Elk Hunting FAQ Guide

Here you’ll find the complete guide to any questions you might have about elk hunting and the gear you use during. We’ve answered questions about most of the quintessential elk hunting gear like riflescopes, hunting boots, ear defenders, elk calls of all types, and even arrows for the traditional bowhunters out there.

If you need a quick rundown of the gear the average hunter needs, check out this quick read on it here.

Elk Hunting Scopes

Most hunters use rifles since they have enough firepower to drop an elk, are easy to use and easier to become proficient with unlike bowhunting. However, if you want to get the drop on your prey, you’re going to need to come at them from a distance. This means you need range, and that’s where the scopes get involved.

If you’re looking for scopes and want some of our own product suggestions, then you can find our article on our favorite rifle scopes right here.

What is the best magnification for elk hunting?

Chances are that if you count elk hunting amongst your hobbies, you know your rifle and the scope magnification you’re comfortable using with it. That means that the ideal magnification will differ between hunters and their levels of accuracy, scent-blocking, and proficiency with the firearm.

That said, the best magnification is usually the lowest you can get away with whilst providing adequate zoom and giving you the drop on your prey. A good and usually affordable average that will at the very least make elk hunting possible is a 3.5x to 10x magnification, though small variations like 4x to 12x are also acceptable. We like these ranges because a 3.5 or 4x magnification will have your short to mid ranges covered whilst the 10x or higher magnification is a great upper limit to how far you’ll usually be hunting elk from.

You shouldn’t really be sniping at elk from the next county over with a 20x observatory telescope strapped to your favorite rifle, is what we’re saying. At that point you need nerves of steel to hold the rifle still, since any micro-movements will send your aim off target. If you do happen to prefer sniping at very long ranges then we’re guessing you already know what you’re doing, but there is such a thing as too much range, especially when you’re unnecessarily making it harder on yourself.

Which is better, fixed or variable scopes?

If you’re a creature of habit who has their usual operating range and is likely to stick to it for a long time, then we suppose you can go for a fixed rifle scope that magnifies only how much you want it to. These are usually best used as shorter-range scopes for those of you who like to get closer, but you need to be sure that you’re ready to commit to a magnification level.

The fact that our suggested magnification was instead a range of magnification levels should tell you which kind of scopes we prefer. We think that when you’re buying any kind of gear, you’re looking for the most functionality, and that’s just what you get out of variable scopes. With how prevalent it is now, there’s lots of affordable options for variable scopes, too, so the price point is no longer a reason to go for fixed scopes over variable scopes.

The ability to switch between zoom magnitudes is a great advantage for hunting at all sorts of different ranges, allowing you more freedom in your hunting methods. Even if you don’t find yourself using it often, it’s a nice thing to have and not need than need and not have.

What are fiber optic sights?

Fiber optic, or illuminated, sights are a sub-type of scope where the reticle inside them is made from brightly colored material, making them more visible in low-light environments. This is handy for those who find themselves hunting in the very early morning or later at night, since it allows you to still effectively aim your reticle without losing it in the dark.

Scopes often use the term BTR to denote illuminated sights, BTR being an internal acronym for Bright Reticle used by those in the industry, so be sure to look for those letters in product listings if you’re after scopes capable of performing in dark conditions.

What is parallax?

Depending on how your eyes and head move when looking through a scope, the reticle can shift and ultimately result in a missed shot. That’s what we call parallax, where the aiming gets displaced at further ranges if you’re not directly looking at the scope at a straight angle. 

As we just said, the parallax effect gets worse with distance, and many hunters won’t experience it to any significant degree whilst lining up their shots on elk, but it’s good to keep this factor in the back of your head when zeroing in any shot.

You can find scopes out there that have precision parallax dials, often in the form of another turret on your scope to be used for scope parallax adjustments, making it a non-issue at far distances. Higher magnification ranges often aren’t required for elk hunting, and parallax adjustment is thought of as a high-end feature in some of the more expensive scopes, so we’d only recommend shopping for it if parallax has presented itself as a problem to you in the past.

What is the average eye relief for a scope?

A good number to keep in your head is about three and a half inches but it also depends on the power of your rifle, the magnification level of your scope, and so the range at which you’re shooting. It can be anywhere from three to five inches, so with a lot of scopes it’s best to err on the side of caution and keep a three and a half or four inches of distance from your eye when shooting unless the product information says otherwise.

Rifle power often corroborates with longer range scopes, so you can use this as a general metric if you’re unsure. If your rifle is a powerful one that can stack elk bodies at an impressive distance, then you’ll want to hang back and give the scope the distance it needs. This is an aspect of shooting you’ll want to learn and get right, as it can worsen parallax at best and give you a black eye at the very worst.

