Considered one of the most majestic animals on the continent, the Rocky Mountain elk is emblematic of western hunting. From the bugling of herd bull monarchs keeping their harems of cows in line to the breathtaking vistas and, oh!, those towering tiers of antlers, this is a prized experience for anyone with the patience to hike the miles and put in the hours behind a binocular to plan a stalk. Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah are always top destinations, but reintroduced populations in states like Kansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and even Arkansas, with others in the planning, are offering fresh opportunities.
Elk tags are most often acquired through lottery tag draws, but there are states that offer over-the-counter tags, even for non-residents. You can hunt them DIY on public land if you like to camp and are map-savvy. If you’d prefer a helping hand, there are dozens of reputable hunting guides who can get you where you’re going via horseback or llama and tent camp if you like roughing it, or with a wake-up call in a five-star lodge, whichever you prefer.
For more information, see our friends at Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
There is a lot involved in getting ready for a successful elk hunt. In this video, NSSF’s Chris Dolnack shares what he learned from industry experts on a recent western elk hunt.
Wisconsin Turns to Adults for New HuntersWisconsin is one of those states actively seeking new hunters. Since 1990, it has lost over 100,000 licensed deer hunters, one-seventh of its deer-hunting population. Emily Lehl is the Wisconsin DNR’s R3 Coordinator. R3 stands for “recruitment, retain, and reactivate” and is a national initiative followed by many state agencies. “In 1996, our department implemented the ‘Learn to Hunt Program.’ Back then, our first inclination was to target young people for introduction to hunting. We set up ‘Learn to Hunt’ as a way to get kids from non-hunting families involved in hunting. We were able to get special seasons and relaxed limits implemented,” said Lehl. After several years of “Learn to Hunt,” the DNR discovered a few things. One, most of the kids involved in the program were from hunting families—not really the target audience the agency needed to attract new hunters. Second, the participating kids who were from non-hunting families had no support network to continue hunting. With that knowledge, starting in 2011, Wisconsin DNR officials shifted its R3 efforts from kids to young adults. “We noticed an increase in interest from young adults who were looking at hunting as a means to procure organic protein for themselves and their families,” said Lehl. Since most of these young adults had neither hunting experience nor a network of hunters to turn to for advice, the department implemented a series of “Hunt for Food” classes designed to provide information, mentorship and hands-on experience the new hunters would need to continue participating in this American pastime. The classes meet once a week for four weeks. The first class is held in a classroom setting where participants get to know one another and get a basic overview of hunting methods, general safety and equipment needs. The second week is spent in the field covering actual hunting situations and methods. Week three moves to the shooting range to introduce the new hunters to either firearms or crossbows. All of this training culminates in the actual hunt weekend. Participants are paired with volunteer mentors and then put their training to use. After the hunt, everyone reconvenes for a hands-on butchering class to process game from any successful hunts, and the final part of the class has participants and their families attending a wild-game dinner. Not only does the meal introduce properly prepared wild game, it gives the attendees a chance to socialize and form bonds that should help form a lasting support group for future hunts. The program has been so successful that the Wisconsin DNR is now encouraging hunting and conservation clubs across the state to adopt the framework and hold classes of their own. “We traditionally see these clubs focusing on youth, but with the success we are seeing from the ‘Hunt for Food’-style programs, we are encouraging these clubs to shift that focus to young adults,” said Lehl.
