Tracy Breen with bull elk

Every whitetail hunter I know dreams about going West and bowhunting elk. There is something about the mountains, the sound of a bugling bull and the adventure of spending time in the backcountry that tugs at the soul of bowhunters. I give hunting seminars across the country during the winter and talk to hundreds of hunters who say ‘maybe someday’ when I ask them if they have ever elk hunted. Maybe this fall can be your someday. Keep in mind elk hunting doesn’t have to break the bank. I have elk hunted many times for about a thousand dollars. Of course that doesn’t include gear. The cool thing is if you buy high quality gear, it is a one time purchase. Below is a list of must haves if you want to go on a do-it-yourself elk hunt.

    The only way to elk hunt on a shoestring budget is going on an unguided hunt. If you go on an unguided hunt, you will need a top notch tent. I use a tipi because it is lightweight, easy to pack, and it can be used in conjunction with a collapsable wood stove. The downside of a tipi is it doesn’t have a floor. I don’t see it as a downside but some hunters like to have a floor. For me, not having a floor is a great thing because I don’t have to remove my boots before climbing in for the night. If a tipi doesn’t sound like fun to you, find a lightweight 3 or 4-man tent. When full of gear, a 4-man tent is perfect for two bowhunters. Cabela’s offers a wide variety of backcountry style tents that are lightweight and durable.

    Another must have if you are planning a backcountry trip is a super tough backpack. I use an Outdoorsmans backpack. This pack has a lightweight frame that is super tough and durable. The pack has plenty of storage space for all my gear and food. It also has a meat shelf which makes packing out meat a piece of cake. When choosing a pack, remember that you get what you pay for. A high quality pack will likely last you a lifetime if you take care of it.

    Broken-in high quality boots are a must have. Don’t buy a pair of boots on your way out west and think you will have a good trip. If your boots aren’t broken in before you leave home, you will get blisters. Do yourself a favor and buy blister socks. I always wear thin blister socks next to the skin and heavier socks over them. By wearing this sock combo with great boots, I rarely have problems with my feet. Blisters can quickly ruin a hunting trip so hike many miles in your boots long before you head west on a hunting trip.

    Bring a GPS and a compass. Make sure you know how to read a compass and understand how to operate your GPS. I use a Garmin Oregon 650T GPS. I have had the same GPS for years and it has never failed me. I never leave home without a SPOT device. A SPOT is an emergency device that if I get in trouble, I can push a 911 button and the authorities will come find me. When I am elk hunting out west, I am often miles off the road. If something went wrong and I broke a leg or cut myself skinning an elk, the SPOT device could be the difference between life and death.

    Top quality glass is also a necessity. Cody Nelson from Outdoorsmans in Phoenix is an optics expert and spends his days selling optics to hardcore hunters across America. He believes a hunter should never hunt in the mountains without a pair of good binoculars. “First time elk hunters might think they should spend hours each day hiking in search of elk, but the best way to cover lots of ground is with binoculars. I tell hunters to find a high spot on a mountain side and spend hours there looking for elk. If a person is going to spend a lot of time glassing, they need good glass. Swarovski, Vortex, Zeiss, Leica and Leupold make great optics that make spotting game easier than if a person was using $100 pair of binoculars. High end glass is a one time purchase if a person takes care of them and they are worth the investment,” Nelson said.

    One simple thing that most people don’t think about but I make sure to have when I hunt out west is arrows that have a bright wrap on them. I prefer white arrow wraps. Pine Ridge Archery makes great wraps. Over the years, I have had many situations where finding a blood trail is difficult because the dry ground in places like New Mexico swallows up the blood that drops on the ground after the shot. With white wraps, I can quickly tell if I made a good hit after the shot if I can find my arrow. Bright lung blood shows up easily on a white wrap and following the arrow in flight is much easier when it is bright white.

    Try Wilderness Athlete nutritional products. Most of us have a few pounds we need to shed and being in shape is necessary when hunting elk. Wilderness Athlete makes a variety of products that can help you get in shape. From healthy energy drinks to meal replacement shakes, Wilderness Athlete can help you get lean and mean before opening day. “Carrying a heavy pack up the side of a mountain is hard enough. Every extra pound a hunter loses before going hunting is one less pound he is carrying up a mountain. Losing weight can help the average hunter increase his odds of success in the woods,” Wilderness Athlete Founder, Mark Paulsen said.

I could write a book about the gear I use when hunting out west but the list above is a great starting point if you have never hunted out West and you are planning a trip.
About the author: Tracy Breen is a full time outdoor writer, consultant and game dinner speaker who often discuss how he overcomes cerebral palsy. Learn more about him at www.tracybreen.com

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