Best advice for a Western elk hunt: Plan ahead

Yes you can. That’s the answer to the most asked question about western big game hunting. You can afford a western elk hunt in a quality area, in a comfortable camp, experience a horse and mule pack trip just like you’ve read about and dreamed about and honestly expect to see elk.

Our choice for a recent elk hunt was Jon Sund of Eagle Mountain Outfitters. Sund operates in the West Elk Wilderness just west of Gunnison, Colo. where he runs several drop camps during archery, muzzle loader and rifle season.

Background

Sund is a full-time outfitter and cowboy who knows his horses and he has developed some awesome and strategic campsites in the remote, high country. Sund charges $1,500 per person for a drop camp, a dry tent equipped with four cots, cooking utensils, propane lantern and an all important wood heating stove.

A drop camp trip includes horses and mules to and from a selected camp site, overnight tent or cabin accommodations at base camp if needed and plenty of savvy advice. You are on your own for the five-day season but each evening there is a set time and equipment to contact base camp.

Add to the camp cost, a non-resident elk license at a cost of $550, the cost of driving, including a couple of motel rooms and a few road meals.

Plan ahead

I highly suggest that interested hunters reserve a camp one or two years in advance to lessen the budget hit and to plan for the experience. The best season choices (there are several) and camp sites go first to returning customers, and Sund has lots of regular customers who return every year. (That alone is the best recommendation an outfitter can have)

Non-resident licenses require an application process which takes place the first three months of each year. Planning is everything. Yes you can! Yes, unless you are extremely overweight or suffer from breathing problems you can do this.

Get in shape

Smart hunters understand that the air at high elevations is short on oxygen so it pays to train for such a trip. A regular regimen of fast walking, weight control, and climbing steps helps but it’s never quite enough.

High elevations can also bring about headaches and other problems but medication developed for the prevention of altitude sickness can alleviate many of the effects of thin, dry air. Good hunting boots are a must for a trip like this and the best socks available help too.

You’ll also need a good sleeping bag, a self-inflating cot pad, and layered clothing. Hunters bring their own food so think about easy to prepare foods — just add water and boil meals — and of course, some good stuff too. We all ate more than usual but each of us lost a few pounds.

Weight limits

Packing for the trip is easy. A horse and mule pack-in requires that each hunter limit their gear and food to 120 pounds.

The trick is to pack in smaller duffels so that you can divide your gear into two evenly weighted piles. Your mule will carry two 60 pound packs. Best bet is use a cooler for 40 pounds on one side of the pack animal. Add to that side 20 pounds of personal gear then plop the other 60 pounds on the opposite side of the animal.

This is a must and can be a problem if you pile all personal gear into one huge duffle. Keep in mind that the canvas packs used for packing weigh a good five pounds so deduct that from your total.

Will you see game? It’s a hunt so there are no guarantees but Sund’s customers experience excellent percentages of shooting opportunities. We all saw elk and have no complaints about the quality of the hunt, the territory or the outfitter.

We got our money’s worth and would return without question. Learn more about a Colorado drop camp elk hunt at eaglemountainoutfitters.com.

(Readers may contact this writer at mtontimonia@att.net.)

About the Author

Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer, and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian. More Stories by Mike Tontimonia

One Comment

  1. Stewart E. DeVolld says:

    Hello Mr. Tontimonia,
    I had read with much interest the reporting of your elk hunting trip. It sounded as if it must have been very exciting, and no doubt, memorable. Your description of the many sights and sounds was very enjoyable as well as enlightening. When you wrote of the massive bull elk your party saw, and then you made the comment that even though he had given you the “slip”, you were confident there would be a later opportunity to see him again, I was anxiously awaiting the report of the next sighting. When the next issue {Nov 11} of the F&D arrived, your “Outdoors” column was where I turned first, but alas there was no continuation of the elk hunting saga! Am I to be kept wondering or am I to assume that your freezer is well supplied with elk steaks and that that great head and rack are at some local taxidermist shop?
    Stewart E. DeVolld, Norwich, OH

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