Monday, December 21, 2015

Five Tips for Hunting in the West

I've been traveling west for my career in habitat conservation since the late 1990s, for surfing and fishing since the early 2000s, and more recently, for hunting.   Along the way I've picked up some tips that sure seem to run in common among those pursuits, and I thought I'd share them with you,  wings (mine) still smoldering from a 6 day trip to hunt birds in the Nebraska Sandhills (which I recognize doesn't count as "west" for some of you).

1.  Plan on spending ample amounts of two of these three:  hours planning before the trip, hours planning locally once you arrive, and/or money to pay a person to do both of the former for you.   You know what the American West lacks? I-95.  Yes, there are interstates, but there is nothing on them that you need at 5:30am.  There is no one on them that you can consult about deer movement during the upcoming snowstorm that afternoon.  In a pinch, impromptu resources don't really exist - which is something that draws us west, no?   And true to human nature, I already know that you don't want to spend the time to plan ahead, that you'll be too fired up once you arrive to take entire days to scout, and that you've "already spent too much money."  That leads to what we call a Fustercluck.

2.   Recruit, engage, and trust local talent.  I'm not referring to strippers, although a stripper could be a landowner and that might be money in the bank...other than the money you already gave to the stripper.   To have a successful hunting trip in a relatively alien landscape, you need local knowledge.  A local address to ship ammunition is super helpful as well.   To make sure your trip is successful, especially if you'll only be in an area for a few days before moving on, you need to understand some real grit of the place that's measured in both time and place.    Since everyone reading this is already a master hunter, I'm sure you're scoffing at this suggestion.  So answer me, for the next (new) trip you're planning, what percentage of the corn is cut by the beginning of hunting season?  Will the dirt roads be dusty, or full of ruts and puddles when you arrive?  The landowner who owns three whole sections, who might just give you permission to hunt when you call him....how many other people will have hunted there in the days before your arrival?  In what months can the creek be waded?  In what months is it dry?  Don't you think questions like these are pretty important?  A local guide,  your sister's friend's landlord in the county, or the local priest, pastor, or rabbi of your chosen faith.......all might be pretty key allies for you.   Build these relationships and respect them.

3.  Secure and transport your water supply.    The east coast, certainly I-95 and east, is humid about 9 months per year.   Once you're west of about Kansas City....not so much. Farmers and ranchers in some parts of the west seem to be in a race to determine who can extinguish the region's clean water supply first.   Don't plan on depending on streams, or even a hotel.  Where will you secure a demonstrably safe water supply?   Also plan on keeping your skin, lips, and insides hydrated.  By the time you start to feel dehydrated, it might be too late to make a water run into the next town.  It might even be too late to hike back to the truck.

4.  Prepare to dress and undress several times a day (corollary:  be prepared to repair clothing and gear).   Much of the west is obviously very open country.  For most of us, that means hoofing it across large distances to get in more favorable stalking or hiding cover.  Some days, you will end up needing to change two pairs of socks three times because of their weight or wicking ability.  Layers are so critical to the type of hunting that you'll probably end up doing.    And layering is the only way to dress when your hunt plan is  1) walk 1.3 miles through heavy cover to duck blind, 25 degrees F; 2) sit motionless in duck blind for 3 hours, 40 degrees F; 3) walk a 1.5 mile creek bottom to jump birds from loafing spots, 55 degrees F.

5.  Respect everything and everybody.   If the landowner asks you not to kill the rabbits, just don't.  If the rancher asks you not to flush pheasants next to the beef cattle corral, just don't.   If the hunters from last week rutted up the field, go get some straw and rakes that evening and fix it.  Don't leave a gut pile on a ranch road.  Don't leave a feather pile next to the hunting lodge.  Tip the lousy waitress in the lousy restaurant - you get to leave, she doesn't.   I feel like I'm typing really dumb things that obviously  no one would ever do, except that these things happen every single day.

Also respect everyone by being competent and safe with your weapon.  You know what would ruin hunting for everybody else on Ranch X?  You shooting a guy there because someone wasn't paying attention.

If you follow these tips, you're likely to have a huge hunting success avoid some of the most glaring, painful, expensive errors surrounding hunting in the west.   So many of the details simply aren't universal, like, "Always take or rent a 4WD vehicle!" and "You'll need 1600g of Thinsulate in your boots all day, every day!"  But I think the five tips I've listed above are pretty useful and universal.  Get out there, be safe, and make memories.


1 comment:

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