Fin's 2016 Elk Strategy

Big Fin

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Since it is that time of year, I have spent a couple days in the last week penciling out the application strategy for 2016. I've been burning elk points rather quick over the last four or five years, so this process gets a bit trickier each year. We always start with the elk plan, given elk hunts are our most viewed hunts. From that we fill in the deer hunts, then the pronghorn hunts, and hope that by some grace of God a moose, goat, sheep, or bison tag lands on our lap.

After the article I did for goHunt that was published last week, I've got a lot of emails/PMs asking me about my strategy for elk. My strategy is focused upon getting multiple elk tags in a season, so I'm not sure that my strategy is applicable to others. If nothing else, I hope it generates some discussion about non-resident elk applications.

None of this is rocket science. It illustrates that if you want to hunt elk each year, you can do it, no matter where you live. And if your budget allows, you can pick a couple/few other states to start building some points and hopefully improve your chances of drawing a better tag some year.


We will have another "Hunt with Randy" drawing this year, so we have to keep that week open in the schedule with the expectation the winner will want a New Mexico elk hunt. That is one week that is not available for the elk strategy listed below.

Here is what my strategy will be, by state. No mention of specific units, even though that is the most common question I get. I can assure people that there are much better units to hunt than the units we usually end up in:


Arizona - I only have three points here. Not many realistic options as a non-resident with that few points. My buddy, Jereep and I have been contemplating a party app for deer where he can jump on my 10 deer points and the same for elk where I can jump on his 7 elk points. No matter what I decide, party app or individual app, both choices will be late rifle hunts. It is the only hunt that fits the schedule and it is one of the elk hunts I most look forward to when I do draw.

Wonder if he is still alive. I saw him two years ago.
DSCN0684.JPG


Colorado - This is probably the toughest choice of the entire strategy. I've got 19 points. I've never really tried to burn my CO elk points, as I've never had a schedule opening that I thought deserved 10, 11, 12, ....... 18 points. I've tired of dragging this big bag of points along and I hope to hunt one more mid-tier CO elk hunt before my body tells me to sit in a pasture and shoot whitetail does. Given that, I am hoping to cash these CO elk points in 2016.

Unless something changes in the schedule by the time CO apps are due, I will probably make Unit 61 archery my first choice. If I do draw that and I draw NM archery, it will force me to hunt CO earlier in the archery season and cut my season by a few days. That worries me when I am burning almost two decades of points.

Last year, 36% of the non-residents with 18 points drew Unit 61 archery. Based on history, 7-10 guys with more points than me jump off the sidelines each year and apply for this archery tag. If that historical trend holds true, and 5 people at my point level jump in, my odds will be closer to 50%, even though last year everyone at 19 points drew. Welcome to the world of point creep.

If I don't draw, I will be there for another OTC elk hunt. Raghorns it will be. And maybe a leftover cow tag. Below is the result from last time I got serious about CO elk. My brother missed a bull in here last year.
IMG_1856.JPG


Idaho - Since Idaho is the last of the western states to hold their deer/elk/antelope draw, my choices there are usually long shots; really long shots. I will forego the moose app that I jumped back into last year and apply for one of the really tough elk tags in ID. If some of the "pretty sure" slots I have marked on the calendar do not come to fruition, I might try to fit in an OTC Idaho elk hunt.


Montana - Last year I drew a limited entry rifle bull tag with zero points. I doubt that will happen again, though I have done that three times. But, who knows, so I will probably apply for another rifle tag as my first choice. As a resident, I have a decent chance of the "900 archery" tag as a second choice. If not, no big deal, as the only time my calendar looks to be open for MT elk is during September. The general MT archery tag is a good tag, so even if I get "stuck" with that, it would be a great hunt.

Zero points; in a bonus system, anything is possible.
DSC00816.JPG

Nevada - This is my first year back in the NV elk application pool. I have no points. Since I am already buying a license for other applications, I will apply to the easiest-to-draw units in NV. I view it as a $15 lottery ticket, as I think that is about what my odds are with zero points.


New Mexico - These will all be archery apps. Corey Jacobsen and I will be applying in hopes that we can draw one of the units I've hunted previously. Since NM looks at all three choices, we will make choices 1 & 2 to be some long-shots, with 3rd choice being a bit more realistic.

This remote water hole has been very good to us. Drawing the tag can be the hardest part in NM.
IMG_0239.JPG


Utah - I'm on the waiting list, having drawn a tag in 2014, so this is N/A.


Wyoming - This is a tough one, given I have zero points. Because I need tags for the show, I will apply in the Special Draw and pay the extra fee.

