Budget Bulls - Elk hunting on a budget


By Tracy Breen



On the bucket list of every whitetail bowhunter is a western elk hunt.  There is nothing like elk hunting in the mountains, chasing screaming bulls, and bringing home several coolers full of meat. The problem is elk hunting can be very expensive. In fact, the average guided elk hunt is more than five thousand dollars. That is a lot of money!

If you want to experience an elk hunt and don’t want to break the bank, consider going on an unguided backcountry elk hunt. Over the years, I have been on several low budget elk hunts and have been able to come home with elk. Below are a few tips to help you succeed without breaking the bank.




First and foremost, get in good physical shape. If you want to kill a backcountry do-it-yourself bull, you must be able to walk a lot of miles. When I am planning anelk hunt, I hike several miles a day with a backpack on my back, starting months before my hunt. I load the pack down with weight. I use an Outdoorsmans backpack and drink Wilderness Athlete Energy & Focus everyday so I can keep my energy up.




When I am planning a low budget hunt, I focus on states that offer over-the-counter tags. My two favorite states are Idaho and Colorado. Colorado is an easier state to hunt overall because the mountains aren’t as steep as the mountains in Idaho. Idaho receives less hunting pressure. I hunt largely on public land areas that are extremely large where I can hunt three to five miles off of the road. As a rule, the further I get off the road the less hunting pressure I run into.




While I plan on hunting in an over- the-counter unit, I apply for limited draw tags in states like New Mexico. Limited draw hunts offer increased odds of success on larger bulls. The downside is the odds of drawing the tag are often less than 1%. But when I draw a tag, the odds of killing a big bull are pretty good. 




Some hunters prefer staying in a hotel and driving to a hunting area every day. I prefer to stay in a tent and camp where the elk live. This reduces the overall cost of the hunt, reduces the amount of miles I hike each day, and increases my odds of success because I am camping where the elk live.




If this type of trip sounds like fun to you, plan your hunt a year in advance so you have plenty of time to figure out where you want to hunt. Shoot your bow all year and shoot at targets as far away as 60 or 70 yards. Further shots like this will make hitting a bull in the ribcage at 40 yards a piece of cake. When hunting out west, my goal is to always be able to make a 40- or 50-yard shot. Bulls don’t always like to come into twenty yards like a whitetail does when he is running by your stand in the rut. Being able to make a shot at 50 yards when a bull is screaming in your face is something every bowhunter should strive for.

Elk hunting can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. I have been on many public land hunts that cost me less than $1,000 including my elk tag, my gas, and food. If a elk hunt is on your bucket list, start planning now.