First Idaho Elk Hunt

Youngbuck

Member
Joined
Jul 6, 2019
Messages
62
Location
Aiken SC
Here's a breakdown of how my first elk hunt went, along with things I learned that will hopefully help or give some guidance to someone planning their first hunt. This hunt was me and a buddy, who was also his first western hunt. He had a deer tag, I had an elk tag.

We arrived in Idaho Oct. 9th, and headed to the trailhead. After stopping by a few stores, picking up supplies we didn't fly with, we got to the trailhead around 4 PM. We had planned to hike in around 5 miles and setup camp and had several ridges around there where we planned to glass from. We were a little over 4 miles in, and with dark coming up fast, we decided to camp where we were, and start again in the morning. We were using a Seek Redcliff, with the large stove. I bought the tent about 3 weeks before we left, and had set it up twice before heading to the woods. When we pitched the tent, we were kind of doing it in a hurry, and that was our first mistake. The Redcliff has a rectangular shape, and we had it more circular, which caused the sides to be floppy, and not very taut. Since we were only planning to be in that spot one night, and it wasn't going to get very cold, we didn't setup the stove.

Before we hiked in, I checked the weather on my inreach, and it said there was a 10% chance of precipitation, with 0.04" of possible rain. Because we weren't setting up the stove, we never collected firewood. Big mistake. I was woke up around 1am, with the side of the tent slapping my sleeping bag. I could've swore it was a tornado outside. My buddy said he heard it start drizzling around 10pm. Well it rained HARD all night and didn't stop until around 7am the next morning. I laid in the tent for at least 2 hours that night holding the sides down that had become un staked due to wet ground and the fact we pitched the tent poorly and the wind was so strong. In the morning, we packed up, we hiked the last mile or so to our predetermined spot, and set up camp. There were several days of pretty high winds, and after setting up the Redcliff the right way, it was flawless. I wasn't sure how I'd like the floorless, but after using it, I don't think id go back to a standard style tent. Since all of the rain, everything as far as firewood and things for kindling, was soaked, and had trouble getting the stove lit the first few times. After we got it going, we were able to use the heat to dry out some more pieces of wood, and after that didn't have any problems.

After getting our camp set up, we hiked up the mountain next to our camp, which was one of the highest around us, so we figured it'd give us a good vantage point to glass from. Coming from low elevation (SC), imo, those mountains are brutal if you're not in shape. Just going to the gym isn't enough. Make sure you do some hiking with weight in your pack, I feel like that helped me a ton. It also gives you a chance to figure out how you like your pack straps adjusted to be the most comfortable. And going down is easier, but just as tough on your knees. The mountainside we went up, was about 1200ft. of elevation gain, and on the way up, it seemed dang near vertical. After reaching the top, we glassed for about an hour, and we spotted several elk, about 1.5 miles away, back in the direction we originally hiked in from. Through the spotting scope, we could see several cows, 3 elk with antlers, but due to distance, couldn't count points, and compared to the others, a 6x6 that looked huge. After watching them for awhile, we hiked down to camp, and just the thought that we had found elk, for me, it was hard to sleep.

The next morning, we hiked back down the trail and up the mountain that brought us up to the ridge, one mountain over from the elk. From there, we could see several cows, 2 4x4's, one 4x5, and to us, what looked like a pretty big 6x6. Due to the season not opening for 3 more days, we couldn't do anything but watch, but I was stoked, just at the fact we had hiked in blind and found elk. One huge mistake we made after finding those, was that we quit looking for more elk. Looking back, we should have continued to look, and try to find other elk, just as a backup. The next day, we stayed around camp, organized a lot of our gear, and gathered firewood, which seemed to burn up super fast in the stove. The next morning, I hiked back up the mountain, just to make sure the elk were still there. They were, still feeding and some were bedded down. I watched for a couple hours, and also noticed a lone black bear, about 400 yards further back in the drainage past where the elk were. After glassing, I hiked back to camp, and we started to put together a solid game plan for the next morning, which was opening day. What we came up with, was that we'd hike up, couple hours before daylight, and glass them and try to get an eye on the big 6x6, and if he didn't show, I'd have been more than happy with one of the smaller bulls.

