3 Steps to the Shot – Basic Strategies to Create Shot Opportunities in Elk Hunting

How do you find elk and create shot opportunities?  Great question – because finding elk is one thing, and having a chance to put an arrow in one is another.  Let’s look at some basic strategies for creating shot opportunities while elk hunting…

Hunting Elk in the Timber

First, I’ll have to lay the disclaimer out there: there’s not one answer. There are obviously a myriad of different factors that can affect a strategy for getting into shooting range – from weather and wind, to the location of the elk, to the amount of vocalization, to the time of the year, etc.

But in terms of trying to kill a bull in archery season, there are some general principles that you should be aware of. There are “best practices”, common techniques, and other good things to know. And, thankfully, Jerud and I had the opportunity to prove a few of these concepts last season.

What I want to share in this article is a mix of some common recommendations that I have received from veteran elk hunters, along with the experience that Jerud and I had while killing his bull (putting ourselves in the position to kill multiple bulls, actually).

Let me start where the story started. After several long days of hiking in search of elk, Jerud and I made our way into a new area.

First lesson: cover ground until you find elk.

Don’t spend too much time “tip toeing” around or silently stalking when you don’t know if elk are even in the area. If you aren’t actually finding or hearing elk, you need to get aggressive until you do. This isn’t whitetail hunting.

You can’t kill an elk until you find an elk.  Pre-hunt scouting is critical; it can help you determine where to look, but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll find elk.  As the oft-repeated phrase goes, “Elk are where they are.”

Second lesson: once elk are located, stop and assess the situation.

Ask yourself questions like… Why are they here? Where might they be going, and why? What are the chances that there are more elk than I am seeing/hearing? What’s the wind doing? What is the best way to approach the area?

There is a “hurry up and wait” aspect to elk hunting. You need to bust your butt to find them, but once you do, you should stop and assess all of the conditions and variables before making a move.

Elk Hunting in the Timber

When Jerud and I sat at the meadow and heard the first bugles, we didn’t rush right after them. We sat for a bit, then cautiously made our way to them until we thought they were staying put for a while. There’s a fine line to balance here – if you’re too patient then you risk letting the elk move away and potentially losing their location – but if you rush right in without a solid plan, then you might blow them off.

If the elk are moving, try to keep up with them while keeping a safe distance. You want to know where they’re at, but you don’t want them to know where you’re at. Ideally, you want the elk to stop so that you can make a strategic move, which brings us to the next lesson…

Third lesson: get close, then call.

You might have seen a show where a guy calls a bull a half-mile across a canyon – and, yes, that can happen in real life – but it isn’t normal.

Think of it like this. You know there’s a bull on a distant ridge; maybe he responded to a locator bugle that you threw out there. But why should he cover ground? If you’re another bull at a “safe distance”, then you’re no threat. If you’re cow calling from a distance, then he has to be incredibly lonely to come a long ways and “get you”. Now, throw in the fact that he might already have some cows with him, and there’s pretty much no chance he’s leaving his position to challenge a distant bull or bring in a distant cow.

But, if you can close the distance and invade his comfort zone, you’ll get him worked up. Whether you’re calling as a bull (a threat) or a cow (a treat), do it from a close proximity and you’re chances of success will skyrocket.

By “close”, I’m recommending within 100-150 yards at the minimum, and ideally within 75 yards for greatest effectiveness. Distance to elk can be hard to judge if you’re new to hearing wild elk vocalization, and/or you’re hunting in thick timber. Use your best judgement.

In addition to distance, consider the elevation. If the winds allow it, you want to be at (or near) the same elevation as the elk. And being above them is better than being below them. Like hunting wild turkey, elk can be more hesitant to approach if they have to move downhill. If they’re allowed to travel on the same elevation, or come up to the sounds, then their ability to escape is much improved. Use this habit to your advantage.

The second bull that came in silent on me while I was calling-in Jerud’s bull came up a slope, which made it incredibly easy for him to turn around and disappear down the mountainside in a split-second.

The other advantage to approaching from the same elevation is that the winds are typically either coming up or down the mountain, and by approaching from the same level as the elk, you’ll almost always be hunting a cross-wind.

Next up, we’ll talk about some specific calling techniques and strategies on how to “seal the deal” once you’re in position.

Bow Review – 2015 Elite Archery “Synergy”

All-new for 2015, the Synergy is the ultimate example of Elite Archery’s dedication to “Shootability.”

Before we get into the specifics of the Synergy, let’s talk about shootability for a minute. Ask a dictionary to define the word and you’re going to have trouble.  Elite created the term shootability to define what sets their bows apart from the competition. Is it a marketing strategy? Sure. But, having shot Elite for years now, I can say that the claims about shootability really do matter.  The shootability of Elite bows have made me a more effective bowhunter.

