Contributors to this thread:
Things to learn before I go elk hunting
A few friends and I are planning on doing an elk hunt in 2020 in Colorado (OTC tags, our standards are not high for what kind of bulls we’d kill). I’ve been doing a lot of research about where we think we want to go, but I also realize my experience is almost exclusively deer hunting on the east coast. Thus the question for all you elk hunters out there:
What are the top 3 (or more) things to know or skills to learn before we hit the road for this trip? Anything from elk hunting strategy, post shot meat care, camp set up, is appreciated. Thanks in advance!
Success runs about 15% so disregard 85% of what you read ie; elk are in bed by 7 on a full moon and hunt north slopes. Have fun, that’s the important thing. We all make hunting mistakes, just enjoy the time.
Get into and stay in shape for the best experience. I mean seriously in shape.
aDJ- That question will get 60+ comments. Ditto WB. Ignore most of it. The best advice I can suggest is do searches in elk forum on Bowsite. Be a sponge and read everything you can. Once you read, you will figure out who are the elk killers. (IE Who to listen to) and who are the internet warriors. I am NOT an elk killer. I was just on my 10th elk hunt. (3 for 10 on bringing home a dead body) A couple of those was by choice. Others it was small mistakes that tanked an opportunity. There are some big things to know, but many of the details you will figure out (IE Mess up) while doing it.
#1-Remember, elk cannot read or tell time/have calendars. They don't know what they are supposed to be doing or when they are supposed to be doing it. (IE Elk are where you find them, not where you want them to be)
Many many times in elk hunting you will realize you dont know what you dont know.
Hope for the best but plan for the worst. So that spot that looks like a gold mine might suck and you better have plans B, C, and D.
Deer hunters are used to seeing animals regularly. Be prepared for some days where you see nothing and have to keep your chin up.
Some of your friends will be hooked for life. Others will hate it and never go back. It’s not for everyone.
I wouldn’t call myself a killer but my tips would be. (1) get in better shape than you think you need to be, it won’t be enough. (2) learn what thermals are and how they move in the mountains, PAY ATTENTION TO THE WIND. (3) Hunt north facing slopes and other thick, dark, nasty deadfall blow down hell holes. That’s where the elk in CO go after opening weekend.
There will be lots of good and bad advice. I’ve been on 8-10 elk hunts, killed five, three cows first and then a 6x6 and three weeks ago, a 5x5. On this recent trip, one of the guys was not in good enough physical condition to climb to where the elk were. He was confined to a smaller area to hunt. The other three of us were in good shape. We killed two and the other guy missed a shot. Get in shape, starting many months before the hunt. If you can’t get to the elk, which broadhead, what camo, when to call, etc are irrelevant.
I've only been twice, the advice on here about reading up is good. You will figure out quickly who is blowing smoke. Some are very helpful 'out loud' and some are very much more PM oriented. (hint, there's a few that have already chimed in that you absolutely should listen to. That's the only piece of advice you should listen to from me.) Since i'm almost as new as you I can tell you one thing. Just go. Get out there, cover ground, and have fun. If you haven't gotten into elk in a couple days, move. And ask someone else how to actually kill an elk, all I seem to do is camp out:(
Three things for the beginner.....
- Get in shape. You don't have to be a marathon runner, but you don't want to be miserable on the mountain either.
- Get hydrated and stay hydrated. Again, you don't want to be miserable on the mountain.
- Be mobile. Find and hunt FRESH elk sign....not month old elk sign. You will learn the "how" to hunt elk as you go.
My biggest 3 would be these.
Don't waste time where the elk are not. Old sign is just that, it's old sign. Move until you find them.
Buy the elk101 course, it'll lower the learning curve for you (or at least it did for me).
First couple days at elevation will likely suck for you, pound the ibuprofen and deal with it, it gets better. First 2-3 days hunting for me are always miserable but my body eventually figures it out.
You'll figure it out, you can read until your eyes fall out. Only way to really experience it is go.
2 of my top 3 have already been covered...
- "Get in shape. You don't have to be a marathon runner, but you don't want to be miserable on the mountain either". So true. Very important while hunting, but even more so when you have to get that 7-800 lb beast out of a downfall-choked hole he ran into before he died.
