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Alternatives to expensive guided hunts

By By BEN NORMAN
Outdoors Columnist
If you look in the back of the national outdoor magazines you will find more ads than you can read posted by western guides ready to take you on a hunt of a lifetime. Some of them are legitimate but expensive, some of them are rip-offs and expensive. The only way to know the difference is to talk to someone who has hunted with them. There is no doubt that a hunt with a reputable guide that knows his area and game habits can be an experience of a lifetime. But it will cost money, probably several thousand dollars.
But there is an alternative to expensive guided hunts for elk and mule deer-a do it yourself hunt. While it's true your success rate won't be as high on the average, you still have a fair chance of seeing and bagging game if you do your homework. One of the first things to do is to organize a party of 2 to 4 to share expenses. The next thing is to decide where you are going and get topo maps of the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land you will be hunting on. Contact the local game warden or biologist in the area. You will be surprised how few do this and how productive it can be.
Once you are there, take a day to ride around and talk to the locals. Many of the farmers and ranchers or their employees can offer excellent tips on where they have seen elk or deer. Don't overlook the rural mailcariers and road workers, as they know where elk and deer are crossing roads.
One of the most important decisions regards lodging. Motels are often within a 45-minute drive of good hunting, but this can waste valuable hunting time and add to expenses. Eating out can be as expensive as the lodging bill. Camping is an excellent way to save money and enjoy the wide-open spaces. You will need the basic camping gear, including a sleeping bag rated down to around 0 degrees F or better. Large dome tents will do but a 12 X 14 canvas wall tent will hold heat better and has more room. Some source of heat is a must, be it a propane or wood heater.
Becoming thoroughly familiar with a topo map of the area you are hunting can pay big dividends both in finding likely game routes and insuring you can get back to camp. Weather can turn nasty fast in the Rockies. A portable radio should be checked often to avoid getting trapped in a fast moving blizzard. Your backpack survival gear should include at least a space blanket, freeze dried meals, matches, fire starter, string, folding saw, flashlight and compass.
A do it yourself hunt can be successful, but your success and comfort depends on good planning and carrying the proper equipment, especially if it is a camping hunt.