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How to hunt elk solo...
What are some of your tactics on hunting elk solo? I'm hunting this year, for the third year in a row, in western Wyoming. I've learned some areas fairly well and have some that seem to be more consistent than others at holding elk. This year will be different as I will be completely alone. I plan on going much later than I have the prior two years and my dates are September 18-30.
Right now, I'm hoping for vocal elk and plan on applying a spot and stalk approach to trying to get a good bull. I've struck out the last two years and hoping the third time is a charm. I've been elk hunting for quite some time and have yet to kill a branch bull.
So anyone want to share their solo elk tactics? I know some guys are very successful this way.
Sent you a pm. I could write a book on this, but here's one tip for starters:
When calling solo the bull will come to where he last heard the sounds, then usually circle downwind to get a whiff. He will come on a trail if possible, but not always. Before you start a calling sequence, plan it out. Call from somewhere where he will need to get close to see where you called from.
Then plan a shooting spot about 30-40 yards away and off to the side from which you expect him to come, on the downwind side of a trail if possible. If you have a portable decoy, set it where you called from, then move to your ambush spot and sit tight. Toss some rocks and sticks over that way if you are in a spot where you can get away with the movement.
This doesn't always work - nothing does. But it helps create shots at those bulls that hang up out of range, and also presents broadside shots rather than frontal. Some guys love frontal shots. They can be great if the bull is close. But if he hangs up, not so much. This setup can sort of mimic a double-team setup for a lone hunter.
You can also sit tight after calling, with a portable decoy upwind and on the other side of you. In more open country this works well without having to move after calling, and will draw the bull past you, hopefully upwind, when he sees the decoy.
Too many hunters just sit on a log in a likely spot and start calling, without planning ahead. IMO this is one of the biggest mistakes most bowhunters make.
A decoy is something I do not own, but have considered getting. My biggest problem in the last couple years has been bulls that you get in fairly tight with and you can't move in any closer cause they'll hear you moving. They'll bugle and move back and forth and nothing brings them closer. But if I move in on em, they'll either hear me and pin point me or see me coming. Hoping for some more moisture this year to make moving around a little quieter!
Hearing you is not a big deal if they can't see you. Elk make noise too. Sound like an elk. I've run right into them before and shot the herd bull at 8 yards while he stood there waiting for me to get there.
Tip #2: Don't hunt in places where you can't get one out by yourself before the meat spoils.
If you're hunting elk solo, be prepared to take the frontal shot
You are going at a good time for the elk to be very vocal.
Lou's calling advice is spot on. As well as his second tip.
Calling can work, but most of the time it seems to draw the satellites. It is a lot harder to pull a herd bull off from the cows. Your best bet on calling is to be really close before you make any calls - like under 100 yards. Under 50 yards is even better.
Depending on the terrain and cover, spot and stalk or following bugles can be very effective - more effective than calling - especially on an older bull with cows.
Have had some success with decoys, but usually get mad at them because they slow me down and get in the way.
Have passed up a lot of bulls coming in frontal over the years. Prefer to wait on them to turn.
It can be tough to keep your head in the game when you are solo. Stay focused.
I've never even killed one and only hunted them once, but it would seem you wouldn't want to go in so far that you couldn't get the meat out yourself before it spoiled. Unless you plan on calling for help once the elk is down.
When you are in close don't be afraid to get aggressive. Elk are not whitetails. A herd bull expects noise from other elk and just because you spook a cow or two does not mean the bull will blow out. Especially if there are other bulls around. The trick is to know when to make your move.
I have walked right up to bull elk fighting all shot one with cows watching.
Talk to the people you see around camp or on the trail. Multiple times I've come away with info. on elk location after a simple conversation with other hunters/cowboys/f.s./etc. It doesn't help you kill, but it may get you on elk a lot quicker. Even if they say, "yeah there's elk in that drainage", you know to tread lightly when going in. I think people have an easier time giving intel when you are solo.