- "Remember, elk cannot read or tell time/have calendars. They don't know what they are supposed to be doing or when they are supposed to be doing it. (IE Elk are where you find them, not where you want them to be)". So very true. Elk don't visit forums, watch videos, or read books. Elk are going to do what elk are going to do, which many times is the last thing you'd expect them to do.
- Keep a positive attitude! Sounds easy enough when you're planning your dream hunt...not so much when you're dog tired, the weather's been miserable, and you haven't seen or heard an elk in 4-5 days. It only takes a moment for a less-than- desirable hunt to turn into a "Thank You, Lord!" success story.
EDIT- Since you did say 3 (or more), I'll add one more. ;-)
grossklw mentioned something that I also highly recommend. Sign up for the University of Elk Hunting (UEH) online course at ELK 101.com. After 30+ years of bowhunting elk, I didn't think there was much I could learn. How wrong I was. I changed one thing in particular to "the way I've always done it", and it has absolutely been a game-changer.
Just finished taking a newbie 52 year old on his first trip elk hunting and boy did he learn a lot!!!! After his first hunt I would say his top 3 - 5 things would be-
1). Get into better shape 2) arrive to the mountains with a finished off boot/ sock system with quality boots to avoid blisters!!! 3)prepare for the vastness of the country. Your not hunting the back forty anymore. Have your gps, onX system and know how to use them. 4) be proficient to 60 yards 5) and most importantly- don’t tell people at home when you “might” be coming back. Have a return plan date and stick too it!!!!!
Never stop hunting. After not seeing an elk for four straight days it's easy to get discouraged and just "walk" but when you top that next rise without "hunting" you will see the back end of some elk at full sprint.
Elk hunting has a significant luck factor but you have to be out there to be lucky.
Don't be afraid to cat nap on the mountain when you think the elk are bedded or things have been slow just to re-energize your mind. I've had some great encounters immediately after a short nap probably because I wasn't walking around spooking them. Two weeks ago I killed a cow 10 minutes after a short snooze. I'm glad I woke up or they would have trampled me. (See luck factor above)
wyobullshooter >>>- Keep a positive attitude! Sounds easy enough when you're planning your dream hunt...not so much when you're dog tired, the weather's been miserable, and you haven't seen or heard an elk in 4-5 days. It only takes a moment for a less-than- desirable hunt to turn into a "Thank You, Lord!" success story.<<
The number one most important thing is mental preparation. Prepare for all of the disappointment mentally. Prepare mentally for working your ass off and not seeing elk number one. Prepare for scouting and researching like crazy on a spot only to show up and have 25 rigs at the trailhead. Prepare for 2,000' vertical feet in the morning and evening and what that does to you after a few days, especially when you haven't seen an elk and you know you have to do it again tomorrow. Prepare to have to explain to your wife why you spent all that money on elk hunting and never saw an elk but how you want to do it again next year. The biggest things in elk hunting are mental, prepare mentally for the worst, then when it is even worse than you thought you know how to prepare better for the next year. Elk hunting is hard, be prepared.
I would take the tips from above and hunt in Idaho. Colorado is too crowded.
Got back from an elk hunt that we hiked in with just our packs for 5 days. I would suggest bringing a pair of crocs. They don't weigh anything and are nice to wear around camp so you can air your boots out. There was 3 of us on the hunt and two of us had good boots (Kenetrek & Zamberlan), and one had some cheaper boots. Crossing streams, snow, and wet grass the guy with cheaper boots was always soaked and hindered his hunting. It was nice to cross a low stream, be in snow and wet grass and not have to deal with soaked feet. He spent more time at camp trying to dry them out. I would suggest bringing a couple pair of socks with you. I only had one pair, and it would have been nice to have an extra pair while I was airing out one.
Get in shape - Learn to call - Shoot A LOT!
Being shape wont help you a damn bit if you cant call an elk withing bow range, and being in shape wont help if you're a piss poor shot.
Leave your WT thinking at home.
Just last week, I called in a bull for my buddy [big WT hunter]. The bull came in on the wrong side of the pine tree we were sitting at. My buddy drew and was wondering what to do. I told him to move around the tree and shoot the damn bull!
