If you’re looking for a trophy elk, you need to be able to quickly judge the quality of its antlers before taking a shot at the animal. In this elk hunting guide, hunting guide notice 3 steps for beginner hunter.
- Try to count the points. A true trophy will have no fewer than six points on each side.
- Gauge the length of each antler’s beam. A good bull should look as if it can tip back its head to scratch its rear end with the tips of his beams.
- Make sure that the bull’s brow tines reach out over its muzzle, and that the other points have good length.
Don’t Scout for Elk Like You Scout For Deer?
Unless you’re hunting on private land, patterning an elk herd’s activities before hunting season can be a waste of time. Elk reacts quickly to hunting pressure, and such pressure can be enormous on public lands, especially during the days leading up to the first of the season, when other hunters are out in force. Instead of scouting to identify a herd’s normal, unstressed behaviors, focus your efforts on identifying where they go when spooked by the presence of other hunters. Look for heavy blow down cover on steep slopes that are relatively close to meadows surrounded by thick timber. Elk feeding in these meadows will head toward such escape areas when startled. Identify good ambush sites along the likely routes they take, and you stand a good chance of shooting an animal pushed out by another hunter.
Don’t Let Elk Spot You Twice In The Same Spot
If you notice an elk in the herd you’re hunting suddenly stop chewing its cud to stare at your position, the ideal response is to immediately stop all movement, no matter how awkward the position you’re in, and remain motionless until it turns its head away. There will be times, however, when it will be impossible to stay still long enough for the animal that’s spotted you to lose interest. If you must move to a more comfortable position, your best option is to lower yourself as slowly as possible to the ground. Lie there as long as necessary, then crawl to a new position before raising your head to take stock of the situation. Even if the elk did not spook, it will still be monitoring the spot where it saw you move.
There’s Only One Place To Shoot An Elk With A Bow
If you ’re hunting elk with a bow, the best shot to take is easy to remember, because there’s only one ethical target to choose. Neck shots, shoulder shots, or shots at any other part of an elk’s body are not recommended; to kill an elk quickly with a bow, you must shoot it directly behind its shoulder, piercing its heart and/or lungs.
Secure Your Elk’s Carcass On Steep Slopes
If an elk you’ve shot falls on the side of a steep slope, your first action after making sure the animal is dead should always be to secure the carcass to a solid anchor, such as a tree trunk, using a stout length of rope. The last thing you want is for the animal’s body to slide downhill, which could damage the meat and/or put it at the bottom of a ravine where you’ll have to work twice as hard to pack it out.
Catch Elk Moving From Their Food to Their Beds
The worst time to still-hunt for elk is at midday when they will be bedded down in thick cover that they’ve chosen because it is impossible to approach without them seeing or smelling you. You’ll have more luck spotting them before they spot you if you still-hunt during the early morning and late afternoon when elk are moving from the meadows and clearings where they feed to the heavy evergreen cover where they often prefer to bed, and vice versa.
Bark like A Cow To Stop Startled Elk
You can briefly stop a spooked herd of elk by imitating the sound of a barking cow. A cow barks when she is alarmed. Other elk in the area will instinctively stop and look at her until she’s identified the danger and runoff, and then will follow her lead in exiting the area. If you’re within range and have identified your target, use the moment when they stop and stare to take your shot.
Spot Late Season Bulls At High Elevation
Late in the season, you’ll often find small groups of older bulls at higher elevations, where the snow is deep and the terrain is open. These bulls may be quite far from the rest of the herd, as much as a mile or more. Glass for them from below. When you spot such a group, try to pattern where the bulls feed and bed. Then set up a stalk to fit what you’ve observed. When planning your stalk, remember that if you spook the animals they will likely run to the nearest trees for shelter. If you’re hunting in a group, post hunters along the tree line to intercept them.
How To Recognize Elk Tracks
Elk tracks look like very large deer tracks, and a mature bull’s prints will be much larger than those left by female or juvenile elk. Make sure that you do not confuse elk tracks with those left by moose or cows. Cow tracks are rounded and do not look much like those of a deer, and moose tracks are longer and narrower than those left by elk. Study a guidebook (or this illustration) before you hunt to avoid this problem.
