Elk hunting is an experience like no other type of big game hunting. When you are out in the woods, surrounded by a herd of elk, large or small, it is all inspiring. The magnificent size of an Elk gets the heartbeat going, and the sound of the herd is amazing. When an Elk is bugling to locate and call in the cows, it is a breathtaking experience.
Types of Elk Hunts
Guided or Self Guided Elk Hunt
Elk hunting is an expensive hunt. All the Hunting Gear and supplies, your expensive rifle or compound bow, your hunting tag, groceries, gas for your trip, camping gear, a stop at the casino to register for your big buck contest, and so on. It all adds up, to a lot. Is it better to hunt on your own, as a self guided hunt. Or, is it better to hire a guide. If you successfully get an elk, you’ll get about 230 pounds of meat to fill up your freezer. If you spend the money and hire a guide it’s pretty much a sure thing, though not a guarantee, and it will add to the cost significantly. Other options to improve your chances of getting an elk is to pay a trespass fee to a landowner to hunt on some good private land that has a lot less hunting pressure than any public land would have, or a drop camp where a guide will haul you up into the back country, and your gear, then pick you back up a week or two later, depending on how long the season is. Drop camps get you far enough into the backcountry where you will have the woods to yourself, or your group, and they can setup a Hunting Outfitter Tent to set you up in style.
Elk Hunting Tags
All states are different in how they manage big game, so check with the state that you will be hunting in for their specific tag requirements.
Types of Elk
In the United States, we have three main types of Elk. The American Elk (also known as the Rocky Mountain Elk), the Roosevelt Elk, and the Tule Elk. •Tule Elk•Rocky Mountain Elk (American Elk)•Roosevelt Elk
Size: 500 to 600 Pounds Location: CA Tule Elk weigh about 600 pounds and live in California. The Tule Elk is a subspecies of Elk found only in California. They can be found in the grasslands and marshlands in the Central Valley, and the grassy hillsides along the coast.
Rocky Mountain Elk (American Elk)
Size: 800 Pounds Location: CO, AZ, NM, ID Rocky Mountain Elk weigh about 800 pounds, and most of them live in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Idaho. They can mostly be found on the land west of the Mississippi River. Bull elk can reach weights of over 800 pounds. For a comparison, the average cow weighs around 475 pounds. There are approximately 300,000 elk in Colorado, as well as large herds of Elk can also be found near the Sun River in Montana, Yellowstone Park and the Olympic Mountains in Washington. Rocky Mountain Elk winter ranges are mostly in open forests, and lower elevation floodplain marshes. During the summer time they migrate up to the subalpine forests, and alpine basins. They have a diverse habitat range, but are most commonly found in forest and along the forest edge. They will also leave the forest into the grassland for part of the day, but they will head back up into the timber in the evening.
Size: 1000 Pounds Location: WA, CA, OR The Roosevelt Elk, the largest species of Elk, can reach up to 1000 pounds. They are found in Washington, Northern California and Oregon. Roosevelt Elk are a little harder to hunt because the live in wet and rugged terrain, and the bugle less than the Rocky Mountain Elk. Roosevelt Elk like to eat weeds and grass during the spring and early summer and switch to wild blackberries, maple, huckleberry and salal, as they ripen in the fall.
Planning Your Elk Hunt for the Best Chance of Success
Before Elk season begins, it’s a good idea to study the area you will be hunting, and to do some pre-season scouting to locate the animals that you want to target in your hunt. The most successful hunters will spend a lot of time in their hunting grounds to take a look at their favorite spots to locate some animals, and learn their patterns throughout the different seasons of the year, so they can have a better chance at spotting the animals that they are looking for during the hunting season. The key to a successful hunt is to learn their eating habits, locate their primary food and water sources. If you find a good source of food, a good source of water, the chances are that you will see game trails to and from those life sustaining nutrients and hydration, that will also lead you to where they hide during the day, and where they will hide when the hunting season starts.
Mapping Your Elk Hunt
To map your hunt, you will need to make use of both free online resources, and tools that you can purchase to give you the cutting edge technologies to help you with your hunt. I use google maps for a free resource with their satellite view, I purchase a good map book, I bought a nice Handheld GPS, along with the software from onX Hunting Maps. Details of each are below. I use OnXMaps to identify property boundaries. I used to spot deer herds, and big bucks, and not be able to tell if I am still in my zone, or still withing the property boundary of my hunting area to be able to shoot. I always error on the side of caution, and do not take the shot. I would pull out maps, and my gps, and try to figure it out, but it takes too long. With OnXMaps, I always know exactly where the boundaries are, and if it’s ok to shoot. By far the most time saving piece of equipment that I have.