His arrow hit a limb on the way to the bull. Lesson = You can get away with much more with an elk than you can with a WT
I’m with Brotsky... it’s 90% mental. I’ve seen people in great shape crumble because they gave up in their mind and I’ve seen people in average shape and older hunters hunt like dogs because the mind drives the body.
Time in the field is the great equalizer.
Wind direction is very important, even 1/2 mile away.
Shoot the first legal elk.
Agree shoot first legal elk lots of tag soup for those guys that passed a few up. I hunted a unit this year that didn't have a lot of dark timber, in the end I didn't see any elk although we went in 7.5 miles. Get in shape Arrive a day or two early to acclimate - Get a warm sleeping bag Get good boots and socks Call less hunt harder Stay ready I used to carry an arrow knocked in dark timber unfortunately its a draw unit that I cant get into but once every 5 years - saw a lot more quiet elk just slipping around Lastly drop camps are a waste of money - stay mobile move it you need to
Time in the field....Learn to be a Grinder.....Learn to call....Watch the wind, you would be surprised at the amount of guys that go after a bull with the wind at their ass.
Learn to shoot well off your knees or sitting flat on your ass......trust your bubble level.
Most importantly.....drive your own truck to where ever your going to hunt....may cost you more.....but it won't cost you your hunt when your pussy whipped hunting partner wants to go home early !!
The question you should be asking yourself is - Why do I want to go to Colorado and do an OTC Elk hunt when I could go to a state such as Wyoming Idaho or Montana were I am almost guaranteed to see more elk and have much less pressure from other hunters.
The odds are slim you’re going to come to Colorado the first time hunt an OTC unit find a spot with lots of elk and low pressure from other hunters. Does not matter if you’re planning on truck camping or backpacking in 8 miles not very many places that are not overhunted. My brother and some of his friends went elk hunting for the first time this year in Idaho. They picked a random spot on maps. They got into lots of elk never saw another hunter.
Most importantly.....drive your own truck to where ever your going to hunt....may cost you more.....but it won't cost you your hunt when your pussy whipped hunting partner wants to go home early !!
this one I have lived out also...now I hunt solo too
Buy a copy of "Public Land Elk Hunting" written by a Bowsiter.
Have a plan B and plan C area picked out when area A doesnt have any elk.
Relax and have fun. Elk hunting is in big country but you dont have to hike 8+ miles a day. Sometimes hunting 1 mile correctly beats covering 10 miles spooking elk as you go.
Basic woodsmen skills How to read maps/compass How to perform gutless field dressing How to properly take care of meat
I see you're from Virginia-#1 is realize that altitude in most OTC units will suck the gas out of you no matter what shape you're in, #2 is this "Shoot the first legal elk."
I could have killed a lot of cows and small bulls but wanted my first one to be a nice bull...I passed a whole lot of elk for years before I killed a biggie, wish I'd just pulled the trigger on the other ones and put meat in the freezer.
Know your area, learn how and when to call, and know the kill zone on an elk
#1 Get in shape and conditioned to the altitude your hunting at.
#2 Find an area you can glass North facing slopes and spend a few evenings glassing
#3 unless you live on the mountain and know the animals that live there kill the first legal animal you see.
Last but not least if you can afford to buy a guided hunt for your first time. I wish I would have as the learning curve is painful with Elk. If you don't get in them you will never learn about them.
If you are not from the area and can`t scout the area you are hunting be prepared to move around. If you are not in the elk you won`t have to worry about all the other advice.
'Public Land Elk Hunting,'. the book, Yes, get a copy for each one of your crew.
You're hunting OTC second rifle, dont worry about calling. By then they've heard it all and for the most part are post rut. The trick to killin an elk second rifle is to be where the elk are. We've got millions of acres of public land, not all of it holds elk. As has been mentioned, if you aren't seeing fresh sign or live elk, move! That was the hardest, yet most obvious first lesson for me to learn when I started 30yrs ago. Be sure youve always got somebody with you to remind you you're having fun. Believe me, there will be days where you will need to be reminded! Good luck, and come back and give us a recap on your first experience, kill or no kill!
I agree, its way more work than fun... Fun until (if) you get one and have it in camp or truck, then the beer can come out and the fun begins again.
Advice, bring these items... Chapstick, leukotape and baby whipes!
