Some states have a lateseason archery hunt for various species of big game. A lot of these hunts may be depredation hunts, which are special controlled hunts used to relieve big game damage problems. If you’re not used to hunting out West, you may not be familiar with the fact that our big game moves up into the high country in the spring and doesn’t migrate down until winter snows force them down. Deer come sooner, but larger animals like elk usually won’t start migrating until the snow gets deep and they can no longer find any food.
A lot of the lower valleys are privately owned, so if there are too many elk or deer wintering on a particular field or where a rancher hays his cattle, it can cause problems. Due to this fact, you might be able to find a rancher or a farmer who is willing to let you hunt on his land. I’ve always had better luck getting on private land while bowhunting as compared to rifle hunting, so your odds are better for gaining access.
While a lot of the lower land is privately owned, a lot of it is BLM land. Depending on populations, fish and game departments may desire to thin out the herd with a late season short-range weapon season, bow or black powder. So in some instances, archery hunting may provide for an extra late-season hunt for you. I’ve even late season archery hunted in Nebraska where literally 100 deer may winter around a ranch house in the Sandhills.
In a nutshell, when the heavy snows hit, they cause migrations to lower areas where game can obtain food. This causes heavily congregated areas. For example, let’s assume you’re hunting a zone with 6,000 acres. When winter hits, all the deer and elk may migrate down to pastures or lower areas of a few hundred acres, so you may see huge numbers of game in one day. How do you effectively hunt in this scenario? First off, it will be different than your normal hunts. For one, you can imagine how hard it is to sneak up on 100 elk in a wide-open pasture. On a normal hunt you may have three to six pairs of eyeballs looking at you. On these hunts you may have 100 pairs! That makes it a whole lot harder to sneak up on. That many in a herd are on edge anyway.
LAST YEAR, DRIVING HOME after an elk hunt, I dropped out of the mountains and drove through a valley. I happened to look off to the right, and there was a nice herd of elk out in the middle of a wide-open pasture between two mountain ranges (clear other than a few willows on the small creek). All that I could do was to glass them. There was no way that I could sneak up on them. A lot of deer winter out on the lower ranges east of where I live in Idaho. Again, same thing. It is hard to sneak up on herds of 30 to 40 (or larger) herds of deer – there is just too much monitoring going on – much less to get close enough with a bow.
So, the good news is you see huge numbers of game on late-season archery hunts. The bad news is they’ll be hard to sneak up on. So how do you get close enough to shoot one? There’s no magic answer, but here are a few tricks that might help. First off, you need to do a lot of glassing to locate game. Granted a lot of times due to big herds you’ll see them a mile away, but you’ll also find small herds if you glass. You’ll want a
good set of binoculars and a spotting scope. If you don’t have high-quality glass, then your eyes will tire out, so invest in some good glass and you will not be sorry. I’ve had good luck with Leupold products.
A few weeks ago we were doing a lot of glassing, and I was reminded that if you’re glassing for hours per day that it is nice to have a pad to sit on. We were up on top of a knoll and it was rocky. That didn’t take long to get old. When I lived in Colorado, I’d go archery hunting every morning for antelope. I learned that not every herd of antelope that I spotted was I able to sneak up on. But if there was a small rise, draw or something that I could use to my advantage to sneak up on them, I could. If they were out in the middle of a wide-open pasture, I moved on and located another herd that I could more likely get the drop on. I was able to get close to a bunch pretty much every morning if I hustled hard. Next, use the sun to your advantage. I love hunting right at daylight with the sun right behind me. When you crest a hill they can’t make out what you are. That’s a golden time to hunt.
Well, I feel like I’ve barely gotten started and I’m out of room. In closing, find herds that are in a position to allow for you to sneak up on them. You may have to locate a herd at dusk and then sneak up on them before daylight the next day. If you play your cards right, you may be able to get access to private land due to the fact that they are
damaging a farmer’s fields or a rancher’s hay stacks. Happy hunting. WSJ
Written by Tom Claycomb III