Elk beckon a fair share of Minnesota rifle hunters and archers to the mountains.
Among Minnesota’s major exports are its hunters. Each fall, it’s widely believed, Minnesota sends more hunters to more far-off locations than any other state.
This is particularly true of big-game hunters who seek deer and particularly elk in the mountain West.
Much of the planning that precedes these hunts takes root each spring at the Northwest Sportshow, which begins its four-day run on Thursday at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Featured at the annual outdoors extravaganza are exhibitors from throughout the West — each beckoning to Minnesota archers and rifle hunters to head to the mountains.
The temptation must be great: Last year, about 6,200 Minnesotans applied for lottery elk-hunting permits in Colorado, according to that state’s Division of Wildlife.
“Thousands more’’ Minnesotans, according to a department spokesmen, purchased big-game licenses over the counter in that state.
Below are tales from three Minnesota elk-hunting parties that have traveled west in recent years. Perhaps their adventures will inspire you to plan a similar quest.
Preparation is critical
When Fran Satnik’s good friend Andy Shoemaker suggested they make an elk-hunting trip to Colorado last year, Satnik took seriously his buddy’s recommendation to “be prepared.’’
“I wasn’t in bad shape, but I wasn’t in the kind of shape I wanted to be,’’ said Satnik, 56, of Stillwater. “I always did want to hunt elk, and I figured I’d better do it now, before I’m too old. But I needed to get in better shape.’’
Satnik’s exercise regimen included hikes up and down Stillwater’s hills. “I also hiked a wildlife management area that has a lot of hills,’’ Satnik said.
Tuning his shooting eye also was important.
“Every Wednesday I went to the range,’’ Satnik said. “I wanted to get comfortable making good, quick shots.’’
The hunt would be unguided — meaning the two would be on their own to devise a hunting plan, including the leasing of horses they would ride each morning to reach the back country.
“We’d be hunting a wilderness area,’’ said Shoemaker, who first hunted elk in Colorado in 1997. “Perhaps there aren’t as many elk there as in some other areas. But there aren’t as many hunters either.’’
Not far from Meeker, Colo., Satnik and Shoemaker rented a hunting cabin. From it they would arise at 3 a.m. each morning, eat breakfast, pack their lunches, saddle the horses and ride for three hours in the dark, nearly all uphill.
On opening morning, rain and sleet drenched the two hunters as they ambled along switchbacks that at times reminded them of their mortality.
“I told Fran if we were 10 minutes late we’d miss our best opportunity of the season,’’ Shoemaker said. “At the first hint of daylight, elk move into cover from the clearings.’’
Splitting up just before daybreak, the two hunters — remarkably — would each shoot bulls in the coming hours, Satnik’s at about 300 yards, Shoemaker’s at more than 200 yards.
“It was a wonderful experience,’’ Satnik said. “But very dangerous. You’re sticking your neck out when riding horses in that kind of country in the dark.’’
Guided and not
Steve Vilks has hunted elk three times in Wyoming and once in New Mexico. He’s killed three bulls.
“Two of the Wyoming hunts were unguided, in the Jackson Hole area,’’ he said. “Five friends and I pitched our own tents, chopped our own wood and made our food. To travel to our campsite and to travel while hunting each day, we leased horses.’’
The first unguided trip produced only a single cow. The next year, the same trip with the same hunters yielded four bulls and two cows.
“The difference was the weather,’’ Vilks said. “The second year, it snowed heavily and concentrated the elk at lower elevations.’’
Though fun, the self-guided trips were a lot of work, Vilks said.
“You’re cutting wood and loading the barrel stove and cooking, in addition to hunting,’’ he said. “On a guided hunt, the food may be good or it may be bad, but either way, it’s prepared for you and allows you to focus on the hunt, rather than survival.’’
Vilks’ guided Wyoming hunt was a fairly low-budget affair. Sleeping in a room built onto their guide’s garage, he and three friends rose early each morning and hauled horses to a trailhead before riding into the mountains.
“In the end, we got three bulls and a cow, so we did well,’’ Vilks said. “It showed me that at least in some instances you can have a good, guided hunt and still get by fairly inexpensively.’’
Conversely, his New Mexico hunt, Vilks said, cost more because it was on private land and because the area’s average size of bulls is bigger.
“It’s not always true with these hunts that you get what you pay for,’’ he said, “but it’s generally true.’’
Archers travel too
Paul Kreutzfeldt, John Heroff and Larry Berndt will head west again this fall, their bows in tow.
This will be their sixth out-of-state big-game trip, each to Colorado and each self-guided.
So far, they’ve put one cow in the freezer.
Still worth it?
Very much so.
“The first few years, we learned a lot,’’ Kreutzfeldt said. “Coming from Minnesota, we wanted to hunt elk like whitetails. But you can’t hunt elk like deer. Elk, it seems, always have a way of placing themselves where there’s not a clear shot with a bow.’’
Typically, the group rents a cabin on private land, hunting there and on nearby public land.
“Elk are so much bigger than the deer that we’re familiar with hunting,’’ Kreutzveldt said. “In a way, hunting them is like hunting turkeys. Elk will come to a call. Every trip we see elk. And when we get close to them, it’s a thrill.’’
Typically, the three archers will hunt together, rotating, day by day, the calling duties
“We get up at 4:30, eat breakfast and hike around all day,’’ Kreutzveldt said. “For us, just being in the mountains is a big part of it. And every fall, there’s at least one opportunity to get one good animal.’’
Which so far has been attraction enough to return, year after year.
And will be again this fall.