Kansas Takes a Multi-Pronged ApproachAnother agency seeking to stem the decrease in their state’s hunter numbers is the Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism (KDWPT). From 2011 to 2016, hunter numbers in the state dropped 16 percent. Tanna Fanshier, R3 Coordinator for the Department, is working to reverse that trend. One of five states awarded a monetary grant from the Association of State Fish and Wildlife Agencies for programs to expand hunter numbers, the KDWPT is attacking the problem on multiple fronts. In addition to re-engaging hunters who have stopped participating in the tradition, Fanshier says the KDWPT is reaching out to non-traditional hunting audiences, including women, college students and Millennials. “Our Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) classes are proving to be extremely popular,” said Fanshier. The classes are held at multiple locations throughout the year with experienced volunteers covering a variety of topics, including basic hunting, species-specific hunting, camping, firearm or archery gear training, bird and wildlife ID and fishing, in hands-on training. “One of the things I’m really excited about is that we have recently scheduled our first BOW class with an all-female instructor group,” Tanna said. “We think having women as instructors for the class will remove some of the apprehension participants might have when signing up for the class.” Like the Wisconsin DNR, the KDWPT is also seeing great return on investment from programs centered on young adults and their desire to learn to hunt as a means of procuring organic protein. “We have seen great success in tapping into the locavore movement among young, sometimes urban populations. We are using both fish and game dishes as a way to introduce a non-traditional segment of the population to hunting and fishing,” said Fanshier. Unfortunately, one of the biggest hurdles for new hunters is finding a spot to hunt. With approximately 98 percent of the land in Kansas being privately owned, this is particularly true for new hunters in the state. To combat this issue, KDWPT began a Walk-In Hunting Access (WIHA) pilot program in 1995. The program paid private landowners to open their land to walk-in hunters. By 2004, WIHA had grown to over a million acres; during the 2018-’19 season, WIHA provided over 1.2 million acres of ground to hunters pursuing a wide variety of game species. To ease liability concerns, Kansas state law has provided landowners who lease their land to the state for recreational purposes immunity from damages or injuries that result from ordinary negligence.
Kentucky Gets Creative with Firearms Seasons and Mentored HuntsThe Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (KDFWR) is also on a constant search for ways to stop falling hunter numbers. Brent McCarty, R3 Manager for the department, says the state of Kentucky has long been at the forefront of new-hunter recruitment. “Our department has a large R3 staff for agency size, an indication of just how important it is to us,” says McCarty. “We were the first to introduce the ‘Field to Fork’ program that has been adopted by so many other agencies and organizations. And we are still the most active with more than 40 ‘Field to Fork’ programs last year, alone.” Brent said. “One of the biggest impediments to new hunters in the state is access to a place to hunt. We have a lot of experienced hunters who would like to mentor new hunters, and landowners who offer their farms to host hunts. Trouble is, the most effective tool for new hunters is a firearm, and both the mentors and the landowners tend to be either hunting themselves or hosting friends and family hunting their property during the relatively short firearms season. To combat this, we’ve recently gotten legislation passed that allows us to host firearm mentor hunts on private land outside the regular season. This gives us the opportunity to pair up experienced mentors with new hunters in the NSSF +ONESM Movement-style on farms that don’t have other active hunters on them at the time,” said McCarty. KDFWR is also in the process of switching the required Hunter Safety Certification from an either partial or complete in-person class to a completely online course. “Not only is this going to make it easier for new hunters, it will free up the four regional hunter ed coordinators and nearly 400 volunteers we have across the state to move away from hunter ed and more toward R3 initiatives,” said McCarty. While efforts like these from various state game agencies might not entirely reverse the decline in hunter numbers, they can turn the tide. Introducing a new, non-traditional demographic to hunting is helping to spread the word to a much wider audience, good news for the long-range well-being of the tradition we love. Curious about what your state’s natural resources agency has to offer you, from public hunting lands to game seasons and apprentice hunting license programs? NSSF’s Where to Hunt is your one-stop resource for state-by-state information, and it’s just one of the resources for both new and experienced hunters at LetsGoHunting.org. Give it a visit and see all it has to offer—and then head to the field for a great day of hunting. You may also be interested in: https://www.letsgohunting.org/articles/fish-wildlife-agencies-use-mentored-dove-hunts-to-introduce-people-to-hunting/
Magnification RangeYou will need to assess your specific glassing needs in order to make a proper decision when it comes to the magnification range of your binocular. Many people believe that more magnification is better, but that’s not always the case. For instance, field of view, the width of the image seen through the binocular, can in fact be too narrow when using higher magnification binoculars. I personally prefer a high-quality design of lower magnification than the reverse. The finest brands will give a bright, crisp image at 8X magnification, where the poorly made models (some with very attractive price tags) will struggle to compete at any magnification level. [caption id="attachment_3239" align="aligncenter" width="650"] The Leupold BX-5 Santiam HD, one of the author’s favorite binoculars. It represents an excellent value, giving premium performance at a very attractive price.[/caption] Higher magnification levels do have their place, especially for glassing across canyons or open plains or tundra. Still, you’ll have to balance their benefit there against their generally larger, heavier bodies and more expensive price tags. Binoculars are labeled with the magnification level first, the diameter of the objective lens (in millimeters) second. Thus, a 10x32 binocular has 10X magnification and 32mm lenses. General-purpose binoculars usually have 7X, 8X or 10X magnification and 32 to 40mm lenses. I have owned smaller models—I had a Zeiss 8x20 “shirt-pocket” model that worked well for deer hunting in thicker woods—but the smaller objective lenses don’t offer the light transmission the larger models do. Contrarily, the larger models are heavier and can be more difficult to hold steady for viewing, so you can see where the tradeoffs need to be made. [caption id="attachment_3240" align="aligncenter" width="650"] The Swarovski 8x32 EL—what may be the Holy Grail of binoculars to many hunters and shooters. It isn’t cheap, but it’s worth the investment.[/caption]
