While most eastern hunters dream of hunting a big-racked elk, they are best pursued once you have your feet wet on other western hunts. In other words, most successful western hunts won’t begin with elk. That will come later once you have developed the much-needed skills and experience.
Elk hunting can be brutal. Once you succeed at it though, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. However, you can’t go from a whitetail kind of guy to a dedicated elk hunter overnight. To transition, you need to shift gears physically and mentally.
If you are a first-time western hunter, below are some things you need to keep in mind:
1. Shoot Far
You have a higher chance of success if you can shoot farther — ethically. To achieve this objective, invest in a reliable, accurate, and not-too-heavy rifle. It is also ideal to opt for a high-end modern bullet with superb aerodynamics. You need to be able to shoot comfortably to 500 yards. To do so, practice your marksmanship skills.
For your first western hunt, give a pronghorn antelope hunt a shot. Antelope hunts are not expensive, yet the success rate is relatively high. Be prepared to stalk long, judge wind speed and direction, cover miles, and shoot far.
However, resist the temptation to roar around in a pickup and jump out and shoot. While it’s okay to use ATVs or trucks to access vantage points and hunting areas, it’s okay to leave the wheels behind once the animals are found. Most antelope are taken in excess of 300 yards.
2. Learn to Glass
A good binocular can be your best friend in wide-open country. Ideally, you should be willing to spend as much on your glass as you do on your scope and rifle. Binoculars that set you back $1,000 and upwards will serve you well. On the other hand, a premium binocular that costs $2,000 is also a worthwhile investment.
Glassing through subpar glass for many hours can cause eye strain. Eye strain can often result in headaches. Add a bit of dehydration and high altitude in the mix, and you can end up with a performance-halting headache. Steady your glass and learn to pick apart the country.
If you are hunting big country, it is recommended that you pack a lightweight tripod with a binocular adapter. You will be amazed by how much more game you can find by adding stability to your field of view. To reduce time and save weight, you can also carry a premium range-finding binocular.
3. Get Fit to Cover the Miles
Western big game animals are travelers, so you’ll have to be too. The majority of the battle on public lands is finding game. You might need to explore the vast countryside, or rugged canyons before you can find a herd to hunt. Unfortunately, this is where many first-timers will lose heart.
While being physically fit is important, mental toughness can also get you through several brutal days in the rugged country and help you get home after a successful adventure. Jogging is excellent prep, but using a treadmill set at a maximum angle also does the trick. Alternatively, get outside and climb the bleachers at a nearby school.
Start easy and get those muscles that are rarely used working, then add a backpack. Each week, add at least 10 pounds to your pack. Honing your quads, joints, and mindset can indeed make or break your hunt. Carrying a lightweight energy powder can also make the trip fun.
4. Learn to Be Lonely
If you are a first-timer, it is crucial to keep in mind that wilderness hunting will require that you spend many hours on your own. This can be a challenge if you are not used to being alone. Yet, undeniably, the vast wilderness can be both daunting and inspiring.
There is also the possibility that you can get injured or lost in the big-mountain country. So relish the challenge but make sure you polish your basic survival skills. Nothing can be as exciting (and mind-opening) as being out there and hunting alone. That said, you also need to anticipate fear, loneliness, and the occasional boredom.
5. Let Defeat Motivate You
Success rates are low for most western species, pronghorn the exception to some degree. The low success rate can be attributed to the fact that many hunters only hunt during the weekends. To boost your success rate, it would be best to schedule a whole week to hunt. While you will fail many times initially, once you master the skills required, you will experience less defeat.
If you prepare accordingly, the challenge the West throws at you will become less difficult over time. So go deep, hunt long, and hunt hard. If the hunting gods are on your side, you just might bring home the heavy-racked Monarch of the West.