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How to Hunt Elk

how to hunt elk
Written by Robert Stevens
  • Exact Planning

Are you hunting elk for the first time? If yes, you need to know some main points before going on the adventure. First, have an idea about the legal season of elk hunting in the region you are living in, or you can get into legal trouble.

Most countries limit licenses in specific hunting areas each season. So, you need to apply for a license.

Then, take into account how you will transport the downed elk to home. These animals weigh about hundreds of pounds. So, most probably, your car won’t be able to carry it.

If you are not experienced as a hunter, hire an outfitter. There are trusted companies who can help you in planning the details, and performing a fruitful hunt whether you are bowhunting or hunting with firearms once you have made up your mind.

  • The Exact Tools

In case you don’t hire an outfitter, you will require to shop many things for your hunting which include exact clothing and footwear, and different gadgets like cover scents, a firearm, and different types of calls such as deer calls, coyote calls, and the like.

If you are a beginner as an elk hunter, and you are not sure about the right spot, hire a reliable operator. Thus, you will be able to save your money and have the option to invest in gadgets later when you have the right idea.

  • Habitat and Timing

Generally, you will find elks in the forest-edge or forest habitat. Mostly, they can be seen in North America. But they adapt to other places and environments too. They possess the most distinct habits, which requires vastly distinctive hunting strategies.

Bull elk begin losing the antlers in early March and start growing them again in May to be prepared for the breeding season in late summer.

Generally, the rut season is dramatic. You will hear loud screams coming from the elk forests while bulls are competing for cows, and trying to get as many as possible. Again, calves and cows utter cow calls all the year-round. These sounds encourage the elk and also the hunters to get many vocalizing opportunities.

When this breeding season comes to an end, bulls go away to their timber, and they no longer scream.  Then with the passage of some weeks, elks migrate from higher places to lower winter places because of deep snow. This is how the elks behave from the beginning of fall to winter. Hunters use different strategies based on it and on their situations.

Mostly, you will get more elks during summer. Generally, they live at downward slopes during winter. They start migrating when facing any type of hunting pressure.

Successful Tips on How to Hunt Elk

You have two ways to hunt elk: either with a guide or a DIY hunt. If you have a guide with you, obviously s/he will make all decisions depending on her/his experience. You will just follow her/him and finally shoot the elk.

The real challenge is being on a DIY hunt. Here, the knowledge about the elk behavior and country comes into play.

The planning phase is the first and most crucial part of the elk hunt. After choosing your hunting partners, then choose a state. Now you need to decide which type of elk to hunt, what options you have as bonus points or preference points, and other required details to have an elk-tag as a non-resident. Many countries don’t give those over-the-counter, rather you need to draw that in a lottery.

Here are some tips that will increase your success rate on a DIY hunt.

1. Be physically strong and in shape

Be physically strong and also in shape to keep pace with the fast-running speed of elks. If you are able to keep up with them when they move from their feeding area to the bedding, you increase your possibilities of catching elk.

If you are able to obstruct a bull elk when he strolls on the way, then you will get the shot. If you can follow the bull to his bedding area, you have a better chance of getting elk.

2. Stay mobile while hunting

If your camp is behind or near you, you have the option to sleep more, which will be not a good idea. Because thus, you have more chance of missing the herd.

The chief reason for staying mobile is that the elk can hear calls in different setups. You will hardly find any areas nowadays where hunters have not attempted to get an elk. In any case, they failed, you will have little possibilities of calling the elk there.

Scout the hunting area, and be sure that you know the common whereabouts of the elk before you start your mission. When you are hunting, you need to be slow enough to avoid scaring elks. So, know the common areas of their presence beforehand.

The elk generally feeds in a place at night and move to the bedding place in the dawn. If you stay mobile, this can help you a lot. You will have an idea where the elk can feed at night. Thus, you will be able to setup the position in that area where they will go for bedding.

3. Find the source of food

Find the source of the elk’s food apart from finding their general locations. Mainly, elks feed on plants, grasses, bark, and leaves. Alfalfa and hay barley are their favorites. They may eat twice daily, once in the morning and then at night in spots like clearings, meadows, and parks.

Usually, elks stay longer in an area where they have abundant food. You will easily get elks there specifically at night.

During the daytime, when they have already left that location, you will be able to track them by observing their trail. Elks are noisy, odiferous, and large animals, which leave sufficient signs such as droppings, rubs, tracks, and wallows.

4. Select your blind

When you see that they are coming to the same place for food regularly, setup your blind there and wait for the elk to come nearer to you. Because it can reduce the risk of scaring them away. Setup your blind between the routes of their food sources and bedding areas.