Bone up on your Spanish if you want to talk to some of the vaqueros.
If you're not close enough, and you call, they will often hang up. Bulls would rather run their cows off than fight, unless you are inside their "comfort zone". Don't be afraid to get "in their face" when they are vocal.
Call and move once you get in close. If you have a decoy you can set up before you call and move, so much the better. I've had multiple shot opportunities on a single setup, when the bull's focus was on a decoy back behind me.
Don't limit your hunting to "spot and stalk". If you've got a treestand you can pack in, consider it for evening hunts. "Run and gun" mornings, and evening ambush tactics have worked well for me.
Best of Luck, Jeff
I set up camp off the road somewhere and hunt different spots each day, unless I really get into the elk good. But I typically don't get more than 2 miles from the road and most of the time it's a mile or so. It might be some elevation gain getting in and out of some of those spots but there's usually some good game trails to use. I'm also always prepared to get all the meat hung up and cooling in the shade. I carry mule tape, a small sil tarp (for added shade), and all the game bags I need for an elk. So I don't need to go back to the rig for them. Here's a pic of my brothers elk and what we did. He took a quarter out with him so he could get meat packs, while my other brother and I got it all hung up and cooling.
Lots of good stuff here. I would add, be mobile and keep pushing out to find sign and animals. Elk move around alot. In many areas I believe they work a circuit. I can find day old sign but not see an elk in the area for days, then they are gone again. You need to be mobile to find them and dont expect they will always be in that special spot every day at 7 pm. Maybe every other Wednesday.
As far as being in close and being aggressive. That's how we killed the bull pictured above. We got in first thing in the morning and elk were talking, we got in with in 100-140 yards and set my brothers up in front of me on a bench, the bull was above us. I hung back off the downhill side of the bench. That bull would have to come down, past the shooters and look over the bench to see me. I kept my head up when I wasn't calling so I could see and watched that bull come right by my brother. I just kept cutting him off and he'd had enough.
Now being solo, at some point you have to stop calling and hope that bull keeps looking for you?
I'm going in 8 weeks or so, muzz season.
I'll hunt the way I always have. I'll walk, and walk, and walk more until I find elk. I'm going to fail almost every time on stalking, calling, still hunting, watching waterholes and wallows etc. But 1 time fooling a bull is all I need and I'll hunt hard every day looking for that 1 chance.
I love getting a good wind, still hunting benches. I cow call some, I'll young bull squeal some. I don't like busting elk out of an area, but I have 7-8 days to hunt/kill a bull .... so I'm going to try one way or the other and accept the consequences :)
Stwalthy cat, great post! Seems like that's a lot of my time hunting as well, looking for that one lucky opportunity with a whole lotta trying to make it happen, in between. The though that one of these times I'm going to get lucky and a big old bull and I will run right into each other and he won't have a clue I'm there... or Maybe I'll be sitting on s log eating a snack and one will walk by me? Those thoughts run through my mind daily while hunting.
I tend to hunt the way Jordan does, by keeping moving. I just keep going drainage to drainage, until I find one that is really interested. When it does sound like they are coming in, I agree with Jaquamo in that you have to plan where you think they will approach from and move that direction. Seems like the bigger ones tend to hang up about 50 yds out and look to see the elk that was answering them.
Elk expect to see elk that they hear. When they don't they get unhappy. This weekend I was glassing a meadow from up above and saw a lone cow feeding near dark. I couldn't get a picture with my POS camera from that far, so I eased on down lower. Once I got off the rocks and into the crunchy pine cones and needles I could not move without making noise. Busted! She didn't run off, she paced and pranced back and forth looking up the hill for what was making the noise. She could not figure out what I was so she kept pacing and stomping and started barking at me. She kept that shiat up from 9pm until 2 am. Not a great way to attract more elk to the area.........
