Bow Setup & Tuning – Everything You Need to Know About Paper Tuning

What Is Paper Tuning?

“Paper tuning” is the process of shooting an arrow from your bow through a piece of paper. The tear created by the impact and travel path of the arrow can reveal key factors about how your bow and arrow combination are shooting.

By shooting an arrow through paper you will be able to see where the arrow’s point makes initial impact with the paper, how the arrow shaft continues to tear the paper as it flies, and is torn further by your arrow’s vanes or feathers making a final tear. What you want to see is one hole – which happens when the front of the arrow tears at impact, and then the rest of the shaft passes through so straight that there is no additional tear through the paper. Everything You Need To Know About Paper Tuning

Why You Should You Paper Tune Your Bow (and Arrows!)

The process of paper tuning will help ensure that your bow and arrows are setup properly and complement one another for forgiveness and accuracy downrange. If you can get good paper tears, then you will save time sighting in, making adjustments, and broadhead tuning later.

Some people mistakenly believe that paper tuning is only something you do when you get a new bow. But more than that, paper tuning should be done when you make any changes to your rest, nocking point, and most importantly – your arrows.

What Do You Need To Paper Tune At Home?

There are numerous ways to build or buy a stand that’s single purpose is to allow you to paper tune. I’ve never found the investment of time or money worthwhile, so I have come up with a simple paper-tuning rig of my own – a box. Paper Tuning Box Cut a hole in the front of the box slightly smaller than a standard sheet of paper, then cover this hole with a sheet of paper. Cut a larger hole in the opposite end of the box (there’s no reason to shoot your arrow through the cardboard on the backside and risk damaging your fletching). Place the box in front of your bow target, leaving enough room in-between the two so that your arrow passes completely through the paper before it impacts the target.

Stupid easy, right?

What Distance Should You Paper Tune From?

There are many opinions on this topic, and there’s no one right answer. I typically start paper tuning in the 5-7 yard range, but will often move closer/further once I think I have my bow and arrows tuned the way that I want. If you shoot too close to the paper, then the arrow may not have time to stabilize out of the bow; if you shoot too far, then the fletching can correct flight flaws that you would otherwise see as tears through the paper.

Before You Begin

You’ll pull your hair out trying to paper tune if you’re not attempting to tune your bow with the right arrows.  Arrow selection is critical to paper tuning, and even more important for forgiveness and accuracy downrange – especially with broadheads.

If you want to verify that you have the right arrows, then refer to this article: Understanding Arrow Spine – What Arrow Do You Need For Your Bow? You also want to make sure that you have set your bow up so that the center-shot is in spec and the nocking point is level.  If you need to learn more about that, then refer to this post: Bow Setup & Tuning – Rest Install, Center-Shot, and Nocking Point

Next you want to make sure that your newly created Super Paper Tuner 2000™ – aka, “the box” – and target are high enough off the ground so that you can shoot parallel with the ground. I often set my target on a shelf in my garage and set my box on a sawhorse in front of that.

If you can’t find a spot that’s high enough, then consider kneeling to shoot – just make sure that you aren’t leaning or shooting at an up/down angle, which will skew the angle that your arrow passes through the paper and give you false results. Also be sure that you’re using a proper grip on your bow, avoiding torque, and that your holding the bow level on the vertical plane. If you already have a sight on your bow, then keep an eye on the level bubble.

Time to Shoot (Again, and again…)

Alright, so you’ve done all of the above and you shoot your first arrow through the paper. You see a tear and you want to fix it, but don’t! At least not yet.

Be sure to shoot at least 3 arrows through your paper and verify that you’re getting repeatable tears. “False tears” might occur due to flaws in your shooting, so be sure you have consistent tears before you start messing with your bow or arrows. If you absolutely cannot get repeatable tears then have someone else try to shoot your bow and see how it responds.

Finally, mysterious or inconsistent tears can be signs of clearance/contact issues; be sure that your arrow is not touching the bow’s cables, rest, or riser at it is released. Double-check things like your cable/roller guard rod for cable clearance, and drop-down rest timing for launcher arm clearance.

