Planning Your Hunt Out West
Planning Your Hunt Out West
By John Bingham THC Field-Staff
“I’m not looking for any honey-holes, but…”
If you’ve been around social media or the hunting forums for any amount of time, you’ve seen that guy or perhaps been one of them who posted in any number of forums “I’m new to the area and I’m looking for a place to start hunting, I don’t want your honey-hole, just a place to start.” Shortly after, the slaughter ensues with comments like “Do your own work!”..” Damn people today with their sense of entitlement!”, followed by folks rising to your defense with “He has to start somewhere and what’s wrong worth asking?” This happens every year, usually right after draw results come out and will continue to happen..its just the way of the hunting world.
Look, I’m just like you. I am one of millions of people who made a move from the private lands of Texas or the mid-west to a very daunting and open public lands scenario of any western state you can think of. Back home things were pretty cut and dry- you pick a ranch, pay an annual lease and hunt until your tags and freezer are filled. Expensive but pretty hassle-free. Now you’re out west and you have literally millions of acres of open hunting ground. The sheer enormity of it all can be pretty intimidating and you’ll inevitably find yourself asking “Where do I start?” “How do I start?” “How do I get tags?” “When does the season open?” “What kind of gear do I need?” and any number of questions and concerns. It’s a natural thing. If you’re asking this question that means you want to be successful. Good for you.
I’d like to offer some thoughts on how you can approach planning for your western hunting experience:
- Pick up a copy of your state’ hunting regulations and read them front to back. Twice. Your local hunting store or website generally always has them available. Remember..read twice.
- Decide on a species to hunt and how you want to take them. Are you going archery or rifle? This is important because seasons and opportunity vary. All this information found in the hunting regulations that you just read twice. Some animals are offered with over-the-counter tags and some are drawn through a lottery picking process.
- Once you have a species chosen, you need to find a unit. All western states have their hunting areas divided into ‘units’ or ‘zones’.
- Once you have a unit picked, don’t wait until you draw a tag to go scout around. The most successful hunters out here are the ones who know the ground they hunt. They know it because they visit it as often as possible BEFORE the hunt starts.
*Tip- Almost all state game and fish websites have unit specific information. Some even go into detail about species such as where off of what forest road should you start glassing for bears.
- Forget e-scouting. Just forget Facebook and other forums. You won’t get much help. Public land spots are highly cherished by successful hunters and unless you’re a good friend, you’ll probably not get much information. This is not a time to be unadventurous. You’re a hunter! Hunters are adventurous by our very nature and it should be an ingrained part of that nature to get out and explore!
- Get good maps and GPS chips. Both are invaluable tools that show forest roads, trails, water holes, ridges, mountains, two-tracks, private land, reservation land and everything thing else in between. You NEED to know all of those pieces of information before you make the 1 to 6 hour trek to your unit. Study them hard. Google Earth is a really good tool to use for pre-hunt scouting as well.
- Learn your prey. If you’ve been hunting Eastern Whitetails all your life and now you’re chasing Mule Deer, they don’t act the same. If you’ve been chasing Muleys and want to hunt Coues, you need to re-learn a few things or you’ll go home skunked. If you’ve never hunted elk, you have lots to learn! There are tons of resources out there such as the Mule Deer Foundation, Arizona Elk Society, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, just to name a few.
- Take a drive as soon as you can. You need to go burn some fuel and actually put eyes on your hunting area. I can’t stress this enough, otherwise you’ll end up scouting on opening day. You need to find a campsite. You need to find access through closed or private land. You need to find out if that hill on your map is 1000’ or 10,000’. You need to find the trailheads that take you away from the roads. You just need to KNOW!
- Plan to hunt weekdays. Why? Its public land, that’s why. 98% of the tag holders are working stiffs just like you and usually hunt Friday through Sunday then return home for the work week. If you’ve been in some of the units where they hand out 800 tags for a 10 day hunt, you’ll quickly realize what a circus it can be if you don’t have a plan. Come Monday, ‘most’ of those hunters are gone and you’ll have a lot of space all to yourself.
- Have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, AND Plan D. Why? Because its public land! You will encounter other hunters. It is just a matter of time before you encounter another on that glassing spot that you had picked out. The rule for public land hunting is ‘first come, first served’ and in fact, it is in the regulations and in some cases, the law. It will do you no good to confront the guy. Rather, just smile, wave and head to your Plan B.
- Join some conservation organizations. Not only are you putting your money where your mouth is, but they also offer water catchment projects, habitat improvement projects, fence removals and a myriad of activities that will take place in the unit you hunt. That’s a great way to meet and network with folks who have the same tag and now you’re right in the middle of your unit not only doing good for those animals, but also getting a chance to look around and learn a few things.
- Join The Hunting Channel and subscribe to our blog
- Your first time out hire a guide there is no shame in it. Think of it as paying for a high level class in the area and species you are hunting, don’t let others make you feel bad that you have the means to shorten your learning curve.
- Lastly, please be a good steward of the land. Our hunting areas are being closed little by little because the forests are getting trashed by those who don’t care to take their garbage home with them. Be courteous to your fellow hunters. Have fun. Be safe.
As usual, John, thoughtful and practical advice. I’m bookmarking this for all the times people ask about where to start. Thanks!