Are BDC reticles worth it?

Many different scope brands will offer some form of BDC reticle with their scopes, from Nikon to Leupold and Vortex. Standing for Bullet Drop Compensating reticles, BDC reticles have extra horizontal lines on them so that a hunter can zero in on the right shot where elevation and extreme distance is a factor. Extreme distance shouldn’t apply in elk hunting, but elevation sure might seeing as elk favor mountainous regions.

Maybe you’re a crack shot without a BDC reticle, but a lot of people get good use out of these. The horizontal notches are there to guide a sniper in where to aim when the target is far enough away for bullet drop to be a factor, especially if you need to make a 400 yard shot and already have a neatly mapped out shooting guide for executing it, and your prey as a result.

Some of the more generous BDC reticles also have vertical notches at the sides too, to help calculate windage acting on the bullet mid-flight. This can be perfect if the weather in your preferred hunting grounds often interferes with your otherwise perfectly lined up shots.

What does the term MOA mean?

This is one you’ll see when getting deep into the logistics of how a scope functions, particularly when looking at their turrets and zeroing capacity. MOA means Minute of Angle, and one Minute of Angle is one sixtieth of a degree, translating to one inch at one hundred yards when looking through a scope. 

MOA is considered when adjusting your shots, and scopes that mention MOA capability are boasting the fact that their turrets are so precise that every click when turning them is a 1/4 of an inch. What does this mean? It means if you’re firing at an object one hundred yards away, but any previous shots have fallen two inches short, then you can adjust your aim upwards until you hear eight clicks, four for each inch. The clicking is useful for aiming by ear, and scopes with MOA are the most adjustable when it comes to zeroing in on a target.

Elk Hunting Boots

What you wear on your hunt is important anyway, but we’d argue that it’s the boots that make or break an effective hunting outfit. From supporting quick outdoor movement to overcoming uneven and wild terrain, it’s your boots that you need to get right before anything else you wear, otherwise you likely won’t find elk to shoot.

If you’re wondering what kinds of boots we prefer for elk hunting, you can find a good selection of options here.

What features should I look for in elk hunting boots?

Elk hunting is very physically demanding, mainly due to the fact that many elk here in the States call hilly and mountainous areas their home, meaning you’ll have to contend with uneven slopes that are sometimes slippery, and the cold weather that often affects these areas such as rain and snow.

This means that you’ll want insulation and breathability in equal measure. You don’t want your feet to get too hot and sweaty, where it can become a distraction from your hunt, but you also want to avoid having cold feet that will have the same effect. At the same time you want stability, which often means a heftier boot, but you don’t want to be weighed down too much so that they don’t report loud footfalls and ruin your chances of getting an elk.

It's a balancing act, as you’ve probably noticed, but fortunately we have some elaborations below if you need an idea of where to start.

What materials are best for hunting boots?

There are multiple materials used in any one pair of boots, but we tend to prefer treated leather over synthetic materials. What does this mean? It means you should look for recognisable named leathers such as Nubuck over synthetic materials like Cordura. Leather is naturally strong and waterproof, and takes less time to break in.

Where synthetic materials had an advantage with how breathable they were compared to leather boots, now there’s an abundance of leather hunting boots out there that are treated with GoreTex lining that offer great waterproofing and breathability all at the same time. This not only means leather boots look the part, but they can now also stand toe to toe with synthetic materials when it comes to breathability.

However, the top soles are only part of the shoe, and the soles are the most important part of a hunting boot when it comes to how functional they are during a hunt. Since you’ll likely be treading over all the different terrains that elk venture across, you’ll want a pair of boots that fare well on all sorts of surfaces.

You can’t go wrong with durable and thick rubber, especially if it's multiple different types of rubber making up the soles. This is because hunting boots that aren’t durable are useless and will only distract you when they start coming apart. Next you want them to have high traction to keep you rooted to the floor. This often comes in the form of multidirectional tread patterns that can function on most surfaces.

When it gets muddy, however, you’ll need to rely on the stability of your boots. There are a few things that help with this, such as higher ankle collars to provide ankle support, but it’s mainly all about the lugs. You want your outsoles to be very aggressive, meaning that they have deeper treads and thick lugs that grip slippery surfaces, like mud or snow, by physically biting into them. There’s no better way of anchoring yourself to the ground, especially if tackling downhill slopes.

How much insulation do elk hunting boots need?

You need your boots to be insulated if you’re going to be dealing with the wintry climates that elk are often found in. This cold weather will take a toll on your feet if your boots don’t have sufficient insulation, which can range from 600mg to 1500mg of insulation depending on the rest of the boot and how much insulation you’re after.

