The most important lessons that I’ve learned from experienced elk hunters are simple ones. Sure, each of these hunters has his tips, tricks, and detailed tactics that work for them, but the one thing that all of these hunters have in common is that they master the fundamentals, work hard, and make opportunities happen.
Guys like Steve Speck, Paul the “ElkNut” Medel, Tom Ryle, and Steven Rinella have been incredibly helpful to me. And many other elk hunters have offered advice and encouragement, including many of you.
The advice that these hunters have given me isn’t what you read in the magazines. It hasn’t been, “4 Ways to Kill a Monster Bull”, or “3 Calls to Drive Bulls Wild”, or some other silly concept like that.
You’ll notice that many of these lessons are quite simple and somewhat interconnected. The fact is – it’s easy to get lost in the details and lose sight of the big picture. Rookie elk hunters don’t need a secret strategy; they need to know the fundamentals of becoming a successful elk hunter.
Here are 5 important lessons to consider…
Don’t Waste Time
What does time management have to do with elk hunting? Well, if you, like me, only have 5-7 days to hunt, then it has everything to do with elk hunting. It’s no secret that hunters who consistently find success are the ones that have the most time to hunt, and therefore the most opportunities to kill the animals they are after. However, you can be successful on shorter hunts if you don’t waste time.
This means that you shouldn’t write-off the entire afternoon, just because you’ve heard that elk are most active in morning and evening. Plenty of elk are still killed at 12:00-3:00 pm. Take a lunch break, or an afternoon catnap, but don’t do it at camp – stay in the field. Plenty of hunters have had their breaks have been “ruined” by a mid-afternoon bugle, or an elk that sneaks through the area as it heads to a mid-day drink.
Not wasting time also means that you should be detailed in your planning and practices around camp. Keep you camp, backpack, and all gear organized. Get everything ready the night before, so that you aren’t fumbling around in the pre-dawn darkness, looking for this or that. Always be ready, always be hunting.
This point goes without saying, right? You have to find elk to kill elk. Forget calling strategies, shooter setups, or other details. Nothing matters until you find elk.
This means that a lot of time should be spent in the pre-season and off-season – looking at maps, putting boots on the ground (if possible), and generally familiarizing yourself with the area you intend to hunt.
A map will never tell you exactly where elk are, but it should give you an idea of where they like to spend some of their time. Have a plan A, plan B, plan C, and so on. You need something to fall-back on if elk aren’t where you expect them to be.
If elk are in the area, or have recently moved through the area that you’re hunting, then you’ll know it. If you aren’t seeing elk, hearing elk, smelling elk, or observing fresh sign, then quit wasting time and move until you find elk.
Be Aggressive and Close the Distance
Once you have located elk, it’s time to evaluate the situation. How far are they? What is the wind doing? How many elk are there? Is there one bull, or several? Is it a herd bull, or a satellite? The questions go on and on, and having the right answers to these questions is what separates experienced and successful elk hunters from the rest.
Sometimes it can be hard to find elk, but more often than not, closing the gap on the final 80-100 yards is the real challenge.
Because of all of the questions (and more) that I’ve raised above, and because of all of the different tactics that should be used (and avoided!) to close the distance, I can’t share all of the “answers” here. But going back to our previous point of not wasting time, I will say this – be aggressive.
You’re not out there to look at elk, or talk to elk – you’re out there to kill an elk, and you only have a handful of days to get the job done. I understand not wanting to blow an opportunity, and I’m not advocating all logic and reason should be thrown out the window – but the fact remains that successful elk hunters know how to make things happen. Patience can pay off, but don’t sit for too long.
The question that I have been asked most often is, “What are you willing to shoot? Would you shoot a small bull? How about a cow?”
My answer is, “Yes, all of the above.” And somewhat to my surprise, that is exactly what most expert elk hunters have told me to do. You would think that some of these great elk hunters, who have killed some giant bulls, would tell me to hold out for this or that, but they have all encouraged me to kill an elk. Any legal elk.
These experienced hunters didn’t start where they are now. These hunters have become great elk hunters because they have killed elk. Each and every opportunity – whether cow, spike, or branch-antlered bull – is a chance to learn something about the process of becoming an elk hunter.
This is especially true for do-it-yourself bowhunters. Killing an elk, any elk, with archery equipment, on public land, is a challenge and an achievement.
Memories, meat, and experience are far better trophies than antlers.
Hunt for Yourself
This final point relates to the previous one, and also ties-into what I said in a recent post: “Hunting is Worthless. And 4 Other Things You Need to Know…”
The way that you hunt, and what you choose to kill, should be entirely up to your own desires. (And of course within ethical/legal boundaries.) Don’t hunt for Facebook fans, Twitter followers, blog readers, or to make a name for yourself.
It’s a very valid point, and a helpful warning, especially given the fact that I have an “audience”. But I think it’s a good point for you, too. Don’t hunt to live up to what you see on TV, or the photos that you see online. Don’t hunt for what your buddies will say.
Hunting isn’t only about what you bring home; it’s also about what you leave out there, and what you find within yourself during the process.