By Tony J. Peterson
It happens all of the time. I'll be having a conversation with a bowhunter and he'll say something like, "Man, I'd love to go elk hunting in Colorado just once." Or, "I've never hunted wild pigs but it looks so fun." Bowhunters are nothing if we are not dreamers.
The thing is, we can make our dreams happen. At least as long as they fall short of some of the truly high demand, low supply critters like many of the species of sheep. If your tastes aren't so far out there that you'd be happy hunting elk, mule deer, antelope, pigs or perhaps just whitetails in some other state, then you can make it happen.
And you should – here's why.
Even though we are losing hunter numbers we aren't really gaining more space to hunt. It's weird, I know, but has everything to do with the overall population expanding. There are more people than ever, and they are taking up space that once belonged to the deer and other critters.
The folks that do have prime land are more than ever likely to lock it up for themselves or lease it out to the highest bidder. When it comes to overall access, the picture isn't rosy.
That doesn't mean you can't find a spot, or hunt public land, because you can. We are very fortunate to have the acres of public ground that we do in this country, and the adventurous bowhunter can get his fill out there on common dirt if he's willing to work.
That's the good news. The bad news is that it's not getting easier to get licenses either. It's much easier to raise license prices on nonresidents than it is to effectively manage herds of big game animals so that there are more opportunities for everyone. That, and the demand for certain game, means that whatever price you can get a license for today is as inexpensive as you'll ever get it. Remember that, because it's important.
Making A Trip Happen
It seems like a long shot for many of us to load up the truck and head out for a week or more. It can be, but doesn't have to be. In many cases, while your license might be expensive, the rest of a trip won't be. Fuel costs will often be the number-two expense, but if you're camping and cooking your own food, a lot of hunting opportunities are surprisingly affordable.
That's the case today, at least. There are no guarantees that the $300 over-the-counter deer tag in a certain state won't be $500 and available only through a draw next year. Or the year after.
Taking one trip a year despite the financial and logistical hurdles is kind of like getting in shape for an elk hunt. If you don't start with some sort of plan or goal, and then decide to stick to it, you'll never get there. Giving up is easy, sticking to something is not. But it's always worth it.
The other thing about making an antelope trip happen, or maybe spending a few days stalking mule deer, is there are always excuses to not go. I get it. I've got twin six-year-olds and all of the commitments of a father, a full-time worker and a husband. Again, it's easy not to go, but you should if you want to.
This is where the planning comes in, once again. Find the state that works for you and figure out if you can get a tag. If you can, look at the seasonal dates and figure out how to make it work. A good rule for most hunts is to plan for a solid week. For elk, especially an over-the-counter elk hunt, 10 days of hunting is better. Mule deer, whitetails, feral pigs and antelope can be shorter-in-duration forays, but give yourself enough time to figure out a new area and hone in on your chosen critters.
And if you plan to hunt with a buddy or two, make sure everyone is on the same page. Loading up one truck and splitting gas three ways is a great way to cut cost, but not if one of your buddies is going to get homesick and want to leave three days early. Trust me, nothing can cause a rift in hunting camp quicker than that.
Research it, plan it out, and make it happen with the right crew.
Lower Standards, More Fun
No matter what critter you plan to hunt, do your best to lower your standards to a reasonable level. Most bowhunters set out to hunt something that they will not kill on any given day, week, or month. What we do is not easy, and it's really not easy when you're driving 14 hours to a strange chunk of public land in search of an animal with which you have limited experience.
Set your sights on a doable goal, and then try to make it happen. An absolute joy-killer for any hunt is lighting out for an animal that is almost certainly not going to happen. Get realistic and have some fun with it.
There are no guarantees for next year, or the next five years on hunting opportunities. If you've got the itch for over-the-road adventure, go this fall. Or next year for sure, but begin researching and planning now.
You won't regret it.