We woke up around 3 am, got our gear together, and headed up the mountain. We got to the top, and was in a small patch of trees where we had enough cover where we felt like the elk wouldn't spot us. In the 6 days we had been there, the only other hunters we saw, were 4 guys that came through a few days earlier with llamas, and they ended up camping about another 1.5 miles past our camp. Opening day, from the top of the mountain, we could see no less than probably 20 headlamps scattered around. About 3 miles away, we could see 3 heading our way, but they soon disappeared, and we sat waiting for daylight. About 15 min. before daylight, we heard what sounded like a Mack truck coming up the mountain right next to where we were, from the direction of the trail. It ended up being 2 guys, with 3 horses. Being that my main big game hunting experience comes from whitetail, with all of the noise they were making, I just knew the elk would scatter. When he saw me, he stopped and said howdy, and asked was I by myself. I whispered that I wasn't, and that we were watching elk. He just said ok, and that they had sent a rider up the valley beneath us, and that they were headed further up the mountain, and he rode off. Well since my plan wasn't to shoot the first elk I saw, I had originally planned to wait around for the 6x6, which was my next mistake. When the guy on the horse rode off, he went about 50 yds. up the mountain and I heard a shot crack off. Looked across the drainage, and watched a 4x4 fall. When I realized what was happening, I got in position to make a shot on the other one, when the second shot rang out, and the other 4x4 dropped.

I was in disbelief. I couldn't believe that I dropped the ball, and let that happen, and wasn't ready to take the shot. I guess I got greedy, and wanted the bigger bull, when I would've easily been happy with any of them. After those two shots, they mounted their horses and went on up the mountain. As I was scanning the hillside where the elk were, I was hoping to find something with antlers, but after those shots, most of the elk had walked in to the thick timber. About 5 min later. I heard another shot, and could see an elk laying in the very back of the drainage, which was maybe ~1500 yds. away from us. It was the guy that rode up the valley. He was waiting on the elk on the other side of the timber, that they knew the elk would come out the other side after the first shots were fired. Once the elk scattered, the only ones we saw were a cow and a calf that went down the valley into some thick timber. I cant describe the feeling, of all the preparation and work I felt like I had put in to this hunt, that it turned out like that. We probably heard at least 25 shots that morning, if not more

We were determined not to give up, and hiked up several more mountains as high as we could go and glassed for hours, without any luck. We decided to pack up camp, take everything back to the truck, and become mobile, going to different places, hiking in and glassing just trying to find elk. After countless miles, we had no luck. Talking to several people at the trailheads, they all pretty much said the same thing, that after opening day, once the elk start getting shot at, they head into the timber, and get harder to find. And that's exactly what we found out. After a few days with no luck, I ended up eating tag soup. It sucks, but even after everything that happened, I loved it. I really learned a lot. I also feel like after looking at spots I had marked on ONX, and then actually putting eyes on those same spots, it helped me understand more of what I should be looking for when e-scouting.

Another thing, looking back, I'd say before committing and going all in on one area, use a base camp, and be mobile while you're searching for elk, and just because you find elk, keep looking and have a backup plan. You never know what can happen. Also, before your trip, take a few small trips locally with your gear, and get your kit dialed in. I wish I would have done more of this, as I feel like I packed in way too much gear, and just added weight to my pack. Other than the first night, we had great weather. Daytime highs in the upper 50's, with lows mostly in the 30's, with a few high nights down in the 20's.
 

