Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What is a Successful Elk Hunt?

In my previous post--Father and Son Elk Hunts--I stated that fathers and sons seemed to have more realistic expectations for their hunts.  

A reader emailed me and asked, "What are realistic expectations?"

Before I answer that you might look at another post--Can ya' shoot that there thing?

In that post I stated, "As a rule, about 98-100 percent of hunters had the opportunity to take a 5X5 bull or greater, but only about 60 percent ever succeeded."  It should also be noted that the hunters I took were on seven-day hunts.  That means that they rode in on day one, hunted on days two through six and rode out of the wilderness on day eight.  Additionally, the discrepancy from 100 percent to 60 percent was usually a matter of shooting.  In that vein, when shooters have not trained to shoot, then small things like excitement, adrenaline and physical effort wreck a hunter's marginal shooting ability.

With that said it is interesting to look for facts from the source--Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  You can go to their web page titled, Harvest & Hunt Reports.  It has most of the reports from years 1999-2005 for antelope, black bear, deer, elk, furbearers, moose, sheep, goat, and upland game birds.  Reports for later years have not been completed yet.

Percent success for elk hunters in Montana for the years 1999-2002 was 16.7%, 24.5%, 18.0%, and 19.5%, respectively.  For those same years it took the following number of hunter days to harvest one elk: 1999-44.4, 2000-29.1, 2001-40.1, 2002-37.1 days.

For Region 4 where my camp was located the success was 1999-17.5%, 2000-21.7&, 2001-18.6%, 2002-21.2&.  Days to harvest ran from 26.8 days in 2000 to 34.1 days in 1999.

These numbers are overall success.  FWP statistics further define success by the percent of cows and calves harvested within the overall success.  Most regions harvest 50 to 54% cows and calves.  That leaves less than 50 percent to all bulls--including spikes.

So, what are "realistic expectations?"

Take it from Larry from Florida (in photo above).  This was his first elk.  It was also his first elk hunt.  And, his first trip to Montana's wilderness.  He shot the first elk he considered.  It was on the sixth day of his eight-day hunt.  He has quite a story to tell about this elk.  First thing off the horses, he couldn't get the bolt open on his Browning BAR.  We had to do what we used to do with M60 Machine Guns that jammed--we "kick started them."  Put the edge of your boot on the charging handle and jump on it.  (there is a learning lesson here: Rifles held in scabbards on horses tend to gather some moisture.  In below zero weather, rifles, triggers and scopes do not always perform as they would in sunny land.  Hint-oil doesn't help; it turns to a thick sludge below zero.)  Back to Larry, and his guide Don Otto.  They walked up a small ridge and two bulls were bedded.  They were only about 50 yards away.  The bulls got up, looked at Larry and Don.  Don asked Larry if he liked either one.  Larry replied by shaking his head up-and-down, sighted and shot.

My comments to people who say they are "trophy hunters," is that after over a hundred years of records being kept by Boone & Crockett, and others, there is still only ONE NUMBER ONE elk.  That is a fact.  Another fact--from both me and FWP--is that most elk hunters are not successful.  And, the ones that are take more cows and calves than bulls.

Shoot the first elk that looks good.  Don't sell yourself short.  Plan your hunt.  Quantify what you want out of your hunt--a bull, an elk, a wilderness experience, a reason to get out of town and have fellowship with like-minded people.  Maybe all of the above.  Maybe only a few of those elements interest you.  Just keep that in mind when planning your hunt and contacting potential outfitters, guides etc.  Caveat emptor.

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