Why “Shootability” Matters

Drawing the Elite Synergy

Shootability begins with the bow’s draw cycle. When compared to the competition, the Synergy will hit peak weight later in the draw cycle and spend less time at peak weight throughout the cycle. So if you’re shooting a 60-pound bow, you won’t be pulling 60-pounds right when you begin to draw, and you won’t be pulling 60-pounds for a very long time as you draw. Pound-for-pound, the Synergy is one of the easiest bows to draw – a fact that matters a great deal when you’ve been sitting in your treestand for hours upon hours in the cold and.

Shootability doesn’t stop when you reach full-draw. Elite bows have an incredibly solid “back wall”, thanks to dual limb stops. This solid back wall helps shooters use consistent and repeatable shooting form and anchor points, which leads to consistency and accuracy downrange. Elite bows also have less holding weight at full-draw, as well as a generous “dwell zone”. Put simply, Elite bows are easier to hold at full-draw while you wait for that buck to take the last step needed before you have a clear shot. And if you do happen to let the string creep forward a little bit, the forgiveness of the “dwell zone” means that the bow isn’t going to try and jump forward out of your hands immediately.

Now that we’ve described what shootability is, and how it helps bowhunters be more successful, you can begin to understand what makes the Synergy – the ultimate example of shootability – such a great bow.

Let’s take a deeper look at the design and features of the Elite Synergy…

Continue Reading at Bowhunting.com

My New Role with S&S Archery

Nearly four years ago I made a call to Steve Speck at S&S Archery.  I had been shopping for a bow sight and stumbled upon Black Gold sights on the S&S website.  I had some questions about the product, and there was a phone number on the website, so I figured I’d place a call and see if I could get some help.  Although I had no idea who Steve was at the time (and he definitely didn’t have an idea of who I was), he was incredibly friendly, helpful, and even talked me out of spending some money on custom options that I didn’t need for my sight.

I ordered the site through Steve, used it for quite a while, and eventually reviewed it here on Sole Adventure.  Steve and I stayed in touch throughout the years.  He has helped me learn about elk hunting, given me the chance to be an early tester for a broadhead that he designed, and I have had the opportunity use my skillset to help him on some projects.  But what matters more than hunting, gear, and business, is that Steve is now a friend.

Last month, I officially accepted a part-time position to work for Steve.  S&S Archery is gear for backcountry bowhunters, from backcountry bowhunters.  And I’m proud to be a part of it.

I wanted to share this with you guys for several reasons.  First and foremost, I never want there to be anything that could be considered “shady” about this site.  I have some product reviews coming up soon, and S&S happens to carry some of those products.  I’m not reviewing these products because I’m simply trying to make sales for S&S.  For example, I have been using the Scott Exxus archery release for two years.  The review is a long-time coming and is a product of my real world experience.  I happen to use a lot of gear that S&S carries (First Lite clothing, Black Gold and CBE bow sights, Solid Broadheads, TightSpot Quivers, etc.), and I’ve been using much of this gear for several years – well before I was associated with S&S Archery.

But I am also sharing this news with you because I do want to see S&S Archery grow.  If you are in the market for First Lite apparel, hunting optics, archery and bowhunting accessories, backpacking gear, and more, then I would love for you to consider giving your business to S&S Archery.  We will have a new website launching in the coming months, as well as expanded product offerings.

Follow S&S Archery on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

If there’s anything that I can do to answer questions, please let me know.

Advice For A Solo Elk Hunt

You want to hunt elk, but you can’t find a partner. What can you do?

I got an email last week from a guy that lives in the Midwest and wants to hunt elk out west but can’t find a partner. He’s leery of packing in miles-deep and living solo in the backcountry for a week. He wants to know if he could effectively hunt from a base camp, and if so, how should he going about doing that and what should he bring on each day’s hunt.

And he’s not alone. I have received questions like this on many occasions. I’m far from an expert, but I have thought about this topic quite a bit in the past. And now that I’ve lived through a couple of tough elk hunts, I do have some “real world” perspective to strengthen my opinions.

Hiking Alone

If you’re considering hunting solo, here’s what I’d tell you


It is tough to kill an elk. It is even tougher when you’re inexperienced and unfamiliar with the area that you’re heading into. It is tougher yet if you’re alone.

If you’re traveling from the midwest and hunting solo, be prepared to come home empty handed. I am not saying that your hunt will be a failure, but what I am saying is that you should have proper expectations, so that if you don’t kill an elk you don’t see your hunt as a failure.

Fact is, you’re doing something incredibly difficult. Something that takes a lot of planning, money, commitment, and guts. If you make the trip happen, that’s success. Experiencing elk country, that’s an amazing reward. Coming home with elk would be an unbelievable bonus.

