Public Land Archery Elk Hunting - Finding Success Year 1

I'm excited just sitting here thinking about writing this article. It's a big reason I started this website. If I can contribute in anyway to your success out there in the field, this whole project for us is a WIN, get it? Now success in the field can mean many different things. If you're outside, having fun, and making memories, that's what we're all about. 

Elk hunting can seem like a daunting task when you start to read about it. Your typical elk hunt includes big mountains, gear, hiking, backpacking, heading into the backcountry, and to top it all off you have to find the elk. Without the elk you're just out there "bow hiking" which we've all done at some point. Don't get me wrong, bow hiking is part of the process, but at some point bow hiking becomes elk hunting, and that's where we want to be! 

I think this story best unfolds if I tell it from a timeline perspective. I'll take you through preparation, decision making, to finally getting out there and DOING it. 

PREPARATION & DECISION MAKING

2017 was a year that we committed to dedicating our time and resources to giving elk hunting a full fledged effort. The goal was to pick a place, hunt it hard, and leave no regrets. I'm happy to say that happened. It was also going to be our first backcountry backpacking trip. Now we've all done plenty of camping, but when you start to head into the backcountry with only a backpack on, it starts to add another layer of preparation. What do we really need? That's what it boils down to. Now thankfully with the internet's availability of information there are a lot of great resources to reference. 

Probably the greatest resource in helping make decisions was gohunt.com they publish helpful articles on how to prepare for a backcountry trip. How they do it, and what they bring. Their "insider" function was also instrumental in helping us find where we were going to hunt. It helps narrow down your research by state, game species, success rates, trophy size, and amount of public land. You create the criteria, and the tool helps filter down the research. Now anybody who's tried to do this type of research in the past, understands that you almost need your PHD in state research. It's incredibly time consuming. Gohunt has brought all of your information to one place and provides you the tools to save time! Now their insider function does require a subscription, but I'd consider it to be well worth the time saved. 

After our research we decided we were going to do an eight day hunt in southeast Idaho on a DIY OTC (do it yourself, over the counter) tag. No draw required, just show up, buy your tag, go hunt. Everybody can do it!

SCOUTING

We were hunting about 6.5 hours from our home base in Eastern, WA. That meant it was going to be hard to get over there for a scouting trip. I'd definitely recommend a scouting trip if you can make time. Unfortunately we didn't make it happen. Instead of making it over there and getting boots on the ground, we logged countless hours on google earth. Google Earth and OnX maps were two of the most useful resources for digital scouting. OnX has a few distinct features that make it invaluable for a public land hunter. It tells you where you're at in relation to the boundaries, marks your waypoints, and is usable without cellphone service! You just have to download your maps prior to heading out into the field. We'd find an intriguing spot on google earth, and then we'd mark it with OnX. We went over there with half a dozen likely spots picked out for elk. One spot looked so promising, had the topography, mix of thick timber with open sage grass flats, and plenty of water. That would be our first spot to try, but we figured somebody would be already hunting it. It looked too good!

GEAR

I don't think it's fair to write this article without mentioning the gear we used. Dialing in your back country setup is something that takes time, and practice. Luckily we had some good help to reference. We were mostly well prepared. 

  • Pack(s) - A mix of Stone Glacier archer 6200 and Exo Mountain Gear 3500
    • both great packs, I like the design of the Exo for organization and functionality
  • Boots - Danner elk hunters non-insulated, had a pair of Rocky 400 gram insulate for back-ups and cold weather
    • lightweight and waterproof, super happy with them
  • Tents - Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1 person backpacking tent
    • this was a great down and dirty setup, upgrading this year but would recommend for a quick/cheap setup
  • Clothing - First Lite gear, I really like the merino wool stuff
    • their down puffy jacket was a great addition too, light and warm
  • Sleeping pad - Klymit Static V lightweight 
  • Sleeping bag - Rated for 40 degrees
    • this worked short term, but would prefer one rated for colder weather, will be buying something else this year
  • Bow Setup - I used the Bowtech BTX-31 at 73 pounds, with Easton 5mm axis arrows, Kudupoint 125 gram broadheads
  • Trekking Poles - These were a game changer in the steep country
  • Water purification - Lifestraw Gravity fed 12L
    • great system, also carried a small lifestraw for quick water 
  • Garmin Inreach - GPS and satellite text messaging, great to have 
  • Food - Combination of freeze-dried backpacking meals, protein bars during the day, Phat Fudge was a great midday snack
  • Stove - This little burner worked great in combination with a small cooking pot
  • Random stuff
    • power banks for electronics, good for a charge or two in case of emergency
    • small emergency kit
    • headlamp
    • plastic 1L water container, for mixing up stuff
    • game bags
    • eating utensils
    • Havalon knife
    • Idaho elk tag

LESSONS LEARNED

Overall I thought we were pretty well prepared. That being said, we learned some valuable lessons on the gear side. I wanted to highlight a few. 

  • Don't overpack your clothing, pick the bare essentials that cover your temperature range, layers are key
  • Sleeping bag - estimate the low end of the temperature range, be conservative
    • Couple cold nights in the backcountry layered up in clothing, lesson learned
  • Budget concerns - It can be daunting racking up the total for the amount of gear you can spend on dialing in your setup. There are a few areas you can save a few bucks if that's important to you. The areas I found were stove, trekking poles, and although I wouldn't always skimp on a tent, the little budget tent I used worked great
  • Don't skimp on quality in a few key areas 
    • Packs - You're going to spend miles hiking and packing, love your pack
    • Boots - Same as packs
    • Clothing - When the weather goes bad, be protected
    • Bow setup - You need to make sure your setup is as bombproof as it can be, it's going to get bounced around in the backcountry
    • Somebody in your group should have a Garmin Inreach, or something similar 

THE HUNT

Thanks for reading Part I folks, I'll continue onto the hunt in Part II the next article! 

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