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6 Elk Hunting Techniques for Rifle Season That Will Put Meat in Your Freezer

Authors Montana Bull taken in 2009.
Toby Walrath

These six elk hunting techniques for rifle season will increase your odds of success over every other hunter in the woods this season.

I’ve listened to rifle hunters from across the country say over and again that once rifle season comes they can’t seem to find any bull elk. When they can’t find the bulls during the season’s opener, they wait for the bulls to come to them after late season snows push the herds into the low country. But waiting is risky, because if the snows don’t come, the limited time left in the season is wasted.

At the risk of bucking conventional wisdom, I will say that it is a mistake to wait until the late season for the bulls to come down. And to make sure I dig a hole that’s tough to get out of, I’ll also say that any hunter who can’t find elk in the early rifle season is doing something wrong. In order to find bulls, you have to go where the bulls are. If that sounds overly simplified, it is. But it’s true.

So with rifle season fast approaching, I’ve compiled the top six overlooked rifle elk hunting techniques that will help you put elk meat in your freezer.

1. Glass in thick cover

Glassing for elk on open hillsides often leads to elk sightings, especially cows and young bulls. But some of the best sighting can be done in thick cover. Slipping quietly through thick timber and glassing even in the thickest fir re-growth areas can reveal big bulls like this one.

elk

 

2. Find flat spots amid steep slopes

You should invest in topographic maps of where your hunting and seek out the flat spots at the head of drainages. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when hunting elk in big country like Montana. Hiking 15 miles in a single day with no real plan is about as productive as staying in camp all day. Find areas that are likely to hold bulls. Thick flat areas where water starts flowing at the top of a creek drainage is as good a starting point as you can get. This single tip may be the best time saver you’ll ever learn when hunting elk.

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3. Pay attention to the wind

So many hunters seem to ignore the wind. If you have to hike an extra mile to approach an area from downwind, it will be time well spent. After hiking three or four miles over rough terrain, now is not the time to avoid a little more physical exertion.

4. Be in shape

Elk hunting hurts when you’re not in shape! Hiking five miles to where the elk are requires motivation, carrying 70 pounds of meat five miles takes stamina. Being in shape for elk hunting isn’t the same as being in shape for deer hunting or even in shape for a marathon. It’s different. Be ready to hike up, down, over blow downs, carry a heavy pack and be able to run when you need to. Be in shape before you get to the mountain.

Elk hunting hurts when you're not in shape!  Hiking five miles to where the elk are requires motivation, carrying 70 pounds of meat carried 5 miles takes stamina.

5. Slow down

I have a friend who is in excellent shape but he hikes ten miles in a single day and often complains about not seeing elk. It is much better to spend a little more time sneaking through a prime area than to put on miles in search of an elk.

6. Hunt in the afternoon and be where the elk are until dark

So many times I see hunters heading into the woods early who leave at midday. Five of my last six elk were shot several miles from my truck between 2 pm and 4 pm. Hunt until dark and be prepared to hike out with a headlamp. Staying in the woods back where the elk are will pay huge dividends.

Early rifle season elk don’t just disappear after the rut is over. Knowing the areas where to find elk and hunting in those areas all day will consistently put you in spitting distance of bulls. Slowing down, and glassing will put them in your crosshairs.

 

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6 Elk Hunting Techniques for Rifle Season That Will Put Meat in Your Freezer