Having unsuccessfully completed two archery elk hunts in Wyoming and Montana, I wanted to share some thoughts with people considering an archery elk hunt. These comments are based on my experiences as well as discussions with outfitters.
First, you need to decide what degree of physical exertion you are prepared to endure. Some of the public land hunts involve a long horseback ride to camp, others will allow you to drive. However, most public land hunts will involve daily horseback rides to hunt sites as well as extensive hiking up and down steep terrain and over fallen timber at 6,000 to 9,000 feet. The altitude alone is a challenge. The hikes up and down steep terrain add two more degrees of difficulty. You will improve your personal fitness condition by going on an archery elk hunt. To survive the trip and improve your chances of success, you should exercise a lot before the hunt.
Second, I have been on two archery elk hunts where no elk were harvested. One trip with 3 hunters generated no shot opportunities. My recent trip as one of 5 hunters led to no elk harvest – but one quality shot was taken. However, this was the third week of archery elk hunting and only one elk was tagged in three weeks of hunting. Many internet reports confirm this experience, suggesting that you only have a 10-15% chance of harvesting an elk on a public land archery elk hunt. Some say that the chances of harvesting an elk on a private land hunt can be much higher. The bottom line - your chances of getting an elk on a public land archery elk hunt are not that great. You will have a remarkable outdoor experience in rugged, beautiful country – for a premium price.
Third, the lead outfitter will say a lot of very positive things before the trip to get you booked and motivated. Most of these things will be gross overstatements and generalizations. Yes, there are a lot of elk in the wilderness. One of my outfitters hyped the ability to hunt in public lands adjacent to a national park. He failed to mention the wolves – three of our hunters saw wolves, and elk do not hang around wolves. You should pick an outfitter carefully, do your own research and test everything they say. Press them for details on their harvest rate in recent years. If they are vague, consider another outfitter.
Finally, you need a great guide and a lot of luck to harvest and elk with an arrow. Most outfitters will only recommend a broadside or quartering away shot. Think about the challenges of getting an elk within 30-50 yards in this favorable shooting geometry. It is critical to have an experienced, capable guide to potentially create these rare shooting situations. In both my trips, I had rookie year guides. The rookie guides made mistakes, and I did too. However, you are paying a premium price and should get an experienced guide to help you avoid mistakes and be successful. Guiding is very difficult, seasonal work – there is a lot of turnover in these positions. You should work proactively before signing up with an outfitter to ensure you are guaranteed an experienced guide.
Bottom lines - Expect a strenuous experience. Prepare to enjoy the great outdoors and realize that the chances of getting an elk are modest. Carefully decide whether to hunt on public or private land. Press the outfitter on his/her true success rate. Ensure that you get an experienced guide for your investment.
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