Uncle Larry has seven points and I have some places in mind where he should draw. Ten years of experimental chemo has really taken a toll on his feet; neuropathy is very bad. But, he celebrates his 70th birthday in October and I've already blocked out some of the schedule for his hunt. He wants me to have a tag when he does, but in order to do that, we would have to aim for units that are pretty damn physical. He is still in remarkable condition for a guy his age battling lymphoma, but I would prefer to take him on a hunt that is a bit easier on his feet, even if he protests that I don't have a tag. Last year we applied him for a tag that he had a 40% chance of drawing based on 2014 odds. Given the point creep, something I suspect will continue in 2016, he was completely out of the running for that unit. Time to look elsewhere for him, though I want to make sure he gets a tag and we can put it on the calendar.

For me, I will apply for the unit I can find with the best possible random odds of the season dates that fit in the tentative schedule. What that will be, I'm not yet sure. The good part of WY is that you can plan the rest of your apps around what you find out from WY when their elk results come out in late February.

Success in WY apps will be measured by getting Uncle Larry a tag. Fingers crossed.

Don't think my body is tough enough for another one of these trips
IMG_1938.JPG

Some of this will change as the AK, WY, and AZ results come out early in the season. If Jereep and I draw our AK moose, September gets pretty complicated. That would change the strategy above. And when one part moves, the entire deck gets shuffled. Would be a terrible problem to have - not.

Wyoming apps will be due January 31st. Don't forget.
 

Kiwi

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Some excellent info and very interesting to read your well planned strategy. I also have been working out my approach but i have a lot less options with only a couple of WY points and a 2-3 week trip in which to hunt.
 

WapitiBob

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Sounds like a good plan. Hoping for Uncle Larry to have a good hunt.
I'm committed to helping a young Jedi take his first archery Elk here in OR so my Sept will not include a 9 point WY Elk App until the points only period. WY will see my Antelope Doe app though.
AZ will see a late rifle app with my 4 points, just not sure where.
 
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EBOLAVIRS

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A few guys I know do really well in Idaho with OTC tags on pretty good bulls, nearly every year. I am sure with your experience chasing elk you could make it happen.
 

OwyheeHuntr

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My 2016 elk plan tentatively looks like this:
ID- Apply for high quality low draw odds controlled hunt, if no luck- hunt general season either archery or muzzy. Hoping my Dad can draw a tag this year, also the first year my wife is serious about hunting so adding her to the application. If any of us draw it will be a busy October.
This is my first year seriously looking out of state DIY. I finally have a hunting buddy who is as committed as I am. Here is our plan so far (still trying to get comfortable with the regs in MT/WY/CO). Hopefully if I am off base on anything here the Hunt Talk elk experts will correct me. We have agreed on either MT/WY/CO for 2016, weapon of choice is archery. We both have 1 point in WY. Will be applying in WY, and probably just accruing points in CO. IF we don’t draw WY, looking to hunt left over/general in MT/CO. My buddy is hoping we can find an area/unit in WY where if we strike out with archery we could go back with a rifle later in the year. We are both just looking to see good numbers of elk, and honestly we would gladly hop on the raghorn express :D on any out of state tag we might end up with.
 

Corax

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Success in WY apps will be measured by getting Uncle Larry a tag. Fingers crossed.

Good luck to you and Uncle Larry.

I stopped accumulating CO points at 13 (first rifle, Unit 76) after I concluded the only realistic upgrade was Unit 61. For me, since I tend to shoot the first legal animal anyway, high points units made little sense. This year I expect to have my brother along on one hunt and a buddy on another. Planning is getting more complicated, and we will be working the early / late draws.
 

LCH

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I've got 2 points in Wyoming, that's it. Thinking I'll do the MT general elk/deer during rifle season and hold out in Wyoming a few more years for a LE area. Haven't totally ruled out CO though, haven't been there since 2012 and I'm missing it.

I can get 2 weeks off, last week of October and first week of November should be a good time to be in MT with a combo license...
 

Pagosa

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Sounds like you guys have some good plans elk hunting next fall. I plan to submit for bull tag in Montana for district 455, which I will not draw. I currently have zero points. I plan to draw a district 331 cow tag, I have two bonus points so I should be able to draw it. I plan to hunt a bull for the first couple weeks in the same area and try for a cow later in the season unless I find one close to the road.
Even though I haven't applied in Colorado since 2013, I plan to add a point to my current 5 points to hopefully draw a late rifle tag in unit 40 in a few years, where I used to spend some time. Good luck guys.
 

rmyoung1

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Thanks, Randy. I love hearing about other guys' application strategies. Always makes me re-think my own. Good stuff.
 

