Big Game Hunting Forum Sponsors

Elk tips?

Discussion in 'Big Game Hunting Forum' started by wildfowl4444, Jul 18, 2013.

  1. MJ

    MJ Administrator Moderator Flyway Manager

    Oct 28, 2002
    Northern NV
    Some important things to remember if you live in lower elevation...

    Altitude sickness sucks. You'll get nauseous and have a pounding headache and you'll have no energy at all. I live at 5500 feet, but I hunt elk in country that ranges from 8k' to 11k'.

    When I go on an elk hunt, the first day I don't do anything too strenuous. Day two, I'll go a little higher, and a little further. By day three I'm fully acclimated. Stay hydrated as you acclimate and don't drink alcohol.

    And as mentioned, get in shape. Cardio is the most important thing to focus on. Elk hunting is awesome, but be prepared for a workout just hunting them. And when you do kill one, the workout gets worse! You won;t be dragging an elk out, so be prepared to bone the animal out. You'll have a lot of work to do once you punch your tag.

    Best of luck to you
  2. Alamosa

    Alamosa Elite Refuge Member

    Oct 16, 2001
    Southern Colorado
    Expect high altitude, long distances, and powerful guns. You may find yourself several miles away from camp or any other hunters. Carry what you need to be sure you can make it to the nearest road, survive a forced bivy, or locate camp in the dark.

    When hunting, keep your body clean. Reduce your odor.
    Wipe yourself down with a warm washcloth before bed in camp.
    While hunting carry a gallon ziplock with a dry base layer or clean T-shirt in it. When you stop climbing/exerting yourself/sweating, change into the dry shirt from the bag. You’ll feel much more comfortable and you will be better able to approach elk. Seal your stinky shirt in the bag.
    Mask your scent. Scoop up a handful of snow or sand that is soaked with elk urine – put it in the side pockets of your cargo pants. It helps. It seems gross but the elk make the rules.

    Opening day tactics are different. Most elk are taken on opening day. It will be hard to contain your enthusiasm and you will want to hike. You should do the opposite – hunker down and stay put. You will have a better chance of success if you get out early, find a good hidden location in timber, and let other hunters push the elk past you. Remember very few hunters will bother to cross a creek or climb a very steep slope – but elk will.
    After opening day will be the time to cover more ground and hike further.

    Elk don’t see very well in direct sunlight. They will prefer to be in black timber during the day. They can see and hear better when they are in dark timber. A good rule of thumb is that if it is too warm to wear your jacket then it’s too warm for elk. Get into the snow or climb higher to get to climate that elk like.

    Trim your toenails. It will keep your toes from jamming against the toe of your boot and prevent the nails from turning black and falling off.

    If you are lucky enough to have a breeze travel into the wind. Breeze and wind will cover your noise and smell.

    Anticipate what is ahead. When you come over a ridge or around a blind bend in the trail slow down, get your rifle off your shoulder. Think about what you are going to do if there are elk there. When you see terrain up ahead that looks like elk habitat approach it as though it contains elk.

    Take whichever elk gives you your best shot. Don’t pass up a shot on a calf if that is your only good shot. Calves are as big as deer. Don’t pass up a good shot on a cow for fear of orphaning a calf. Orphaned calves will be adopted by other elk.

    Practice your follow-up shot. You don’t have to take a shot at an elk, but after a shot if the elk is still standing you HAVE to take the second shot – even if it’s running. You can’t afford to trail a wounded elk. Practice cycling a second round and a quick follow-up shot. Make those first shots good ones.

    Elk will sometimes run off even after a good hit.

    After the shot more elk will usually appear that you did not see previously. They will be very distracting but you must concentrate and not lose track of the original target.

    Practice what you are going to do if you suddenly find an elk staring back at you.
    First, don’t stare back at her. That tells her you are a predator.
    You will have 2, maybe 3 seconds to act. That is plenty of time.
    Almost anyone can sit and aim in less than a second. A hunter’s first instinct is not to sit down, but unless your view is obstructed, the accuracy from that position far outweighs the fraction of a second it takes to sit.

