There's plenty of game out there in Idaho this season — you just need to find it

There’s plenty of game out there this season — you just need to find it. By Roger Phillips. Idaho Statesman.

I guess this contradicts, “the-wolves-have-killed-all-the-game story” told by unsuccessful hunters. Of course, every year more and more ride ATVs up and down the roads and the trails looking for a shot. I suppose the folks who do this think that elk, deer, pronghorn, etc. can no longer hear very well.

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  1. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    Well, its about time this gets stated publicly, and in an Idaho newspaper of all things.

    I wish someone would draw a political cartoon that shows a pack of wolves riding ATVs, with the comment “gee guys, why aren’t we finding any elk since we started using these things? The salesman said it would make hunting easier.”

    Hunter success, or rather, lack thereof, is not attributable to wolves; its attributable to laziness. Elk need to actually be hunted these days, not ambushed in their former usual spots. I think that hunters need to realize that now that wolves are back, they need to start being better hunters, and not rely on ambush techniques so much. Maybe hunting “camp” isn’t such a good idea anymore, eh?

  2. Monte Avatar

    I have to agree. I am astonished how much land is open to ATV’s. For all practical purposes the land that is open to ATV’s is closed to hunters on foot. Why don’t people understand that hunting would be easier and game closer to the “road” if we didn’t have ATV trails in every basin pushing elk and other wildlife farther and farther out. ATV use is at least as responsible as wolves or any other predator for the distribution of game.

  3. Lynne Stone Avatar
    Lynne Stone

    I would like to echo the comments of Mike and Monte above.

    Over the Labor Day weekend when archery season opened in Idaho, I saw archery hunters on ATV’s DRIVING up and down back roads or ATV trails and then complaining that the wolves had (1) chased the elk away or (2) eaten them all.

    Can’t these folks get off and walk and do some real hunting?

    I even saw one hunter in a big Dodge Ram pickup (can supply license plate!) with his bow perched between his stomach and steering wheel, driver’s side window down, slowly driving along Cape Horn Road …. as if waiting to see an elk standing close enough to “stick”.

    I know you can’t shoot a rifle from your rig or the road, but maybe it’s legal with a bow? Anything to get your elk?

  4. Jerry Avatar

    Game numbers are higher than average in Montana also according to an article in the Missoulian on Aug 30th. “Elk numbers in general are trending upward” MFWP’s biologist Mike Thompson is quoted as saying.

  5. elkhunter Avatar

    I always keep my bow handy while driving into my areas, you never know when a big one will be standing in the road, they always catch you off guard, I like them driving up and down the roads, it means less pressure off the roads. It is illegal to shoot from the road though. I believe you have to be 500 ft to shoot. I am not sure about logging roads or trails, but I am pretty sure about main roads. I have missed some big ones from the road when I was younger.

  6. elkhunter Avatar

    Mike Wolf, actually ambushing is usually the best way to get an elk or deer. Usually stomping around in the woods results in watching lots of animals run away. Its alot harder than you think. I usually locate them and then get in front and hope they feed in my direction, as a bowhunter its pretty hard to sneak within 50 yards of a deer or elk, especially in drought conditions, its really noisy. So I bet hunters would be more successful if they did use more ambush techniques and less wandering around.

  7. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    Explain to me why ambushing is called hunting. Then explain to me the idiotic mindset that using a bow “makes hunting more sporting?”

    I purchased a rifle several years ago with the intent of hunting. I picked a caliber/type used by the military as a sniper weapon for the express purpose of “one shot-one kill” hunting. Illegally building a tree-stand on state lands, climbing up there, drinking your beer and eating your jerky while waiting for deer or elk to come alone the trail so you can stick them with an arrow is hardly sporting.

    When I HUNT elk, I will walk; a lot (which is why I haven’t been able to yet – due to my back problems) in order to find elk. Yes, I will likely use my knowledge of elk habits in undisturbed (by wolves and man) habitat; or I will follow wolf packs and sign in search of elk. But you won’t find me driving my truck to look for elk; nor will you find me on an ATV; unless I borrow one to retrieve the elk to process…if I have to.

    With my rifle sited at 500-1500 yards; I will be able to take shots that no archer could ever take – and no, I won’t take a shot unless I am 100% certain that the one shot will kill the animal.

