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Elk Hunting Tips

Tip #1… If your plan is to have a great time in elk country and should you bag an elk, then that is just icing on the cake…you are my kind of hunter and will in all probability have a first-class adventure that you will want to share with friends and family for years to come.

Tip #2… If you’re hunting public land that you have not scounted and are not familiar with and you plan on holding out for a huge bull because you drove 1,000+ miles and spent $1,500 on gear and licenses…plan on being disappointed.

Tip #3… Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

Tip #4… A cheap cow call or bugle in the hands of someone who knows how and when to use it can be the key to his success.

Tip #5… An expensive cow call or bugle in the hands of a fool who doesn’t know that he doesn’t know what he is doing will be his own undoing.

Tip #6… All the gear in the world will not make up for a shortfall in planning, experience, commitment, or sound judgment.

Tip #7… Listen more, speak less, help a friend in need, and be willing and able to hump uphill and down forever.

Tip #8… All the scent cover-up products in the world will not cover-up bad personal hygiene and sittin’ in the cook tent in your huntin’ duds. Scent kills. If you are using scent management systems, don’t forget that guys sweat a lot around the neck and head (hatband). These are areas that are usually not covered by these systems. Carry some unscented wipes and a Ziploc bag to store them in.

Tip #9… The kill zone on a mature bull elk is approximately eighteen inches in diameter. Does that mean that if your shot group at the range is consistently inside that circle that you are well prepared? No, because that kill zone is predicated on a perfect broadside shot at a known range on a non-maneuvering elk that is cooperating. What happens when your target is moving or quartering towards or away from you? The aspect of the kill zone will change. That eighteen-inch circle may now only be six inches. Your target is a small two-inch cylinder passing at a minimum through the heart or both lungs. See only the cylinder.

Tip #10… Outside of the rut, and sometimes during the rut, it is the cow that is calling the shots in an elk herd, not the bull. To bag the bull you have to beat the cows first.

Tip #11… They are antlers…not horns.

Tip #12… Bull elk bugle as a form of male advertisement not as a challenge to a fight. When bulls bugle back and forth during the rut it is typically one bull trying to advertise his superiority over that of the other bull. The exception to this is that bulls tend to bugle when a cow that is not ready or willing to breed with that bull spurns their sexual advance. Go figure...

Tip #13… While the volume or sound of a bull’s bugle may be an indicator of its age, this is not always an infallible indicator. I’ve watched old herd bulls with large harems that on their best day could only manage a raspy cough.

Tip #14… Burns can provide elk with new growth that is up to fifty percent more nutritious than the food was before the burn for up to three years following the fire. Small burns are good places to look for bulls. Cows typically avoid smaller burns because they do not allow the cow to see enough area to set her self-protection mechanism at ease.

Tip #15… I believe that the most important characteristic when choosing a reliable elk cartridge is to choose the largest North American big game cartridge that you can shoot well and consistently. 30-06, 7MM Remington Mag, .300 WSM, .300 Winchester Mag, .300 Remington Ultra Mag, .338 Mag are all excellent choices for elk. Bullets like the Nosler Partition, Winchester FailSafe, and Swift Scirocco are exceptional choices for penetration on elk at long ranges.

Tip #16… Stay put on your stand just a little longer. This is a tough one for me personally, but the results speak for themselves. Those who stay on stand longer usually come home with more elk.

Tip #17… Those who spend the most time looking for elk seem to be the ones doing most of the finding. Spend as much time as possible on high vantage points glassing with a good spotting scope and tripod. Focus on fringe areas, small parks within heavily wooded areas, saddles, and water sources. This is not the time to get in a hurry. Locating elk from a distance and then planning a stalk is much easier than chasing them down after you stumble over them. A good lightweight tripod will allow you to glass longer as it will do all the work of supporting the scope.

Tip #18… When hunting high pressured elk, try to discover when the hunters in other camps in the area are heading out in the morning, then plan on leaving camp at least an hour earlier to get farther up the mountain. The hunters arriving on the mountain later will act as a driving force on elk down low for you.

Tip #19… Take along a large contractor bag with a small amount of dirt in the bottom (some use apples). When you come in from hunting at the end of the day, strip off your hunting duds and drop them in the bag immediately. Then tie off the bag until the next morning. This will help to keep camp odors from permeating your hunting clothes and add an earthy cover scent to your gear.

Tip #20… If you come across an area where elk have bedded, look carefully at the tracks leading out of the bedding area. Elk that left in a hurry will leave sets of tracks widely spaced because they jumped up and bounded away, whereas elk that did not leave in a hurry will usually leave evenly spaced tracks. Also look for urine spots as elk often urinate in their beds upon standing. Cows will leave a urine spot near the fringe of the bed’s indentation, bulls pee right in the middle of their bed.

Tip #21… Following the rut and before deep snows move into the high country, look for big bulls up higher. A general rule of thumb is…the higher the bigger. The reason for this is that mature bulls are very solitary following the rut and will seek out secluded areas where they can recover, feed, and be left alone. Younger bulls are often found lower down the mountain and may even be found on the fringe of a herd of cows.

Tip #22… If an extreme cold snap moves through while you are in camp, start looking for increased elk movement. Elk require more food to stay warm during these conditions. If the cold is accompanied by snow it may force the elk to shift their feed and bedding areas thus becoming more visible as they move about.

Tip #23… When elk bed down during the middle of the day, they will get up every few hours and may move as much as ¾ of a mile as they feed before returning to their bedding area. This can make midday an excellent time to catch elk in fringe areas.