By Tarra Stoddard
You’ve saved every dime and now you’re finally ready to book your hunt out west.
The best way to pick an outfitter for your hunt is by recommendation from someone you trust. If that isn’t possible you can post asking for reputable outfitters online.
Once you narrow your list down it’s a good idea to reach out to a few individuals that have hunted with that particular outfitter. Let them share their hunting experience with you to see if it’s what you’re looking for. Once you find your outfitter and speak with them about booking a hunt, remember to ask questions. The only stupid questions are the ones you don’t ask.
When planning the total cost for the hunting trip remember to factor in a cash tip for your guide. The standard rate is 10% of the value of the hunt. Some outfitters factor in the tip with the total cost of the hunting trip you book. It also depends if you are booking a fully guided or semi-guided hunting trip.
Even when booking a fully guided trip you must remember to also tip your cook and any other individual helping run the hunting camp. It is customary to tip the cook $150-200 whether you are there for a one day or five day hunt.
Depending on the hunter, some hunters leave their binoculars, rifles and even ammo for an extra tip. Keep in mind it is how they make a living and cash pays the bills. Tip at the end of your hunting trip. Personally give your tip directly to your guide or the individual that you’re tipping.
Depending on the state you’re hunting in you may need a certain amount of points to draw the tag you desire. In most states, you accrue points each year that you put in for a particular species tag. It may take several years and amount of points to draw the tag you want. Your outfitter may also have access to landowner tags if you don’t draw the tag you need.
Your preparations for hunting out west should begin long before your hunting trip. Especially if you are not accustomed to the style of hunting your trip demands. I understood on my recent hunt beforehand the hunting would be physically demanding. We don’t scale mountainsides in 6,434 ft. of elevation in SC. With my physical limitations, I did my best to prepare and be fit. I worked out on a treadmill and elliptical as much as possible.
I was told by my outfitter that the weather fluctuated from warm to freezing. Keep in mind that freezing to someone that lives in the climate was way beyond any cold I had ever experienced. So I packed my Prois hunting apparel accordingly. This also urged me to purchase ample hot hands warmers and bring my thermal cell heated foot soles.
If you are like me, once your fingers or toes get cold your hunt is done. Along with the proper clothing, you may need a shooting stick and binoculars for your hunt. You need to be comfortable using your rifle and shooting stick beforehand.
If your hunting trip will be a new species of game ask your outfitter questions. How far should you be practicing shooting your target? Do you need to practice shooting in different shooting positions? How many miles will you be walking in a day? Are you carrying a backpack while you’re hunting? Make sure to practice shooting in the hunting apparel you’ll be wearing.
I just returned from an epic hunting trip in Hayden/Craig Colorado the second week of October. I drew tags to hunt a Pronghorn buck along with an Elk bull first rifle season. I booked my hunting trip with “Bucks and Bulls in Hayden Co.”
The owner and my guide was Cammi Balleck. I was beyond stoked that I was going to have a female guide. Cammi grew up on the ranch and continues to work daily on a portion of this prime hunting property with her father. I could not have been in better hands with her knowledge of the property. Cammi and her husband Kyle are both big game guides.
My husband had the same tags and Kyle was his guide. They offer semi and fully guided hunts through their company. The species of animals available to hunt are Pronghorn, Muley Deer, Elk, and Bear hunts. They are able to watch the daily animal movement which gives the hunters the insight needed to have a successful hunt.
Once you drive into the Rockies, you won’t believe the beauty you see. It will literally take your breath away from every direction. I’m pretty sure I got a glimpse of what heaven looks like each day I was there.
My first day of hunting Pronghorn the weather was the perfect fall temperature. That evening it snowed a few feet. The second day I hunted my Antelope buck in 20* degrees with snow on the ground. I loved trudging through the thick snow in ravines at the bottom of the hillsides.
I recall sliding down a hill, in one spot at least six times. My inner thought at that defeated moment was “nope, this will not stop me, let’s do this”!
I had tried multiple times to get traction by kicking through the snow to the dirt trying to climb the steep side of the hill. Unfortunately, the dirt underneath was just as frozen. I finally learned how to gain momentum and a bit of traction by grabbing the branches of the sage bushes when climbing straight up. We were trying to get in front of or at least even with this particular Pronghorn buck. They call them “speed goats” for a reason.
My first opportunity for a clean shot on the Pronghorn he was completely skylined which means I could not shoot him because I could not see what was behind him. As he stood all proud on top of the mountain side hill all I could think was “well played, but I’ve got your number.”
We climbed quietly down off the side of the hill and hoofed it forward. We were now continuing on our mission to get ahead of him. As we crawled up the side of a hill my guides eyes got big. She motioned me to climb up and get into shooting position. Instinctively my heart started thumping.
When I tried to look through my scope I couldn’t see him. I knew he was standing fairly close as I saw him visually before getting into prone position. I looked back at my guide. I could tell by looking at my guide that he was still standing there. Then I thought about the uphill prone position I was in. I bent my head back as far as I could. Then the clouds parted, the sun started shining, and I saw him in the scope.
However, I could only hold my caged neck in that position for a few seconds. We had already spot and stalked this Pronghorn buck for multiple hours. I knew I was already past at my physical maximum. My only thought was I had to do sight alignment, breathing control, and trigger press together in those few seconds.
My next look through my scope I mentally checked off my shooting fundamentals. I pushed the trigger and rolled over onto my back. I strained my neck pushing it back so far that I had tears rolling down my face. There was also a huge smile on my face.
When I pushed the trigger I saw the Pronghorn instantly drop. At the same time, I too fell back onto my back. I had taken a clean shot and the Pronghorn buck never knew he had been hit. That is the way I like to place my shot. As I was laying there, reveling in the moment, I thanked the heavens. I then rolled over to get up to go see the animal I was blessed with. I always give thanks to each animal that I kill.
My Pronghorn success was due to my guide “Cammi’s” knowledge of the property and knowing the animal’s behavior. Cammi had genuine patience with me as I struggled to walk fast over my new and laborious terrain. While stalking, we went at my pace the entire hunt, which helped me to extend my physical limitations.
I was genuinely impressed that my hunts were set up according to what I could physically handle. We both had a wonderful time hunting together and now have a bonded friendship. It was an epic hunting trip, and I was able to meet a fantastic female guide while doing it. The industry definitely needs more women guides.
If you are interested in a hunt contact Cammi at (970) 629-5223 or [email protected]
Cammi also owns Balleck Outdoors which is an outdoor product line to keep you warm and clean while being outdoors. It is on Facebook and Instagram at @balleckoutdoors.
Happy Hunting Y’all!