The Prism QuestionModern binoculars are broken into two groups: roof-prism and Porro-prism models. Without getting deep into the physics, the Porro-prism design uses a pair of offset prisms, which usually results in a greater distance between the ocular lenses. These binoculars have a short, stout, squat look. The roof-prism binocular uses a pair of back-to-back prisms, and the straight-line design allows for a more compact design. With a hinge in the center, the unit looks much like a capital “H.” [caption id="attachment_3241" align="aligncenter" width="650"] The author’s Leica Ultravid 8x32 HD binocular, shown here in Australia, has been on many different hunts and has always been reliable.[/caption] I tend to lean toward roof-prism designs, as I most often carry my binocular on a strap, hanging under my left arm, and that shape works best for that kind of transport. Several friends prefer to carry their binocular in a harness, with the binocular sitting on the middle of the chest. This allows for a fast, two-handed grip that quickly raises the unit to the eyes, something well-suited to the Porro prism.
Lenses, Coatings and Price RangeYou’ll find a wide price range, when it comes to binoculars. Tags ranges from about $100 for an entry-level model up to and over $4,000 for a fine European binocular loaded with features. To find what is going to work best for you will require a shopping trip in order to compare makes and models. [caption id="attachment_3242" align="aligncenter" width="650"] This 8x42 Bushnell Forge binocular gives the user a lot of features— coated lenses, EXO Barrier protection to protect the glass from the elements, etc.— for the investment. The author has taken it on safari to Africa, as well as numerous hunts across North America.[/caption] My choices generally lie in the middle to lower end of that price range, though I understand why a professional hunter or registered guide—those whose livings depend on seeing game animals—would invest a healthy sum of money in the best binocular they could afford. If you hunt with enough guides, you’ll invariably see a well-worn Swarovski, Zeiss, or Leica binocular on the dashboard of the truck. Bird watchers, too, are devotees of fine glass and target shooters, especially those working at long range, appreciate glass that lets them see mirage and waving grasses far away. There are few rivals the lens quality of those renowned glass makers, though some of our American manufacturers come close. [caption id="attachment_3243" align="aligncenter" width="650"] An entry-level binocular like this Bushnell Legend 10x42 can serve a hunter well. Such optics on the lower end of the price spectrum have come a long way in recent years.[/caption] Some binoculars give more than just magnified vision. A number of models, for instance, have built-in rangefinders, while others offer thermal imaging. Such additional options certainly raise the price of the unit, as well as add to the weight. If these options appeal to you, so be it, just realize they change the game a bit. As an outdoor writer, I use more than one brand throughout the year, and I can say that a number of lower-priced binocular brands have greatly improved in quality over the decades. I’ve used several Bushnell binoculars, which represent a great value, and I can say the same for Vortex and Nikon. [caption id="attachment_3244" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Some of the lesser-known companies such as Riton Optics produce a useable and reliable binocular, but you’ll have to spend some time shopping around for them.[/caption] Still, not all binoculars are created equal, and that said, lens quality and coatings are of utmost importance when deciding between models and prices. Cheap lenses cause eye strain. Cheap construction won’t stand up to rigorous use in the field; I like adjustable eye cups that stay where I put them, just as I do the focal knobs. I also want a crisp, clear image with plenty of contrast, and lens coatings that help shift the color spectrum so I can pick game animals out of the brush in low-light conditions. Among the models I’ve used over the years that have excellent lenses and coatings, I’ve most enjoyed Leupold’s 10x42 BX-5 Santium HD, Swarovski’s 8x32 EL and Leica’s Ultravid 8x32HD as great all-around-use choices. They have worked well for me across four continents and in a number of different conditions and environments from sub-zero weather in Canada to hotter-than-hell-itself in Zimbabwe. [caption id="attachment_3245" align="aligncenter" width="650"] The author (left) and safari partner Dave deMoulpied. Note Dave’s Steiner Porro prism-design binocular on a chest harness.[/caption] Different brands and models provide these features to varying degrees, so when you’re shopping, do your best to sample them outdoors. Looking through a binocular under the fluorescent lighting of a sporting goods store will not give an accurate representation of light transmission or image color. Beyond that, read the reviews, try your buddy’s binocular, ask questions and look at as many different brands and models as possible. With that work, you’ll soon find a model that suits your situation makes your investment in this optic worthwhile. About the Author Philip Massaro is a freelance writer whose passions include big-game hunting and ballistics. He has appeared on numerous outdoor television programs and has authored books on both hunting and ballistics.
