There’s always lots of questions to ask before booking your Montana elk hunt.
“My name is…. I’m a 48 year old from a mid-western state, with a cabin in Montana at 8,000 feet. I spend about 4 weeks a year in Montana, skiing in winter and fly fishing (self-guided) in the summer. I’ve been researching an outfitter for an elk hunt next year for the past couple of weeks. I’m not going make any claims about being the best big game hunter. I’ve never attempted elk. I hunted moose a few years ago for a week (self-guided) and passed on my only shot (it was standing in a lake). I’ve taken a half dozen whitetail bucks with a bow and two with a rifle. I’ve also hunted lots of pheasants (going to South Dakota again next weekend) and ducks. I grew up with horses, but that was a long time ago, but I will ride occasionally with my family. ”
“I’m on the fence between a bow hunt in September and a rifle hunt, but leaning toward a rifle hunt. I have all of the equipment for a bow or a rifle hunt (.338 Win.). Good physical shape — a couple of triathlons a year and I’m training for my fourth marathon in the Spring. “
My gut reaction would be to go with the rifle hunt because you’ve already noted this above. Personally, I’d choose the bow hunt every time, hands down. I know myself and what I consider a successful hunt, you must answer this question for yourself. Be certain to call references from both ends of the spectrum, but as always the answer must be something you are certain you can do with no regrets.
Choosing between a rifle or bow hunt might be one of the biggest conundrums any elk hunter will face. When it comes to elk hunting, there are very few clear answers to begin with. There’s no shortage of variables. Even from the very start anyone who chooses to hunt the *wildest elk of North America has already accepted to play a game that is well beyond the challenges of most outdoor pursuits. In the same category of fair-chase elk hunts might be sky diving, mountain climbing, robbing a bank and other extreme adventures that weight heavy on chances for failure and light on successes. In the end, it’s all about preparation. Any sky diver still alive can tell you this. Most elk hunters who’ve placed more reliance in countering the variables over pure luck or fate will agree in the same. In the words of the mountain man…”watch your top-knot”.
Choosing between a rifle or bow hunt is like choosing between a bus trip and a jet plane ride. The challenges of the terrain, altitude and wildness of the game will be fairly consistent across the board. Most bow hunters always get “close” under 100 yards, however this is like being a 1,000 yards away on a rifle hunt. After getting in tight with a bow, it’s always easy to think about how much better you might feel with a rifle in hand at the moment, but that’s not a fair comparison.
Keep in mind that during the archery season elk are less aware of hunters in the woods simply because there are fewer hunters and less pressure. Archery Elk hunters by default have to be more in tune since they will always be required to get much closer than the rifle hunter, but getting this close means that some opportunities can be squelched with even the smallest of mistakes. Although there’s more room for error during a rifle hunt, there are also more hunters in the woods and a plethora of other factors that continue to make the comparisons unclear. One shot from a rifle can alarm elk for miles; one close encounter with a bow can bust an entire herd of elk from one drainage to another without even knocking an arrow. The conundrums continue.
Most elk hunts are based on preliminary visualizations of speculations. All too often, lack of preparation can lead to negative realizations. A bow hunt can be a bit more than the average hunter can prepare for, but there’s nothing like biting off more than we can chew just for the fun of it, to say we tried it. All this is relevant to the expectations a hunter places on oneself. What “end result” will the hunter consider a successful and heart-pounding lifetime experience? Are you a hunter that won’t be happy unless you have multiple opportunities of 350 class bull elk within 20 yards several times a day? Is this a realistic expectation during a fair chase hunt? Have you been watching too many elk hunts from the couch? Maybe a successful elk hunt means shooting a trophy bull elk at the first tick of legal shooting light on opening day? Maybe you’re a realist, one who recognizes that it’s called “hunting” for a reason. Perhaps your idea of a successful hunt is the experience itself. You’ve chosen not to place unrealistic pressures on yourself and accepted that elk hunting isn’t about anyone else but you and the mountain. Your attitude will play a huge role in your success.
preparation”. Nearly anyone can put a few bullets into a bulls-eye at 100 yards in a controlled situation just as the average hunter can place three arrows in a pie plate on some June afternoon in the backyard. Take these same clients and put them on a windy mountain ridge with a pack as a rest, increased heart rate and an elk at 243 yards slightly downhill, things can change. Take a moment and consider the added pressures of drawing back your bow whilst a thousand pounds of bull elk screams in your face. After he walks off, you hear that “glunking sound”…you then develop a whole new respect for any animal that can do this-especially when you realize what he’s doing to make this unforgettable sound.
