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.

Understanding Arrow Spine – What Arrow Do You Need For Your Bow?

The spine, or “stiffness”, of an arrow is a simple concept to understand, yet its importance if often overlooked.  To understand what arrows you should be shooting out of your bow, you need to understand what arrow spine is, how it is calculated, and why finding the “right arrow” – or at least the best one – takes some forethought.  I have included a universal arrow spine selection chart at the bottom of this article, but don’t skip reading the “why” behind the “what”.  Read on…

Arrow Spine Is Rated According To It's

Arrow spine is evaluated by “deflection”, which is a measurement of the shaft’s propensity to bending when force is applied.  Spine ratings are determined by taking an arrow shaft at a length of 28”, supporting it at both ends, and hanging a 1.94lb. weight at the center.  The amount of flex that is induced on the arrow shaft by the force of the weight is then measured and gives us our “static” spine rating.  For example, if an arrow bends one-half of an inch at the center, then the shaft has a static spine deflection of .500”.   Because this numerical deflection is a representation of a physical measurement – that is the arrows resistance towards a static force – a stiffer shaft will have a lower deflection number (less bend), and a weaker shaft will have a higher deflection number (more bend).

The most common deflections for hunting arrows are from 500 on the “weaker” end, to 300 on the stiffer end, with increments in between.  (It is worth noting that some manufacturers use their own numerical systems, so be sure to check and see how the manufacturer’s classifications compare to the actual shaft deflection rating.)

Why Spine Matters

Throughout a shot cycle, an immense amount of energy in placed into the bow at full draw.  This energy is then transferred into the arrow upon release.  This rapid transfer of dynamic force causes the arrow to flex and oscillate.  If too much flex occurs in the shaft, then the arrow will have a hard time recovering and flying straight.  Conversely, if the arrow doesn’t flex enough, then it could fail to properly clear the bow and won’t be as forgiving as it flies down range.

The most accurate arrow will be the one with the proper balance of flex and forgiveness as it leaves the bow, and necessary stiffness to recover and stabilize as it begins to head downrange.

Variables of Dynamic Spine

How an arrow shaft responds to this rapid transfer of dynamic force is referred to as the shaft’s “dynamic” spine.  Unlike the simple formula for measuring static spine, which we discussed above, there is a myriad of factors that affect the dynamic spine of an arrow shaft.

Arrow Energy Upon Release

Static spine is an important first step in selecting an arrow shaft, but selecting the proper arrow involves looking at a myriad of factors to make sure that the arrow is properly spined for the dynamic force of the exact bow that it will be used with.  The most critical variables to consider are: draw weight, draw length, shaft length, bow design, and point weight.  Let’s take a brief look at each of these variables.

Draw weight and draw length – When we realize that dynamic spine is the response of the arrow shaft to dynamic force, it is easy to see why draw length and draw weight are critical factors to consider when selected a properly spined arrow.  Put simply, the greater the draw weight and the longer the draw length, the more energy is built up in the bow at full draw, and transferred into the arrow shaft upon release.  The greater the amount of energy transferred into the arrow, the stronger the arrow needs to be.  Draw weight and draw length are essential factors to consider, but don’t stop with these two numbers, as many simple arrow selection charts do.

Arrow length – To standardize the ratings, the deflection of a static spine is measured with a 28” shaft; but obviously not everyone shoots arrows at that length.  If an arrow shaft is cut to a shorter length, then the static spine is actually increased.  Conversely, an arrow shaft longer than 28” will have a weaker deflection than what is published.  Think of taking two pieces of the same type of string and tying them to posts at different lengths.  The string that spans a shorter distance will be able to hold more tension (have more resistance to outside forces) than the string that spans a further distance.

