February 06, 2023
Growing up in northeast Florida, I always looked at a DIY elk hunt out West as a bucket list item. After my first elk hunt in Wyoming in 2010, experiencing the mountains for two weeks and killing a nice a bull, I was hooked. I vowed then that I would do whatever it took to have an elk tag in my pocket each and every year from then on out.
A lot of people believe elk hunting is the pinnacle of Western big-game hunting, but if you've never done it before, it can be a daunting task. Between tag applications and cost, rising price of fuel, and lack of knowledge, undertaking an elk hunt can be a bit overwhelming. In this article I'm not going to give you the “hotspot” of where to go, but rather a breakdown of just how easy, and dare I say affordable, it can be to go elk hunting this, and every, year.
Acquiring a Tag
Most of my buddies that live back East still have that same mentality of elk being on their bucket list, something they hope to achieve someday. They believe it's both too difficult to draw a tag and that a guided hunt is just too expensive. I reiterate to them it's not that difficult if you know where and when to look. Yes, if you're applying in multiple states with differing draw deadlines and elaborate point schemes it can be quite confusing. But, if you just want to have an elk tag in your pocket and experience the West, there's always an option.
For the DIY hunter, you can't go wrong heading to Colorado. It's the closest state to most hunters coming from the eastern U.S., and it has readily available over-the-counter (OTC) tags for both archery and rifle hunters. And let's not forget to mention the state is over 43% public land. The nonresident elk tag will cost you $700.98, add another $10.59 for your habitat stamp and you're off and running.
Cost For The Trip
Now that you have your tag in hand, it's time to start planning the trip and looking at other costs you will incur to go on this grand adventure. We'll work through what it'll cost, and time allotted to be able to go on this elk hunt. If you can con a friend into coming with you, that will help split some of these costs, making the price of the trip even lower.
First up, driving to your destination. If you live in Charlotte, N.C. and want to get to Pueblo, Colo., it's going to take right about 24 hours of driving, covering just over 1,550 miles. So let's call it 3,100 miles roundtrip, plus we'll add another 200 miles for scouting and call it an even 3,300 miles driven. With the current price of gas hovering around $3.10/gal and most trucks averaging about 20 mpg, you're looking at give or take 165 gallons of gas. So, for just over $500 you've got fuel covered.
Next, we'll have to figure out food. Personally, I like to either have freeze-dried meals if I'm backcountry hunting, or oatmeal, sandwiches, brats/hamburgers and other quick, filling and easy-to-prepare meals while truck camping. Freeze-dried meals will cost you a bit more for your 7-day hunt but they will save time and energy if you're able to sleep on the mountain. Truck camping gives you a little more comfort to come back to every evening. A freeze-dried meal is going to cost you anywhere in the range of $8-$15 per meal. If you're eating a minimum of two a day, that's easily up to $30/day for food. Now, you've added $210 to your expenses. Comparatively, if you get just oatmeal, sandwich meat and bread, and brats or hamburgers, you'll be able walk out of the grocery store for around $100.
As for lodging, I'm leaving this spot blank. Let's be honest, if you're looking for a budget elk hunt, you're ok with sleeping under the stars with a tent and sleeping bag. This alone will save you quite a bit of money on your trip. When the average hotel is going to be $100 a night, plus the added expense of fuel driving to and from town, it just makes sense to sleep out amongst the elk. Or at least close by them.
Finally, let's talk about getting your meat home. Everyone plans to be successful, so you're going to want to have high-quality game bags, as well as dry ice on hand for when you come back to the truck. A good set of machine washable, reusable game bags are going to cost you around $100. Plus 30 pounds of dry ice will be about $45.
So there you have it, a full cost-efficient way to go elk hunting this year. Sure, it's down and dirty, and there will likely be hidden costs that pop up, but if you can scrounge up $1,500, you'll be a DIY elk hunter. The real fun isn't going to be finding the money to go on an adventure; it's the preparations and planning that go into it after making the decision to do it.
So, what are you waiting for? Go elk hunting this year!