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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)