https://youtu.be/Y8o1r_USeIIIn this video, Former Army Ranger sniper team leader Ryan Cleckner demonstrates how to properly set up your binoculars.
A Challenging StartGrowing up in a housing project in Allentown, the third-largest city in Pennsylvania, John Annoni needed an escape from troubles at home and in the projects. He found it in an adjacent woodlot, where he would marvel at the birds and squirrels while dreaming of far-off destinations he’d read about in magazines like Boys’ Life. “I allowed Mother Nature—the squirrels, the starlings and the rat—to consume me by me chasing them,” Annoni says. “What I found was that when I was doing that, there was an absence of worry. Mother Nature, her critters and that pursuit saved me. “One day I saw a ringnecked pheasant in a dump. It was the most beautiful bird I’d ever seen. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I went back weekend after weekend after weekend to see if I could find it again. That’s where the passion first came from.” From those humble beginnings, Annoni developed a rich fascination with the outdoors, learning to fish and hunt and ultimately deciding to pay it all back while serving as a teacher in the Allentown School District. He started Camp Compass in 1994. But rather than setting up shop at a local rod-and-gun club, he opted to stay in inner city Allentown and make a difference in the lives of the students who might need it most. “I was sitting in the classroom, working with the kids, the same kids I’m working with now, thinking that the books aren’t cutting it,” he says. “I was coaching basketball, and I just really wanted to do something I thought could change lives. “In the city, there are enough [afterschool] programs, but there was nothing here that was based on what helped me as a kid. I looked around and started working with kids, using an outdoor curriculum.” Today, Camp Compass is widely recognized as one of the most unique outdoors education models in the country. The nonprofit organization is geared towards introducing inner-city youth to hunting and the shooting sports. While Annoni is reluctant to put a figure on how many individuals he’s impacted, he says thousands of students have been exposed to the outdoors via Camp Compass, while well over 200 have gone through every level of the program.