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OP
Youngbuck

Youngbuck

Member
Joined
Jul 6, 2019
Messages
62
Location
Aiken SC
As for my gear, for the entire trip, I wore a Sitka lightweight merino long sleeve top as my base layer, and added a Jetstream, and a kelvin down jacket when it got cold and windy while glassing. Pants were Sitka timberline, with just merino boxers underneath. I probably could've got away with a lighter pant, like maybe the mountain pants, as my legs rarely ever get cold. Socks were Kenetrek liner socks and I swapped them in and out with Kenetrek Canada socks on the colder days. Boots were uninsulated Kenetrek mountain extremes, and while they were great, I feel like they're on the heavy side. I packed in a midweight top, a mountain vest, heavyweight base layer pants, lightweight merino base layer pants, kelvin active jacket, and probably 5 other pair of socks. All of that never got worn the entire trip. My gloves were a wool/thinsulate flip mitt style I've had for several years. I really wish I would've had better gloves, maybe some that were windproof. More than a few times, my fingers were numb from the cold. While it was fairly cold at times, one thing I didn't expect, was how strong and relentless the wind was. While the inreach said expect gentle breeze, it was a steady 35-40mph.

In a tipi style tent, I'd say definitely use a liner. While the stove was burning, there'd be little to no condensation, but once it went out, by the morning, it was pretty bad, and we would've been soaked without the liner.

Another must, would be trekking poles. While I didn't use them much hiking, they were gold when crossing creeks with heavy packs. I used the breakdown style Cascade poles that were about $30 from Academy Sports, and my buddy used the same ones that were the collapsible style. I couldn't see where you'd need super expensive trekking poles, but some of you more experienced guys can correct me if I'm wrong. Gaiters are another thing that I didn't use much, but I wouldn't been in trouble without them when I needed them. They're not enough of a weight penalty to justify leaving them.

Once you get camp set up, no matter if you're using a base camp, or you've hiked in somewhere like we did, I'd recommend gathering some firewood, and put it inside so you'll at least have a small emergency stash that's dry in the event that it rains. Pack a good fire starter. I recommend Pyro Putty. Its lightweight, and burns great.

Take a good pillow. Just because you inflate it at home, and you think it'll be great, that's not always the case. I used a Sea to Summit inflatable pillow, and while I thought it'd be great, that wasn't the case. I continuously woke up with my face sweating and it just felt very hot. My buddy had a small pillow that looked like a tiny version of a regular pillow. he loved it. I think the brand may have been Teton. He got it from sportsman's warehouse. My sleeping bag was a Big Agnes Spike Lake 15*. No complaints with it. Stayed warm the whole time, even when the stove was out. I like the long bags, because even though I'm kind of tall 6'2, I still have some room in the bottom to put socks and other garments to use body heat to dry them out, and then you don't feel cramped in your bag. Getting enough sleep in the backcountry, IMO, is one of the most important things to keeping your head in the game and to stay hunting hard.

Another thing I packed in, that I never used was a Goalzero Nomad 7 solar panel. I used a Dark Energy Poseidon battery pack, and it kept my phone and InReach Mini charged the whole time. Just more weight I didn't need to carry.

Food - Mountain House does NOT come close IMO to the Peak meals. I had the Peak breakfast skillet, Chicken Pesto Pasta, Chicken Alfredo, and beef pasta marinara. All of those were really good with the exception of the skillet and it was ok. As far as mountain House..... man, some of those I wouldn't feed to my dog. The Chili mac, and the chicken and dumplings weren't bad, but the rest were horrible. I also think I packed too much food. I had food separated into Ziplocs for each day, and I brought a lot of it back home. I just didn't eat as much as I thought I would. I had a dehydrated meal for breakfast, and one for dinner, with a mix of protein bars, a bagel with peanut butter, some Frito Twist, and some candy bars for a day.

