What I learned from my first elk hunt.

Yellowhammer

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May 30, 2018
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After a year of planning, purchasing, and getting ready physically and mentally it was time to make the trip to Idaho. We drove straight out from Tennessee in a quad cab truck with 3 guys and a load of gear and headed to the Frank church area in the salmon zone. We arrived around lunch kind of tired about 28 hours after leaving and decided to hike in on the relatively flat portion of the trail which was around 5 miles. We set up camp around 2.5 hours after departing the trailhead and cooked steaks and instant potatoes for the first meal. It was still daylight so we went to the creek that we were planning to follow up and quickly realized that our plans would have to be altered. We could not follow the creek with the roughly 60 pound packs we were carrying as it was thick as hair on a dog's back and had a lot of deadfall in the narrow bottom. We decided that we would have to follow the trail up the mountain and try to get down to water. We got good night's sleep after a long trip in, got up had breakfast,
took down camp, and got started hiking up the switchbacks around 1030. We climbed a little over 2000 feet in around 3 miles which took us over 5 hours and put us half way to the top and about 700 feet over the last water. We decided to camp at a relatively flat spot we found and decide what to do. After a bit of talking we decided we couldn't continue on to the top as we had no idea if we would have access to water once we made the top, we were already 8 miles in and getting close to what we felt was the max we could pack an animal out. We were really torn about going back as we had just started getting into good elk sign with fresh rubs, tracks, feces and 5 x shed but we couldn't think of a good plan to stay as on the day's hike we had consumed 3 liters of water each and refilled at the creek 700ish feet below our location and we were basically half way up so we knew we would consume around the same amount on the next half with no guarantee of having a spot to refill and 3 liters each was our max capacity. Reluctantly we decided we would have to go back down and come up with a new plan. The next morning we left one of the most beautiful areas I've ever been in and headed back to the truck. We ran into a couple who ran bitterroot outfitters that told us we were just getting to where we needed to be and there was a small spot of water we could've accessed but making the climb back up wasn't going to happen. They graciously offered to take our packs back to the trailhead but we declined as we wanted to carry our own, stupid looking back on that. We made it the 8 miles and change back to the truck and we were mentally and physically tired. The hike had been hard but the realization that our plans didn't work and with our backup areas in similar spots they wouldn't work either. We headed into town to try and come up with something. We got a room a some really good pizza and started looking for something we could access more easily. I called my wife and she said a guy she worked with had told her his son knew a guide in the area after she mentioned we were out there. He called his son who contacted the guide who got up with us from his camp in the mountain, small world and full of some good people. He recommended a drainage and we identified a couple of roads that we thought we could access where we needed to be so we got some restless sleep and headed to an area 60 miles away. We saw a lot of deer and elk on private land all along the river which gave us some hope for the creek we were heading to. The first 2 roads that led back to the area crossed private and were gated so we finally found a goat trail which we took a full size pickup up and got back where we thought we wanted to be. A guy came by on a side by side and let us know that there were 3 people in the area, he was very nice and we explained that we knew it was public and we didn't want to mess them up so we worked out where everyone would not be on top of each other and headed in. We hiked about 8 to 10 miles each, covering from the creek bottom to about 10000 feet and didn't see an animal. We decided to head back to town and rethink our plan but we could sense the wheels falling off. We saw even more mule deer and elk in yards and fields along the river and the frustration and friction continued to rise in our group. By about 10pm our planned 8 day hunt had been shortened to 4 and we were headed back home frustrated, aggravated, and defeated.

Things I learned
Driving 28 hours on 5 hours of sleep even with rotating drivers and trying to nap wasn't the best plan, we should've slept a full night before and stopped somewhere along the way.
The Frank is a beautiful and awe inspiring place that everyone should experience with livestock. If we had at least had llamas our initial plan could've worked but it wasn't possible for us on foot. Don't plan on walking creek bottoms there like we do out east and switchbacks are punishment for something i did in my past, going down was harder on me than going up.
Hiking in 30 to 50 degree weather with packs and elevation change should be done in boxers, socks, and boots. Didn't need any clothing to stay warm, standard wear was 150 merino tshirt and attack pants which were appreciated for the hip vents.
Loved the hammock for the area as trees were pretty easy to find and flat spots were not. Mid twenties and with top quilt and underquilt i slept in boxers and still had to vent occasionally as i was too warm and that was consensus from others as well.
Trekking poles are necessary, kept me from sliding off switchbacks several times and made the climb possible.
Take vertical distance into account when planning your distance in and don't even try it if you don't have knowledge of where water is.
If at all possible send at least one person to put boots on the ground and verify your plan before the hunt. I wish we would've pooled money and paid for one of us to do this as it would've prevented a lot of time wasted and frustration about plans falling apart.
Read a lot about gaiters but didn't find the need for them when it's dry.
Assume roads are going to be gated, another reason to send a person to check before.
If I had to make one recommendation to an eastern hunter it would be to not try Idaho on foot. If you want to do backcountry, get livestock, go guided, try a drop camp. The terrain is amazing and punishing physically and mentally and there is nothing here that would've been a good representation of what we were about to do. Assume you can't carry your pack off trail if you do decide to try it on foot.
When frustration starts to get high, don't make rash decisions, get a night's sleep and make the decision the next day. We should still be out there instead of being back at home and probably would be if we'd waited till the next morning to decide what to do instead of deciding when everyone is tired and irritated.
I'm already planning going back and really regretting being back home even though seeing my family this morning was great. We put a lot of time, effort, and money into this trip and it went to hell pretty quick. I really think I'll go the guided route next time and I'd like to go back to the same area to kinda finish what i started on this trip so if anyone knows any good guides or outfitters in the salmon zone please let me know
 
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Yellowhammer

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One other thing, we had 10x42 binoculars for glass and we saw an elk on the way in, stopped just to take a look and at around 900 yards it was hard to tell he was a spike. Also really difficult to pick a mountain side apart as I've seen others do, anything over a couple hundred yards would've been hard to detect if not moving or in a pretty open spot. When i go back I'll have a spotting scope or maybe since 15x binos
 
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Yellowhammer

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Sounds like a good learning experience.
Expensive and frustrating learning experience that's caused some friction between close friends, nothing permanent I'm sure but still. Hope someone can benefit from it as I'm sure we have.
 