I take advice from Willieboat and I’ve eaten elk every year since. Seems like the no quit attitude is my best trait. And don’t hang out with guys who will drag you down.
Be persistent, unrelenting in your quest. From this day forward emerse yourself with all things elk ... Read, study, talk with experienced elk hunters. Find a mentor if possible to accompany you on your trip. You can learn more in a week from a savy elk hunter in the woods then you will in 10 years on your own.. good luck.....
Better yet... Just move west... I did over 29 years ago.
Once on the mountain NEVER be more than an arms reach from your bow.
Hunt all day. It does't mean you have to walk all day but plan to stay in the woods all day. Shot my bull this year at 1145. Last 1 was around 130. There was a camp on the way to ours that we would pass with 4 young guys. They would be gone super early but always would be back late morning and then would sit around the campfire a few hours until it was time to hunt the evening. To me they wasted a lot of time that could have been productive. Can't shoot them from the tent!
"Most importantly.....drive your own truck to where ever your going to hunt....may cost you more.....but it won't cost you your hunt when your pussy whipped hunting partner wants to go home early !!"
Got that tee-shirt. Started going solo after that. At least until you learn about the guys you hunt with.
Learn to enjoy the experience. If you do that, there isn't any 'grinding', at least to me.
Shoot some deer in VA this season and break them down in the field, gutless, and pack them out. For practice. Don't make your 1st elk, your first in field butcher job.
Just reflecting on some of the advice above.... I’ll just paraphrase some of it and tell you what I think and you can do with it what you want....
“Get proficient to 60 yards”... #1, read the thread here on ensuring lethal shots on Elk. #2, know that tens of thousands of elk hunters have killed thousands of elk when they went out there with absolutely zero expectation of being able to kill an Elk cleanly at that kind of range. I would never discourage anyone from getting to be as deadly accurate (with their chosen weapon) as they can find a way to get, and I know that you hear all kinds of stories about guys who have done it, but nobody seems very interested in talking about how often those shots have gone wrong, and there have been so many guys who succeeded at 20 yards and in debt to believe that it’s necessary is just absurd. And the worst thing about believing that it’s “necessary” is that it becomes all too easy to talk yourself into trying something which you know damn well has an extremely high probability of going south... worse yet (IMO), being willing to take those long shots really gets in the way of your ever becoming a good enough Hunter to learn to get that distance in half.
Somebody else said to bring a spare pair of socks, and that he really wished he had some on a five-day trip.
Dude, are you out of your freaking MIND??? What are you 15???
OK.... My dad was a doctor in Uncle Sam’s Army right after World War II; Times and technology have changed things some, I suppose, but my brother and I carry three pairs of socks on a day trip, and when we stopped for a break, the boots come off so our feet can air out. If it’s wet out or we’ve been sweating a lot, the socks come off, Get tossed in a Ziploc, and we wear two pairs per day, with a spare in case something goes wrong. That may seem like overkill to a lot of people but - come ON - how much does a pair of socks weigh? And how much do blistered feet slow you down and detract from the experience of your hunt?
“Learn to call...”
Funny thing… On another thread I was talking about how different things were 30 or 40 years ago, and somebody pointed out that 40 years ago guys were calling in bull elk by honking the horn of their vehicle (I do recall one story where somebody did it with a Volkswagen beetle), or with measures as simple as blowing a spent .30-‘06 case like a whistle. Doesn’t work anymore, does it? Too many people “learning to call”.... Trouble is, you never know if you’re any good or not until you’re in the field, and by then it’s usually too late… And you still don’t know what you did wrong.... only that the Elk have left.
Personally, I play the thermals, watch the wind, and stay as quiet as I can possibly be. Seems to work for the Cougars.
Anyway, my recommendations...
Learn how to slow WAY down and pick the cover apart with a very good pair of binoculars.
Learn how to find a good bedding area on a topo map and KNOW WHERE YOU ARE so you don’t bumble into one by accident. If they are there, you need to spot them first and plan your approach, and if they’re not, there’s no sense in stinking up the joint.
Learn how to butcher a deer this year, so you can bone out your Elk on the mountain and leave big bones behind. An Elk is a mighty big pile o’ Dead, and it’s now YOUR problem!
Get good at stringing up a bear bag so that you can hoist quarters and backstraps out of reach, in camp or at the kill site .
