Tips for your first western hunt

Photo credit: Chris Neville

Hunting out West for the first time can seem to be an overwhelming adventure to undertake when you understand a well-planned hunt is the key to success. Combine this with the number of times I’ve heard hunting horror stories about those who have hunted for years without seeing a single animal in the mountains or only running into other hunters and you might wonder, “How do I do it?” Everyone at GOHUNT wants you to be successful, which is why their entire research platform provides a hunter with the data, maps, gear and information required to find that success in your first year. Here are four universal tips across any hunt and season that will help you understand expectations to find success on your first hunt and beyond.

1. Be prepared

No forum, book or person can prepare you for all you will encounter on a western hunt; however, the more you learn and read prior to your hunt, the more success, safety and memories you will have. Many people are willing to give advice. And, like most things, the majority of people try to give out good advice, though it is not always applicable and sometimes is downright lousy. Like any new experience, it is up to you to determine which advice to take and what to ignore. As in any new venture, the more you put into it with research and practice — and the more time you can devote to it — the better your chances of success. On my first western hunt, my hunting partner and I hunted for two weeks for elk. The first four or five days had us finding nothing but places that held no elk; however, we eventually discovered where the elk were. Then we used this knowledge to locate elk in other areas and finally tagged out on day 12 of the hunt. We were prepared in knowledge, physically prepared and gave our hunt enough time to learn where the animals were and were not; then, we capitalized on an opportunity. Being prepared is a crucial ingredient to success in the West.

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2. Have backup plans

The best plan you can bring to a western hunt is a backup plan or two when it comes to places to hunt. The West is an unpredictable place to hunt; conditions, hunting pressure and animal behavior are constantly changing. Of course, I plan to have my primary spot, but I also plan a backup plan — or 10. If I start to get a bad feeling due to weather, hunting pressure, a lack of animal sign or sheer bad luck, I pull another plan out of my hat and try it out. After all, it does no good to hike the same drainages daily to find no animals.

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3. Safety is a priority

Whether it is your first time going out West or your hundredth time, it goes without saying that safety needs to be a high priority on your hunt. Year after year, hunters and outdoor enthusiasts with more backcountry experience than you die in the backcountry for various reasons. Since I don’t want my next hunt to be my last hunt, I always have an extensive plan and relay this to a person back home. I always carry a satellite communication device. And I never make risky decisions while deep in the mountains. If you do all of this and have a little luck, you will make it off the mountain in one piece; however, compromise a little and you may not be so lucky. Plan to be safe and enjoy your lifetime of western hunts.

4. Gear up

Over the past decade, western hunting has exploded as hunters throughout the United States head West each fall to chase big bucks, bulls and more. Though this explosion has caused more hunters to be in the mountains, leading to point creep and high hunting pressure, it also has led to innovation in western hunting gear due to increased demand. Nowadays, the options for hunting clothing, gear, packs and more are endless; some good gear will really help you succeed on western hunts. Do your research and decide what is necessary and what is not essential on your next hunt, then save the money to buy the good quality gear you need. Though a lot of eastern hunting gear will work on some hunts, the innovation in western clothing makes it ideal for hunting in the mountains.

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When thinking about hunting in a western state, it can be quite an undertaking, especially for your first time; however, if you are an eastern hunter with some know-how, you can get it done and have a great time. Of course, it does take some preparation and planning before your hunt; this includes having several backup plans fully laid out. Planning to be safe and actually being safe on your hunt may seem like a no-brainer; however, hearing an elk bugle or seeing a 180” mule deer will alter your decision-making skills. No matter what you pursue, have fun and make memories out West this fall and for years to come.


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