely pleased with them. You really have to just get out there and try some boots on though to see what is going to work for you.
As I have said before in previous posts, I was indeed a skeptic when it came to high quality hunting clothing. I couldn’t understand why someone would pay an arm and a leg for a pair of pants. That was until I actually tried the stuff out though. In my opinion, the difference is night and day when compared to your normal hunting clothing. Everything from range of motion, warmth, and comfort. If you are planning on doing a backpack hunt out west I would HIGHLY recommend looking into getting a solid layering system that you can depend on. In short, that is your light base layer, mid base layer, insulating layer, and rain gear. There are quite a few really good companies out there that offer a wide range of high quality clothing. We pay all this money for our rifles and our bows, which we will only use once, maybe twice on a hunt. Why wouldn’t we invest in the clothing that we are wearing the whole time? Our clothing is being used WAY more than our high priced weapons. The more comfortable you are out there, the longer you are going to be able to stay out in the field, which is ultimately going to up your chances of filling your tag. I myself absolutely love a company out of Idaho called First Lite for my clothing. Give them a look.
I am not going to say that you 100% need a GPS unit, but it will make things a heck of a lot easier for you. I mainly use my GPS for marking my camp, places to glass, and should I get an animal on the ground, I will mark that as well. They come in super handy when trying to navigate in the dark. You know you will get to your glassing point before sunup and you won’t be stumbling around in the dark looking for where you should be. Another great feature on these newer units is the ability to see what is private and what is public land. With that feature, you can rest assured that where you are hunting is 100% fair game. If you can’t get your hands on a GPS unit for your hunt, then at least have a quality Topographic Map of the area you will be hunting. You should have this with you even if you do have a GPS.
I don’t care that you haven’t shot a deer past 20 yards back home with your bow. Out west it is a different ball game and you better be prepared for it. The country is big and the animals are spread out. Be prepared to shoot out to at least 60 yards with your bow and 300 yards and up with your rifle. Could you get a closer shot at an animal? Of course you can, but the chances a lot of times are slim. Sometimes you just run out of cover while stalking an animal and have to take that 60 yard shot with your bow. You might be hunting a large canyon that requires you too shoot 400 yards with your rifle. It’s how the west is and you are at the mercy of it. Start practicing now, so that you are ready for your hunt!
If you can’t get to where the animals are, then you can’t hunt them.
This is a HUGE tool in the toolbox for western hunting. Simply put, if you can’t get to where the animals are, then you can’t hunt them. As I mentioned above, a lot of these hunts you could be hiking 10 miles a day. The last thing you want is for your hunt to end because you couldn’t handle it. Being more physically fit is not only going to make you a more effective hunter, it is going to let you enjoy yourself and your hunt more while in the process. I’m not saying that you have to be a gym rat to hunt the west. YOU DON’T. You do need to be prepared though. On top of the hunting part, there is the packing out part! Are you prepared to throw over 100 pounds of meat in your backpack and hike that load out of the mountains? Think about it. You owe it to yourself and to the animal to be physically ready for the demand at hand.
Get Out There!
The last thing to do is to actually get your butt off the couch and get out there! Start planning early and get the gear that you need along the way. You are in for an adventure and I wish you the best of luck in the field. Western hunting can be extremely hard, but it is worth it and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The peace, freedom, sounds of the mountains, and of course our incredible animals that walk them cannot be beat. Hopefully, with the info I have given you, you have a better understanding of western hunting, how to get started, and most importantly GET OUT THERE!