You don’t need special gear to make the elk hunt you’ve dreamed of.
Considering a population that has doubled in the last forty years to over 1 million animals with increased access and opportunity, the time has never been better to step up to an elk hunt.
The largest populations are found in Colorado, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Oregon also have good populations and a reasonable hunting season. Even states where elk re-introduction has been successful are opening hunting seasons, like North Carolina, Virginia West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.
Most hunts are awarded using a draw system of applying for an opportunity and being selected. However over-the-counter opportunities are available in Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Utah.
Guided elk hunts are typically one-third to one-half the cost of an outfitted whitetail deer hunt. Do-it-yourself hunts require a license or tag that is usually near the cost of a deer license or tag. There are also numerous programs where landowner tags can be transferred to an individual, in which case the landowner usually collects a fee (check the state regulations where you wish to hunt for program details).
A successful elk hunt will yield you as much as six times the amount of meat compared to a successful whitetail deer hunt.
Many hunters are intimidated by the associated cost of elk hunting gear. The truth is you can get by with your deer hunting set-up as long as you adhere to some self-imposed restrictions and realistic expectations.
The most expensive piece of equipment is likely to be your firearm or bow. Your deer hunting rifle or bow will suffice as long as you use common sense. If you are using a “mild” cartridge like a 243 Winchester or a “short range” cartridge like a 35 Remington, you will need to chose a bullet that will stand up to more resistance and penetrate more than the bullets you may use for deer. Most of the “premium” or “boutique” bullets will perform adequately on an elk.
A heavy caliber bullet is a good place to start when choosing your ammunition. Refer to the manufacturers recommendations as well as recommendations from professional guides and outfitters to determine what you need. You will also need to limit your range to your capability and the effectiveness of your cartridge.
Bow hunters can usually use the same set-up they use for deer hunting as long as it meets the state requirement for minimum draw weight and the broad heads conform to state regulations. A heavier arrow or broad head or a more durable broad head than is used for deer hunting is probably a good idea. Again, seek recommendations from licensed guides and outfitters or check with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Bowhunters too need to determine the effective range of their equipment and stay strictly within those limitations.
You should make two adjustments with your weapon of choice. First, adjust the sights to achieve the maximum range that is within your accuracy limitations and the cartridge or arrow/broad heads performance capabilities. Second, practice at that range so you are proficient. The same rangefinder you use for deer hunting should suffice to help you determine if an animal is within your comfort zone to make the shot and your capability zone to be effective.
Camouflage can be important but concealing your movement, scent and reflections are paramount. If you deer hunt in red plaid wool, don’t be shy about using the same hunting outfit for an elk hunt as long as it is suitable for the weather conditions.
Success can be enhanced by proper calling and use of decoys or lure scents, but they may not be necessary depending on your hunting tactics. Just like in deer hunting, if you scout and find a travel route or destination point where the elk will be, you can be very successful hunting out of a treestand.
Elk season starts in September in some states and can run through most of January. If you are going to do-it-yourself, the season is long enough to try several different kinds of tactics based on the changing environmental conditions and the habits of the elk.
A license will usually allow you to hunt throughout the season, although some tags are limited to specific dates. If you are planning a guided hunt, check outfitters references and chose a person or company that you have confidence in to provide a quality hunt and a reasonable success rate.
Isn’t it time you stepped it up to an elk hunt? What do you think?