Bow design – Not all bows are created equal.  You could take two bows that have identical draw weight and draw length settings, but don’t yield nearly the energy upon release.  There are several factors to consider when talking about how bow design may affect dynamic spine, but what it really boils down to is efficiency and aggressiveness.  Both bows may peak with a 70lb draw weight, but the “power stroke” of the two bows upon release may be significantly different.  The main design features that should be considered are cam style, brace height, and to some extent let-off.  The more aggressive the cam, and the shorter the brace height, the more dynamic force will be transferred into the arrow shaft, so a stiffer spine will be needed.

Point weight – It is common knowledge to recognize that changing the weight of a broadhead or field point will result in vertical point of impact changes down range, but what is often overlooked is that changes in point weight often have a very noticeable effect on the horizontal plane as well.  Increasing point weight decreases the arrow shaft’s dynamic spine, so often times a shaft with a stronger static spine is required as one increases the weight of their broadhead.  This phenomenon isn’t unique to broadheads and field points; rather it has to do with adding weight to either end of the arrow shaft, so to a lesser degree other weight changes, such as heavy lighted nocks or arrow wraps on the end of a shaft, will also affect dynamic spine.

A properly tuned bow is important, but the “secret” to getting fixed-blade broadheads and field points to fly together is having properly spined arrows.

Arrows With Broadheads & Field Points

Selecting a Properly Spined Arrow

Broadhead-tipped arrows are more sensitive to proper spine than arrows with field tips, so for the bowhunter, getting a properly spined hunting arrow is a must.  As you can clearly see, there are several things to consider when looking at arrow spine and selection charts from the various arrow shaft manufacturers.  If the charts have you in between two arrow spines, it is often recommended to go with the stiffer option.  But remember that you can increase or decrease dynamic spine by changing your arrow length, adjusting your bow’s draw weight, or adding/removing weight from the ends of your arrow.

We will talk more about finding the right arrow for your setup in a soon-coming article

A Universal Arrow Spine Selection Chart

Universal Arrow Spine Selection Chart

Bow Setup & Tuning – How to Tie Serving, Peep Sights, and Drop-Away Rests

In this article you will learn the technique of tying serving wraps.  This tying technique is essential for securing peep sights, installing cable-driven drop-away arrow rests, and repairing or replacing the center-serving on your bow string.  If you combine this tying technique with the one that we learned in our last post – How to Tie a D-Loop – you’ll be a bow installation and repair ninja.  That’s a fact.

The Starting Technique

Step 1 – Begin by laying a “tail” of serving material over the bowstring.  The end of the tail should originate from the direction that you will be wrapping towards (in our case, the right), and run back to the start of the wrap location (the left).

Serving Technique - Step 1

Step 2 – Start the serving wrap by making at least 5 tight wraps over the tail.

Serving Technique - Step 2

Step 3 – After the minimum of 5 wraps over the tail, bring the tail up and continue wrapping the serving without overlapping the rest of the tail.

Serving Technique - Step 3

Step 4 – Make a minimum of another 5 wraps; now the tail should be exposed with at least 5 tight wraps on either side of it, holding it securely in place.  Pull on the tail to snug everything into place.  Continue wrapping as needed.

Serving Technique - Step 4

The Finishing Technique

Step 1 – Create a loop with the serving material by coming across the back side of the bow string.

Serving Technique - Step 5

Step 2 – Begin wrapping the serving material through the loop, back towards the start of your main serving wrap.

Serving Technique - Step 6

Step 3 – After a minimum of 5 wraps, bring the end of your serving material back towards the very beginning of your wrap.  Take the loop that you created in Step 1 of the Finish Technique and wrap it back over the end tail, being sure wrap in the same direction that you started in the very beginning.  (This is difficult to explain but easy to see and comprehend in the video above.)

Serving Technique - Step 7

Step 4 – You should end up with a loop at the end.  Pull the tail end of the serving material through the wraps, which will get rid of this loop.

Serving Technique - Step 8 Serving Technique - Step 9

Step 5 – Continue pulling the end of the serving material, snugging everything into place.  Trim the tails of serving material to 1/4″.  Fuzz the ends of this material, melt with a lighter, and smash the melted stub into the serving wraps – sealing everything into place.