Look for reputable brands of thermal insulation like Thinsulate, since these leading competitors tend to have great insulation that isn’t too thick as to throw off the sizing of the boots.

Whilst we’re talking about insulation, we should mention that breathability should be considered at the same time. In keeping your feet warm, you don’t want them to be too warm, otherwise moisture trapped in your boots will interfere with your hunt. Fortunately, GoreTex lining also helps with breathability whilst waterproofing your boots.

Elk Calls

There are such a wide variety of elk calls that it’s important to answer any questions beginning hunters, or even experienced hunters new to elk calling, may have. Elk calling is a hard skill to master for most hunters but rewarding once you get it right, hence why so many hunters buy the right gear and learn the right techniques to improve their hunting prowess.

If that describes you and you need some suggestions on which elk calls you should go for, check out these articles we’ve written about elk calls in general, or the ones we’ve written on diaphragm calls and cow elk calls in particular.

Do I need an elk call?

Elk calls aren’t necessary to hunting, and whilst you can use an elk call all year long, they’re particularly useful before, during, and after the rutting season, which is when elk will “talk” more and so will be more responsive to any noises you make with your calls.

They’re a great piece of equipment to get to grips with if you’re serious about your elk hunting, and you have the choice between diaphragm calls, bugle tubes, and a combination of the two in order to successfully make these noises. We’d say they’re important since the ability to make elk vocalizations, or at least sounds reliably mimicking them, allows you to use elk instincts against them and trick them into coming closer to your rifle or bow.

If hand space is something that’s scaring you away from using calls, there are in-mouth diaphragm calls that can be used without taking up one of your hands, perfect for those who want to keep their hands firmly on their rifle or bow whilst calling elk closer.

Aren’t diaphragm calls hard to use?

Diaphragm calls aren’t the easiest method of expanding your hunting abilities, not by a long shot, but it’s one of the most rewarding investments you can make towards your time as a hunter. Practicing and mastering elk vocalizations is a very tricky process, and even when you do it right there’s still a risk of scaring away particularly skittish elk, but practice makes perfect and those who get to know the language that elk communicate in are usually capable of higher body counts.

Some hunters get by using only diaphragm calls, but once one has mastered those kinds of calls there’s no harm in adding bugle calls, pack calls, or bite calls in order to increase your capability. Different types of calls work better for different elk herds and hunters, so think of it as half a science and half an art. Once you get a feel for it, you’ll know what works best for you and your local elk.

Which materials make the best elk calls?

You’ll find most diaphragm calls will have aluminum frames since it’s an attractive metal for outdoor use, being naturally resistant to the elements thanks to the oxide layer that stops it from sustaining moisture damage. It’s also durable and lightweight, too, making the call have a longer life. It’s also malleable, so you can form it to the inside of your mouth easier whilst still producing the desired sounds.

However, these calls still need to be comfortable and so their metallic segments are often covered by a soft synthetic or rubber coating that’s also water-resistant and adds another layer of protection to them. Latex is also a part of diaphragm and open reed calls, forming the flap that gets manipulated by your tongue and the roof of your mouth to change the sounds you can make.

How far away can you hear an elk bugle?

Knowing details about elk bugling can help you identify and replicate certain sounds, so finding out about those sounds is a good first step to learning this skill. The volume of an elk bugle depends on environmental factors like elevation and the weather at the time, such as how sounds travel further in the evening than they do at day, or travels through colder temperature easier.

Bull elk bugle calls can be heard up to a mile away if the conditions are right. If not it’ll be a few hundred or a few thousand yards depending on the environment they’re bugling in. Unfortunately, your elk calls won’t get anywhere near this distance as they lack the sheer power and acoustics that a bull elk’s massive body can muster. This means you’ll have to get a bit closer in order for your calls to be registered by the local population.

How do you bugle an elk with a diaphragm call?

If you’re using an in-mouth diaphragm call, it can be hard to produce the exact right sound to fool an elk. Train with your call so you’re comfortable with the foreign object being in your mouth. In order to produce a sound, say the word “hiss” and you’ll find your tongue raises up and air is forced through the reeds of the diaphragm call as you come to the “ss” sound.

In order to bugle properly though, you’ll need some acoustics, meaning you’ll want some bugling tubes that can amplify and add some throatiness to the diaphragm’s sound. In order to execute a bugle successfully, you’ll want to follow three steps, beginning with a short, deep growling sound that moves to a high note to make the distinct bugling whistle sound, before coming down to end on a similar growling noise, ensuring an audible growl as this is what distinguishes the sound as a biological one instead of a mechanical one. There’s plenty of tutorials online that can help you nail technique.