What to Hunt Elk With
Now you know the where, it’s time to figure out the how. How do you want to target elk. The most popular type of hunting for elk is Rifle hunting, in some states this is known as the general season. Many places will let you use a shotgun, or a crossbow, during the general season as well. I prefer to use a compound bow in Archery Season, and if I am not successful during archery season I will use a rifle in the general season. Air rifles have been gaining in popularity for big game hunting, and the advancements in technology has made this possible in areas where it is allowed. I like to hunt during archery season because there are a lot less people that choose to hunt with a compound bow. Also, a bow is very quiet, so there are a lot less people in the mountains, and a lot less noise, so the deer are a lot less jumpy. There are also out and about more during the day, providing for more opportunity to see more animals. No matter what you like to hunt with, I would recommend a nice large gun safe to store you expensive gear, as well as your firearms and bows, to keep them safe and secure.
Additional Items For Your Elk Hunt
It’s important to do a lot of spotting for animals when big game hunting, so a good pair of binoculars is critical to a successful hunt. If you like to hunt in a stand, I would recommend a good hunting blind. If you are hunting with a friend, or family member, I also like to use two way radios to be able to keep in touch with the group I am with, so we can keep an eye on where everyone is for safety, and to make sure if anyone needs any help we can meet up. For when you do get an animal, you will need a good hunting knife set to field dress, and then process the meat or get it ready for processing. To sneak up on big game and stay hidden you will need a nice set of camo clothing. Some hunters like to use game calls on their hunt. A good trail or game camera is great for learning what animals are hanging out on a game trail, and what their feeding, drinking, and bedding patterns are. Another great tool to have in your arsenal is a high quality laser rangefinder to be able to tell how far the shot is for planning your shot. Take a look at our online outdoor store for all of these products and more, for all of your hunting, fishing, camping, boating needs and more.
Now the Main Topic - Elk Hunting
Elk, even with their tremendous size, will disappear just as quickly and instantly as they appeared. They are really great at hiding from hunters and the animals that prey on them. You may only see a flash of elk skin between the trees. Elk are good at sensing the pressure from hunters, and will vanish into thick vegetation and change their movements to full nocturnal to avoid the danger that they sense. For those hunters that put their time in the woods, and do their homework, they will learn the tricks and techniques to a successful hunt.
Techniques for a Successful Elk Hunt
Number one rule - get out of the truck, and put boots on the ground. Yes, you can get lucky and stumble across a good Elk driving around in the woods, but to be successful year after year, you have to get out and into the woods. Look at your maps, and satellite images, to find places where there are no roads. A good rule of thumb is that you should try to walk in to where you are atleast two to five miles from any roads. This will mean less hunters, less noise, and Elk will prefer these areas especially when there is a lot of hunting pressure. Try to find private land, if you can, and work with the landowner to get permission to hunt their property. Don’t let a big Elk bust you then bust out of dodge. Wear camo, don’t go out into the woods smelling like the campfire. Don’t wear your camo except for when you are hunting, so the scents of the camp don’t come out into the woods with you. Unscent yourself, they make sprays, soaps, and deoderants that are unscented, so you can blend in to the forest. If you don’t have that, some natural local scents of the forest rubbed onto your clothes will do the trick as well (dirt, pine needles, etc). Try to blend in when you hike into the woods. Take a few steps, pause, and listen. If you step on a noisemaker branch, pause a bit longer, to lower the alarm level in the forest. Keep walking slowly, quietly, with intermittent pauses. Mimic the forest animals, in how they walk. They walk, and they pause and listen, trying to detect danger. Older big bull Elk got that way by being smart. They notice a “change” in their environment, they notice the hunters driving in to camp, and driving around the woods as hunting season starts. They switch over to nearly full nocturnal mode and you will only see them a few minutes after sun up, and a few minutes before the sun goes down.
