By: Michael Deming
You are sitting on a dozen points or more all over the West and according to the Eastmans’ MRS and Eastmans’ TagHub, you are starting to be considered a real player in the upcoming draws. What does that mean for you as a hunter? What have you done to prepare for the time when you draw this coveted tag? Are you going to be able to make the most of all those years of applying? There are so many questions to be asked and most don’t know what they are until after they have been on the hunt. It’s too late to be asking the questions then. Now is the time to get serious about your future hunting plans and deciding to hire an outfitter or not should be at the top of the list. There are a mountain of questions you need to answer when making that decision.
Just because it takes a gob of points to draw a unit, doesn’t mean that it is really managed for trophy quality. The other question that needs to be considered is, what is your trophy quality standard? All these points required to draw this coveted unit don’t mean that there is going to be a trophy buck or bull standing behind each and every tree. In most cases, it’s usually the contrary. These units are often the hardest hunted by both trophy hunters and outfitters every year. When you wait this long to draw a tag, most people want to get the most out of the tag and are planning on passing animals they would normally be happy to harvest in other units. Friends and family come out in droves to help locals who have drawn these tags and it often seems like there are hunters everywhere. This pressure is usually very disappointing to most people who have waited so long for this experience.
You can digitally scout with TagHub, Google Earth, onX, or various other software programs and I highly recommend getting as familiar as possible with your unit. However, there is so much more to know about a unit than what can be learned from E-scouting. What happens to the unit if you see an early snow? What happens to the animals when stock ponds and springs dry up that haven’t been dry in over a decade? What happens when there is a fire in your unit? Do the animals totally leave your unit in any of these situations or do they just relocate to a better location within the unit? If there is a better location, do you know where that would be? If the state starts offering an excessive amount of cow elk tags to help with depredation, how does this excessive pressure affect your trophy hunt? Is offering over the counter deer tags for the first-time bringing pressure that hasn’t been seen in the unit before and affecting success?
These are just a few of the examples of things I’ve seen over the past 30 years of building points in the West. It has helped me to create a vast number of questions as well as gain a 30,000’ look at those units and what I need to know before I burn my valuable points.
Since I live in the West, it is much easier for me to travel to most of the states here in the Rockies where I ultimately plan on hunting. If you have absorbed so much data through TagHub and the MRS that you feel like, “I’m definitely going to this unit to hunt in the next couple of years!”, I would highly recommend that you make a visit to the unit. I’m not talking about making a visit in the summer when you already have a tag in your pocket. I’m talking about going out during the hunting season the year before you draw or even go multiple years, if you like the unit and feel good about your first visit. The information you will learn during trips like these is absolutely amazing. You can see exactly what that country looks like in person, and I can tell you from years of scouting different units, nothing gives you a better perception than actual boots on the ground.
By being there you are going to learn the road systems in the unit which is going to help you get around when you ultimately have a tag. I like to stop into every camp of hunters and take the opportunity to visit. It is amazing how forthcoming people will be with information when you don’t have a tag. If I’ve seen some good animals, I’m happy to share that information. I’ve even had the chance to help a grandpa and grandson get tagged out. I have learned more about a unit through these types of visits than I ever have talking with a biologist on the phone. Game wardens and biologists used to all be hunters, but those days have changed. Although I may talk with them, I put very little emphasis on the information I acquire as they often don’t put it together from a hunter’s viewpoint.
If you take this approach, by the end of the season, you are going to have gotten a major lesson in the unit and you still have all your points intact. If it is what you thought it was going to be, you have a lot of knowledge which is going to help you out when you come back the following year. If you learned of a lot of problems with the unit and feel that it isn’t worth all those points, you got to see some new country without burning your points. Either way, this process is a big win for you and those hard-earned points.
I know that not everyone is going to be able to dedicate the time to these sort of serious scouting trips. You might live too far away or have commitments that keep you from being able to take the time and endure the expense without a tag in your pocket. I talk with people like this all the time and I understand it. However, the points you have accumulated have taken an investment from you and if you want to get the most out of them, you need to evaluate your investment.
I’m a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) kind of hunter, that’s my favorite way to hunt. If I can get a strategic plan with plenty of scouting in so that I feel I can get the most out of my points, I will go that route. I must be able to check all the boxes before I will spend my hard earned points. However, in some cases, it is best to hire an outfitter.
You are the one person that needs to make that decision. If you don’t have the time to visit the unit during the season a year or two prior to drawing, you are taking a risk with your points. All those questions I brought to your attention earlier are key to determining whether or not you hire a good outfitter. I did say “good outfitter” and we will address how to find those in a future article. For now I just want you to be aware of all that is or could be going on in a unit that you might not even be aware of.
Many people say that outfitter hunts are expensive or “I don’t need to babysat”. I understand those thoughts quite well and I’ve paid with some unfilled tags and lackluster trips because I couldn’t do the correct research and scouting. The reality is, in most cases, you aren’t likely to get the most out of your tag without the scouting I’ve outlined above. Everyone gets lucky every now and then and I’ll be happy to take it when mother luck shines on me, but it’s not a very consistent plan. I look at the money it is going to take me to visit the unit on a conservative basis (Especially with $5.00 diesel fuel), time away from work and family, as well as other expenses I will accrue learning the unit. If the costs are too high or the distance too far to make it feasible, I look into hiring an outfitter.
Discussions with outfitters are also very helpful in making these decisions. Good outfitters are usually booked out a year or two in advance and I can start building a relationship with them as well as see if they are harvesting the trophy quality of animals I’m looking for. If I’m looking for a caliber of animal in the unit that the outfitter tells me isn’t possible, I might need to look at another unit. All of this is great information and is helpful in making your decision of whether to hire an outfitter or go it alone. It also helps you to decide if you are looking at the right unit. More than likely, you will realize you have a lot more questions. Eastmans’ and Pro Membership Sweepstakes can use our decades of experience to help you answer most of your questions and get you on the right track. Contact us via email:email@example.com or #307-754-5584 and ask for Scott.