June 30, 2014
There are as many ways to tackle a Western big-game excursion as there are states. I've narrowed my road trip down to focus on the states with easy to get tags, a relatively good chance of success, and an abundance of public land. If you are adventurous enough, try all three of the big-game states on one massive road trip — gas up and go for it.
But if you don't have that much vacation to burn, pick one state per year and enjoy. Each is a trip you won't regret or forget.
After the Hunt: The Brick Saloon in Roslyn is an iconic 'must see. ' Established in 1889, it is the oldest continuously run saloon in Washington state and still has the original 23-foot water trough spittoon running the length of the bar (that's enough of an excuse for anyone to take a dip of Copenhagen).
As a sidenote, this tiny town was the set for the hit TV show Northern Exposure, and even though it's not Alaska, The Brick has damn good pub grub to boot. Great deer, bear, and elk hunting can be had just outside the town limits when you're done eating. From Roslyn, drive east.
After the Hunt: If you are into firearms, the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody is a must-see attraction. With over 7,000 firearms, it boasts the largest collection of American firearms and firearms accessories in the world.
After the Hunt: Stop by Effie Tavern in Lewiston, where they will serve you up a burger bigger than your head€¦seriously. Not only is this burger gigantic, it is delicious, easily making my 'top five tastiest of all time. '
While in Lewiston, waddle your distended, burger-filled gut down to the Jack O'Connor Heritage Center. Check out his rifles, mounts, and other O'Connor memorabilia. It's a place every aspiring Western hunter should visit at least once in their life.
After the Hunt: Before you continue, stop in Blackfoot, and visit the Idaho Potato Museum. You'll enjoy the rich history and maybe discover your roots.
Idaho Elk and Mule Deer
is one of the best-kept secrets in the West, as it is one of the few places that you can buy rifle season mule deer and elk tags without a draw. While the entire state offers pretty fantastic hunting, check out the 2.4 million-acre Frank Church River Of No Return Wilderness area. Tough to access, a great option is to hire an air charter service out of Salmon (we prefer McCall Aviation
) and get dropped deep into the wilderness.
With over 34,000,000 acres of public land in the state (more than every 'Midwest whitetail state ' combined), there are plenty of places to stretch your legs.
Archery hunters can hit the woods as early as the beginning of September for deer, with elk opening by mid-September. With some limited exceptions, rifle seasons for both deer and elk open in mid-October. As a cool 'screw you ' to predator lovers, if you are on a budget and don't want to drop the extra $31 for a bear or cougar tag, you can burn your deer tag on either on the off chance a bruiser is encountered.
Hunting License: $
Black Bear: $
This is a no-brainer. If you want to kill an antelope, go to Wyoming
where there are about the same amount of antelope as people (both around 500,000 at last count). Focus on the areas surrounding Lander, Thermopolis, and Douglas€¦
the trick is not finding antelope, it is finding where to hunt them. But luckily for the traveling hunter, this isn't too much of a problem, either. With over 31 million acres of public land to hunt (over 50 percent of the state is public) getting on a speed goat isn't too much of a problem. And knocking on doors for private land access still works at times.
To stay legal, use up-to-date maps and know where you are at all times. The new digital GPS public/private maps are also a boon to accessing checkerboard public lands.
While we would have liked this road trip to be all with OTC tags, Wyoming throws a wrench into that. You need to apply by March 15th for Wyoming, but if you forgot, be sure to check out the leftover tags section of their site. More often than not, you can pick up a buck and a doe antelope tag after the draw in July.
Antelope Buck: $
Antelope Doe: $
After the Hunt: Spend a night at the Days Inn hotel in Thermopolis. Not only is it clean and affordable, it is stuffed with stuffed heads from around the world. While the food is only so-so and the service is lousy, the taxidermy makes up for it.
Washington Bears or Washington Everything
Since 1996, when Washington
voters put a stop to baiting and hound hunting for bears through an ill-informed ballot initiative, the number of black bears in the state has skyrocketed to around 30,000. Now hunters can buy two tags over the counter€¦no hassle or draw required.
The bear season opens in most units August 1st — perfect weather to hit either the Cascade or Olympic Mountains. This moss-covered, rain-drenched part of
the world is relatively dry during this time of the year, so it is an ideal time
to hike into the high country of the
Olympic National Forest's 600,000 acres or the 1,700,000 acres of Mount Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest. Key on huckleberries — as the patches ripen, the bears will come. Spend morning till evening glassing. When spotted, get downwind and move quick — feeding bears can cover deceptively long distances.
While the focus of this trip is for early- season bears, if you want to wait until September, Washington offers possibly the best all-around big-game combo tag anywhere in the United States — it is good for: one deer (blacktails, whitetails, or mule deer), one elk (Rocky Mountain or Roosevelt), one bear, and one cougar.
As if you needed an added bonus, all of these species can be had in the same tract of public land and, if you plan it right, hunted at the same time.
One of my favorite memories from September in the Cascade Mountains was arrowing a blueberry-gorging blackie. After gutting the bear, I washed my hands in a nearby creek. While bent over, I heard a twig snap. I looked up and saw an entire herd of elk walking down to get a drink. A quietly drawn arrow yielded a cow. I had all the meat I could pack. It was a good day to say the least.
Bear only: $
318 | 2nd tag: $
After the Hunt: Before you leave this state for Idaho, your last stop should be in Pullman — home of WSU. Stop off at The Coug Bar for a beer. Relive your college days, admire the coeds, but get back on the road quickly or you may find yourself broke, hungover, and sleeping on the couch of Theta Xi.