Lessons learned by a first time newbie...


Aug 23, 2021
Got back a few days ago from 8 days in MT looking for muley and/or elk with nothing but 'experience' to show for it...

We were originally going to try to slide into some of the areas south of Bozeman, but due to lack of heavy snow and me basically chickening out due to bears while we do our first camp, we ended up in the Little Belts. We had a lot of firsts stacked against us - first time hunting from a camp, first time hunting elk at all, first time hunting in mountains (previous 'lope and muley experience in NE WY), first time even seeing the area where we were going. Unfortunately, we didn't get a beginner's luck multiplier effect.

Some things I learned from this trip:
  1. E-scouting is more than picking a section of a forest to hunt. You gotta get down to the nitty gritty and pick out specific draws/ridges that you want to hunt ahead of time - ZOOM IN! We had a general idea of some large areas that looked good, but didn't really have a good plan on how to attack them when we got boots on the ground. That ate up a lot of time trying to figure it out when we got there.
  2. Figure out how to hunt the terrain you will actually be in - not what you expect/want it to be. Our plan going in was that we would hike in a few miles to find a knoll or knob somewhere and glass something up on an opposing ridge and then go get it. In reality, those open knolls and ridges didn't exist like we had seen in all the videos we've watched. We spent WAY too much time driving around looking for the terrain that magically matched the ideas in our head instead of just figuring out how to hunt what we had in front of us.
  3. As Randy says, don't leave game to find game. On day 3, we found a spot that had fresh rubs and fresh (within 2-3 days) tracks and we didn't go back and hunt it until day 7. When we DID sit on it and explore it more, it had all the elements of a prime spot - nasty 'nobody is dumb enough to go in there' terrain, rubs (we had deer tags as well) around every corner, some concealed green areas, water, etc. Another evening, as we were driving back to camp, we bumped three muley does that were intent on cruising a fire lane - for some reason we never went back to look for the buck that was likely in the area as well. Looking back, we definitely should have spent more time figuring out those spots instead of driving around looking for what we thought was a 'better' spot (see point 2 above).
  4. It's OK to sit it out if conditions aren't right. When we finally decided to hunt the area that we saw the fresh(ish) sign, the wind was swirling at 30mph. It was stupid for us to be in that prime area with the wind like it was, but we thought we 'had' to hunt it. In reality, we should have sat it out or used that day for wood cutting (see next item) instead of busting up what was probably our best bet at seeing something.
  5. Plan for camp so that it doesn't become a distraction. Not sure how you would figure this out without just doing it at least once, but we spent quite a bit of time managing camp that could have been used in the woods. I know at least 2-3 days we were cutting wood at 4pm instead of doing what we were there for - hunting! Also, maybe it's just my OCD, but camp organization is HUGE! Having crap piled around everywhere just adds to the frustration of not seeing anything while hunting during the day.
  6. When hunting with a group, make a packing plan ahead of time and stick to it. When we got to loading the truck the night before heading out, my head was swimming with how the heck we ended up with so much crap to load. When we actually got to camp, it seemed like we had 3 of darn near everything. That was my failure as this was kind of 'my' trip and I just never got around to getting a defined list together. Never again, though... Again, maybe it's just my OCD, but that kind of stuff drove me crazy.
  7. Just a validation of what I've read/hear elsewhere - you can't outwalk a horse. When we finally got into the woods and put some leather to the ground, we hiked in 3-4 miles into spots that we said 'should' have had elk. The areas were away from 4-wheeler trails, had some pretty extensive cover, food, and water. We thought we had finally made a good choice. Then we would turn a corner and find a pile of horse manure. After walking around and seeing a ton of sign that was a couple of weeks old, we realized that someone had already been in there and pushed everything deeper. Right or wrong, I've basically decided that to hunt the area we were in in late season, you need to have a camp about 4-5 miles in and hunt from there. There's no way that you can walk in from a road, hunt, and get back to the road in one day - everything is just too far in at that point.

Overall, despite all the challenges I listed above, it was a really good trip. We learned a LOT and had a great time doing it. It was great 8 days with my dad and uncle away from hustle and bustle of email and phone calls. We'll be back someday, hopefully with a better plan this time around.

Jun 20, 2020
Divide, Colorado
You've learned a lot in a short period of time. So many new (and experienced) hunters are spending far to much energy worrying about getting back further and further into the "back country". I have found that many of the animals I hunt, elk & deer throughout Colorado, have figured out they can't hide deep enough to get away from hunters & hikers. They've adjusted and remain closer to abundant food and water. This might be miles back; or just a half mile or so away from a busy trailhead. I have personally observed bedded elk, bulls & cows, and deer watch loaded down ATVs, UTV's, etc drive right past them on their way to the "back country" miles away.

It reminds me of fishing as a poor kid. Admiring all of those beautiful, powerful boats with huge motors blast off every morning to the furthest points of water away from the docks. How I wished that I would one day have one of those boats and be able to go to catch all of those monster fish that were surely in those far off points. Instead I was forced to learn about the water I could reach. Had to get to know it very well and where the fish liked to be. Oh, there were people seemingly everywhere fishing. But, I began to locate areas that the fish liked and other people avoided due to possible snags, slippery bank, overhanging branches that would take your bait or lure, etc. I began to catch fish much more regularly. In a little more time and with more experience in this specific area I began to expect to catch fish every time I went fishing.

Successful hunting is now about the same. Everything points to people heading to the "back country". That's cool. I am happy that many are doing exactly that. The people I hunt with are seeing an actual increase in the number of really decent bulls & bucks much closer to "home". Years ago you went to the "back country" and didn't see an orange coat the entire time you hunted. Now, close outfitter friends of mine say they see more orange every year deeper and deeper into even wilderness areas. They blame this on YouTube and apps like Onx. They love the technology. They just feel that hunters should be spending a lot more time getting to know the animals they're hunting and checking out the many overlooked hunting areas closer to home. Get off your ATVs and go find the active game trails.

For most hunters in my state of Colorado there really isn't any "back country" any more. The elk and deer have learned a lot. Most elk can tell you the brand and model number of your bugle they have heard it so often. Keep doing what you're doing. What a great time hunting with your family. Maybe you can find a place much closer to home to hone your hunting/camping skill set. Whichever type of hunting you like to do. Set up and tear down camp a few times over the summer. You'll figure out what works fast and have some fun without having to figure it out while on the hunt of a lifetime. Great post and thanks for sharing your experience. Brings back memories for this old hunter and fisherman.


Well-known member
Dec 6, 2013
Easley, SC
Your first hunt sounds a lot like our first one 16 years ago. You think you are prepared and then you get there and realize you are not. You will be amazed how much different your next trip will be based on what you learned. It took us a couple of trips before we settled on the area we hunt. Few tips: 1. Once you find an area you like and a camp location, stick with it and learn the area. Talk to as many people as possible, every little bit of info helps. I still do this and learn something new every trip. 2. Although we pretty much know who is bringing what, we still have a call just to review. And you are correct, camp organization is a must. Much more enjoyable when you can relax in the evening and not having to look for crap. 3. Find a local firewood guy. It’s so worth $100 for some wood rather than wasting hunting and scouting time.

Good luck and keep at it.
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