There is a very short list of hunters that I aspire to emulate, and hunting shows that enjoy watching; Steven Rinella and his show, Meat Eater, are on those lists. I was honored to get a chance to ask Steven some questions about elk hunting, and I am excited to share his insights with you today.
And be sure to check out the end of this interview for a GIVEAWAY from my friends at Wilderness Athlete!
What is your favorite thing about elk hunting? What sets elk apart from the dozens of other species that you have hunted?
I like elk for how tough they are, and for how challenging it is to hunt them. On public land, which is the only way I’ve ever hunted elk, there are hundreds of things that can go wrong at any given moment. Competition, weather, the vagaries of the rut, migrations, you name it. It’s easy to hunt elk hard, for a week or more, and still come up empty handed. Elk hunting is just tough, tough, tough. Here’s a good way to put this into perspective. When I lived in Montana, I hunted elk hard every year for about 8 years. I’m talking a minimum of 15 days per season, always on overnight backpacking trips. During that time, I killed only half as many elk.
Hunting elk in the mountains is obviously very different from hunting Midwestern whitetail from a tree. How does an experienced whitetail deer hunter need to change their mindset if they are going to successfully hunt elk?
He needs to get used to walking long distances. And he needs to get used to being uncomfortable. In many respects, elk hunting is an endurance game.
One of the most difficult challenges of an extended backcountry hunt is the mental battle that accompanies silence, solitude, and the inevitable battles that come with hunting. How should someone prepare for that? Is there anything they can do?
I don’t know how to prepare for the mental aspect of backcountry hunting. Honestly, I feel that people either have what it takes or they don’t. Either you can’t stand foul weather or you can. Either you can’t stand sleeping on rough ground or you can. Either you can’t stand backpacking food or you can. I suppose that you get tougher over time, with exposure, but I think people’s tolerances are pretty ingrained by the time they reach adulthood.
What foods are you packing into the backcountry to sustain yourself during the hunt?
I eat pretty much the same things every day. For breakfast, it’s instant coffee and instant oatmeal. For lunch, flatbread with cheese and sliced meat or sausage. At dinnertime, it’s Mountain House freeze dried food (a 2-serving entrée.) Between meals and after meals, I eat a variety of trail mixes, energy bars, energy gels, venison jerky, cashews, etc. Besides water and coffee, I drink Wilderness Athlete products mixed in creek water. I like their Hydrate and Recover and Energy and Focus.
Let’s say that I kill an elk and I am preparing for a celebratory meal in the backcountry – what cut of meat should I be eating? And considering my limited cooking gear, how should I prepare it?
Eat the liver, sliced thin and fried in oil. The liver spoils quicker than the meat, so it’s a good start. I always carry a vial of seasoning and a small 3 oz tube of cooking oil just for this purpose.
We all know that the real work begins when the animal has been killed, and that keeping meat clean and cool is the highest priority. Do you have any meat care tips for archery hunters that may be hunting during the earlier, warmer season?
Act fast and get the guts out as quickly as possible. Open up the rear ball joints as soon as the guts are out, and partially carve away the shoulders from where they join the animal’s body. This lets out body heat. Then get it skinned and quartered and put into mesh game bags. Put these into a tree, where they have shade and hopefully some breeze. That’ll buy you the necessary time to get your meat packed out.
Despite its logistical challenges, do you think we will ever see an elk hunting episode of Meat Eater?
Yes, we just filmed one this past winter and will be filming one or two elk hunts this coming fall. So stay tuned!
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