There’s no greater failure on any hunt than wounding an animal because a hunter chose to risk ethics and went beyond his abilities. The same can be said for the bow hunter. While you might be able to hit a target at 50 yards, this is a highly risky shot at North America’s toughest game animal. There’s no excuse in fair chase elk hunting to “risk it”.
I’ve asked hundreds of outfitters of the one thing that they find hinder their client’s chances at success. They all say the same things-“get in shape”. I agree. While there’s no shortage of advice from experts out there on how to get in shape, there is a shortage of realistic ways to do so. Some folks choose a gym, others even a personal trainer, but until someone invents a treadmill complete with baseball sized rocks, prickly pears, Badger holes and an inconsistency with each step we’ll all just have to work on this one together. The legs feed the wolf. The heart feeds the legs. Obviously, there’s a whole lot more to the “how to’s” of physical preparation and we’ve not even begun to discuss the mental part. These two things are the foundation of good over-all preparations for any physical activity. I personally work with each client to offer proven advice to acquire the above. Many of our past clients have also contributed with their own suggestions.
Fact is there are no easy answers, just more conundrums to consider. We’re thankful for this, because as long as there are things to do in this life that offer no sure bets, then as hunter’s we’ll always have that draw from somewhere deep down, that thing that makes us take the next step, even if it is uphill. We’ll know that primeval connection. The answer is there, it’s not an easy one, but the right answers seldom are.
As an Outfitter and Guide I’ve obviously seen a lot of hunts and been a big part of a lot of choices, good ones and bad ones. If I’ve gained any wisdom over the years it’s to pass on taking the responsibility of making this choice for the prospective client and leave it all up to the individual. I’ve found that in the long run, these clients always have a much better time than those I’ve instilled unrealistic expectations into because they’ve chosen to only listen to parts of my soap box ramblings, or worse yet, those who do too much hunting from the couch. This ain’t Hollywood, but elk hunting just could be the next best reality TV show out there!
Choosing between a rifle and bow hunt should be a tough decision and requires a lot of thought. Making the right choice between the two will assure you of having that hunt of a lifetime. When making that choice, be honest with yourself which makes our jobs Outfitters and Guides much easier. We’ll do our best on this end; it’s up to you to take it from there. Looking back over the seasons I’ve seen many a bull elk leisurely grazing within shooting range of many of our historic hunting locations. The problem was, there wasn’t anyone sitting in that spot. Someone had lost the faith. Elk have a harsh way of reminding us of our infallibilities just by being there.
That’s a lot of info, but I gathered from reading the Elk Journal and your website that background helps the process.
The “Elk Journal” has become quite a collection of from the gut talk. Much of what is written has been in the moment with bloody fingers, tired legs and a bruised ego. What the Elk Journal lacks in poetry it makes up for in reality. Anyone who’s even remotely connected to Dome Mountain Ranch will attest to our morals, ethics and tell it like it is attitude. I’ve often ended a dinner conversation with “this is gonna hurt a bit”. They’ll also tell you about “NO WHINERS”. Be sure to spend as much time here as you can and always feel free to contribute. We learn as much from our clients as we do from the game we pursue. There’s no substitute for living it. Be sure to sign up for the “Elk Journal” on our website.
“What is a “typical” day for someone like me on a bow and rifle hunt? By that I mean how much of each day is spent on horse, hiking, and will we be mountain camping, staying in wall tents, or sleeping at the ranch?”
Prior to each day afield we spend ample time planning, strategizing and reviewing the previous days hunting and scouting experiences. It’s no secret that good planning means good hunting. We don’t just wander off in the dark with hopes to bump into an elk. On most occasions we’ll have already located elk, considered all approaches, the moods of elk and how we might capitalize on the opportunities presented to us. We look at each day afield as an opportunity. Our plans go from A-Z.
