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Do-it-yourself or semi-guided hunts

Every year we have hunting opportunities for do-it-yourself or semiguided hunters. DIY hunts for caribou, whitetail deer or pronghorn antelope are usually successful, but you'll need a great deal of hunting skill and a measure of luck as well as the proper transportation and gear in order to score on a nice elk or mule deer.

We often get calls from hunters wishing to hunt a top-quality ranch on their own for record-class bull elk or mule deer, but the best properties simply are not available to unguided hunters. If you want a do-it-yourself hunt for truly big elk or mule deer, your best bet is to draw a tag in a limited-tag public zone that is managed for trophy hunting.

The odds of drawing a mule deer or elk tag in the best areas are usually less than 5 percent and sometimes less than 1 percent. Some states give a bonus point or preference point to unsuccessful applicants and give as many as 80 percent of the tags to those hunters who apply with the highest number of points. In Utah, for example, half the tags in each unit go to hunters with the most bonus points. To assure yourself of a permit for deer or elk in the best areas, you'll need 14 or more bonus points. The other 50 percent of tags go to hunters who don't have enough preference points to guarantee themselves a permit, and each bonus point gives you essentially an additional raffle ticket in the lottery drawing for tags. Thus, somebody who is applying for their 10th year would have 10 times greater chance of drawing a tag than a person applying for the first time.

In Colorado you'll need to apply for 14 to 18 consecutive years to guarantee yourself a tag in the most popular trophy areas. New Mexico and Idaho offer no preference or bonus points, so you'll have just as high a chance of drawing a tag your first year as you would in your 10th year.

Even if you draw such a coveted tag, you're wise to hire a guide to maximize your chances of getting a wallhanger on what is essentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Also, consider that in some cases you'll have a much easier time getting a quality permit if you apply through an outfitter. In New Mexico 11 percent of elk and deer tags are allocated to clients of outfitters. Since outfitter clients are far outnumbered by freelance hunters, your chances of drawing a tag through an outfitter can be significantly better, depending on the unit.

Some hunts are difficult or impossible to pull off without the equipment and resources that an outfitter or guide can offer. Just to reach the best portions of many ranches, you'll need an ATV, a 4WD truck or horses. Outfitters often have access to several different properties, and so if game seems to be scarce on one lease, they can often move guided hunters to another lease. By contrast, a self-guided hunter typically is limited to one lease or one area. That limits success if unusual weather or another factor has caused animals to move.

A lack of mobility also can be a problem on a semiguided or unguided caribou hunt. Our Brooks Range semiguided caribou hunt, for example, is typically a bit less successful than a guided hunt in the same area because the guides have four-wheelers that they can use to move 20 miles up or down riverbeds that are dry in the fall. Still, about 90 percent of our unguided caribou hunters over the past 20 years have filled their tags, not far behind the 98 percent of guided hunters.

We advise most caribou hunters to pay the extra money for a guided hunt simply because you'll be more mobile. In Quebec guided hunters typically take boats each day to different hunting areas, while self-guided hunters must walk from camp. In Alaska guided hunters often have a plane or an ATV at their disposal, so if the herds aren't nearby, the guide can locate them and move though you must wait till the next day to hunt if you fly. If the caribou herds move well away from camp, or if warm weather has slowed down the caribou migration, self-guided hunters have a tough time scoring.

Still, sometimes a self-guided hunt is a good idea, especially if you are in good physical condition, have the necessary equipment, and have a high degree of hunting skill.

Semi-guided and do-it-yourself hunts:

Price shopping can be risky, yet bargain-priced hunts are often excellent.

If you're new at hunting a particular species or a particular type of habitat, usually it's wise to book a guided hunt the first couple of times. Once you feel confident in hunting that animal or that area, you can often do just fine on your own.

Mature mule deer and mature bull elk are much more difficult to hunt than most hunters realize. Rifle seasons usually take place outside the rut, meaning trophy-size deer and elk typically stay in heavy cover except at night.

At the right are links to articles that every self-guided hunter should read. If you're convinced a self-guided hunt is what you want, please call us. Keep in mind that you must hire a guide to hunt grizzlies, goats or sheep in Alaska, any big game animal in western Canada, or in wilderness areas in Wyoming.