    Don’t jerk the trigger.

    Don’t shoot through grass or leaves. The bullet will deflect and tumble and curve in an unwanted direction.

    Remember to take pictures. You cannot measure success solely on killing an elk. Some guys return home and say their hunt sucked because they didn’t shoot an elk. The wilderness you will experience will be something you remember all your life even if you never see an elk. For most guys it takes a few years before they kill their first one. Only 1 in 4 Colorado hunters kills and elk. Success is 1 in 7 for self-guided, public land hunters.

    You should enjoy hunting but I wouldn’t really describe it as fun. It is extremely difficult and takes years to master the skills required. It is a quest for yourself as much as a quest for elk. Like so many things it is the journey not the destination. It is a serious acknowledgement of who we are. I think it’s a connection to the ancient times when clans hunted together. If you are lucky enough to look down and find an arrowhead you may feel a connection to that primitive hunter who hunted here like you centuries before. It’s wrong to consider elk sport or entertainment or bear them malice, on the contrary, the reason to practice to the point where we are deadly marksman is because these are such magnificent beasts. Sharp skills are like a sharp knife. We practice to make ourselves worthy of hunting them. We absolutely owe them a quick painless end, (it is a much kinder and humane end than they can ever hope to meet naturally in the wild).
  3. Alamosa

    Alamosa Elite Refuge Member

    Oct 16, 2001
    Southern Colorado
    Before you can find elk you have to separate yourself from other hunters. That?s hard on opening weekend but it gets easier as the week goes on and hunters leave.

    Crossing creeks. Most hunters won?t cross creeks and for good reasons. Elk know this. Crossing even small creeks in the early morning is extremely dangerous. The stepping stones may have slick ice and/or green slippery slime. It?s a very high risk for injuring a knee, knocking a scope off zero, or getting wet and hypothermic. Crossing a creek can be very rewarding because more than 50% of hunters won?t do it. Mountain creeks are at their lowest volume in early morning when the mountain is frozen. By late afternoon/evening they will grow to double or triple size. If you decide to chance it, it always pays to scout a ways in either direction for the best crossing available and when you cross use a dead branch for balance.

    If you kill an elk, #1. Preserve evidence of sex. #2. Gut it. #3. Next - usually the best use of this critical time is to divide it into quarters (but only if you have a saw). 60% of the meat is on the rear quarters. Begin the process of getting them cooled off. The neck is always the first meat to go bad. Remove the esophagus to help cool the neck area. On a dead elk the 2 sources where bacteria spreads fastest are the anus and the esophagus. Removing these buys you valuable time later on. Remember that skinning cools the meat but it also requires a lot of your valuable time. It?s best to skin when the animal is already in a cool location and when you don?t have the tools to quarter it (otherwise it is usually better use of time to quarter it). If you know that you won?t get help that day and have to leave the elk try to do the following. Try to haul out a rear quarter with you (or at least a front one) when you leave. Pack the body cavity with snow. Hang quarters in a tree if possible. Keep everything shaded.

    The best situation to kill an elk is to be already positioned and have the elk come into range. The best chance for that situation to happen is on opening day. By the second day it will require some hiking to find elk. If you walk up on elk don?t just stand there, do something. Usually in these situations you will see elk disappearing into the timber. You won?t know what to do next ? no one does. Either sit down and set up for a shot or move fast parallel to the elk. Setting up a shot is good because often times more elk will appear and follow behind the ones you saw. Moving ahead to the next intercept point sometimes works because elk move like chess players and will pause to consider their next move ? they will stop if they come to a clearing or change in terrain. Just standing there where you saw them and hoping they will stop never works.

