Elk hunting can be a true challenge that tests you physically and mentally, but the reward of harvesting one of the country’s most majestic game animals—along with its delicious meat—makes it all worthwhile. Below is a guide to help you prep for a successful elk hunt.
Get Up to Speed on Elk Hunting Laws and Regulations
There’s a good chance you’ll be traveling out of state for your elk hunt, so make sure you’re familiar with the laws and regulations of the land you’re hunting. States will often update laws and regulations from year to year. You will need a valid hunting license for the state you’re in, so make sure to get yours well before the season arrives. Get any tags or permits you may need.
Scout, Scout and Scout Some More
Take some time to get familiar with the land. Check out some topographical maps before the hunt, and look for elk hot spots like grassy areas and water holes. Try to identify areas where elk are likely to move between bedding areas and food sources—elk like to feed at night below the treeline and move uphill as morning approaches.
Make sure you have a compass, maps and even a GPS system to take with you to avoid getting lost in rough country.
Practice Your Calls
There are four different types of elk calls. The one bull call is:
- Bugle: The bugle call is used during pre- or post-rut to challenge a bull. If there’s one thing a male elk can’t stand, it’s another bull moving in on his territory.
There are three types of cow calls that can be effective on the hunt:
- Standard Cow Call: This call appeals to a bull hoping to mate with a stray cow.
- Excited Cow Call: This is used during the peak of the rut to lure a bull when you’re near a cow herd.
- Soft Chirps & Mews: These can be used anytime to draw in a bull.
An elk calling DVD is a great way to practice for the season.
Elk hunting locations are often mountainous, and the weather can be unpredictable. In order to be prepared for all conditions, you’ll need:
- Boots: Nothing can ruin your elk hunt faster than the wrong footwear. Elk hunts are active hunts. You’ll need a durable, waterproof pair of boots (or two) that can handle the terrain. Look for boots that provide plenty of support and enhanced stability. Consider the average temperatures for the time of year to decide how much insulation you’ll need.
- Baselayer: The most important feature of a baselayer is its sweat-wicking capabilities. You want something that dries quickly to reduce your scent and keep you insulated. Merino wool is very popular with many hunters.
- Midlayer: You want something that’s warm but breathable—something that won’t trap the moisture let out by your baselayer. Make sure it’s something “packable” that you’ll be able to carry on long treks.
- Outer Layer: Your outer shell that is your first line of defense against wind, rain, snow and whatever else nature chooses to throw your way. Again, you’ll want a waterproof option that won’t trap moisture.
- Rainwear: Bring a light, packable rain jacket and pants—things you can unpack and throw on in a pinch.
Get Good Glass
Optics are imperative to a successful elk hunt. You’ll be doing a lot of scouting at long distances. Cheap glass probably won’t get the job done, not to mention it can cause eye fatigue, headaches and more. Make sure you bring 8x or 10x binoculars, and that your rifle scope is good to go. A spotting scope can be very useful but you’ll have to decide if it’s “worth the weight.”
Prepare for the Post-Shot
Elk are huge animals, and it’s not exactly easy to drag them out of the woods. The real work begins after you make your shot.
Standard field dressing is certainly an option, but that leaves you to move the entire elk carcass through difficult terrain in one piece—and the truck or cabin could be miles away. Quartering the elk in the field makes removal more manageable. Quartering will force you to cut through bones and ligaments, so you may want to pack a saw if you plan to use this method. There’s a good chance your elk will expire on a hillside, so bring nylon rope, paracord or anything you can use to secure the animal while you work.
Bring durable bags to pack the meat and a way to keep the meat cool.
Get Your Weapon in Shape
Rifle: Choose a rifle that you can carry comfortably along miles of rough terrain. Hit the range for target practice and sight in your rifle well before the season begins. Test different types of ammo to see which fires most accurately from your rifle. Take two to three shots with each type of ammo to see what gives you the tightest groups. Always allow your barrel to cool if it becomes hot to the touch, as this can affect shot placement. Remember that long shots are not uncommon in elk hunting.
Bow: Make sure to fine tune and sight your bow out to a comfortable shooting distance. Check those strings and cables to make sure they don’t need replaced.
Get to the range and practice as much as possible. When target shooting, try to work in some of the unorthodox shooting positions you’ll possibly encounter on an elk hunt. If you can, practice in adverse weather conditions to see how your bow, arrows and broadheads respond to the elements.
Get Yourself in Shape
Elk hunting can be physically demanding. You may be tracking game through rough terrain in high altitude. Take some time to do cardio before the hunt. Try to do some hiking in the woods to simulate hunting conditions—do it in full gear if you can. Also practice handling your firearm or bow with an elevated heart rate.
If you are hunting in higher altitude than you’re accustomed to, try to arrive a few days or more before the hunt to allow your body to acclimate to the conditions.