With almost 14 years of experience as a professional hunting guide, at 34 years of age, I've guided 2-3 elk hunts a year (not including the hunts I’ve drawn, the hunts I’ve helped on with friends, or the hunts following my dad since I was 8 years old). I have a lot of experience compared to the average hunter who puts in for the elk draw and only draws once every 2-3 years. Because of all the elk hunts I've been on, at my age, I have more elk hunting experience than most elk hunters get in a lifetime. For those reasons, I’d like to share some of my elk hunting knowledge with you. To some elk hunters these tips might not be anything new, but to others they can be very helpful. Have you ever hunted elk before? Some hunters aren't lucky enough to live in a state that has elk. People see elk as a majestic animal that could be considered the ultimate North America big game animal.
Most hunters get to hunt elk every 2-3 years and when that opportunity comes, there's quite a bit of anticipation and expectations. Once the hunt starts, most hunters chase every bugle or bull they see. Sometimes that tactic can be successful, but often times, it can be unsuccessful and result in pushing the elk out of the country (never to be seen again). Chasing after elk is a challenging task since elk are on the move in the early mornings and late evenings. In the morning, they're leaving there feeding area and are heading to bed as soon as the sun comes up. This isn't always the case but about 80% of the time, that's where they’re headed. In the evening, they're leaving the bedding area and are headed to their feeding area. When elk are headed to their bedding areas it's hard to intercept them because that’s there one mission and there’s usually lots of elk. This means there are lots of eyes looking out for predators. One tactic that I found that works the best in a low pressured hunting area is taking your time rather than chasing the elk. The elk hunt is like a marathon not a sprint. Study the area, study the elk’s movement, determine where all the water is, get an idea of where the elk head to bed, and where they come out in the evenings. Once that's been determined you can use that knowledge to setup and ambush them.
By patterning you'll learn that Elk, during the rut, can be creatures of habit. If you know the area they prefer and understand their habits, you can put yourself in enough situations (by being patient) where you'll eventually get a shot at your bull.
Let your binoculars or spotting scope do the walking for you. Put yourself on a high vantage that will allow for a large field of view of the area you plan to hunt. You can sit stationary for hours, looking though optics covering miles and miles of terrain, that would take you weeks to cover on foot. Just by using this technique, you get a bird’s eye view of the area you are hunting. You can also use the vantage to study the elk herd, determine the size of bulls in the herd and decide if the area you are glassing over is worth hunting at all.
Think of elk hunting as a football game. There are four quarters and half way point in the game aka "hunt.” If things aren’t going your way at “halftime”, make appropriate adjustments that will “win the game” like locating a new bull elk by glassing from different high points for multiple hours. Don’t think looking for elk in the evening from a high point is a waste of time. The time you already put in can be perceived as an investment for your future/goal (not a waste of time). Once you’ve found the elk, (hopefully it’s what you’re looking for) watch them, study them, and figure out where the best place to ambush them might be. People live life 365 days in a year and most elk hunter’s wait for 5-15 days out of the year to hunt. Be prepared to make those days count, but make sure you realize that “time is on your side”. The more focus you put on success, pressure will build i.e. “killing a bull,” the less time you’ll think about strategically putting yourself in the right spot. Think positive, pay attention, and devise a plan. We as hunters live in a technologically advanced world, where everything happens now and instant gratification can be at your fingertips. Hunting doesn’t provide instant gratification. This is why most hunters enjoy hunting so much. It brings us all back to what human nature is. Taking care of ourselves, becoming resourceful, and respecting the time we have on this earth. Good look to all this hunting season.