Based on the last 12 seasons, it’s highly unlikely that we won’t have elk in the spotting scope. But, if this does happen, we always have a plan B and plenty of country to execute it in. Our hunting use area extends from the Northern boundary of Yellowstone park several miles beyond the ranch property. There’s never a shortage of places to go when hunting the Beartooth Wilderness.
Our archery plans always take into account the mood of the elk. Our rifle plans involve more of their feeding and bedding patterns.
If Elk are highly vocal and responsive to calling, we’ll be a bit aggressive and plan a pre-dawn adventure. At the opposite end of the spectrum, mild weather may have elk completely nocturnal, only feeding and mating during the night time hours. If we can lay back and catch even just a glimpse of where they “roost” we’ll plug this into our plan. As a client, you’re always the grease to the wheels of all the plans.
We ride on horseback beginning at our barn. This is an ideal place to climb in the saddle since it’s well lit and convenient. After settling into your saddle and gaining some distance from the barn it doesn’t take long for a hunter to recognize that they’re about to step into some of Montana’s wildest country. Nearly all of Dome Mountain is designated as wildlife conservation areas which mean there are never any motorized vehicles. We condone (and poke fun at) the use of ATV’s and other unethical forms of hunting. As a result of these policies, elk are often huntable in places they may otherwise be pushed from with other forms of transportation. This can be a benefit to the hunter who is not interested in horseback hunts. Though rare, hunting afoot can reap some benefits. In most cases though, elk are at high elevations and the horses become an invaluable tool. Don’t worry though, you’ll still have plenty of shoe leather to burn.
Once we’re in the field we don’t return to the lodge until well after dark. Of course, this is always relevant to the client’s desires. Elk hunting isn’t like other hunts where there’s consistent opportunities-it’s 99% looking and 1% doing. Sometimes the lack of faith can convince a hunter to head back early. If you choose to do this, take the advice of your guide and don’t look back over your shoulder when you get back to civilization. Seeing a big bull tearing up a sapling and mixing it up with some cows a few yards from where you just walked out of can leave a painful reminder of opportunities missed .
It’s rare that we’ll stay out in the field overnight. Anyone who’s hunted elk long enough will tell you that sleeping where they live isn’t going to add any benefits to the hunter’s success. Elk in southwest Montana have become extremely aware of human presence. We avoid bedding areas and do our best to allow them to remain huntable. While it might save a few hours of sleep, it could also add several miles of looking the next day. Elk rarely become comfortable in areas where camps are set up. All of our clients appreciate the comfortable beds of our cabins, not to mention the incredible meals prepared by Chef Lenny in our main lodge.
How many other hunters are usually at the ranch, and how many are with each guide?
We limit our hunters each week to between 4-8. We consider elk numbers, personalities, guide availability, client familiarity and a host of other factors before calling our weeks full. We provide a highly personalized hunting experiences. Over the years we’ve found that more is not better. We’re proud of our long list of return clients, not to mention our high levels of success. Most of all, we like the camaraderie and relationships that simply aren’t available with big, over-commercialized operations. So do our clients.
Our guide to hunter ratio is 2 on 1. This works especially well with clients familiar with one another. I also do my best to match up clients of equal abilities when they come on their own for our hunts. We also offer the option of “1 on 1” for an additional fee.
I understand that hunting isn’t measured by success rate, but most of my hunting/fishing is self-guided so there are no fees. So, I would like to know what percentage of bow hunters took elk in 2009 and 2010, and what percentage of rifle hunters took elk in 2009 and 2010.
The fee you pay for an Outfitted hunt goes to the experience, guide wages, food, stock, equipment, lodging and other services. When you compare a guided elk hunt to any other vacation, the services are usually less personalized, less professional and for the most part, a lot easier.
In 2009 nearly all of our clients had a shooting opportunity at legal bulls, some had this opportunity on opening day, others later in the week. Many of our return clients will often pass on some bulls either with hopes of having an opportunity at a bigger elk, or in my opinion, just because they want to keep hunting.
In 2010 we had a tougher go with extremely warm temperatures, however opportunities were still there with nearly all the clients drawing back on a bull or missing an opportunity. In most cases, the elk were there, but closing the deal brings with it a multitude of what if’s, could of and should of’s that continue to be added to the learning curve.