Understanding Your Tear

Paper Tuning Tears Alright, so now we have a repeatable tear to work with. Consult the chart above for a quick overview of what each type of tear means. For a more in-depth look at understanding and resolving paper tuning tears, you should definitely check out Easton’s Tuning Guide (PDF). This guide is an essential resource if you want to understand bow and arrow tuning and setup.

Remember to correct any vertical tear before trying to resolve a horizontal tear.

A note to the left-handers (like myself): Much of the adjustments mentioned above are relevant for you, too, but in terms of weak spine indication you’ll likely see a tail-right tear, as opposed to a tail-left tear indicating a weak spine for right-handers.

Bow Adjustments

The adjustments that you make to your bow to resolve paper tears typically begin by adjusting your rest to the left/right. When doing so, remember that you want to “chase the point”. If your point is impacting left and your fletching is tearing off to the right, then you want to move your rest to the left. However, be sure that you don’t move your rest so far that you leave what the manufacturer recommends for center-shot settings.

Other bow-based adjustments might include adding/removing twists to bows equipped with a split-yolk harness system, or adjusting the cable guard or roller guard rod to increase or decrease tension on the cables at full draw.  (These advanced techniques are unique to specific bows and cannot be covered in this overview.)

If your left/right tear isn’t resolved while your rest’s center-shot is in spec, then address the spine of your arrow by increasing draw weight (to “weaken” an arrow), or decreasing draw weight (to “stiffen” an arrow that’s reacting too weak).

Arrow Adjustments

As we have discussed, tears can occur as a result of an arrow that has too weak or stiff of a spine for the bow’s setup.  In the video above I discussed this with a real world example as I was setting up my Elite Energy 35 to shoot an Easton Carbon Injexion.  I knew that the 330 spine was going to be on the weak side for my 30.5″ draw length and 70+lb. draw weight – and sure enough, no matter what I did to my center-shot or nocking point I was getting indications of a weak arrow.  I resolved this by decreasing my bow’s draw weight, but there are a couple of ways to change the arrow itself to account for a strong/weak spine.

  • Decreasing shaft length will stiffen an arrow, and shooting an arrow at a longer length will weaken it.
  • Decreasing point/insert weight will stiffen an arrow, and adding point/insert weight will weaken it.

Keep all of these things in mind when selecting arrows.  If you know, for example, that you are on the line between two different spine recommendations, then you might want to consider going with the stiff shaft and shooting a 125 point instead of a 100 grain point, or even shooting that stiffer staff at a longer length than what you would normally “need”.

Playing with different arrow spines, lengths and point weights while shooting through paper will tell you what your bow prefers.  Never get rid of those random extra arrows, and better yet, try to pick up “leftover” or one-off arrows from friends.  Always keep a variety of shafts on hand to shoot through paper and see how your bow responds.

Still Having Problems?

If you’ve followed all of the advice from above and are still having issues, then there could be several things going on.  If you’ve double-checked the recommended arrow spine for your setup, and know that your rest’s center-shot and nock height are set correctly, then it could be that your bow’s cams are out of time/sync (how to build a “draw board” to check cam timing and synchronization), your limbs aren’t evenly tightened/matched, your getting fletching or contact, or it could be your form, torque, or grip pressure.

There’s More…

We have  covered a TON of information on paper tuning, but be sure to reach out if you have any other questions or problems.  In the coming weeks we will also be talking about walkback tuning and broadhead tuning.  Stay tuned!

Hunting for Something Awful (As All Men Should)

The pace of my heart quickened as the tempo of my steps struggled to remain in rhythm. I reached the summit only to realize that it was a false beacon of hope; the trail curved to my right, revealing yet another climb before relief could be found. It had been many months since I last ran this hill in summer’s heat and tasted the potent mix of salt from sweat and bitterness of pain.

Several miles later, the pain quickly fades when I reach home and enter the conditioned air. Cold water washes the bitter saltiness from my mouth, and without warning the thought comes to mind…

“That sucked.”

