12 Actionable Elk Hunting Tips
So you want to hunt down an elk. It would seem like a reasonable quest, wouldn’t it? The average weight of an elk bull is well over 700 pounds, reaching almost five feet tall at the shoulder. You would think a beast that big would stand out in the woods. It would seem as though catching one and killing it wouldn’t even be a task. But not so. Elk are mysterious, smart, and avoid-ant creatures who seem to slip away just before you reach them.
That’s why I’ve compiled this list of elk hunting tips. It’s here to help you hunt your next elk. It’s here to help you be better, quicker, and one step ahead, instead of one step behind. And I’m here to guide you through it, explaining everything you need to know along the way.
Here’s a quick ten minute video which explains the things you need to know before you get started.
Finding Your Elk
The first and most important thing to do is find elk to hunt. Otherwise the rest of these elk hunting tips are null and void! Here are some ideas for improving your chances of finding a bull in the field. For starters, trail cameras can be a massive help! But if you don’t own your own or have access to them, there are other technologies that can improve your hunt.
Using a phone application with mapping capabilities can be a big help in finding potential hot spots. Topographic maps or satellite imagery will show potential water sources, routes of travel, and feeding spots. Use these apps to zero in on potential hot spots and start your hunt. Sometimes posting up at particularly good looking spots is the best way to let the elk come to you. Lets know forget a good scope for elk hunting can always help, check them out here.
Watch for Patterns
Elk can be very routine animals in their day to day habits. If you see signs of one bull frequenting a watering hole, for example, it is a good idea to post up nearby and wait for his return. More times than not, they will return around the same time of day almost every day. Your wait will be rewarded if you’ve chosen a frequented spot.
Be Willing to Go the Extra Mile
Hiking through rough terrain can be grueling, even on horseback. Yet the prize comes to the most committed hunter. Getting at least two miles away from the nearest road is highly recommended when searching for elk. Again, they are smart animals, and they know better than to stay too close to the roads during hunting season. Climb that extra few hundred yards, walk that extra length, or ride that extra mile. The results will be well worth it.
SOS: Sightings Over Sign
Physically seeing elk is the only way to truly know you’re on the right track. Noticing sign is great, and shows experience in hunting, but it won’t guarantee that a pack of elk are nearby. A pack can easily destroy a patch of land by day and be several miles away by nightfall. Don’t count on sign to show you where the elk are headed.
Use vantage points as high off the ground as possible when searching for elk. Bring binoculars to see far and wide, following sign only to find areas where you can physically spot the elk themselves. Otherwise, you may be wasting your time in the wrong place while the elk move further and further away.
Trust Your Map
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, right? Not always. Not when it comes to rocky unforgiving terrain like the places you’re likely to be trekking eventually if you’re reading these elk hunting tips. So trust your map! If you see a herd of elk across a wide open valley and you want to get to them within a reasonable amount of time so you don’t miss them, don’t just start walking. Check your map. See if there’s a better way than walking directly toward them. More times than not you will find an easier, softer way.
Think Outside the Park
Sometimes more isn’t merrier. This is especially true when it comes to hunters. Surprisingly, though, it may also be true for your precious catch. Areas with less elk may create easier opportunities for tagging a prized bull. This is because breeding competition amongst bulls can often cause them to constantly herd their cows to different areas. In places with less elk overall, the elk you do find will be more prone to patterned behaviors you can easily track and take full advantage of.
Make Sure You’re Up to the Task
If you’re not confident in your shooting ability, especially with bow hunting, then elk shouldn’t be the first on your list for hunting this season. Try going after smaller game, such as deer. Or, if you’re brand new to bow hunting, try something smaller, such as rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, or possums. Big game hunting should be left to big game hunters. Period.
Don’t Be So Sneaky
When hunting for most game, it’s important to stay as quiet as you possibly can. However, with elk, consider how they sound when moving through the brush. They are NOT quiet animals. So when you’re trying to mimic their cows, why wouldn’t you make all the usual noises their cows would make? Not just the calls, but the rummaging and shaking and breaking of branches… make all the noise you can! But be careful. This might attract your bull a little faster than you’d expect.
That being said, keep in mind elk don’t speak human. Talking loudly with your hunting pals or letting your gear smack around while you walk is just plain silly. Pay attention to the sounds you are making, as these will be the first signs to a bull that you are near. Follow some tips on this list of elk hunting tips, written in the form of common mistakes that elk hunters make, and the lessons you should learn from those mistakes.
The Wind is Your Friend
Elk travel against the wind, with the breeze in their face. “I’m continually picking up snow and throwing it in the air to see what the wind is doing,” says Jack Schoonen, who has killed an elk every year since the age of fourteen. “I always make sure I have the perfect wind,” he continues, “if the wind’s not right, I just leave them alone.” If that doesn’t tell you how important relying on the wind is, then nothing will.
If you’re interested in reading more of what Schoonen has to say, visit this page for the full interview.
Remix Your Bugle Song
Bugling the same sound over and over works great when an elk isn’t listening. But once you have the attention of a bull, you’ll want to switch your sound up enough that he will believe you are an actual cow. Otherwise you’ll do nothing but scare him off. Mix up your techniques and sounds, and soon you’ll have every bull in hearing distance moving right where you want them. Here’s a short video on bugling.
Take a Load Off
One of the most difficult parts of elk hunting is the retrieval of the elk after the hunt is over. At several hundred pounds, moving the carcass of an elk bull is no simple or easy task, even when several full-grown men are working together to move it.
You can drag the elk on a tarp or sheet of some kind if you are traveling flat ground, but this technique will probably leave you exhausted in no time at all. Another option is to use logs beneath the elk to roll the carcass along your path, taking the log from the back and placing it in the front repetitively until you reach your destination. This technique works better than the tarp technique, but it can be tiresome as well and takes extra time. Most seasoned elk hunters prefer to de-bone elk in the field. Here’s a quick guide on de-boning an elk in the field from a website devoted to elk hunting tips.
If you are hunting elk, you are more than likely hunting in bear territory. It is absolutely essential that you come prepared for the absolute worst. And the absolute worst is a bear attack. If you don’t have bear spray, don’t go huntin’. It’s as simple as that.
Whether you’re hunting in grizzly or black bear territory, it is crucial that you bring bear spray. Bears are extremely territorial creatures, and they are bigger, faster, and more powerful than any one of us can even fathom. If a bear is charging you, even if you have a gun, your gun might not be ready in time, your aim might be off, and your ability to re-fire quickly and accurately will most likely be nonexistent. Bear spray is easy to access in the case of a bear charge, requires almost no accuracy at all, and can be used quickly and effectively.
Hunting elk is no easy task. Make sure you’re ready for the hunt. Come prepared with proper gear, such as topographic maps and apps, bear spray, and useful de-boning equipment. Be sure you can handle the rough terrain, especially when you get moving further away from the local roads, going that extra mile.
Make as much noise as you want, as long as it’s noise that a cow would make in the wild. And speaking of cows, really get to know your bugle so you can switch up your sound when you’ve got a bull’s attention, so as not to blow your cover. Move against the wind, and find areas where you will be able to see for long stretches, making it easier to have actual sightings, rather than constantly relying on sign. And lastly, remember to have some fun!
Thanks for reading.