Where to Camp & Hunt

Backpacking in 2–3 miles is possible. Living in the backcountry solo is possible. BUT, it shouldn’t be attempted without experience. You don’t have to have experience hunting elk, but you should have experience backpacking alone. Feel what it is like to be alone for days at a time and see if you can do it. Don’t find out on a big trip out west; try a solo trip closer to home.

A roadside basecamp is a very viable option for a solo hunt. It has a lot of benefits and a couple of notable downsides: 1) There will be more “competition” from other hunters, and 2) You waste a lot of hunting time and energy if you’re hiking 2–3 miles in/out each morning/evening. But these downsides can be accounted for…

If I were going solo and was leaning towards a roadside basecamp, then I would be very particular with my scouting (in my opinion, Hunting GPS Maps are a must) and the spots that I chose to hunt. I would forget the idea of “going deep” and putting miles between myself and other hunters. Instead, I would focus on putting distance between myself and other hunters simply by tackling difficult terrain that others overlook. I would look for a good hunting area that requires crossing a creek or small river. I would look for a brutal initial climb (probably without a trail) that drops into good elk country. I would look for any sort of natural barrier that is relatively close to the road, but is substantial enough to keep most people from thinking about crossing it.

I wrote an article for Field & Stream with my friend, Steve Speck, and we addressed this very topic…

“Find river crossings, deep canyons, or other natural barriers that will keep most hunters out, and hunt there. Use a map or GPS that shows property boundaries, and search for good public elk habitat that borders private land. By hunting these fringe areas, you can catch elk seeking refuge on less pressured ground.”

Pick out several of these ares in the unit that you’ll be hunting. If you spend 2–3 days in one spot and aren’t having luck, move one. It’s easy to pack up and reestablish a roadside camp. In fact, if I were going solo, I would try to “establish” as little of a permanent camp as possible – even using my vehicle as camp, if possible.

Packing-Out An Elk

Wether you backpack in or hunt from a trailhead/roadside basecamp, I wouldn’t recommend killing an elk more than 2–3 miles from your vehicle. Packing an elk out solo is an unbelievable feat of strength, endurance, and determination. If alone, you should expect at least 3 trips to pack a bull out. Two is physically possible for some(albeit extremely tough), but I wouldn’t consider it safe for a solo trip. It’s easier to get hurt packing an elk out than it is to get hurt while trying to kill one.

Say you kill a bull 3 miles from the truck. It’ll take you probably 4 hours to process the meat – especially if it is your first time. It could easily be dark by the time you’re finished. So you pack one load out to the truck that first day/night.

The next day you hike back in the 3 miles and come out with load two. Then you head back in for the final load and come back out.

That’s 15 miles. Nine of which was with a very heavy pack. Don’t forget this isn’t walking through the park – this is mountainous terrain with elevation loss/gain, bad footing, etc. If that sounds easy, it is because you haven’t done it. And in that scenario, every mile further you shoot the elk is actually 5 more miles of hiking when you consider the multiple trips in and out.

Oh, and if you find success, it’ll probably be days into your hunt when you’re already starting to get beat down and exhausted.

Gearing Up

Wether you’re hunting solo or with a partner…from a roadside basecamp or a backcountry bivy…some gear requirements don’t change. Great boots, versatile clothing layers, and a good pack — those are the big three that are always required. Then you have the obvious items like a knife, headlamp, first aid kit, water bladder and filter, etc.

But there are a few specific items that I’d be sure to take if I were hunting solo and heading out for a 12–14hr day, but not anticipating spending the night…

  • Communication: SPOT, DeLorme inReach, etc.
  • Emergency Shelter: The “Escape” or “Emergency” Bivy from SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer)
  • Food & Stove: Even if I were planning on eating dinner back at the basecamp, I’d carry it with me, as well as a method to heat water.
  • Navigation: Map, compass, GPS, and extra batteries. Bring ‘em all.

I don’t think there’s much that I’d at to my standard elk hunting gear list, but you can obviously leave some of what is on my list back at camp.

Help Me Kill A Coyote (Again)

I have zero experience hunting coyotes. I’ve killed one, but it was dumb luck — a coyote stepped out 25 yards below my treestand while deer hunting, and I put an arrow through him.

Coyote by Don McCullough

Next Saturday will be the first time that I hunt specifically to call-in and kill a coyote. I know the basics — that coyotes have an outstanding sense of smell, amazing vision, and the most effective calling is either replicating an animal in distress or playing into the social dynamics of coyote packs. Beyond that, I’m pretty clueless.

I’m sure that my readership is split between coyote hunters and those that have yet to try it. From those of you that have hunted, I’d love to hear about your favorite tactics, setups, calls, gear, or other advice that you have for me (and other new hunters).

For those of you that are new to coyote hunting or have yet to try it, what questions do you have about the pursuit?

I’m hoping to get out at least a handful of times this winter and into the early spring, so hopefully I’ll have some good luck to share in the coming months. Either way, I’m sure I’ll learn some lessons and have a ton of fun.