Before my mind can complete that thought, another comes… “I wonder when I can do it again.”

Why is it that running, climbing, and fumbling over rocky trails make me feel alive? Why is it that leaving the security and comfort of modern living and choosing to make my home in the backcountry for a week is so reviving to my soul?  Why is it that waking in darkness, hiking in darkness, and spending hours in wait for a mere second to shoot is so satisfying?

Why is it that doing hard, sometimes even miserable things is so life-giving?

It should be that comfort, convenience, and security make me feel my best. But my daily life – which is overflowing with these great gifts of modern times – often leaves me restless.

Ease is seductive, but never satisfies.

Why is it that we – those of us reading this screen from comfortable conditions, on technological equipment that wasn’t even an object to be dreamt of a few decades ago, surrounded by toys and trinkets that costs thousands – why is it that we are not fulfilled?

Part of the reason is because we have spent our lives avoiding Something Awful. We medicate ourselves with busyness and noise, in an attempt to forget that he exists. Instead of facing him, this Something Awful, we hide in the darkness of comfort.

Something Awful?

In The Heroic Path, John Sowers recalls his earliest memories of Something Awful…

“Even if I pulled the covers over my head and pretended to be asleep, Something Awful was still there. Waiting. Breathing its hot, rancid breath on the back of my neck. As a boy, whenever I got out of bed, I never just stepped off. I leaped for dear life, trying to get several feet of distance. The last thing you want is some Creeper grabbing your ankle. Then you’re toast.”

Something Awful can take on many forms. Most assuredly, Sowers explains, “[Something Awful] growls at us and makes us wonder if we can take the next step. He makes us question if we’re even men at all.”

Something Awful is the thing the makes you doubt yourself; the thing that you fear. He is what convinces you that ease is better than the struggle. He is the thing that drives you to seek comfort, but continual comfort isn’t satisfying, it’s numbing.

Turning to face Something Awful head-on might be a risk, but what’s more fool hearted is turning our back and pretending that he’s not lurking.

To come alive is to face Something Awful. And if we do, we will realize that he is a liar. We learn that we are stronger than we thought. We see that life doesn’t exist in conditioned cubicles of comfort. We will recognize that, unless we have lived a life that exhausts our body, mind, and soul, relaxation doesn’t bring rest – only restlessness and boredom.

Confronting Something Awful may mean getting off the couch, putting down the beer, and running. Literally running. It might mean committing to pursue that dream you have, yet fear. Facing him might make you realize that you are wasting your life chasing trinkets to impress someone that doesn’t really care. (Because they, too, are just another hamster on the wheel.)

Waging war against Something Awful isn’t only about proving you to yourself; it is about displaying our value and strength for other’s benefit. To truly wage war against Something Awful we must fight for our family, friends, and neighbors.  Sometimes in my life it is simply having the courage to set aside what I want to do – what I “should be doing” – and wrestle with my son, or let my daughter paint my fingernails instead.  (True story.)

Let us not be men that watch movies of great struggles, but fail to lead lives that mirror the same story. Let us not sing songs of victory just because we make some money, purchase more toys, or lead lives of selfish adventure.  The hero – in story and in life – is the one that confronts Something Awful, discovers strength and courage, and cares for those around him.

Get off the couch. Ditch the excuses. Stop living your life as a surrogate of another man’s story that you’ve seen in the movies, watched on TV, or (God forbid!) followed on Facebook.

Do hard things. Do good things. Defeat Something Awful.

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

- Henry David Thoreau

What Are You Hunting For? (And why vegan pacifists are hunters, too.)

You might say that you’re hunting for deer, elk, or turkey, but there’s more to it than that. I, probably like you, hunt for reasons beyond the animal that I pursue and intend to kill. I hunt for a connection with nature. I hunt to escape the pace and demands of everyday life. I hunt to challenge myself and find adventure.

No, this isn’t another post about the philosophy of hunting.

