I get an armload of questions about long distance big game hunts, namely hunting trips for elk, antelope and bear. Most questions concern the choice between outfitted and guided hunts.
Just a few weeks back, I was part of a four-man group that hunted elk in south western Colorado. We used an outfitter based on the fringe of a rugged wilderness area. The hunt was essentially a do-it-yourself hunt on public land, but in an area so remote that horseback travel was required.
The outfitter, Jon Sund of Eagle Mountain Outfitters, promised reliable horseback and mule-powered travel to and from a pre-set tent camp equipped with a camp stove, lantern, wood stove, and a week of solitude. He delivered exactly what he said he would at a set fee of $1,500 per hunter. That’s a fair price that put us in prime elk country in a roomy tent.
Incidentally, Sund does not require a four-person booking like many outfitters who base a drop camp price on four hunters. This type of outfitting includes basic equipment, meaning that we packed our personal gear, food, and other incidentals.
The described hunt is called a drop camp. Hunters are expected to not only hunt on their own but to be competent in field care of downed game. It also pays to be prepared for all kinds of weather, tough terrain, and the unexpected. We saw plenty of elk, scored a 50 percent kill rate, and had a great time.
It is important before booking an outfitted trip to contact references, speak directly with the outfitter, and to do additional homework such as hunter success rates for the area, obtain maps, and cost of license, and more.
The same week we were at our drop camp, another group of three friends spent the elk season on a guided hunt in western Colorado. They drove to their base camp then rode out each morning on horseback to a hunting area. A guide accompanied each of them. The guide sought out elk and attracted bulls into shooting range elk by calling, and instructed hunters on shot placement.
Meals were prepared by a camp cook and shared in a large group tent with other hunters in for the week. Their sleeping tent stove was kept fired and stocked by camp helpers and field care for downed elk was taken care of by their guides.
They were required to being a sleeping bag, personal gear, rifle, and nothing else. This group, also from northeast Ohio, reported a 100% success rate and had no complaints.
Fully guided elk hunts cost between $3,000 and $6,000 per hunter and offer additional comforts. Liked outfitted hunts, they should not be booked without doing the homework and checking references.
Neither drop camp or guided hunts promise success. If they do, be cautious. General kill rates for western elk hunts generally fall below 25%. Factors include elk numbers, weather, hunter skill, and luck.
When budgeting for a western hunt, travel cost, non-resident license, transport of meat, tips, and incidentals add to the price. I’ll be happy to break that down or answer additional questions by email or phone for interested readers.