    If elk smell you they will be gone. Elk trust their sense of smell above their other senses.
    Concentrate in the direction of the wind and forget about anything that is downwind of you. The best way to visualize the spread of your body odor in calm conditions is like water leaking from a bucket across the forest floor. It happens slowly, but you can?t stay in one place (no matter how good it is) for many hours or days without your odor beginning to stink it up. Scents that you purchase in stores don?t work. The only scent that helps to cover your odor (a little) is urine from local elk that you find on the ground. If you have to take a leak suppress the odor as best you can. Aim down a rodent hole.

    Elk see very well in low light conditions. They see poorly in direct sunlight. You are unlikely to find them in bright sun. If you do they will probably be guarded and on alert. Also they are more comfortable in cooler conditions. It?s like they are wearing a warm coat that they can?t take off.

    Bullets. Shoot a premium bullet. There are endless debates over which bullet is better or best. I won?t get into the bullet debate but any $50 box of cartridges are MUCH better than those that cost $20 per box. There are too many types of premium bullets to name but it makes a huge difference when elk hunting. Bullet choice can easily be the difference between an elk that only goes a few steps and one that runs a mile and dies later or the next day.

    Most deer rifles will zero at 100 yards but elk rifles are zero?d at 200. 200 is also a good setting for antelope and sheep hunting. If you don?t have access to a 200 yard range set your zero at 1.5? high at 100 yards. That will put you pretty well on at 200. It?s not a good idea to shoot at an elk further than 300 yards away unless you have been practicing shots at distances longer than that.

    Binoculars. You?ll use binoculars a lot while hunting elk. Compact sized ones and convenient but powerful ones are helpful and useful.

    Footwear. No matter how comfortable your boots are you will need some changes of footwear. Some of the terrain will be very steep. Those steep areas can raise blisters fast. Boots with deep aggressive treads can be a big help on steep slopes. You also may encounter quite a bit of mud and snow. A pretty good wet boot is the LaCrosse Grange. It doesn?t have much for a tread but it is comfortable like a rubber moccasin, warm enough, quiet, suppresses odor, and great in mud and snow.

    Hunting elk is one of the very best things you can do in Colorado. It is still the sport of kings. October is an incredible month to be in the mountains.

    Cold weather gear. Usually the weather is pretty mild here but you have to be prepared for a storm. What seems to work best is to bring a separate duffel with your gear for extreme cold weather and snow. Down, Gore-Tex, snow boots, extra gloves, etc. Usually you don?t need that stuff but it?s important to have it along in case you need it.

    If you feel sick from altitude descend to a lower elevation. It won?t get better until you do. For a heart attack or a stroke your best bet is to take some aspirin quickly while you still can. For a severe laceration or compound fracture applying snow will slow the bleeding and buy you some time. Expect to go into shock so add whatever layers of clothing you have. Hope not to scare anyone ? just keeping it real.
  4. Alamosa

    Alamosa Elite Refuge Member

    Oct 16, 2001
    Southern Colorado
    An elks ?life? is between it?s shoulders. That is also the part of the animal that is most heavily armored with bone. Lung shots are always fatal eventually. Double lung shots are fatal fast. Shots that penetrate the front portion of the chest (between the front legs/shoulders) are fatal fastest, usually only resulting in another step or two. Don?t try a head or a neck shot unless you are directly behind the animal. If you are directly behind then chances are good that a head/neck shot will have a clean painless kill or a clean miss. Just be sure you don?t shoot them in the rump.

    Don?t ?moon? the elk with your big white face.
    In the hunting magazines you see hunters wearing facepaint ... don?t bother with that either. It helps to stop shaving during the days before the hunt. The bristles are annoying but it reduces the ?moon factor?.

    If you can go on any other kind of a hunt prior to the elk hunt then it really increases your success chances on elk. Just getting out there and getting all of your clothing, equipment, gear, familiar and situated helps you to be ready for elk. On opening morning you want to carry everything you want, nothing you don?t, and know where everything is.

