Big game tag sales have increased across the country in 2020 at an unprecedented and unanticipated rate. Idaho sold out of elk tags at a record pace for the second year in a row. Eastern whitetail hunting and deer camp tradition saw a strong resurgence and there was more pressure than there has been for many years. Nonresident big tags are continuing to increase in price and who can blame them. It’s supply and demand – and the demand was through the roof this year. Going farther and staying longer miles is no longer the formula for success in the mountains – its a prerequisite.
COVID-19 has forever changed the way we perceive and move through the world. It’s had negative impacts on many of us personally from losing our jobs to having loved ones hospitalized (or worse). Yet, it has had the exact opposite effect on the “outdoor” industry. Outdoor apparel and gear companies had record sale numbers – pretty much across the board. Big game tag sales are through the roof. Competition is at an all-time high.
So the question has to be asked… Are the days of great “over-the-counter” tags over?
No… They are very much not over.
If you spend a high percentage of your vacation days on a mountain, you’ve probably experienced some recent frustrations. This year in Colorado, I added extra days to my trip and went further in. I covered more miles than I ever have before – only to find other hunters in just about every remote hunting location. Trust me, I feel your pain. Yet, every year people like Ryan Lampers (@sthealthyhunter) and Brian Call (@brian_call) consistently harvest mature bucks, bulls, and bears in “over-the-counter” units. Yes, these are the same tags and the same areas that people are complaining about being “overcrowded” or “overhunted.” So how do they do it year after year – trip after trip – when people like me struggle regularly?
You need four elements:
The most important of these might not be the one you initially think. TIME. There are many things to learn from some of these next level hunters, but if there is one thing in particular that I have learned from Ryan Lampers, it’s the value of time and patience. Not just having more days to find the animal, but having the days to wait for the right time to strike. Waiting for the right bedding spot, wind direction, cover noise, sunlight, to make that final stalk to get the job done.
Physical ability is a prerequisite. Without the ability to cover miles and to survive in the backcountry for days on end, you aren’t even giving yourself a fair chance with many over-the-counter tags.
Intuition is one that comes from experience. You can study your quarry, techniques, and develop skills through practice, but intuition is only developed after validating your ability by putting your knowledge and skills to test in the real world.
Lastly, mobility is the final element to consistent success. You must go where the animals are. If they are not there, you need to keep moving. This is easier said than done for most people – but on many hunts it’s absolutely critical. It is not always easy to get up at 4am, pack everything up in the cold, and start hiking…again. Quality gear like the Seek Outside teepee shelters can make this experience both more enjoyable, and less painful.
Now, let me tell you why INCREASED HUNTING PRESSURE IS A GOOD THING.
The more hunting pressure in the mountains, the more expensive over-the-counter tags become, the long hikes to that super remote hunting spot that end with someone else having beaten you to your spot, the more protected our hunting rights are. Yes I said “rights” – not “privilege.”
It’s a love-hate relationship. Our world, our rights, our way of life is constantly under attack from very malicious and very well funded opposition. The more hunters we have the better, and there is plenty of space for everyone. I think Ryan Lampers (@sthealthyhunter) and Brian Call (@brian_call) prove that day in and day out.
For those that hunt almost exclusively on public land, I understand that this can seem counterintuitive. Some questions need to be asked like “What am I supposed to do now? Just accept that hunting is going to be harder moving forward?”
You can choose to feel sorry for yourself, complain about how hard it is, about how the “honey hole” that you’ve been hunting for 20 years is ruined. Or you can get off your soapbox and see the bigger picture. This is a good problem. We have to adapt. We have to change with the times and find new strategies to find success in the backcountry.
As someone who lives in the Eastern US and loves hunting out West, I know as well as anyone that it’s not an even playing field. Not everyone can put on the miles that Ryan Lampers can. Some of us are older. Some of us are handicapped. Some of us can’t afford to use 12 vacation days on a single hunt. Some of us can’t detach from our work, family, responsibilities for two weeks at a time…
But EVERYONE has some form of a competitive advantage. It might not be obvious to you right now, but if you look hard enough, you will find it. It could be your endurance, your flexible work schedule, your ability to work remotely, your business air miles that allow you to fly out west for free, your e-scouting, your long term limited tag planning and point accumulation, your distant cousin twice removed that owns 200 acres in Montana that borders landlocked public land…
The point is that everyone has a competitive advantage of some kind that can be utilized to find success every year.
Some of the most successful and consistent hunters I know and follow share something in common… They are excellent at something. They may be good at many things, but are excellent at something in particular. That something might be staying for weeks at a time in the backcountry chasing a single mature buck… or finding overlooked sanctuary spots that hold giant bulls yet everyone hikes right past…. or tag research and strategy that gives you a great tag every year.
So basically if you’re a red-blooded American backcountry public land hunter and have complained about running into people in “your spot…” Get over it. We are all in this together.