DO NOT TRY THE HONEY STINGER WAFFLES, I think they put some kind of crack cocaine in them, because I'm now addicted to them. =)

For water, I used a 3L platypus bladder, a Nalgene bottle, a small squeeze bag/bottle, and used the Katadyn Hiker Pro pump as a filter. The pump is good for getting a lot of water fast. But the pain came from using the Jetboil to boil it only a couple cups at a time, then waiting for it to cool to drink. That aggravation, I think caused us to drink less water, and by day 5, I felt we were slightly dehydrated. What would've been nice, was one of those large water bladders that we could've used just for storage after filtering and boiling, and after filling it up, sat it in the creek to get it cold for when we needed to refill the bladders in our packs.

Take extra fuel for the Jetboil. I wasn't sure how long the can would last, and that also affected how much water we boiled as we didn't want to use it all, and have to hike out to get another canister.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some things, so feel free to add any tips that some of you more experienced guys have figured out over the years. During my planning, this site was invaluable in helping me, and I wanted to share my experience in hopes that I can help someone that planning their hunt.
 

BugleMeTimber

Junior Member
Joined
Jun 19, 2020
Messages
48
I also use the Katadyn Hiker Pro which puts out water fast. Only boil water if we are drinking coffee or using it on mtn house. Water goes straight from the water filter to the water bottles and never boiled and I aint been sick yet. Great write up, thanks.
 

KNPV PSD

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 5, 2013
Messages
197
Location
Somers, MT
I was one of the guys with the llamas. This was my first elk hunt that far in and being around horse hunters instead of day hunters. We had very similar experiences to you except our drainage didn’t get the elk until after the first salvo of gunfire. The horsemen operate on a whole other game plan than foot hunters that’s for sure! But that’s hunting... glad you and your partner had a good time.
 

Wapitiaddict

Junior Member
Joined
Oct 24, 2020
Messages
26
Great write up. I enjoy reading these even when an animal isn't taken. Many other ways to count a hunt successful, even if it's just the lessons learned.

I have a buddy that strategically sets up a spike camp at the top of a draw that annual horse hunters push up through and push the elk right to him. Sometimes you can use other hunters to your advantage of you know which way the elk move hunters show up opening day. Maybe next year you can use the info you learned to your advantage.
 

Ross

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Staff member
Joined
Feb 24, 2012
Messages
3,634
Location
Liberty Lake, WA
DO NOT TRY THE HONEY STINGER WAFFLES, I think they put some kind of crack cocaine in them, because I'm now addicted to them. =)
lmao yes they are very addictive 🤙 things happen fast opening day if there are multiple bulls around good write up and use this years experience to your benefit in the future...good luck
 

sandhillhunter

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 4, 2012
Messages
348
Good write-up and tips.

Did you feel like the stove was really necessary? I’ve always thought a fire was a luxury and typically go without.

Also, we’re you filtering and boiling all of your drinking water?

Like mentioned above, I use a Katadyn Hiker Pro or Sawyer inline and never boil my drinking water unless I’m making coffee or rehydrating meals.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

Donny Land

Member
Joined
Jun 29, 2015
Messages
57
Location
Conroe, TX.
Great write up, thanks for taking the time to post.
I too use the Hiker Pro, and like others have said, there is no need to boil your water after you filter it, its good to go!
 
OP
Youngbuck

Youngbuck

Member
Joined
Jul 6, 2019
Messages
62
Location
Aiken SC
The guys on horseback had their basecamp near me and ended up getting four bulls that day, they mentioned running into a solo backpacker..... must have been you.

What day did you end up coming in? These guys were camped up from the trailhead. We saw their camp when we went back to the truck on the 13th for a resupply. And when we came out to relocate that Saturday, they were already gone.
 

CodyUSMC

Newbie
Joined
Oct 28, 2020
Messages
1
I really appreciated this. I am also trying to plan my first western elk hunt (other than oregon where I grew up) and it sounds like the only OTC state that we can for sure hunt, but also sounds like the worst.
 

bac078

Junior Member
Joined
Nov 6, 2020
Messages
11
Location
Kansas CityMO
Same boat cody. Been researching better optics than I use here in MO for whitetails and elk hunting info. Thats what brought me here. Great write up
 
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