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All the Things You Wanted to Know About Elk Hunting, But Were Afraid to Ask

Elk hunting takes experience and time to really become proficient.

For many hunters elk hunting is the pinnacle of North American big game hunting. Elk inhabit some of the most beautiful terrain, are a true wilderness animal, and can require the most from the hunter, both before and after your elk is down.

If you want to hunt elk successfully you need to do a few things, most of them right now, well before your elk hunt takes place.

One, get in the best shape of your life. Sure, you can fill your elk tag with little effort and a lot of luck. But chances are that you’ll work hard for your kill. Elk live in high, big places. You’ll probably be hiking up and down some rough terrain, at elevation and while carrying a backpack full of survival gear, food and water. You’ll also be carrying your gun or bow. And should you score, you’ll be hauling that elk out over multiple trips.

So get yourself in shape. Do cardio, lift weights, walk or run, don’t smoke and eat right, or you will suffer for it come time for the hunt. Those hunting with you will suffer for it too. Yes, you need to be in great shape.

6X6 Bull Elk in Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park.

You also need to be able to hit what you aim at. Whether using a gun or bow, know your range and limitations, and be able to put that bullet or arrow in the vitals each and every time. Nothing is worse than wounding an animal and possibly losing it. Practice, practice, practice. Practice shooting in as many positions as possible. Then, when it’s crunch time, you’ll shoot with confidence.

To bugle or not to bugle, that is the question. Should you try to bugle an elk? That depends. Have you done it before? Are you accomplished at it? Is it the right time (are elk rutting or are you  hunting pre-rut or post-rut)? Bugling too much is far worse than not bugling at all. Don’t assume that all you need to do is bugle and a horny bull will come running. Leave the bugling to your Ox Hunting Ranch guide.

Have good optics and use them. You’ll spend a lot of time glassing, searching for elk. Buy a good quality spotting scope and a tripod to set it on. Don’t skimp on your optics. Buy the very best you can afford, and if you can’t afford them then save your money until you can. Don’t head into the bush with a pair of binoculars. Consider a spotting scope a lifetime investment, and treat it as such. You’ll find yourself looking through that eyepiece plenty. (Oh, and you’ll be carrying that scope and tripod with you…another reason to get yourself in great shape.)

Pay attention to the wind. Elk might see you or hear you and hesitate or even stay put. But if an elk smells you, it’s gone. Be aware of and respect the wind, currents, updrafts and downdrafts. Plan your spotting and stalking appropriately. Continually check the wind and adjust yourself accordingly. Stay downwind if you want to be successful.

If you’re lucky and you score on an elk, have a plan to break it down in the field, pack it out and store it until you’re ready to head home. This is a part of the hunt that sometimes seems to get lost in the planning. An elk is a big animal, with lots of meat, hide and possibly antlers. Assuming you’re going to keep everything except for most of the gut pile, that’s a lot of poundage to be breaking down in the field and carrying out on your back.

Plan on how you’re going to break it down. Bone in, or boned quarters? Antlers and cape? How many trips will it take? What are you going to do with it once you get back to camp? What about long-term packaging and storage? You want to be well-prepared for what exactly you’re going to do with all of that delicious, healthy protein.

Trophy-class Bull Elk Stag in dense morning fog; Buffalo National River big game elk & deer hunting

There are hundreds of things to consider when planning an elk hunt, but these: getting in top physical condition, being proficient with your weapon of choice, bugling or calling an elk, acquiring good optics, paying attention to the wind, planning ahead on what to do with the meat, these are questions that every hunter should be asking himself.

Get these under your belt and you’ll have a more successful elk hunt.

MORE: SIKA DEER HUNTING TIPS AND TRICKS

All the Things You Wanted to Know About Elk Hunting, But Were Afraid to Ask