And - related to what Vonfoust said about enjoying the experience....
The overwhelming majority of Elk hunters fail every year. One of the guys here said he’s 0 for 13. It’s not easy. By comparison, Virginia Whitetail hunting has got to be an absolute joke. Unless you normally hunt highly pressured public land where you’re lucky to get one shot per season, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.
So make it about Learning, and seeing how close you can get, rather than setting yourself up for disappointment with great expectations of killing a bunch of Elk… If you don’t love doing it for the sake of doing it, you will have a whole lot more fun staying home and going fishing or something.
If you're coming to Colorado, learn to parallel park your ATV trailer.
Practicing the gutless method on WT is a great idea. In fact, my days of dragging a deer have been over for years.
Is GF hunting limited to live bowsite hunts from CT?
Is that a Virginia deer cnelk?
Chris V - it may have been a virgin, but definitely not from Virginia
I'd say the one thing to know before go elk hunting is..... don't go! Elk hunting sucks. It's a roller coaster of emotions, tons of highs and lows, physically exhausting, emotionally draining and if by chance you stumble on to an elk and shoot one, OMG then you have to pack that big bastard out.... you're better off sitting in a tree stand shooting a little whitetail and dragging it whole back to the truck.
Cnelk, time for a game cart. Hang em whole at home and let em age. Much cleaner meat too.
Hang out on the Bowsite elk forum as much as possible. Look at the old meatpole threads and pay attention to who actually kills stuff. Pay particular attention to who kills something year after year after year (and there are a LOT of those guys on Bowsite)
Then, pay attention to what those people say. . . . .
Then, go hunt elk.
I wish I had better advice, but I suck at elk hunting. I can't find my groove. My mojo. Maybe someday
RogBow. Screw the cart. I take WT out in one trip
Tons of great advice above, except for getting that crummy book! (JK I'm the author and it's decent, ha.) The comments above that really hit home for me are the persistence and keep hunting comments. It's easy to throw in the towel. Elk hunting can be a grind, even in good company, but it can also be the most intense hunt you'll ever experience when a big bull is screaming in your face. I keep a journal every year and it seems the one note that always pops up is "go where the elk are." It's easy to hunt the easy to access spots and we always start at those but if you hear a far, far off bugle chances are there's more than one elk “over there”. There’s also a note every year in my journal to be in better shape. And odly enough when an elk bugles from “over there” getting "there" requires you to be in pretty dang good shape…
dont Go back to camp for a nap or food, eat and nap where the elk are. Only go back to camp when it’s dark unless hauling meat. Disclosure: I havnt been a successful elk hunter
“dont Go back to camp for a nap or food, eat and nap where the elk are. ”
Yup. My brother had a 7X8 walk right in on him one day while he was scarfing down a PBJ. Too bad he had drawn a cow tag that year! LOL
But a cow walked in about 2 minutes later, and by then he’d thought to get the Enfield within reach.
He muzzleloads usually 4-5 days a year; gets an Elk about half the time.
This year was my 16th year DIY Public Archery Elk Hunt. I learn something new EVERY YEAR. And some things I thought I was good at, the Elk can make a fool out of you and humble you very quickly. I'm not going to repeat what everyone else already has said but there is one small (But crucial) mistake I see New Elk hunters that I take make all the time.
Most of the areas I hunt are deep in the dark timber. Depending on state and landscape but mostly in deep dark timber. When we get a bull going fairly close and are in striking distance to set up on them, the rookie hunters want to set up right where they are standing even though there are almost NO shooting lanes and impossible to squeeze an arrow anywhere past 8 yards. What's the point of even calling them in if there is no way to shoot at them? But it happens... A LOT. They freeze and set up there with the excitement of a close but out of sight screaming bull. Take the time to move 30, 40, 60 yards in a different direction to find some open lanes to shoot (with the wind in mind of course). You would be surprised just moving that far can open things up and change the view just enough. Heck, Even if I'm calling for the hunter and I'm back or up hill from the shooter 30 yards or so... My perspective view is so much different than the shooter. That's why it's important for the shooter to know this and move if they have to. Stay as positive as possible, and be persistent. A lot of the times it's in your lowest point that the opportunity arises and turns your trip into an epic one.