Elk Hunting Tips and Techniques
Spot and stalk hunting is the best method for hunting elk. Find areas with thick timber, underbrush, and overgrown clearcuts. Areas that have burned in previous years, or been logged in prior years, will have increased food growth and will attract Elk as well. Once you find an area that has good, recent, Elk sign, find yourself a good vantage point where you can look down into areas of mixed timber, and up toward surrounding peaks and slopes with brushy mountain sides, and grassy basins. When you spot an you want, take your time to plan your hunt. Take your time, spot and stalk, with long pauses in between. Use an Elk call to bugle them in to where you are. Try to blend in to the landscape so you don’t spook the Elk and bust him out of the area. Instead of charging straight toward that Elk, head to a secondary vantage point that is downwind from the Elk. Once there, plan and take your shot when the opportunity presents itself for a good clean kill shot. If you can’t take the shot, or you lose the Elk, be patient. Sometimes it is good to back out of the spot, and plan to come back the next day. If you don’t spook the Elk, they are known to hang around an area for days on end as long as they are not disturbed. If you are hunting in open grasslands and agricultural areas, look for tight brushy draws and timbered slopes. Once you find Elk, take it slow and watch for the Elk from a distance rather than disturb them by walking through their habitat. Start glassing on the edge and fringe habitats, where feeding areas and bedding areas come together.
Glassing With Binoculars for Elk Hunting
Critical glassing times are during the first and last minutes of daylight to catch Elk that are heading to or from their bedding areas. During the middle of the day you can use your binoculars to pick apart the slopes used by bedding Elk. When it’s freezing cold, Elk will stick to slopes that get sun. When it’s warm or hot, Elk will head for the shaded slopes. You will want to glass beneath every tree, and into every nook and cranny or open spots that you can see through the forest canopy. Once you find a big Elk to hunt, look for shooting spots and positions that you can sneak into range without scaring the Elk.
Still Hunting for Elk
If you are in an areas where you can’t glass well, you may want to get into a good spot for still hunting. Some hunters like to still hunt along roads that have a closed gate, old logging roads, or logging skid trails. These roads and trails are relatively silent compared to the dry crackly forest floor. They are also easier to walk with less vegetation and buck brush to walk through. As you approach a nice forest opening, meadow, or clearcut, you want to give the area a good thorough once over with your binoculars before you enter it. You should also glass with your binoculars about every ten to fifteen steps to look for Elk so you can see them before they see you. I am typically looking out about 100 to 300 yards, but I have had Elk pop up within 20 yards of me that I didn’t see and missed my chance as they bust out of there. If you come across an Elk trail with fresh sign, you should move slowly and silently along the Elk trail to track down where they are headed from, or going to. Use the wind to your advantage by hunting into the wind. Wear soft soled shoes to increase your level of stealth. If you pass through an area where noise is unavoidable, do it quickly and then stop and wait, and watch before you begin moving again. Give it a few minutes for the alert to be forgotten about and then continue on. When you pass through feeding areas such as forest openings, small meadows, walk along the edges of the openings rather than heading right through the middle of them. Stop often in places where the surrounding vegetation works to mask your shape. Keep your eyes peeled, glass everything, keeping it slow and easy is key to a successful hunt. When you are glassing with your binoculars, you will typically be looking for a patch of Elk color through the vegetation, or a twich of an ear or a tail, or antlers sticking out of a bush or over the edge of a log. If you find a good vantage point, pause for ten or fifteen minutes to glass it thoroughly.
Elk Ambush Hunting
If you set up a tree stand or a hunting blind, or walk and hunt, near well used Elk trails, you might be able to ambush an unsuspecting bull. The best Elk trails are the ones that connect the bedding and feeding areas together. If you can’t find any deer trails, or bedding and feeding areas, try looking for trails near primary ridgelines that divide drainages, finger ridges that branch off from primary ridges and drop down into canyons or valleys. You may even find them between rock outcroppings or along the bases of cliff faces. These simple features might be all that it takes to concentrate deer traffic in a predictable way for you to get the opportunity for some ambush hunting.
Many Elk hunters like to use Elk calls that will cause bull elk to bugle back, giving away their location, as well as to call them in closer to you.About The Author Mike Mendenhall is the the founder of Mendenhall Outdoors. This website is an extension of the Mendenhall family’s lifestyle and passion for the great outdoors. Everything that they learn, and experience, along the way that they find may be valuable to our website visitors is on the site for you to enjoy. We highlight products and services that you might find interesting. We frequently receive free products from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. If you click a link on this page, then go on to make a purchase, we might receive a commission – at no extra cost to you, and does not impact the purchase price of any products that you may purchase. The Best Elk Hunting Experience Awaits!