How do you chuckle an elk call?

Since elk make a wide variety of sounds in the wild, especially during the rutting seasons when they’re best hunted, you won’t be doing one kind of call into your elk calls. This means you’ll also want to practice the chuckles and grunts that they make, the two often being mistaken for each other by less experienced hunters.

To chuckle an elk call, make a whistling noise through the diaphragm before dropping your jaw to take your tongue off of the latex reed of the diaphragm, adding an exasperated growl during a sharp inhalation. Try this slowly at first, speeding it up to match the usual cadence that elk chuckle with in the wild. If you’re training, be careful when inhaling since you can pull the diaphragm into the back of your mouth, even posing a threat of choking.

Grunts function in the same way as chuckles but instead the growl is deeper and happens less, often just three to five times unlike the ten plus chuckles that elk make.

Will one elk call work for all types of elk?

We wouldn’t count on using just one call, though learning multiple different elk noises can allow you to execute all of these with a simple diaphragm and bugle tube pairing. You need to consider which elk specifically you want to track. Most elk calls are designed to get the bucks of the species, and that’s why you’ll see elk call kits that will mimic the sounds of elk cows and calves to attract bulls during the rutting season. Using multiple calls within a short span of time will simulate herd activity, too, which is a great way to trick the local wildlife since not all of those elk calls can be fake, right? There are even calls out there dedicated to sub-types of different elk species, such as spike elks.

Fortunately, you can get elk call kits that have a lot of adjustable, usually in the form of accompanying bugle tubes with removable baffles, which has the effect of lowering pitch and call range. Across the different brands that supply these calls, you’ll find removable or adjustable components that change the accuracy and control you have over the elk sounds you want to make.

Aren’t there easier ways of attracting elk?

Elk calls require a lot of effort to master and use to great effect during a hunt, but there are some tried and tested hunting tricks that may be more convenient for you. Before we get to those, however, we should mention that electronic elk call simulators exist. These elk hunting calls usually come with a higher price point since they’re high tech devices, but they mimic elk vocalizations with some authenticity.

You won’t get perfect elk calls from them usually, as it’s more natural to use a handheld or in-mouth elk call powered by your own lungs. That said, they can work a treat for those who want to simulate elk sounds with little effort, especially when used in areas where the elk aren’t hunted as much, since they’re less educated on the fake calls hunters make.

If you have the luxury of a hunting ground with a stationary feeder set up, then you can attract elk using deer attractants and all the standard methods of baiting and feeding deer. This may require a lot of patience for the elk to take the bait, as well as anti-scent sprays to ensure the feeder area isn’t contaminated with your scent, and it may take less patience to just learn elk calling yourself, taking the action to the elk instead of waiting for them to come to you.

Hunting Ear Protection

A staple of any responsible firearm hunter, it’s wise to wear ear protectors when firing your gun, especially if you’ll be doing it repeatedly in a short period of time. Preserving one of your five senses should be worth any price, but you’ll be glad to know that we’ve already chosen our favorite ear protectors and written about them here.

It’s also a fun fact that, were you to be close enough, the natural bugling of an elk can be so loud that it can cause damage to human hearing. It’s very unlikely that will happen, you’re nowhere near stealthy enough, but it’s still peace of mind when on the hunt.

Do I need ear protection for hunting?

We’d say yes, absolutely. You can physically hunt without ear protectors, but the possible hearing damage that can be sustained just isn’t worth it. Ear damage happens at sounds of approximately 120 decibels whilst the average gunshot is 140 decibels, and the big-bore rifles can get right up to 175 decibels. These noise levels can perforate a drum if you’re not careful and will still damage your hearing even if you are lucky, so it’s just not worth skipping out on ear protectors.

Are electronic ear protectors better?

Extra functionality is always a good thing and that’s just what you get with electronic ear protectors, assuming you’re comfortable with spending a bit more as these tend to be the higher-end products. In terms of blocking loud noise, electronic ear protectors are more convenient since they have automatic noise cancellation which will allow you to hear your surroundings through them as you normally would, but when you fire your gun they’ll automatically dull the noise.

Electronic ear protectors also have jacks that are capable of connecting to phones or other gadgets that will allow you to listen to audio, whether that be music or podcasts. They’re often easy to use too, having dials on them so you can turn the volume down when the elk get closer.

How are ear protectors rated?

The protective properties of ear defenders are graded through something called the NRR, the Noise Reduction Rating. This is the standardized system of measurement for earmuffs and other forms of ear protection gear but it’s easy enough to understand since it uses decibels to show how efficient ear defenders are at dampening loud noises.