Rifle Hunters in general average about a 40% success rate. However, keep in mind we take a wide variety of hunters of all age and ability levels. We’d had absolute first time hunters, who’d never hunted a day in their lives take an elk with us and we’ve also had seasoned veterans, professionals in the industry simply not get an opportunity. Be sure to visit our elk hunting photo albums on our websites.
For the average hunter who prepares well, hunts hard, I’d say your chances are well over 70% to have a shooting opportunity. I can’t include flat out misses, missed opportunities or those times when elk were there but hunters weren’t. If I could, the numbers would be much higher. We can guarantee one thing, that’s 100% great hunting no matter what your experiences or abilities.
I’m fortunate to have a staff of guides who I believe are some of the best in the industry. They all have great field and general hunting abilities, but what sets them apart is their unique ways in which they can spread an infectious enthusiasm without ever hearing a single complaint. They can do this week in and week out and seem to gain more enthusiasm as time goes on. I’ve tried to teach them to guide just the way I was taught and all of them have learned well. No one is ever disappointed in their professionalism and positive attitudes. They’re fine gentleman that I’d hunt with anytime. It’s keeping up with some of them that concerns me.
What dates are available?
We operate all of our hunting weeks to allow some down time in between. During our archery season we pick what we think will be the “best weeks” based on previous years’ hunts and elk activity. Since I personally spend every day somewhere out there in elk country, be it in the hills or on the water, I’m always considering future adventures with hunters. At the risk of sounding like a salesman, the reality of the availability can change with one phone call. Often an entire week can close with one booking of a group of friends. I suggest a phone call to be sure 800-313-4868.
ARCHERY: (9/24-9/28); (10/3-10/7)
RIFLE SEASON DATES (10/22-10/26); (11/4-11/8); (11/12-11/17); (11/23-11/27)
Which week is best? That’s always a tough one. Some clients like the early weeks, the guides are fresh, the elk haven’t been hunted much. On the other hand, some clients like the later weeks, the guides have gained knowledge and the elk habits are more predictable. This is always my favorite answer. Of course there’s weather and the holidays to consider. It’s never a bad idea to ask our references why they chose the weeks they did as well. Most clients would agree that every week is a good week. A look back in history shows good numbers of successful elk hunters each week.
The license situation seems to have changed. What are my chances of drawing a license?
For 2011 all hunters will be required to put in for the draw. Prior to this season Outfitter Guaranteed Tags gave the prospective client the luxury of planning in advance for a higher fee. The coming license year will put over 5,000 tags into the general pool and increase the prices 60% across the board. For an elk tag this will be around $900.00.
With the increase in fees and failed programs in other states, many people in the industry predict that there will be a much better chance at drawing since some clients may choose to hunt other states with more reasonable non-resident fees. This will only help quality Outfitters, but may also breed some under the table illegal outfitting that will hurt the overall industry. In the end, it all comes out in the wash.
How much will each hunt cost? How much is the down payment?
$4700.00 with a reservation fee of $500.00. This will lock in your spots. Once we’ve know you drew your tags we’ll invoice you for another payment, then your final payment will be due 30 days prior to your hunt. If you do not draw, we will refund your deposits or roll them over to the next season. All of our hunts are 5 days in duration with a day on each end. You’re actually with us for nearly 7 days.
What am I forgetting to ask that isn’t on the website?
I always suggest calling our references. While I’m aware that by the time I get a phone call from most clients their minds are made up, I’ve found that getting to know some of our clients really helps in the preparation process. Besides that, you might just find yourself a new hunting partner. We’re all one big family here at Dome Mountain Ranch. To receive a list of references, please email me directly at email@example.com
Jim “JB” Klyap, Outfitter #7843Tags: choosing between a bow or rifle elk hunt, hunting with dome mountain, jb klyap, outfitter of montana, which hunt is best for me | Categories: Booking an Elk Hunt, Choosing between a rifle hunt or archery hunt, elk hunting outfitter, fair chase elk hunting, Hunter Ethics, Montana Elk Hunting, montana guided elk hunts, Montana Hunts, Uncategorized | Comments (0) | Permalink