Serving Technique - Step 10

That’s it!  You now have a tight serving wrap on your bowstring.  In the next post we will learn how to apply this tying technique when installing and securing a peep sight.

Bow Setup & Tuning – How to Tie a D-Loop

In Part 4 of our bow build we look at something that every bowhunter needs to know – how to tie a d-loop.  The knots look a little intimidating at first, but once you do it a couple of times it becomes natural.  You’ll also learn why not every d-loop should be the same length, as well as a few things to look out for as your putting a new d-loop on your bow.

Additionally, here is a step-by-step pictorial of the tying process…

How to Tie a D-Loop - Step 1

Step 1 – Start with one end of your loop material overlapping the string.

How to Tie a D-Loop - Step 2

Step 2 – Wrap the loop material around the string, then back over the starting end of your loop material.

How to Tie a D-Loop - Step 3

Step 3 – Wrap the material around the bow string once again, then come up and through the “loop” that you formed with your d-loop material.

How to Tie a D-Loop - Step 4

Step 4 – Cinch this first knot down, being sure that the starting end of your loop material is seated tightly within the knot.  (See the plier trick in the video!)

How to Tie a D-Loop - Step 5

Step 5 – Form the “D” of your d-loop by arching the loop material over the string.  Be sure that the “legs” of your arch are on opposite (near/far) sides of the bow’s string!

How to Tie a D-Loop - Step 6

Step 6 – Wrap your loop material around the bow string, bringing it back through the “arch” or “D” of your d-loop.

How to Tie a D-Loop - Step 7

Step 7 – Bring the loop material back across the bow string, then come up through the loop that you just formed.

How to Tie a D-Loop - Step 8

Step 8 – Pull the end of your loop material, cinching the 2nd knot tight, and adjusting the size of the main loop.  (Keep in mind that your d-loop will stretch and increase in size!)

How to Tie a D-Loop - Step 9

Step 9 – Cut the excess loop material, leaving about a 3/8″ tail remaining.

How to Tie a D-Loop - Step 10

Step 10 – Fuzz the tail of your loop material, and then slowly melt it with a lighter.  Once the fray is melted into a nice ball, smash it flat against your lighter.

How to Tie a D-Loop - Step 11

Step 11 – Use a pair of needle-nose pliers to stretch the d-loop and set the knots.  It is perfectly safe to use quite a bit of force in this step.

That’s it!  Now it is time to shoot.

Let me know if you have any questions…

Is Hunting A Hobby Like Any Other? (And Why I’m An Idiot….)

A couple of weeks ago, Montana Decoy published one of my articles – “Why We Hunt”. It is a manifesto of sorts, which I wrote a couple of years ago. The piece connected with thousands of hunters across the country, and it was nice to see dozens of comments from readers that appreciated the perspective.

But there are always detractors.  I have come to expect that, and welcome the challenges that are genuine and thoughtful.

Enjoying The Hunt

One commenter vehemently took issue with the topic (anonymously, of course), and railed that hunting is a hobby – like golf, or mechanics, or “sandwich eating” – and nothing more.  He went so far as to say that,

“[My] line of thinking is so idiotic, it’s embarrassing for all the rest of hunterdom.”

Is that how you see things?

I think that hunting is a hobby. It is done – in accordance with the definition of the word “hobby” – with “leisure” and “pleasure”.  Hunting doesn’t have to be, and is often better when, not taken so seriously.  But even when hunting is recreational, there’s still something deeper happening.

The solemn act of killing a living creature cannot be equated with clubbing after a ball.

Participating in the conservation of our nation’s wildlife and wild lands cannot be equated with the restoration of a muscle car.

The process of studying, pursuing, killing, processing, preserving, and preparing your own, ethically harvested meat cannot be equated with the simple act of, as the commenter said, “eating a sandwich.”

At least not for me.

Is hunting a hobby?  Yes.  But, oh, is it so much more!