The heavy lifting involved in any DIY big-game hunt seems to come when an animal is down, and taken literally, it does. However the metaphorical heavy lifting starts the moment you say, "Screw it, I'm going." Once committed to an out-of-state trip, the reality of making it happen hits home.
There are a bevy of different pieces of the puzzle that need to come together to make a trip work. Fortunately, quite a few of them can be handled right now. Or at least you can start on them and hope to finish up once you hit the mountains, the sage flats, or whatever river-bottom you end up sneaking through.
These aspects of the pre-hunt planning are huge and should not be overlooked. There is no better way to not enjoy a hunt then to go ill-prepared. To take advantage of the expensive tag you're sure to buy and the valuable PTO you're likely to burn, follow these 10 steps during your pre-hunt planning.
So you've done all of this work, figured out where you'll stay and where you'll hunt, and everything is going swimmingly. Then you show up to your honey-hole and there are hunters everywhere. This happens, and it sucks. I've been there, which is why I always have at least one back-up spot, usually more.
Plan A might look great on paper, but once you get there it just isn't. Too much pressure, not enough animals, different terrain than you planned on, whatever. Have a seamless Plan B and get after it. You do not want to waste valuable time trying to find a new spot on the fly.
On that note, I know most bowhunters get sick of hearing this from ultra-marathon-running chest thumpers, but if you're not willing to get into shape before a hunt
you might want to skip it. This goes for mountain goat hunts, elk hunts, and even whitetail hunts. Being able to hike an extra mile and feel good while doing it, is often the difference between enjoying a hunt or hating it.
You don't need to be able to be able to run up a mountain with a moose quarter on your shoulders, but you should be able to hike all day with a reasonable daypack and your hunting gear. Spend a few days each week leading up to your hunt walking, jogging, biking or doing something that gets your heart rate up and your body in the groove it'll need on a DIY trip. You will never regret it.
Home Away From Home
When you've settled on your hunting spot, you need to figure out where to stay. I'm a camper at heart, and will choose that route every time. It's easy, and if you do it right, very comfortable. If you're not into the tent route, you'll need to find a motel or some other place to stay. You might luck out and run into a relative who has a place for you to crash, but don't count on that.
Also, staying with a friend's cousin's brother might be an option, but most of the time that situation is awkward and not all that enjoyable. This leads back to my reasoning for camping — I like being in control of my home away from home, and I like it when it's cheap. It's also nice to be able to walk right out of camp and hunt, which can happen in a lot of different places but rarely occurs when you're in a motel.
Once you get your game out, the next step is to figure out what to do with it
. If you're not into butchering animals yourself, it'll be necessary to find a butcher shop nearby. This requires nothing more than a Google search most of the time, but pay attention to hours of operation and exactly what the butcher will do for you.
If the local butcher shop closes all weekend and you arrow a big muley on Friday night, you might be out of luck. If cutting a critter up yourself doesn't scare you, figure out ahead of time where you can get ice and if necessary, extra coolers. Last fall a hunting buddy and I doubled up on public-land bucks in Nebraska and we ended up buying out the only coolers we could find in the nearest town. It was a good problem to have, but something I should have planned better for better.
A Pack-Out Plan
Getting in better shape goes hand in hand with ease-in-packing out an animal. Knowing how to quarter an animal in the field or the best way to get it out whole will go a long way toward not hating every second of the task. Elk and moose hunters get this, but it seems that traveling mule deer and whitetail hunters sometimes overlook it. Planning for a pack out is especially important if you're going on a solo trip, which is something I do every year.
I always have game bags and a game cart
, so I can either lug a deer out whole or quarter it up and pack it out. Remember to bring along the appropriate knives, saws, sharpeners and lights and always, always take your time. Rushing a field-dressing job is a surefire way to get stitches or worse.
Some of the Internet time you spend preparing for a DIY trip will be tedious and not all that much fun, but locating a prime hunting spot shouldn't be. This is the fun part. Scout online resources for public land that suits your needs and put out some feelers in your circle of friends and family for a potential private spot. You never know who might have an uncle who owns a huge ranch in Montana, but you can't count on that.
If you're going the public route, look for places that are big and tough to access. That's it. The harder it is for your competition to hunt a certain property, the less likely they are to be there. Outwork the competition and you'll win 95 percent of the time.
The debate of how far a bowhunter should shoot is never going to end. Your skill will vary from mine, and should dictate effective range. If you're going to go on a DIY hunt, make sure you can shoot as well as possible. I've seen far too many hunters decide they don't need to put in extra range time before a hunt, and they almost always regret it.
A lot of things are out of your control on a hunt like this, but not how well you can shoot. No matter what your quarry is, make sure you can hit it in both lungs at whatever distance your shot is likely to be. An awful lot of hard work goes into planning and executing DIY hunts, and an awful lot of them end up going south with one bad shot. Avoid that as much as possible.
Rules & Regs
Once you've decided on your tag, be advised that the hunting regulations surrounding your chosen quarry, season and hunting location will be different than those at home. This is a guarantee, and begs of you an understanding of the rules no matter where you go.
A lot of hunters who would never consider blatantly poaching an animal have found themselves on the wrong side of the law simply by shooting a lighted nock, screwing in a treestep, or sitting on stand until dark. Get to know the rules and regulations before you go, and carry them with you. You are the only one responsible for your actions on a trip like this, so spend some pre-hunt time learning the legal dos and dont's.
Sneaky Seasons & Hunt Timing
Most hunters I talk to want to travel when the bulls are in a rutting frenzy or the bucks are chasing does all day long. This is understandable, and can certainly pay off, but remember that everyone else will be thinking the same thing. This won't be an issue if you get permission to hunt prime, private ground
. Public land might be a different story. I like odd times like hot, early-season hunts or the October lull for a lot of my public-land, DIY hunts.
Think about the exact timing of your trip before going and pay attention to what I call 'sneaky seasons.' There are early antlerless gun seasons, youth seasons, and other firearm seasons tossed in throughout bow seasons across the country. Know ahead of time if you're planning a DIY bowhunt during the same time that the blaze-orange army is going to be out looking to fill some early doe tags or some similar season.
While visions of rutting bulls or bedded mulies are easy to daydream about, being able to hunt them requires a license. Getting a license can be easy, or it can be a two-decade, expensive wait. Obviously, if you're planning a 2015 fall hunt right now, you need to be able to get a tag. Look for these words in your research, "over-the-counter." Or, look for "guaranteed draw" while scouring Game and Fish websites.
OTC tags are easy enough to figure out, but there are also a pile of tags out there that require an application, which makes them seem like they aren't a sure thing. But they are. Find either, and you'll know you can get a tag. Of course, it's advisable to buy your tag well ahead of the hunt so you're not waiting on the mail in the days leading up to your departure, or worse, driving all over an unfamiliar state looking for a Wal-Mart in which to buy your tag. Hit the road with your license in your pack, you'll be happy you did.