  8. SAP Avatar

    Mike – is that 1500 yards a typo? 500 yards is really pushing it for most calibers on elk. 1500 yards is .85 of a mile; most conventional hunting calibers and virtually all sniper calibers (except .50 BMG) are going to fall to the ground well before that.

    For those of you wondering about what caliber you need to kill an elk, this is a helpful website:

    Pretty universal rule-of-thumb is that a bullet needs to be packing 1500 foot- pounds of energy to kill an elk. Even your monster long-range cartridges like .338 WinMag & .300 Weatherby Mag fall to that threshold at around 700 yards. Giant $100-per-box calibers like .378 WbyMag might take you out to 1200 yards, but you get somewhere around 1000 ft-lbs or more of additional muzzle energy (=> recoil) as the tradeoff.

    For me to shoot a big caliber like that, I’d need a recoil reducing stock and a rifle that weighs upward of 11 pounds — way more than I want to carry in the hills. I’ll keep using my .308 (7.62 NATO, probably the most common sniper caliber in the world) and try to limit my shots to 250 yards or less, depending on conditions.

    Using a bow (which I haven’t done since I was a teenager) is arguably more sporting — it’s dang hard to get close enough to get a good shot, and harder still to deliver that shot.

    So, if you are a DISCIPLINED archer, it’s tough to even get a shot. If you are an undisciplined slob who thinks animals are your little furry playthings with no feelings, then you probably end up “sticking” a lot of them with poor shots that lead to gangrene and slow, agonizing deaths (maybe the wolves clean those up for them?).

    Inevitably, though, we have the ethical quandary: death by arrow-induced hemorrhaging is inherently slower than death by massive shock, trauma, and organ destruction by a well-placed bullet within its effective range (I’m not talking about comparing a good archery shot to a bad rifle shot).

    Of course, is it really hunting — or just finding and shooting — to be out there with a 12-pound rifle so you can take them at 700 yards?

    This thing we call hunting is pretty slippery, and a lot of ink has been spilled in trying to make sense of it. We want to kill critters, but we don’t want them to suffer; some of us want the meat, some of us are looking to “match wits” against the big old bucks, bulls, or rams. Some of choose primitive weapons to “even the odds,” knowing well that the trade-off could be a far less merciful death for the animal.

    I’m not sure, though, that “ambushing” is bad. Doesn’t that make “stalking” bad, too? Isn’t “sniping” them from 500+ yards more or less the same as an ambush? If the animal could talk and you could ask it, do you think it would care? All it would know is that death came upon it unexpectedly.

  9. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    I bought my rifle because it has a muzzle velocity of 3800fps for a bullet of 150 grains. Lots of velocity, small bullet. It’s a sniper rifle for a reason.

    I probably won’t site it in at 1500 yards; but I’ve shot 750 with steel sites regularly; though I’m not at ALL comfortable taking out an elk that way. I’m not THAT accurate obviously.

    As for “sniping” not being sporting…I believe it is. I have to find the elk, and I have to get into a position to be able to take the shot. That involves skill. And because I choose to hunt one-shot-one-kill; I MUST make that one shot count. Given the habitat, it is more likely that 500 yards will be my shot than 1500. And while my rifle may be able to make shots at 1500; I won’t make a shot at a range higher than I am comfortable making accurately enough for a one-shot kill.

    The major difference between ambush and sniping is that in ambush, you wait for the animal to come down a regular trail; and you sit in a tree stand. I despise that. Sniping, as I said, requires work and setup; and I obviously can’t go to the same spot year after year and snipe elk.

  10. SAP Avatar

    Wish I had your eyesight, Mike. Sounds like a pretty good rifle. What caliber is that?

    I don’t really hear of anyone hunting elk from tree stands — I think they’re too mobile and wide-ranging to be able to predict where to put a stand.

    When I think of “ambushing,” I think of any situation where one conceals oneself and lets the animals come to them. Like elkhunter said, you might find a bunch of elk, try to get ahead of them, and let them work their way toward you. I think that’s skillful and sporting.

    I agree that taking them with a skillful “sniper” shot can be sporting; I just happen to believe that an “ambush” is no less sporting. Depending on how you look at a particular situation, you might snipe from ambush. Field situations often defy categorization.

    Ambush-from-treestand can also be sporting, as it takes skill to scout out the habitat and figure out how the deer (usually whitetails) are using it.

    The trail one sets up on may be only used at night; it may present almost zero opportunity for a clean shot; lots of other variables make it a little more challenging than “drinking your beer and eating your jerky while waiting for deer or elk to come along the trail.”

