The time has come to plan your hunting trips

February 06, 2005|by BILL ANDERSON

The late winter months are always a slow time for most outdoors activities, but they are also a key time if you are planning an out-of-state or out-of-country hunt this year. Not only do you have to settle on a guide or outfitting service, but in many states you are facing deadlines to apply for licenses or tags. It is really not too early to get started.

The modern big game hunter has a lot of options, particularly when planning a hunt to some of the most popular destinations. For example, I am working on an elk hunt to New Mexico or Arizona this fall.

You would think this is a simple deal. It's really not. Check out the following factors:

n Many of the better areas are restricted to "primitive weapons," meaning bow or muzzleloader only. If you are willing to hunt with a bow or muzzleloader, you have many more options to hunt exceptional areas with huge bulls.


n New Mexico has many hunting areas and the nonresident success rate varies a great deal. The question is if you want to go for one of the elite areas and lower your odds or apply for one of the areas that is still very good and the nonresident success is 50 percent or more.

n In New Mexico, land owners who manage their property for elk habitat are issued landowners tags that in many cases can be used anywhere in the state. This means you can be guaranteed an elk tag if you are willing to purchase the landowner tag. The price is at least $2,000 more than a drawn tag - but you know you are going to New Mexico in the fall.

These are just some of the factors in looking at an elk hunt in New Mexico only. Most hunters will be looking at multiple states and this involves learning about that state's management policies and doing all the related research. The Internet makes this easier, but it's still a lot of research.

The following are some additional issues to keep in mind and questions to ask the guide or outfitter.

Your personal goal and priorities: You should be honest with your outfitter or guide about what you are looking for and what you would consider a successful hunt. For example, if you have never taken a bull elk and any respectable bull will make you happy, you need to say that. But if you are a veteran elk hunter looking for something special, that is a completely different situation.

Be honest with yourself about your capabilities: Keeping to the elk hunting theme, I know from experience that hunting the mountains of Montana and Colorado is tough. Unless you pack far back into the wilderness areas, the elk are found in very rugged country.

By contrast, New Mexico and Arizona elk live in less difficult terrain and the best areas have limited hunting pressure with plenty of mature bulls. The downside is that you pay a premium price for this hunt.

Choose your guide or outfitter with care: This is the toughest part and there are no perfect approaches. Most guides and outfitters provide a reference list with their brochures or on the Web page. Obviously if they list a client, that client had a good hunt. Another approach is to ask for the entire client list from the previous year and call them all. If the guide objects to providing the list, find another one.

Of course, the best possible reference is to get it from a friend who has hunted with that guide recently. Another very good sign is an outfit that has many repeat clients. Some guys run what is called a "turn-and-burn" operation and will never get repeat business. That's the guy you are trying to avoid.

Booking a trip to another state or even country is a great experience. The planning and preparation you put in this winter can help you have an enjoyable trip.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.

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