    I was reading recently about some tactics for elk in proximity to agricultural fields. One outfitter said that alfalfa is like cocaine to elk and they will risk own their safety to get to it. Elk trails leading to agricultural fields can be excellent places to wait. Another effect of agricultural fields is that elk get real dopey if they eat too much. Just like humans that overeat they will get sleepy and lazy. Access to cultivated crops can really cause this to happen, but it can happen on natural forage too. This, combined with the fact that they may not see well in bright sun, can make mid-day hunting productive. At these times the calves may actually be the most alert members of the herd and the first ones to bark a warning.

    Most inexperienced elk hunters think that a good elk rifle is some sort of long-range sniper rig. That is only true in limited circumstances. Most of your shot opportunities are going to be situations where you see elk and they see you at the same time. Often they will be 100 to 150 yards. You will have a few seconds, which doesn?t sound like much, but it is time enough. Elk won?t bolt like a racehorse out of a gate (unless they smell you), but they will move immediately and they can walk faster than a human can run. Often they will trot or lope at an easy gait. Look for one to stop momentarily. You want a rifle that handles well, comes to your shoulder naturally and easily, acquires the target quickly, hits hard.

    When you practice with your rifle practice shooting 2 shots. From a sitting or kneeling position take careful aim for your first shot, then quickly follow up with a second shot. This is very likely what you will have to do on a hunt. Cycling a cartridge and coming back on target is a motor skill that you can improve a lot with just a minimal amount of practice.

    Most people use cots to sleep in wall tents. If you plan to sleep on the ground in the tent you should bring a ground cloth and some padding. Sleep is important. Do what you can to get the best sleep you can. It is hard enough to stay alert after a day or so of hunting. It?s even harder if you don?t sleep well.

    When you are moving in wilderness it really helps to consciously think about whether you are hiking or hunting. For many years, until I understood this, I would plod along not really hiking nor hunting effectively. If you are hiking, move briskly, efficiently, try to maintain a 3mph pace, take advantage of trails and ridge lines, get there. On the other hand if you see terrain ahead that could contain elk, think about it and approach it as though it does contain elk. There will be times when it will. Get your rifle off your shoulder, think about which way they?ll run when they detect you. Look ahead for a log or rise or rock that will help you set up to steady a shot and have a plan for taking that shot. Cross ridges slowly. When you go over a ridge or around a blind corner there will be just too much there for you to see all at once. A very common mistake is to bring a new vista into view, start scanning it, and then realize that an animal was right there close by and escapes because he saw you first.

    During the day elk like thick black shady cool timber, they like deadfall and downed timber, they like flat benches that are often not far from ridges or established trails with just enough cover to hide them, they like ridges within black timber cover where they can get more of a 270 degree or so warning of approaching danger. Gullys and gulches and ravines make elk nervous because they can?t sense approaching danger. They usually won?t stay in these long. They will usually only hit these fast for water or if there is something there they can hardly resist like oats or alfalfa.

    Take a nap. If you are tired and are having trouble concentrating while hunting then you can?t hunt effectively. Lying down and snoozing for even just a few minutes can change the whole momentum of your hunt. It only takes a few minutes of sleep to REALLY recharge you batteries and regain your focus. While you are resting your ?footprint? of disruption in the forest shrinks. Animals may move back into the proximity where you are. It allows the hunting pressure to ease up a bit. This sounds gross but if some elk urine stink absorbs into your hunting clothes while you rest that can really help your chances. Only real elk urine from local elk works. The bottled stuff doesn?t.

    If elk see you it is not necessarily over (but they probably won?t relax either). If they smell you it?s over immediately. If they hear you they will insist on finding out what you are ? you will probably only have a few seconds to act.

    STRAIGHT-GUT Senior Refuge Member

    Jan 20, 2005
    Alamosa, great posts and thanks for all the info and opinions. I took my first Colorado elk hunt last year(a freelance bowhunt) and this would have been good to have.
    Can't wait to go again next year.
  6. RiverRat77

    RiverRat77 Senior Refuge Member

    Sep 30, 2005
    Not sure if the guy is already gone... but my view, from my hunt this year is a little different than Alamosa's. If you know where elk are... chase em down. I had bulls bugling on two sides of me and I got into the herd by getting after them and catching up as they moved downhill away from me.