TheDudeAbides

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It's an exciting time of year.

Arizona - Late hunts

Colorado - Deer hunts for a future Elk/Deer combo

Montana - OTC is an option

Nevada - 5 Choices and it's all about drawing a low number.

New Mexico - 3 Choices to the Gila

Oregon - is a maybe at this point, I would like to put in for sheep, so I might just throw in an elk and mule deer app.

Utah - It'll be a late hunt to apply to this year, I suspect the muzzle loader probabilities to draw will go up with the passing of the magnifying scopes on muzzle loaders.

Wyoming - Deciding between applying to a few different units, but probably won't draw any LQ. I'll just plan on hunting the Wyoming res general tag or catch a wild hair and decide to put 97 (Pinedale) as a second choice.

It should be a great year.
 

Zim

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3 AZ points is right where you want to be in order to avoid getting thrown under the bus by AZ legislators, like me and my 13 points did.

I'll probably be competing with you in the CO unit 61 archery 19 point pool.

Hopefully there's no additional point cheapening schemes brewing this year in any other states. Guys like me are sitting targets for unscrupulous legislators. I can't burn my points fast enough. Utah & Oregon are of particular concern. Been beat out in my units both places by one applicant last 2 years. Best not to accumulate more than ~5 anywhere these days to avoid the bus. States DO NOT WANT the most dedicated sportsman who have paid the most and waited the longest. They want mo applicants with mo money.
 
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Dinkshooter

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Dinkshooters elk application strategy:

Apply in AZ and WY.................................bitch, moan cry and stomp when I don't draw
Apply in in UT, NV and NM.......................bitch, moan cry and stomp when I don't draw

Then just end up hunting OTC Colorado.
 

Randy11

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I'm pushing all my chips in on Wyoming. If I don't draw I doubt I'll hunt elk this year. If I do draw and don't kill a mature bull, I'm throwing in the towel on elk.
 

Speeddmn

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I haven never applied for a single draw in 20+ years of hunting.

This will be my first time, and doubtful I'll draw here in UT. So back to OTC North Slope here and shoot the first elk I see again. Then hopefully get back to MT for some deer. Would love a doe 'lope tag in WY down around the SW corner.

Then again, in a few years I will retire and move back to MT... maybe I should start getting points built up...
 

Eyeguy

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LOL Love the part about getting old and sitting in a pasture shooting whitetail does.....:D Sounds like you have a good strategy and I hope you pull some good tags.
 
M

MN Public Hunter

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Can't wait to hear what you ended up drawing.... To hear you talk about your "old" body and the tough trips really makes me feel I would be dead trying to elk hunt :)
 

Big Fin

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Can't wait to hear what you ended up drawing.... To hear you talk about your "old" body and the tough trips really makes me feel I would be dead trying to elk hunt :)

Nah, you would do just fine.

That was a day I was acting like a sniveler. Sorry. I had got the news on my MRI and had lunch with my camera guy, Tyler, and got the report on his knee. On the 22nd he is having surgery to repair the meniscus he tore on the Sitka Blacktail hunt in August. He went the entire season, carrying heavy loads over crazy terrain with a badly torn meniscus.

I am going to the ortho on Tuesday to discuss treatment options for my left knee. I had a really bad dark-of-night wreck on the steep face of a New Mexico canyon in late October, fully loaded with a bone-in hind quarter, all my day gear, some extra production gear, and ended up down in a brush pile with the entire load pushing my torso over my prone right knee while my left foot was up by my left ear. Like Tyler, I've been walking around like Chester on Gunsmoke since then.

When Schmalts joined us in Wyoming, he was probably thinking we were trying to get high on Ibuprofen. We were limping, falling, stumbling, and cussing as we tried our best to negotiate the terrain on what would be the last mountain hunt of the season. By the end of Day Two, after 14 miles, I told the crew I could not do another day like that. I did not hear any protests. Being a great friend, Schmalts shot his bull less than a half-mile from the trailhead, for which we were grateful.

So, sitting here still licking wounds from our toughest season ever, had me thinking about the longevity of my body to do 80-100 days per year. A week in cold tents, with crappy food, on cold ground, is tolerable, even fun. Put twelve of those weeks, back to back to back to.... and the toleration/fun retreats into the far back reaches of your mind, only to reemerge about July when you see what tags you've drawn and the aches of last season have since soothed.

Next year can't get here soon enough.
 

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