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How much time do you need on a western hunt?

How much time do you need on a western hunt?

All photo credits: Josh Kirchner

Application season is now! Many of us have already started planning our adventures for the coming year. While it may not be us out in the actual field, these times are exciting to say the least. They are the fuel that feeds the fire of our anticipation. Some of you have dreams of heading out of state on big western adventures, taking in a level of wild that you won’t get anywhere else. These trips are an investment in both time and money. One of the most common questions surrounding all of this, though, is how much of that time does someone actually need to invest? Some head out for weeks at a time while others only set aside a few days. And everyone wants to find success with a tag in their pocket, right? The answer is going to vary from hunter to hunter, but here are some things to consider when blocking days off of the calendar.

Scouting

While not everyone is going to be able to get out and scout for their hunt beforehand, if you can, I suggest doing so 100%. Scouting will not only shed light on the country, but it will absolutely increase the odds of notching up that tag and your overall experience. These trips don’t need to be nearly as long as an actual hunt. A few days or, even, a day, really, will help out — even if it just tells that the area you were planning to go isn’t nearly what you’d expect and causes you to look elsewhere. That’s saving hunt days right there. If this would have happened at the front end of a hunt, you’d essentially lose a day because you don’t know what you don’t know. And let’s not forget about what we’re looking for in terms of animals. It is a warm feeling heading into a spot that you know holds the game you seek. The more time someone can invest ahead of time, the more efficient hunt days they’ll have in their future. Going a day or two before season opens might not be a bad idea either. It gives a hunter the opportunity to have a look around right before their hunt starts. In the end, though, if that’s going to mean fewer days hunting, I’ll scoff at the scouting and take more hunt days.

Hunt days vs. travel days

When planning one of these big western adventures, a common number that gets thrown out there is 10 days. What many fail to consider though is how many of those days are going to be hunt days versus travel days. Blocking off 10 days essentially means someone is giving themselves eight full days of hunting with a travel day at each end. If you actually want 10 days of hunting, you’ll need to set aside 12 days of vacation. Be sure to think this through before requesting days off from your boss or scheduling out jobs. You don’t want to cut yourself short when it’s too late.

Hunt days vs. travel days

Another thing to mention here, specifically regarding bear hunting, is check-ins. If you’re going bear hunting in a state that requires hide and skull to be checked in with the local game and fish agency, then this is something you’ll need to figure into your time. Notate locations of game and fish offices around your hunting area and be ready to check in your bear before heading home. If that means having to stay an extra day, then you need to do that, as check-ins are mandatory.

Your comfort level

Your comfort level

If I had a dollar for every 10 to 14 day expedition hunt I’ve watched via film or heard about one someone else doing, I’d have quite a few dollars in my pocket. Hearing about and seeing these hunts on film are both inspiring and entertaining. That inspiration lays way for many others out there who want to experience these hunts themselves, which is great. Chase your passions. I’m going to throw some honesty your way though for a second. While these dreams of extended backcountry adventures seem enticing, you might not be like these people and that’s okay. Not everyone was built to hack out 10 days on the mountain. Some folks are weekend warriors at most and there’s nothing wrong with that. What I’m getting at here is to be honest with yourself and your comfort level, especially for folks just starting out. If 14 days sounds like a lot, then don’t do that. There’s no shame in just going out for five to seven days. Being away from home for extended periods of time can be difficult mentally. Folks get homesick or just fill with worry about how their family is doing. I’ve seen it both. Do what’s comfortable and add from there in the future if you’d like. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Your expectations

Your expectations

Expectations are going to be all over the map here. Some hunters are going to be turning over every rock to find a certain caliber of animal, changing camps multiple times and displaying a heavy amount of patience. Others are perfectly happy simply embracing the adventure of it all without a burning urge to be successful in filling up the cooler with game meat. Neither is a wrong way to approach these hunts, but they are something to consider when setting days aside. If you have lofty goals of finding that 190″ mule deer, then not only should pre-season scouting be considered, but more time in the field should be set aside as well. Great things take time and a big buck like that is a great thing. Setting high standards like this for a three to five-day hunt is likely a recipe for disappointment — particularly with archery hunting. That’s another thing to take into account. What weapon you’re planning on hunting with definitely has an impact on the likelihood and timeliness of killing that animal. Lining out your expectations in reflection of your time is a much more realistic approach.

If you’re backpack hunting…

If you’re backpack hunting…

This is solely geared towards the folks looking to backpack hunt. Backpack hunting is surely one of the most exciting and demanding ways to hunt. It’s the full package of adventure and hunting. Living in the dirt with buddies for a week is hard to beat. Backpack hunting takes time though. It’s a commitment packing in somewhere and also a commitment packing out. This means that not only are there travel days you should consider, but there are days that will mostly be for just packing in. Of course, it matters how many miles someone is planning on heading back, but it’s still an investment in time. For you to move areas and pack in somewhere else, you’d be losing quite a bit of hunt days when all is said and done. So, when planning out your trip, factor in the time it’ll take to pack in and then pack out possibly to head to a plan B spot. Stuff like this is why many hunters plan out 10+ day hunts.

Pack out days

Pack out days

This past November, I was archery elk hunting in a pretty rugged spot here in Arizona. On the 11th day of hunting, after going on a lengthy, but fruitless stalk, I had a harsh realization. With it being my second to last night, if I had shot a bull the following morning, I wouldn’t make it home in time for my daughter’s first Thanksgiving. The pack out would have taken me days being solo. This is something that I normally wouldn’t pay mind to, but I wasn’t about to miss that day with our daughter. So, I pointed the truck towards home and left that beautiful ruggedness behind.

Pack outs — especially for bigger critters like elk — need to be taken into consideration. If you’ve got a wrecking crew of hunting partners willing to help pack meat, then you’re likely fine. However, if you’re solo, you might spend days just packing out meat — days that need to be taken into account when planning. Success rates might be low, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t plan on being successful!

We’re in the thick of it!

We’re in the thick of it!

These adventures we go on are ones that stick with us for all of time. From spending quality time with friends and family to ingesting the beauty of the country around you, it is time well spent. The duration of that time is totally up to you and your schedule. Obviously, the more time in the field, the better chances you have at filling your tag. That’s not everything that this is about though. So, go out as long as you can go out. If that’s 14 days, awesome. Maybe it’s only five. That’s fine too. The important part here is to enjoy each one of those days that you get to spend out there. Go out with realistic expectations and there will be no such thing as disappointment. It’s planning season and we’re in the thick of it. Good luck and I hope you all draw the tags you’re after!

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