Sisyphus probably was not thankful for much, but he should have been grateful elk weren’t around in ancient Greece.
You know the myth of Sisyphus? He’s the unfortunate bloke who was punished by the Olympian gods because they feared he was smarter than they were; they sentenced him to roll a giant rock up a mountain. The moment Sisyphus got the boulder to the peak, it rolled back down to the valley, and he had to repeat the feat over and over for eternity.
If you’ve ever been on a public-land elk hunt, you know a little of how Sisyphus felt. There’s nothing easy or gentle about elk hunting in the West. You need to be in good physical shape. You need all your senses. And you often need a dose of either good luck or bad weather to encounter elk.
There is some consolation to all this anguish, though. There are elk out there, even on public land. While they won’t stand still or come galloping in to a November call, hunters like you and me, folks who can’t afford to hire an outfitter or take time off work, can kill them. But unless you want to spend an eternity searching for elk, you have to pick your spots.
Look for hunting districts with elk herds that are above biologists’ population objectives. In Montana, that includes the Gravelly Range southwest of Ennis, the Blacktail Range near Dillon, the Little Belt and Highwood mountains south and east, respectively, of Great Falls, and much of the national forest land around Missoula. Idaho also has elk surpluses, in much of the Weiser Zone north of Boise and the island mountain ranges in the southeastern corner of the state.
Colorado is legendary for its abundance of elk, especially in the Granby, Rifle and Montrose areas. The fourth season (November 6-10 this year) should bring herds to foothills along the Rio Grande, Arkansas, Blue and Yampa rivers. Wyoming has surpluses in the Snowy Range and Laramie Peak areas. Even Washington, where elk herds have been slowly building, is nearing population targets in the Blue Mountains and northeastern forests around Colville.
By early November, when rifle elk seasons kick off in many Western states, animals are wary and scattered. If you can, wait for a snow, which makes elk easier to track and stalk and should concentrate them in the more accessible lower elevations. If you can’t wait for weather, find game trails that enter dense north-facing timber and ambush elk on their way to or from these sanctuaries.
Or go fishing. Hopefully, you won’t sweat, ache or curse as much as you will hunting elk.
Both brook and brown trout spawn in the fall and they also feed aggressively as ice-up approaches. It’s the best time of the year to land large, colorful specimens on big, minnow-imitating flies, spoons and plugs.
Arizona’s Apache National Forest south of Springerville is a good spot to encounter both species. Find swarms of brookies in Colorado’s North Park and lakes east of Pagosa Springs. The vast Boulder Mountain in southern Utah has some of the largest brook trout in the West, but you’ll also find them, along with browns, in the accessible Provo and Weber rivers along the Wasatch Front.
Lakes along Washington’s I-5 corridor north of Seattle and Everett contain cutthroats and rainbows along with brookies and browns. Fish Lake Stevens and Lake Cavanaugh near Arlington, and Silver Lake northeast of Bellingham. Or drive to the headwaters of the Deschutes River for monster browns. California’s Shasta and Donner lakes are great fall trout destinations.
Cast big streamers or spinners to shallow-water brookies in Montana’s Georgetown Lake, or go deep for browns in Salmon Lake, Noxon Rapids Reservoir and Holter Lake. In Wyoming, Buffalo Bill Reservoir is a good spot for big brown trout.
Many of these trout lakes sit in valleys just below elk-rich public land. They’re good spots to wet a line while you restore your energy and confidence for your next hunt. When you shoulder your pack and rifle for another march up the mountain, be thankful you’re not pushing a boulder. Though you may earn a burden Sisyphus never could have imagined: packing an elk carcass back downhill.
For more regional information, go to www.outdoorlife.com/destinations