The meaning beneath the hunt is a worthwhile topic; it is one that I have considered before, and will certainly continue to do. But not today.

The intent behind today’s question is not to discover what game animal you pursue, or why you do it. Instead, I am asking the question in the sense that you, right now, are searching for, striving for, and working towards something.

You are – we all are – “hunting“.  And in that sense…

“Even the pacifist vegan is a hunter.”

So what is it that you are hunting for?

Are you pursuing money? Fame? Comfort? Fortune? Health? Ease? How about a career? An identity? A future?

I have been asking myself these questions a lot lately. It might sound like the product of a crisis, but these questions have actually come from an awareness that my life counts. An awareness that my responsibilities as a husband, father, son, brother, and friend are sacred duties. An awareness that hunting – as great as it is – isn’t what life is about.

We tend to define ourselves by what we do, and we let others label us accordingly. But certainly we are more than the jobs we employ, the activities we enjoy, and the “profiles” that are a mere decoy of our true self.

Photo by Skip, via Flickr

Who you are is more than (and more important than!) what you do.

I have known these things for a long time, but there is a difference between knowing something in theory and feeling the weight of coming face to face with truth. I know, for example, that an elk is a large animal. But I don’t know it in the same way as someone that has packed an elk out from 5 miles deep in the wilderness.

“Acknowledging truth and experiencing truth aren’t the same thing.”

At this point you’re probably wondering a few things. Where am I going with this? (I’m not entirely sure.) What does this have to do with archery or bowhunting? (It does, kind of.) And have I lost my mind or endured some kind of personal crisis? (No, not at all. Life is awesome.)

The fact is, Sole Adventure started as just that – a “sole” (independent) “adventure” (exploration of unknown territory). It has morphed into something far greater than I could have imagined, but along the way it has become – at least in my mind – very specific in scope. Because of the success within a niche, I have felt limited and restricted with the topics that I can write about. I am obviously removing some bricks from that proverbial wall today.

“Wouldn’t it be a shame if we became great hunters, but failed to become great people?”

The content that you’re used to (which is hopefully the stuff that you enjoy and the reasons that you’re reading this today), isn’t going to stop. But, there may be some more “independent exploration of unknown territory” from here on out. Not everything will be archery/bowhunting all of the time, but I can promise you this – it will continue to be authentic, and hopefully valuable or inspirational in some way.

This isn’t part of plan. I don’t have an agenda. The one thing I do know is that there is more to life than hunting, more to me than hunting, and I have more to say than what I’ve said this far.

Intrigued and somewhat confused? Good. I’m glad we’re in this together. Let’s see what happens.


Gear List Debrief – Critiquing my Backpacking Gear List for Elk Hunting

Gear can make or break a hunt.  Especially when you’re traveling miles away from the nearest road and spending a week in the wilderness.  In today’s post I want to debrief on last year’s elk hunts and analyze my gear list with the distinct advantage of hindsight.

  • What items worked as expected? (Almost everything.)
  • What items am I going to be changing for this year’s elk hunt? (Just a few things.)
  • What should I have brought or wish I would have had with me? (Not much.)
  • And what did I carry, but didn’t really need?  (Nothing really.)

The List

Here is the gear list that I used last year.  (UPDATE!  Here is my gear list for 2014)  My base pack weight was 25lbs, and once I added water, food, and fuel, my pack weighed in at 40lbs.  Gear lists change according to the seasons, hunting strategies, and personal preference.  This list was put together for a weeklong backpack style hunt (establishing our own backcountry base camp, but moving around if necessary) for late September in Colorado, at 9,000-11,000’; it was intended to be lightweight and void of superfluous items, but not ultra-light or ultra-minimal.

Line by Line

I was going to summarize the good and bad of my list, but I think it might be most helpful to go line-by-line and walkthrough last year’s list.  I will conclude by discussing what I will be adding/changing for this year.