Growing Kids Through the OutdoorsThrough Camp Compass Academy, students are introduced to firearms safety, hunting and shooting over an extended period of time, something that’s especially important since most come from families that have little to no exposure to the outdoors pursuits. Visit the classroom and you’ll see individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds, both male and female, soaking up everything Annoni and the other academy instructors have to share. [caption id="attachment_3247" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Students at Camp Compass Academy spend two years learning in the classroom as they earn the opportunity to go afield.[/caption] The curriculum is broken into five levels called “The 5Es”—Exposure, Exploration, Extension, Effective Application and Example Mentoring—and students work their way through the stages over a period of years. Annoni says the most important level is Extension, where the kids participate in the academy weekly. “Growing kids into [hunters] in a place that’s nontraditional (like downtown Allentown) is not only high-risk, it’s high reward,” he says. “It has to be very strategic, and that’s what we’ve built here. We are as diverse as it comes and that is the beauty of us.” [caption id="attachment_3249" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Image Courtesy of Amanda Snyder.[/caption] When students enter Camp Compass, they must first prove their dedication to learning and their classmates before they head afield. In fact, an individual has to complete two years before he’s even able to go on a hunt. The reason: Annoni’s goal is not to just take them hunting, but to help make them hunters. That’s why the most dedicated students end up heading afield on multiple occasions, sometimes traveling to destinations as far away as North Carolina, Texas and North Dakota to pursue big and small game. Petersen’s Bowhunting Editor Christian Berg says Annoni has been successful with his students because he’s authentic. “He came out of the Allentown projects and faced many of the same struggles as today’s teens,” says Berg, who’s known Annoni for two decades. “The outdoors was instrumental in shaping his life and helping him achieve personal success. Now, as an educator and passionate outdoorsman, he is pouring his life back into the lives of others. “There are many, many great things about the Camp Compass program, but, at its essence, I believe one of the big reasons it succeeds is because John sees himself in his students and his students see themselves in him.” Talk to the students and it’s easy to see the passion they have for the program and their mentor. Sixteen-year-old Hector Buxo, who comes from a family that doesn’t hunt, says his parents were surprised when he told them he wanted to join Camp Compass. Now, five years in, he has pursued whitetail deer, Canada goose, pheasant, turkey and more. “I liked how different this was from the other programs there were,” Buxo says. “It was something totally new. I really liked how we all work together, and we all talk together.” Shane Reznick, 14, who has been in Camp Compass for two years, agrees the comradery between students is what makes the program work. “It’s a community of people as well as hunters,” he says. “We learn a lot about the environment, protecting the environment and making sure you respect the animals.”
Beyond the ClassroomAs a result of Camp Compass and his work introducing others to the outdoors, Annoni has been featured on outdoor television shows and national news like CNN and NBC Nightly News. In 2008, Outdoor Life named him one of the 25 most influential people in hunting and fishing, and two years ago he was one of the first non-faculty members selected as a co-principal investigator for a Cornell Lab of Ornithology National Science Foundation study. Not surprisingly, he receives high praise from others in the industry. “John has quietly gone about his mission of reaching inner-city youth for decades,” says Mossy Oak’s Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland. “He does it with little money, little support from the hunting industry, little exposure—but big passion. He reaches kids we cannot because he was one of them. His story is amazing, and he makes me humble.” After a quarter-century leading Camp Compass, Annoni is as committed as ever to his students, but he is also looking for other ways he can help grow hunting and shooting sports. As a person of color, one area he feels he can lend his expertise is in broadening diversity and inclusion efforts. He also wants to share the Camp Compass philosophy with others from coast to coast, as well as start teaching adults who want to learn about mentoring in the hunting and the shooting sports. While acknowledging it would be hard to start other Camp Compass-type programs due to the time required, he says he’s proud of the work he, his assistants and Camp Compass supporters have done over the past quarter-century. “I did not think I would be doing this program this many years later because of the stamina that it takes,” he says. “I knew that somewhere along the journey, whether it was five or eight years in, that we were going to impact kids and families who would not have been impacted otherwise. “Is it practical to say Camp Compass will be celebrating a 50-year anniversary? No, that’s not practical. But, while I’m still breathing and able to help, the Camp Compass philosophy can be shared across the country and what people do with it is their choice.”
***John Annoni and Camp Compass clearly demonstrate that mentoring is key to growing hunting and the shooting sports. NSSF’s +ONESM Movement, which encourages all active hunters and target shooters to extend an invitation to someone new and show them how safe and enjoyable these pastimes are, works to achieve the same goal, but on a nationwide basis. Annoni says the National Shooting Sports Foundation is a keystone when it comes to recruiting and retention in the hunting and shooting sports. “Its +ONE Movement is a critical initiative. It is really needed and it is able to move the needle with the long arms it has. NSSF is positioned like no one else to impact the future of hunting. “While my focus has been primarily youth, lately adults have been reaching out to me about hunting,” Annoni added. “The +ONE Movement has the ability to be a spectrum of support for people of all ages.” For more information and to learn how you can help introduce someone to hunting and the shooting sports, visit LetsGoHunting.org and LetsGoShooting.org. You may also be interested in: https://www.letsgohunting.org/articles/the-ultimate-hunting-plus-one-goal-building-lifelong-hunters/