5. Take the wind direction into account

Watch the wind direction closely while hunting for the elk. Generally, they have great smelling senses, sharp ears, and eyesight. They can sense danger signs from a long distance. Be sure that the wind is continuously blowing towards your face so that you can avoid your chance of being detected.

6. Don’t apply calls, if you must, think first

Hunters have overused cow calls and bugles in hunting, so, elks are much aware of these calls. As a result, they might not answer such calls. They have unyielding mechanisms for defense, and they won’t pay heed to your calls.

When you completely have no idea where the elks are, or you want to attract a certain bull, which is playing ripe for any challenge, you have the option to use calls. Don’t call continuously when you are in the deep forest. When you have any doubt, just stay silent.

7. Don’t scare them away

Even if you have fun while spooking an elk, you should not do it. Once you scare the elks away, they will run far away because it is like a danger sign to them. In case you are hunting on private property, they can run away to other property where you can’t hunt them.

8. Respect the leader

Respect the herd leader. Generally, elks walk around in groups, and their groups have designated leaders. If by any chance, you spook their leader, it might become extremely tough for you to get another elk for the next few days. Once they feel danger, they will leave that spot immediately and might never be there again.

9. Stay away from the elk bedding area

Once you make them nervous or scare them around the bedding area, the elks will modify their habits by avoiding being seen there again. Stay clear of their bedding areas, rather should get a trap point between the food sources and bedding areas.

10. Remember the known rules

Many hunters don’t follow the above-mentioned guidelines, resulting in nocturnal, nervous, bugle, or cow call-shy bulls. So, step lightly and attempt to have minimum impact. The outcome will be splendid elk hunting for you.

Some Mistakes the Hunters Make, and the Way to Avoid them

1. A hunter’s lacking physical readiness. If a hunter is a bit slow that doesn’t make the elks slow. They stay in big areas and cover distances so fast.

Lesson: At least, jog or walk for some weeks before the hunt to get your lungs and legs in a healthy state.

2. Rifles of long-range sometimes handicap hunters. Heavy rifles can also make your step slow, make you tired in hilly areas, and stop you from your venture.

Lesson: Limit the weight of the rifle to 9 lbs. Hold zero at the distance of 200 yards; hold center at 250. But most importantly, always be as close as possible.

3. Many hunters shoot so poorly. You can even miss the shots which seem too easy without the right practice.

Lesson: Regular practice with paper bull’s eyes from off-hand, sitting, and kneeling positions. Determine a ‘90% kill’ sight image, and only fire after you have got it.

4. Improper magnification of the rifle scope.

Lesson: Keep the scope at either 3x or 4x.

5. Sometimes, hunters miss the closer targets by looking far away.

Lesson: Look closer before looking far.

6. Hunters often talk loudly or make noises while walking, which may scare away the elk.

Lesson: Move stealthily, or like the elks where they move. In any case, you need to communicate, whisper.

7. A hunter may think that he can shoot a smaller elk later after shooting a bull in the hunt. Thus, he can go home empty-handed.

Lesson: Shoot an elk smaller or bull whichever it may be, as early as possible.

8. The most common mistake hunters make is calling from a popular place among hunters during rut season, like from a well-used or two-track trail, a road. Bulls may be used to hearing calls in those areas and not pay head.

Lesson: Leave the trails, or road and go towards the timber. Go downhill each time if possible. Because hiking uphill after a tiring hunting day will be challenging for most hunters.

9. Hunters often run after legendary places for elk hunting.

Lesson: Generally, they give a better natural view instead of shot opportunities.

10. Bare ground and crusted snow can make noise while tracking and spook elks away. Hunters may often leave those places thinking so. But you can get bulls there, if you consider wind direction, topography, and know when to stop tracking.

Lesson: Always think that the elks are frequently stopping and seeing back.

11. Sometimes, hunters stop in the dark to hear for an elk. That may spook them.

Lesson: Frequently hiking past elks will put you where they do not expect hunters to remain. Hike consciously, the elk may appear in your sight, and you can shoot.

12. Hunters previously used bugling for attracting bulls.

Lesson: Sometimes, rutting elks respond to bugles by going away.

About the author

Robert Stevens

A Seasoned Hunter

It’s been several years that Robert, a retired teacher and a proud dad, has silently been piling up mature bucks down the South. This humble hunter began his hunting journey at quite an early age and since then, he spent countless hours in the woods and learned good lessons in terms of woodsmanship. Along the way, he also made money sharing his skill with his followers and well-wishers.

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