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Idaho Big Game Hunting Tips
If you’ve hunted western big game before, you probably already know the basic gear you’ll need – especially if you’re just day-hunting from a comfortable RV or roadside camp. We’re talking big, steep country most everywhere, though, so you’re strongly advised to acquire topographic maps of your chosen region, plus a quality compass, and know-how to use both in conjunction! In addition, you’d best pack special gear for spending a night or two by yourself away from camp for just-in-case: matches, flashlight, extra batteries, extra food, longjohns, hooded jacket, and a rain poncho or nylon tarp for early fall drizzle and even light snows.
By Lew Watson
You can never tell when you’ll down a huge bull elk at twilight, and you simply must skin out and quarter the meat immediately to avoid souring. Getting lost for a day or two in an endless tangle of brushy canyons is very common even among skilled hunters.
Beginners are advised not to hunt Idaho’s backcountry alone after late October – heavy snows can blow in up there overnight, with even 4WD rigs stranded till next spring.
South of the Salmon River between Riggins and Salmon, Idaho, deer hunters will encounter open-country mule deer almost exclusively. Simple still-hunting, stalking, and glassing far canyon sides will do the job here – preferably in the steepest, most remote terrain you can get into for the biggest bucks. North of the Salmon in the cut-over, less steep terrain of Idaho’s Panhandle, you’ll find mostly whitetails, which are a very different animal to hunt. Watching clearings at dawn and dusk works fairly well, though stumbling at random through dense forest doesn’t. Wait till November and try hunting flagtails during their rut, either by antler rattling or slowly moving through the woods when rutting bucks are constantly checking their scrapes.
Bugling elk is possible in mid-September in the back-country units open at that time. Otherwise, try moving very, very slowly through remote, moist, shadowy north-slope brush and deadfalls where elk hole up during the day. Dawn and dusk are the best times to spot elk in the open, and I don’t mean after sunup or before sundown! Incidentally, Idaho has the highest ratio of branch-antlered bulls to spikes of any state in the country.
An especially effective means of hunting elk is to backpack well beyond most other hunters and set up a simple base camp. In some areas you can hire outfitters to horse-pack gear in to a drop-camp, then pack your meat out after a successful hunt. Naturally you can book a full-time guide with elaborate packtrains and luxurious wilderness camps with gourmet meals as well. Or, even join a specialized hunting club for all big game species including exotic ones. At the other end of the scale, bolder souls might try a multi-day "soft-pack" hunt in which you carry everything you need with you each day, then set up a tiny solitary camp wherever night finds you. Talk about a true wilderness experience!
If you’re after antelope, try leaving your rig down on the flat and hoofing up some of our steeper sagebrush hills. That’s where large pronghorn bucks go to escape the unethical and illegal goons chasing them around in trucks in plains country. It’s easier to stalk into gun range of hill-country antelope too.
Cougars and black bears, of course, are hunted mainly with dogs, though baiting is still legal for bears in our state, thanks to many sportsmen and specifically to the efforts of the Idaho Wildlife Council to preserve our traditional hunting rights in general. Some hunters are successful with both these species by using predator calls normally employed to lure in coyotes and bobcats. You’ll commonly see bears, though rarely cougars, while hunting other big game species in Idaho – but you won’t often stumble into easy gun range.
Moose, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat hunting is limited in Idaho, and they’re all such rare, specialized targets that permit-holders will do well to do pre-hunt research.
The Idaho Fish & Game’s Regional Offices are willing to discuss areas with hunters, species knowledge, current trends, etc., but rightly refuse to "hotspot."
Links are provided to books mentioned below.
They are for sale through Idaho fish ‘n’ hunt in association with Amazon.com Books
Idaho Atlas & Gazetteer
Mule Deer: Hunting Today's Trophies by Jim Van Norman, Tom Carpenter
Hunting Open-Country Mule Deer by Idaho author, Dwight Schuh
Advanced Whitetail Hunting by Idaho authors, Ron L. Spomer, Gary Clancy
Bugling for Elk by Idaho author, Dwight Schuh