BeaverHunter

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Sep 15, 2018
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Expensive and frustrating learning experience that's caused some friction between close friends, nothing permanent I'm sure but still. Hope someone can benefit from it as I'm sure we have.
Yea I'm sure that car ride home wasn't very pleasant.
 

Sundance

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Jul 9, 2014
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Tough break, sorry to hear that. I'd offer the advice of going in a smaller group or splintering up, I hunt in a loose group of about six guys. We range in age and physical shape but we are generally within a 30 mile radius of each other during the season. We may share a base camp 1-2 nights per season but typically we are split up in 1-2 man teams. This works well for us so we can do our own thing or hunt with people of the same mindset and physical limitations. It really helps when we go to a new area or are checking on a spot we didn't scout that summer. This year we went to a new GMU and the three of us split up at different trailheads in the morning. By noon I had found some animals and that evening all three of us were working them. Best wishes for next season and keep after it.
 

Doc Holliday

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It's cool you shared this. I think there are probably a dozen of these for every "first elk hunt" DIY trip that goes smoothly, but of course most people only take to social media when there is something to show off.

I have a buddy who keeps talking about doing a DIY trip with a bunch of other eastern rookies, and what you described is exactly what I envision, and why I am going guided for my first trip.

You will be alot better prepared for the realities next time, and will also have a better idea of who, if anyone, you want to come with you.



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Ross

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Hopefully your next hunt out
west goes smoother...👍I’ll echo the part about boots on the ground...met some nice guys opening day in north Idaho did not draw Montana so they picked north Idaho otc hunt...never been here...I left house at 3am know chosen hillside well start hiking at 5...takes most day hunters 2.5 hours to get to proper elevation...I’m cruising about 20 percent in cut 3 boot tracks from night before in snow on gated road thinking best step it out go another half mile they are spiked out having big fire to warm up as it is 10 degrees I cruise by they don’t see me as to cold I get upon hillside see elk pass on four point cruise down mid day and meet them. We talk and they ask where I came from I tell them I walked by them 😁 they said I must be a ghost and best spot another 800 vertical they were spent and got no sleep amazed how steep it is and brushyyyyyy and timber...they had never been here...gave them some tips and I headed out. best if possible to get intel either first hand or reliable source on exactly what your expecting to do so you don’t waste an opportunity....seasons are short and we have only so many opportunities through the years....little things can make or break a trip/hunt.
 

jolemons

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Unless you're running alpha glass 10x on a tripod and still can't see animals I'd rethink your 15x comment. Good learning for next time. It's also a lot easier to make decisions when you're solo.

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SWOHTR

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Been there kinda, only solo and with “only” an 8 hour drive commitment.

Chalk it up as learning.

Ask your buddies for their thoughts in a few days.

Jack O’Connor wrote about hunting with at max, one other person. Reason being, any more than that and two people will likely gang up on the other person making for a miserable time. I reflected on that and thought of once or twice where I’d experienced it.
 

id_jon

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I'll second the 10s. I have 10s and 15s and I often only use the 10s. I ended up leaving the 4lb 15s at home my second trip out this season. Hope all that you learned helps contribute to success next year!
 

Deadfall

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Oct 18, 2019
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All in all sounds like good experience. Any pain that teaches is good. Only advice I would offer is too stay away from llamas. You wont hear this on the tv or youtube. When a llama gets tired they just quit. You ain't going any further. Sometimes that lasts for several days. More often then not you are only going to get 3 maybe 4 miles out of them before they quit. Then you stuck. Llamas are highly overrated especially if you want to bang around very much. When they quit, they lay down. Not getting back up no matter what you do. I've watched folks struggle with them alot.
 

Dos Perros

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One thing I don't think people realize...even dudes like Remi Warren will go an evening without seeing an animal or hearing a bugle. When that happens it's not time to give up, it's time to keep going. The densities of animals in the west is so much lower than the east, it's nothing to look over a lot of good country and not see animals. But, they are in there somewhere. And you'll never find them if you go home. FWIW, I picked up elk several times at 4 miles with my mid-grade 10x42's this year.
 

Conrad101st

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Jun 28, 2017
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That’s a whole lot of hiking. I think truck camping until you learn an area is way better. Hunt from a cozy base camp. Then hike hard with minimal loads and you will eventually discover a couple excellent holes, saddles, wallows, ridges or spots you want to set up on next year. Then you can use those spots as potential backpacking targets same season or next year.
 

Farrisryan3

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Apr 8, 2019
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Just hunted unit 10 forb8 days and never seen a elk. Very dispointing


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idahohikker

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Another experience seeing about zero elk in the Frank. 100% of the reports I’ve heard this year. Makes me chuckle but I understand it is personally painful.

At what point will new guys from back east learn that the Frank is very tough hunting?

The real experience you would have had is getting an elk out from 8 miles deep. Yowza.
 
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