    I draw the line at the use of electronic surveillance devices, bait stations, and other substitutes for skill and effort. But having sat in a treestand for hours myself (& certainly not drinking beer) without ever getting a hint of a shot, I can’t agree that it’s inherently an unsporting way of dealing death from above.

    If climbing up in a tree is unethical, then so is using a rifle scope.

  11. Layton Avatar

    Mike W.

    To sum it all up — in just one sentence —- you sir are full of that which some call bovine feces!!!

    Shootin elk (or ANY other critter) at 750 or 1500 yards us utter BS!! Shooting ANYTHING at 750 yards with open sights is also utter BS — that is if you imply that you can hit it.

    150 grains at 3800 fps.?? Again, BS!! I’ll call your bluff, name the caliber, show me ANY documentation that supports it — or just go back under your rock!!

    What the hell is “sniping” besides waiting (ambushing) something a different range that you think is fair?? You my friend are full of crap like a 40 lb. robin!!

    Layton (laughing hysterically in the wings)

  12. Moose Avatar

    I’m with Layton on this one.

  13. elkhunter Avatar

    Mike, I would also like to know that caliber of the rifle. Sitting in a tree-stand is unethical? Are you joking? I dont build treestands, I have a portable one that I move around. Depending on the weather, hunting pressure and so forth. Even a 500 yard shot on an elk is very unethical except for a few individuals that spend countless hours shooting and knowing what the gun does at different ranges, different angles, also wind is a huge factor, then you would also need a very good rangefinder to be able to accurately range the distance. So I also will call BS.

  14. Jay Avatar

    Mike, you should join the Marines…they could use a guy like you.

    As for shooting an elk at anything over 3-400 yards, why would you? If you can’t get within that distance, you probably shouldn’t be hunting. And I don’t care how good a shot you are…if you’re purposely getting FURTHER from your target to challenge your skills, rather than closer, you’re doing the elk a disservice by increasing the likelihood that you’ll gutpunch him and have him run off to die where you won’t find him. Every hunter should consider it his/her obligation to get as close as possible to maximize the probability of a quick, humane kill.

  15. Jeff Avatar

    I too call BS on shooting over 400yds at anything. What caliber?; my 7mm pushes a 160gr around 3000fps and that is pretty darn fast. Stalking and ambushing sound like hunting to me. I’ve never seen anyone elk hunting out of a stand nor have I ever drank in the field…a load of crap from someone who pretends to hunt only to make all hunters look bad. I’d admit there are plenty of yahoos afield here in Wyoming, but the majority are good folks. That said I could certainly live with a significant reduction in ATVs.

  16. Cordell Avatar

    I think you may have bit off a little more than you can chew here.
    Why do you feel the need to tell other’s how to hunt elk when you have already stated that you have yet to do it?
    I think everyone else has covered the ballistics/marksman discussion, but I too am very interested in your answers.

  17. Jim White Avatar
    Jim White


    I don’t have a dog in this hunt, but, using the right type of open sights (I would use a peep sight myself) and the right firearm, taking a shot @ 1000 yards at an Elk (under P-E-R-F-E-C-T conditions) and hitting it is-not impossible. Its a long-shot (literally) but it is doable and mindyou, not everyone (if not most people) are capable of doing it.

    Ballistics for 150 grain bullet @ 3800 FPS with enough energy to kill an elk @ 500 yards and beyond. Dunno, but take a look at the Weatherby 30-378. It defiently has the required energy out to 500 (over 2000 ft/lbs) and beyond with a 180 grain bullet, whether it makes it to 1000 yards is beyond me. I’m guessing this person making the original statement is using a 30 cal round because I don’t believe 50 cals and such have bullets that light and nothing else I can think of right off the top would have the speed and energy to do it.

    Regarding Marksman skills, there are folks in this country that shoot 800-1000 yards every weekend, some with scopes, some with open-sigts and some with both. I use to routinely shoot every weekend with a M-14 from 100 to 600 yards. When I did it regularly, I wouldn’t of hesitated to take a shot at an Elk out to 600 yards, as-long-as, I knew 100% for certain the animal was going down (that’s the P-E-R-F-E-C-T conditins I was referring too earlier) and I had the right equipment to do so.

    Whether or not its sporting to do so is another question. Also, yes, the’re are Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and civillians out there with the skills of shooting at 1000 yards and beyond.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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