As the fall season descends over the Mountain West there is a certain mystique in the air. The dog days of summer slowly give way to crisp autumn mornings and nights, which bring with them a bounty of color. In this, nature’s final curtain call before winter, the region’s wildlife is at its most remarkable. The peak rut for most large game, the area’s vast wildernesses are alive with a chorus of bugles.
This is one of the most active seasons for wildlife, particularly ungulates. Annual ruts, or mating seasons, coincide with the beginnings of migration, when elk, moose and deer move from the high country to lower elevations, where winter foliage is generally more accessible.
For elk, the annual rut reaches its peak in mid-September. Sociable most of the year, in August bull elk begin to separate and gather cows. Within weeks, the males reach a near frenzy. Bulls will challenge each other, by bluffing or outright locking antlers, for rights to a herd’s cows. A herd bull seldom eats or sleeps, dutifully guarding his precious harem, which requires fending off satellite bulls vying for the same rights.
This scene of large elk herds flanked by spectacular mountain scenery and colorful foliage is hard to resist, and it has become the allure of casual spectators and hunters alike. For the latter, the Mountain West is a destination unto itself. Home to some of the largest native big game populations, the Rocky Mountain West offers a diversity of hunting grounds whose bounty is matched by their challenge.
Indeed, each year the region’s wilds become a testing grounds of sorts—not only for mating wildlife, but for sportsmen and women. Tens of thousands of individuals from around the world travel here to hunt. A time-honored tradition, the competition between man and nature holds a certain fascination. For some, it is the sport. For others, an opportunity to put food on the table. For others still, a rare entry into nature’s enclaves. Whatever one’s motivation, there is a code, both explicit and unwritten, meant to honor and protect the integrity of the land and the life it sustains.
While the sport is not without controversy, overwhelmingly hunters consider themselves environmental stewards. As human development has impacted migration routes and predator-prey patterns, wildlife populations require management to regulate density, which would otherwise overrun feed supplies and invite disease outbreaks. And, contrary to popular conception, trophy hunters are a small minority of the demographic. Most hunters utilize nearly all of what they kill.
As the popularity of hunting has grown, the West has become North America’s premier destination. And within the Rocky Mountain region, certain areas are known for both their challenge and their abundance animals.
In Montana, about 50 percent of the state’s elk harvest comes from Region 3, an area that encompasses the southwest part of the state, including Bozeman, Butte and Dillion. Old-growth forests afford wildlife natural cover, while numerous access points provide hunters entry into the backcountry.
To the west, Idaho’s southern panhandle and the Clearwater National Forest are popular bow-hunting destinations. The thick woods require expertise to navigate, but the reward can be worth the struggle. Some of the country’s largest recorded game have been tagged in the area.
The Bridger-Teton National Forest, which surrounds Jackson Hole, Wyoming, boasts remarkable hunting in striking alpine basin terrain—which attracts a wealth of wildlife throughout the seasons. To the east, the Beartooth Mountains offer classic wilderness elk hunting along the North Fork of the Shoshone River and Sunlight Basin.
Before embarking into the wilderness, it is imperative that hunters be equipped with the right tools and information. They should know the area, including private and public boundaries; understand local rules and regulations; have proper permits; be equipped for the elements, which can change quickly; prepare a plan and notify others; carry the right equipment; and always be bear aware. Guide services can be hugely beneficial, especially for those unfamiliar with an area.
For avid hunters and those seeking a quiet escape, hunting properties—which provide turnkey access to public lands—have become some of the region’s most sought-after real estate. Western Ranches represents the most hunting and ranch properties of any brokerage in the Mountain West, with more listings than our nearest competitors combined. Our agents have a unique understanding of the area, because they too call it home, and all are devoted hunters, fishers and outdoorsmen and women themselves.
To learn more about this remarkable region, contact our dedicated team. We look forward to sharing more about what makes this place such an extraordinary destination.