Pack – Tenzing CF-13 – This pack treated me very well on last year’s hunt.  It was just big enough to carry a week’s worth of gear and I loved how easily it converted into a streamlined day pack after we had camp setup and our gear unloaded.  I also ended up hunting with all of my gear and camp on my back on a couple of occasions, and it was always comfortably “out of sight, out of mind” in those situations.  I didn’t have any problems with it at all, but I have since given it to a friend to use and he had a stitching failure that should have never happened. My verdict – it is a very good, functional design, but quality could be better, and the price isn’t justified.  I’ll be using something else this year.  (More on that below.)

Water Bladder & Filter – Platypus Gravityworks – I love this thing! Water filtration pumps and water treatment approaches both have their disadvantages, and while Platypus’s gravity system isn’t perfect, it is the best thing for my needs.  I loved that all I had to do was dump the dirty bag in the water source, hang it up, and let gravity do all of the filtration work without my assistance.  It isn’t the fastest system in the world, but for its reliability and hands-free approach, I’ll take it.  I also loved that you don’t have to filter water at the source; we often carried dirty water back and hung the bladder in camp, using “on demand” filtered water when needed.  I used Platypus’ drinking tube kit with the “clean” bag as my in-pack hydration system, which also worked well.  It can be hard to fully fill the dirty bag from shallow water sources, which is my only real gripe.

Shelter – Mountainsmith Mountain Shelter LT – I have a full review of this shelter.  Long story short, it is a great option if you are going lightweight on a budget.  It isn’t a palace for two men, but it is very usable.  This year I will be testing and reviewing the Sierra Designs Lightning 2 tent.

Sleeping Bag – Sierra Designs Zissou 12 – This is a standout item for me.  I fell in love with it on my CO elk hunt and have used it numerous times since.  It is extremely comfortable, has a realistic temperature rating (I have used it in the upper-teens), and the DriDown technology works as advertised.  I won’t be changing this item out for a loooong time.

Sleeping Pad – Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core – This isn’t the lightest sleeping pad on the market, but it is one of the most comfortable.  I’m a big guy, so I am always hesitant to try the ultralight inflatables, but the Q-Core has won my trust.  Carrying 28oz for a good night’s rest is worth it for me.

Stove/Pot/Cup/Windscreen – I put this kit together years ago and it has been flawless.  The stove is a Primus Micron, which nests inside the Ti pot/cup (REI brand) along with a fuel canister.  It works.  This year I’ll be trying a Jetboil and seeing if they are all that they’re cracked up to be.  In general though, I like the small canister-style backpacking stoves, which are a great tool for my approach to food on these trips.

Clothing – First Lite – I have already published quite a bit of information on the First List system that I used last year.  Everything worked great and I’ll be using the same kit this year, and will be adding their new Boundary Stormtight Pant as well.  Here are some more of my thoughts, reviews, and videos pre-trip and post-trip.  One interesting note: having tried all of their high-end stuff (which is great), I find it really funny that one of the things I get most excited about to this day is their Mountain Athlete Compression Sock.  They’re just socks!  But, man, they are amazing.

Hygiene – The boring stuff.  Toothpaste and toothbrush are obviously essential.  I carried baby wipes and some toilet paper, but the baby wipes are the ticket.  I had a backpacking towel, but never really used it – it would get more use if we had warmer weather.  That’s about it!  I didn’t carry antiperspirant, and never desired it.  (Thanks to merino wool and baby wipes!)

Map/Compass/GPS – I printed a custom topo from  It was nice to have a large printed map to look over, but I never relied on it for true navigation.  The compass never left my pack, but is an essential backup to have.  However, my GPS and Hunting GPS Maps were relied on heavily.  Hunting GPS Maps, now called “onXmaps”, are essential.  Period.  End of story.  Get them.

Bears! – I used 50’ of 3mm accessory cord, and my Sea to Summit compression bag (used to pack my sleeping bag) as our system to hang food and trash away from camp.  I didn’t carry bear spray, but both of the guys that I was with were locked and loaded.  If bears are around, then have some protection.