    Scent control is huge but I will say this. Dead down wind.... in the orange bottle. The stuff is awesome and helped keep me from being busted because of smell several times over the course of the week straight that I was hunting. Sounds like you might have more folks on your hunt area than i had in mine... I didn't see another bowhunter for three days straight in the same area. I got busted by a cow that saw me move through some mountain mahogany, a raghorn bull that I snuck up on in his bed and a whole herd of cows and calves but they didn't smell me and blow outta the country. They kinda trotted a few yards off, barked a couple times and then walked off. I've had elk bust out because they smell ya and it sounds like they're running the whole forest down. Dead Down Wind.... spray all your clothes with it and actually even wash them with it before you head out. Put them all in a plastic bag until you get to your hunt spot, then wear them. I also used pine cover scent on my boots. A little goes a long way and I believe that worked in my favor also.

    I do agree that once you find an area being used by elk, get somewhere and sit down. They'll show up again. I killed my spike bull by finding a meadow full of green poop and knew they were crossing/feeding there. I sat down and cow called and voila... he fed out of the timber right to me.

    Also, be ready all the time. I have no idea how many times I've kicked myself for walking up on elk and either not having my bow with me (cows at 25 yards) or just coming over a ridge and the elk are there staring you down. I don't rifle hunt so I can't just take a seat and kill one. Elk are darn quiet when they want to be so odds are, you'll probably walk up on a few during your hunt that will surprise the heck out of you. Its all fun though and those encounters will leave you doing this. :doh:yes

    Good luck bud... if you've never been, the first time a bull screams his challenge from the side of the mountain, it chills your blood, gives you goose bumps and hooks you for life!!:tu
  7. 2dogs1949

    2dogs1949 Senior Refuge Member

    Dec 21, 2003
    New Jersey
    I have been to CO 5 times on bow hunts. All the advise above it very good. Can't stress enough to be in shape. The best shape of your life. Unless you are going to spend the day in a treestand or ground blind you need to be fit.
    Hydration, hydration hydration, don't want your muscles cramping.
    Learn to cow call. Primos makes a squeeze type call that works very well.
    Be self sufficient, be prepared to spend the night in the woods. Space blanket
    matches etc. Game bags and rubber gloves. Some parachute cord to hang your elk after you field dress it. A pack fram to pack your elk back to camp.

    All my trips were unguided. We camped out and did everything ourselves.
    The advantage to a guide is they know where the elk are when you get there. We had to figure that out for oursleves. I've had encounters with elk on 4 of my 5 trips. One trip none of us saw an elk in 10 days. We always go to the same area, so we know where to look.
    Be safe, have fun and BE IN SHAPE.
  8. cococreek

    cococreek Senior Refuge Member

    Sep 12, 2005
    Most everything has been said, dont ignore quality boots and get in shape

    Only other advice is if you have too many bad habits already don't go cause when that first bull bugles in your face you'll be hooked for life like the rest of us
  9. Sasha and Abby

    Sasha and Abby Elite Refuge Member

    Sep 5, 2002
    Columbia, SC.
    This is key... all good advice. Get in as good a shape as you can. ENJOY your trip - it is supposed to be fun; not a expedition.
  10. dakndug

    dakndug Moderator Moderator

    Dec 24, 2002
    Only other things I can think of is make sure your prepared to spend a nite in the woods should you have to! Luck is where Preparation meets opportunity. Have the basics to survive a nite in the wilderness, if you need em you'll understand why I say this!

    WATER, stay hydrated, one of the most important things you can do for your body!

    Get a good GPS and learn how to use it! It could prevent the need for #1!

    Good Luck, it's addictive!

Share This Page