Anderson: Minnesotans are winning at elk out West

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 16, 2013 - 11:19 PM
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Andy Shoemaker, a retired St. Paul policeman, with a massive bull elk taken on a self-guided hunt in Colorado last fall. Shoemaker and a friend rented horses to get them into the high country.

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.

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  • Left: Elk and deer hunting in the West is popular among Minnesotans in part because of the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, particularly in fall.

  • Horses leased by Andy Shoemaker of Stillwater and a hunting partner allowed them access to back country not often seen by other hunters.

  • Fran Satnik of Stillwater with a bull elk he shot on opening day of the Colorado season last year while hunting with friend Andy Shoemaker of Stillwater. It was Satnik’s first elk hunt, and he prepared for it months in advance, hiking many a hill near his home and honing his shooting eye once a week at the range.

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