There’s also the OSHA Permissible Noise Exposures which maps out the acceptable decibel exposure for different durations, with the maximum permissible decibel limit decreasing depending on how long you’re exposed to them.

Elk Hunting Broadheads

This last section is one for the traditional bowhunters who still prefer the old-fashioned way of slaying elk. In particular, we’ll be tackling some of the questions that get asked about the broadhead arrows that are best for puncturing elk flesh, since elk skin is tougher than other game and even other animals in the deer family, and there are usually more unknowns with arrow types than bow types.

If you want to know more about specific products in this category, you should check out our article here on our favorite broadheads.

What are the different types of broadheads?

When searching for broadhead types that are available for commercial use, you’ll see that they’re three main designs you can buy. These are the fixed blade broadhead, replaceable blade broadheads, and mechanical broadheads.

Fixed broadheads are perhaps what comes to mind when the average person imagines an arrow, being a shaft with a bladed head attached via screws or a semi-permanent adhesive like glue. The head isn’t intended to be removed or tampered with in any way, and they’re often very sharp and good at piercing solid skin. They often require sharpening more often than other types, and they require a lower pull weight to get the most out of them.

Replaceable broadheads have blades that can be removed to be replaced with newer and sharper ones, which is handy for those who don’t want to sharpen their broadheads as often. However, this can get expensive if you rely solely on replacement blades as that’ll be a continuous purchase that you’ll need to make. The fact they’re replaceable also makes the blades less durable since they’re not screwed into the arrow shaft itself.

Mechanical broadheads are the most technologically impressive where broadheads are concerned. These have retracted blades that spring out mid-flight, meaning they’re both capable of good penetration and capable of flying through the air with minimum air resistance. That said, they’re more expensive and are best used by skilled bowhunters since you need to set up a good shot for these to do their work, otherwise you risk bouncing off or even breakage.

The debate around which arrow types to pick is usually focused on fixed blade broadheads versus mechanical broadheads, since they have the most drastic difference between them. Elk hunters want security in their gear since they need to have faith that their arrow or bullet won’t bounce off of the hide of their prey, and fixed blade broadheads are best for that since they can hit hard enough to break bone.

Mechanical broadheads have superior flight capabilities, however, and so they won’t drift near as much after they have left the bow. They also tend to have larger cutting diameters, great for leaving a thicker blood trail for if your elk survived the first arrow you flung at it. That only applies if the mechanical broadheads connect since they don’t have as much penetrative power as fixed blade broadheads.

What is broadhead grain?

Grains per inch (GPI) is the industry standard when it comes to measuring the weight of arrows, particularly the shaft’s weight. Five grains per inch is generally considered lightweight, with seven as midweight and ten and up being heavy weight.

There is also grains per pound, or GPP, which has very similar parameters that distinguish their weight with light arrows being five to six point five GPP, midweight arrows being six point five to eight, and heavy arrows being over eight.

If not measured out in GPI or GPP, you’ll get a flat grain number, usually numbering in at least three figures. For lightweight carbon arrows you’ll want to go for a 100 grain, and then these grain numbers go from 125 to 300 at the absolute heaviest for Stateside hunting. 

For big game hunting in Africa you can even find broadheads with 500 plus grain for piercing much thicker skin, though we hope that you won’t be encountering a rhinoceros during your elk hunt. If you want to guarantee a great penetration into elk, you can use these 450 to 500 grain broadheads too.

Is a heavier arrow better for hunting?

The ideal weight of your arrow is dependent on the strength of the bow and the game that you’re hunting, and even then, each arrow weight class comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. There is a universal truth to hunting though, and that is that you want to get the animal dead as quickly but humanely as possible. This means having as much penetration as possible, which in turn means you’ll want to lean towards heavier arrows. 

Heavier arrows have more kinetic energy behind them from sheer momentum alone, so a heavy arrow is often relatively unaffected by other factors that would usually apply, such as the strength of your bow and the skin of the animal itself. With elk you’ll want to prefer a heavier arrow over a lighter one.

Why are barbed broadheads illegal?

Barbed broadheads are illegal in many states due to the higher risk they pose to wildlife and the fact they’re deemed to be causing unnecessary pain in the animal. There are many other regulations for arrows too, depending on your state, which preclude certain width cutting edges. Poisonous, drugged, and even explosive arrowheads are also illegal because of similar ethical concerns.

We’d encourage you to read up on the local laws regarding the arrows, your bow, and the practice of hunting in general, all so you can stay inside the law and enjoy your hunt safely and responsibly.