Safety Miscellaneous – I never needed my lighter, fire starters, or emergency shelter, but I wouldn’t leave home without them.  The “just in case” category is where a lot of guys get into trouble – either by preparing for the apocalypse and weighing-down their packs, or by going into the wilderness without preparations for what could happen.  Only you can decide what items you need, but make sure to use some common sense.

First Aid Kit – Adventure Medical Kit, Ultralight .7 – This is a great starting place for a First Aid Kit.  I removed some of the duplication, and also added some of my own items.  The size and waterproof packaging are great.  We had to use it for a couple of minor injuries.

“Kill Kit” – I didn’t get to use this, but I am really happy with the package that I put together.  Here is a video that goes over everything: A Lightweight DIY “Kill Kit” for Backpack Elk Hunting

Electronics – Headlamp, SPOT Connect, camera, GPS (already covered) and extra batteries for all.  I kept everything in a very small waterproof sack, which not only kept everything organized, but provided protection.  The headlamp and camera are obviously essential.  The SPOT Connect worked as advertised, but keep in mind that it is a “one way” (only outbound) communicator.  It was cheap insurance and peace of mind to check in with the family.  My hunting partner for this year has a DeLorme inReach, which is a two-way communicator.  The backcountry communications market is changing each year and I still think that there are worthwhile improvements to be made.  There isn’t one “perfect”, affordable solution yet.

What’s Changing for 2014?

What Works For You?

I am really happy with how the overall gear strategy came together, and for the most part how each individual item performed.  Feel free to use this information as inspiration, but ultimately what works for you can only be discovered by trial and error.  Take smaller backpacking trips to test your gear and discover what is really necessary.

Want to lighten your load?  Play baseball!  Each time you take something on a trip and it doesn’t get used, that item gets a “strike.”  Three strikes and it’s out of your pack.  This strategy works really well, but obviously doesn’t apply to all safety and emergency supplies.

Questions?  Fire away…


Hunting Elk in Kentucky – My Experience and My Advice

Drawing a Kentucky elk tag is like winning the lottery.  The cost of entry is incredibly low ($10 in this case), but so are your odds of getting drawn.  There is no preference point system, so your chances of “winning” are as good as anyone else; somebody has to get lucky, and that somebody could be you.  I was one of those lucky few in 2013, when I drew an archery cow elk tag on my 3rd year of applying.

Hunting Elk in Kentucky

Anyone can put their name in for 2 of 4 opportunities – bull firearms, bull archery, cow firearms, and cow archery.  The cow archery tag is the easiest to draw at roughly 1-in-63 odds, and the bull firearms is the toughest to draw at 1-in-742.  (Those odds are from years past, and are sure to change each year.)

In 2014 there were 69,191 applications and 1010 tags awarded – only 101 (10%) of which were awarded to non-resident hunters.

My Experience & My Advice

I couldn’t believe it when I drew a KY elk tag last year.  I had already planned and committed to a CO elk hunt, so the KY hunt was a bonus.  Unfortunately, two hunts meant that I had less time and money to devote to the KY opportunity.

My plan was to take an initial 3-4 day trip to KY, and then follow-up with another late-season hunt if necessary.  That second trip never happened, so I only had 3-4 days to hunt in KY.  You can read stories from that trip HERE and HERE.

The 2014 draw results just came out and I have already had several guys contact me for advice.  I am sharing this post as a recap of the lessons that I learned from my hunt.  This advice is coming from and is in many ways focused on a non-resident perspective, but much of it applies to Kentucky residents that have a tag as well.  For general elk hunting advice, tips, and tactics that aren’t necessarily specific to Kentucky, please visit my elk hunting page.

In the end, I didn’t fill my Kentucky cow tag.  I had a perfect shot opportunity at a 5×5 bull, which was bitter and amazing at the same time.  I know that if I could have had more time, then I could have found success, which leads me to the first lesson that I learned about hunting elk in Kentucky…

Kentucky Elk Country

Lesson #1 – Commit to the hunt.  Devoting such little time to the KY hunt was a huge mistake on my part.   If you are lucky enough to draw a KY elk tag, then treat it as the special opportunity that it truly is – especially if you draw a bull tag.  I would have dropped everything to devote more time and money if I drew one of the coveted, and truly “once in a lifetime” bull elk tags.