The Top 10 Elk States (By Elk Population)
- Colorado: 200,000
- Montana: 150,000
- Idaho: 140,000
- Oregon: 106,000
- Wyoming: 85,000
- Washington: 60,000
- Arizona: 55,000
- Utah: 50,000
- New Mexico: 45,000
- California: 7,500
Keep Predators Away from Your Kill With A Smoky Fire
If you are hunting elk on foot and shoot one far from the road, you will have to make more than one trip to pack out the meat, leaving the remaining meat alone in the backcountry. One way to keep bears, wolves, coyotes and other predators from stealing your kill while you are away is to build a small, smoky fire from damp, pitchy wood near the quarters you had to leave behind. The smoke will help scare away predators, and you can use the plume to locate your kill quickly when you return to collect the rest of the animal. Make sure to do this only where it’s both legal and safe, and never leave a fire untended in dry conditions where there is any possible risk that it might spread.
Don’t Bugle Too Often
A bugling bull makes an impressive sound and one that’s not hard to reproduce using today’s commercial calls. Because of this, and because many hunters have the unrealistic expectation that bulls often charge headlong toward the sound of a challenge, the bugle is the most overused call in an elk hunter ’s repertoire. Instead of relying on bugling to draw in a rutting bull, it’s a better idea to use the call just to locate one, especially if you ’re hunting an area that gets lots of pressure. Once you’ve found a responsive bull, try to close with him by using other means. Call him in using cow calls, imitate the sounds of raking antlers, or even stalk silently downwind into shooting range.
Change Vantage Points To Fully Scope An Area
Don’t dismiss an area as empty of the game if you don’t see any elk from a particular vantage point. You should always scope out an area from at least two positions so that you can view pockets and basins where elk may be feeding that is not easily identified from the beaten path. Changing vantage points takes work, and that’s one reason why it can be such a successful tactic; most hunters won’t be willing to make the effort and allow their desire for an easy hunt to let them dismiss an area before they’ve covered it fully. Use this to your advantage when hunting on public land.
Approach Bedded Elk From Above
Elk like to bed in flat spots on side ridges where they can see well to the left, right, and downhill, and are high enough to feel comfortable that nothing will be approaching from behind. If you’re following one’s track and it suddenly turns upslope, it could mean the elk is ready to bed. Avoid following its tracks any longer, as the animal will be paying close attention to its back trail. Instead, circle uphill, staying downwind of the trail, and try to approach where you think the elk has lain down from above.
Critical Advice To Elk Hunters
Calling elk in areas of heavy hunting pressure may be counterproductive. Bugling will draw other hunters, and bulls that have been called in and spooked wise up quickly. It is better to simply spot the bulls, and then stalk them.
Look In Wet Meadows For Feeding Elk
Always pay close attention to wet meadows when looking for feeding elk. These small, moist clearings are rich in forbs and sedges, forage elk prefer. Wet meadows surrounded by thick timber are best; elk feeding in them will feel more secure when such coverage is available, and will often feed later in the morning than they might in less accommodating terrain.
Call Back Elk From A Busted Herd
If you flush a herd of elk while still-hunting and it splinters into multiple groups, you can use the animals’ desire to head back up to call them to you. If the animals did not smell you when first flushed, they will slow down and take stock of the situation from a few hundred yards away. Get out your cow call and blow it softly, imitating the sounds other cows make when they’re regrouping. If a cow answers you, answer back, though wait for a few seconds first. If you do this right, the elk will think you’re part of the group and will work back slowly in your direction.
It Takes Two to Tag A Called-In Elk
The textbook method of calling a bull into bow range requires two hunters. One serves as the caller, the other as the shooter. The shooter sets up in the shadows of a tree or some other type of cover with a good view of the path the bull should take. The caller sets up twenty to thirty yards upwind of the shooter. Since most bulls will approach the caller by circling downwind, they should appear directly in front of the shooter.
A Hot Weather Hot Spot For Daytime Elk
When the weather is hot, look for elk taking shelter in forests of mature evergreens that have few low branches. The forest canopy protects the animals from direct sunlight, while the open understory lets in cool breezes.
Find Elk In the Open After Bad Weather
Under most conditions, it is unusual to see elk feeding in the open during the middle of the day. The exception to this is if a period of strong winds or heavy rain or snow lets up at this time, or if the sun peaks through the clouds and warms up a slope that’s been very cold. Elk will have been hunkered down, waiting out the bad weather, and will often feed heavily for a few hours once conditions improve. These are great times for glass food sources, trails, and bedding cover for movement.