my biggest elk I slipped between him and his cows ... I don't know why he stayed back and allowed me to do that, rubbing a tree furiously maybe? he messed up :) but most often they don't mess up, they live in that country, they know it, they know the other bulls and how they sound, I think they probably know each cow's sounds .... they know the winds and thermals and where to go and how and the food and the water and wallows ....
gotta get lucky but luck way too often is generated by hard hunting IMO
I have tried calling and had some fun with it but personally I like to slip along with the wind in my favor and listen for bulls and then slip in on them quietly. That way they aren't looking for me. My last 3 hunts I arrowed 6x6's using this tactic. While they weren't responding to me two of the 3 were cranked and it was really exciting. I had one bull scream in my face at 10 yards - right before is shot him! It works well as they are paying very little attention when they are preoccupied with the girls.
Like Lee, I prefer to cover ground silently. Let them do all the talking and get close without them knowing you're there. Works great.
I hope you'll give this tactic a try.
What do you guys do when they're not talking and can't get them to?
Personally, I just keep moving until I find one that will answer. If they don't then I just go out the next day and try again. If I'm in an area with lots of elk, maybe once a year I have a morning or evening where I don't get an answer. If I hunt somewhere with elk lower elk numbers it's about a 50/50 chance.
If I go two days with no response to my calling I go straight for the throat & call & hour to an hour & a half or so before daylight as I cover distance on roads. It works! Outside of that a hunter would be smart to sit "destination" spots! Elk have places they go to everyday. Water, feed & bedding are the most recognized, then there's wallows, natural mineral licks, etc. If not comfortable in your calling abilities, consider them! Find these spots of use or trails leading to or from these destination spots & your odds of a close encounter will increase!
The bedding area is where most bulls are taken by us throughout the course of a year. Of course those are our main focus, why? Because elk are where they want to be, they have no reason to leave that area for hours. Stay unseen & not winded & you can really play with those elk. We took 8 bulls last year, all OTC hunts, most from their bedding areas.
It must be established once there if there's a hot cow in the mix, if not, you cannot start recklessly aggressive in your calling! Calling when needed needs to be tailored towards their mood. If possible my first thought is can I slip in silently for the kill, if so, then that's my plan! So much of timbered elk country does not allow for a silent stalk, this is where thinking outside the box comes in. You have two choices, call them to you or call your way to them, both can work! Some hunters have more patience than I & add a 3rd choice of waiting them out for them to move again, I am not that guy! (grin)
Most of the elk I have killed I have been on somewhat a solo hunt. Be patient when calling, wait longer than you think you need to after your last calling session. Elk will come in from downwind within shooting range sometimes.. Don't hide behind anything, setup in front of cover and have a decoy! I missed a shot on a bull and called him back in. He was looking strait at me as I was calling, but he could not see me as I had a tree right behind me. Use a tree stand if you can! You don't have to setup on water. I have killed several elk by setting up a tree stand on a well used trail. You can call from a tree stand. Learn how to debone meat, and do it! Just few things that have worked for me.
"What do you guys do when they're not talking and can't get them to?"
still hunt, walk, spot and stalk, stay in the area's that smell elky .......... I sat on a big rock one day overlooking a wallow in hot dry weather and saw 3 shooter bulls. I didn't get one of them, but they were all close enough (I was shooting a recurve, different ball game, a compound and I'd have tagged) .... saw a nice bear too at 12 feet :)
Im blessed to hunt the same area many years so I know elk are there. With that said, I know elk are bugling and if i'm not hearing bugles I know I'm just not close to elk so i keep moving. I rarely bugle.
My basic tactic is cover ground until I hear a bugle then close the distance as fast as I can. For example if I think a bugle is approx 300 yards I cover 200 yards fast, then slow down when I think I'm within 100 yds and try to get my eyes on him/them. Check the wind, develop a quick plan and make something happen. stealth mode. I almost always let the bull bugle ME in.
There are many ways to skin cat. This method works awesome for me.