Lesson #2 – Get help.  Consider hiring an outfitter…unless you draw a bull tag – in that case, don’t consider it – DO IT!  A KY bull tag is a rare opportunity with massive potential.  Unless you have several weeks of time to scout and hunt on your own, hire an outfitter!  I am “do-it-yourself” hunter to the core, but I would make a rare exception for a KY bull elk tag.

Lesson #3 – Tread lightly. My Kentucky hunt came a month after I had been chasing elk in the Rocky Mountains of CO.  Although I was hunting the same animal in both places, the differences in hunting were stark.  The terrain that I hunted in KY was thick, dry, and incredibly noisy.  You can get away with some noise when hunting elk – after all, they are noisy animals themselves –but you still have to tread lightly.  On numerous occasions I was within 40-100 yards of elk, but the terrain was so thick that I couldn’t see them, and the approach was so noisy that they were on full alert and knew that something was approaching.  If possible, try to pattern elk movement and setup for an ambush.  Stalking will be difficult in most cases.

The Thick Terrain of Kentucky Elk Habitat

Lesson #4 – Hunt bulls.  Even if you have a cow tag, hunt bulls.  If you hunt in September, October, and even into November, you’ll find cows with, or near, bulls.  The biggest advantage to hunting bulls is that you can use their vocalizations to your advantage.  On our second night in KY there were bulls sounding off from 2am, until 9 or 10am.  If you can find vocal bulls, then anticipate where they are going and aggressively try to flank the herd.

Lesson #5 – Act like you’re being hunted.  This is especially true if you are hunting public land.  To find the elk, you’re going to need to think like an elk, and that means you need to get in the mindset that human activity and interaction need to be avoided.  We thought we found some secluded spots, and in some ways we did, but I was still surprised where a local would turn up on a 4-wheeler.  We encountered guys that were out squirrel hunting, out driving around for the heck of it, and one that seemed to be out for the single purpose of ruining our hunt.

Lesson #6 – Pick pockets.  These elk are very smart and have adapted to the human pressure that we just talked about.  You might be hunting a vast expanse of land, but you’re not going to see elk randomly scattered throughout.  Pick little pockets that you think elk can find security in, and hunt those areas.  We covered well over a dozen miles on our hunt, and 90% of the elk activity ended up being in one little pocket area that was tucked away in a corner between private and public land, and guarded by some serious terrain features.  Trails and roads?  Avoid them like the plague.  Nasty climbs or descents that you don’t want to make?  That’s what you need to focus on the most.

Hunting a Secluded

Lesson #7 – Do your homework.  Kentucky’s Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources has done an excellent job producing resources that will help elk hunters.  Be sure to spend a lot of time on their Elk Hunting Homepage, and take advantage of the maps and articles provided.

Lesson #8 – Make a plan, or three.  If you’re going on a do-it-yourself hunt, then you better be ready to adapt.  Have at least three different areas picked out to hunt, and spend 2-4 days hunting each area.  If I didn’t find elk, and/or encounter much human activity in that time, move on.  This goes back to time – you have to devote time to this hunt, and you have to spend time preparing for it.

Lesson #9 – Go bull, or stay home.  I had a great time in Kentucky, and wish that I would have devoted more time to the hunt.  All of that aside, my personal strategy going forward is going to be to only apply for the two bull tags.  Part of the reason for this is that Kentucky has increased the cost of their elk permits, and I don’t feel that $540 for a cow tag ($400 tag + $140 license) is a worthwhile investment.  I can understand pursuing that opportunity if you live in the east and truly cannot get out west to hunt elk, but if you are going to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to hunt elk, I would either do it out West (where the experience is much more majestic, regardless of the end result of the hunt), or I would try to get lucky on an extremely rare, but high quality KY bull tag.

As always, please let me know if you have any specific questions.