For a couple months every autumn, Steamboat Springs and Northwest Colorado are teeming with hunters from all over the country. In fact, our area boasts one of the largest elk herds in North America and some of the best hunting land in the world. We were curious about what the true hunting camp experience entails, so we reached out to legendary local outfitter Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch for some insight.
For Perk Heid, guiding horse packing trips and hunting camps wasn’t so much a choice or even a way of life as it was his blood right. This fifth generation local and his family have owned and operated Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch for over 40 years and are the oldest continually operating outfitter in Colorado. “Permit numbers run into the thousands and our permit number is 22,” Perk says.
Perk knows a thing or two about hunting elk in the 500,000 acres of Routt National Forest he holds the permits for. “Elk are notoriously hard to hunt. We call them ‘ghosts of the forest,’ because they can just disappear,” he says. “They are very challenging, very hearty animals.” Hunting elk is not for beginners, or for the faint of heart. “When our clients are with us, we’re pushing them a lot harder than they would push themselves, which is what it takes most of the time. It’s a balance of working hard and knowledge of the animal.”
We caught up with Perk on a rare day when he wasn’t out in the field to learn more about elk hunting and why the odds are five times better if you go out with a guide. Just know that in addition to not being so easy, it’s also not cheap—everything considered, Perk estimates the cost per person to be around $10,000.
Give us a little overview on elk hunting.
Elk are what we consider to be the hardest animal in North America to hunt, by a long shot. I’ve hunted just about everything, and these guys are as tough as it gets. Overall the success for elk hunting is only about 20 percent; only one out of every five hunters is going to get an elk. We offer hunting camps for archery season, which just ended, as well as first, second, and third rifle seasons.
What do you love most about elk hunting?
I love the experience of watching other people enjoy the outdoors and being able to share what I love about it with hunters or guests.
Why is it a good idea to hire a guide?
Hiring a guide is going to comfortably bring your chances of success up to 80 percent. I’ve been 100 percent for years but don’t want to make the general public look bad [laughs]. One of the reasons we are successful is because we’re around these animals all the time as guides, and we have a great knowledge of their patterns and their movements. We’re also willing to push a lot harder than most people would push themselves; making them walk farther, get up earlier, climb higher, and stay out longer. That’s what it takes.
Tell us about the history of Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch.
My Uncle bought the ranch in 1962. He bought it with the idea of doing horseback rides, hunting trips, and fishing trips. He passed away in 1985 and my mom, dad, sister and I took it over in Spring 1986. To this day we’ve basically continued to do exactly the same thing. We are the oldest continually operating outfitter in Colorado. Our family have been in Steamboat for five generations, and now my kids are the sixth. We’re located in Clark an easy 18-mile drive north of Steamboat. The ranch is about 3,500 acres and we’re permitted for about half of Routt National Forest for hunting and fishing trips, which is about 500,000 acres.
Tell us about the hunting camp experience.
We ride into a base camp with the horses and get everything all set up with a wrangler who basically does all the cooking and keeping the camp organized. There’s one guide for every two hunters and we usually stay for about six days. The camp experience is really about the comradery of hanging out around campfire telling stories, sleeping in canvas wall tents, going out before daylight and getting to experience wilderness in a time and an area very few people will get to see; it’s a neat experience people get to share.
What else should people know before they go?
The average client will ride 2-4 hours on a horse and then hike 4-6 miles. Everyone must bring their own weapon, have passed hunter education, and obtained their own license. An out of state license is just under $700 for the tag and $50 for Colorado residents. It’s not like some other states, where anybody can shoot anything in the state regardless of who you are [laughs].
With pricing, the general target for guests including everything is around $10,000. It’s not cheap.
What are some of the positives about hunting most people don’t know?
Hunting is excellent for wildlife management. The number one killer of elk in the wild is disease and starvation from overpopulation. Proper management of elk herds is the number one way to keep them healthy and thriving and that is done through hunting. It’s also low impact in terms of the environment; there’s no hormones, steroids, or antibiotics in this meat, it’s all natural. We understand that not everyone is going to appreciate hunting, but if you are going to eat meat, hunting is the only way to truly know where your meat is coming from.
What about someone who is new to hunting or wants to teach their kids about hunting?
Both of my boys go into hunting camp and do well. My son is 16 has gotten four elk in four years. My younger son who is 13 got his first license and first elk last year, and hopefully he’ll get his second one this fall. Hunting elk is tough on little kids. They need to shoot a lot, need a good understanding of their weapon, and a lot of respect for it and they need to practice a lot. Rifle hunting is not as easy as most people think; just because you have a high-power rifle doesn’t mean you can get an elk. Kids and beginners should start with a smaller animal like white tail or birds. People do get lucky. One time, three hours into his first hunt, a client got a giant 6×6. I said, ‘you might as well quit now because you just won the lottery!’
What happens when someone gets an animal?
When an elk is harvested we field dress the game; it is taken apart right there on the scene. It’s taken into four pieces and packed out on horses. It takes two horses per elk to get them off the mountain. We take it down and then it goes to processing; it gets butchered and wrapped. General processing is $250. You can either drive it home, or ship it Fedex by air which is fairly expensive. Or you can pack it in coolers and check it on the airplane as luggage. You will pay a little overage—an elk is somewhere between 160-200 pounds—but it’s still going to be less expensive than paying for shipping.
What does elk meat taste like?
Elk are very closely related to beef cattle, so it tastes very much like very lean beef, but has an even better flavor and is not gamey. It’s low in cholesterol and you use it in everything from tacos from steaks. The hardest part about cooking elk is keeping it moist since it is so lean and low in fat.
For more information, contact Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch at 970.879.3495 or visit their website at steamboathorses.com.