Starting off with big games like elk hunting can be both overwhelming and confusing in the beginning. Starting with the preparation for the trip to your return with successful hunts, including everything in between, is exciting.
However, things can go really bad if you aren’t prepared with both hunting gear and the elk knowledge. If you’re just getting first-hand, some elk hunting tips for beginners from veteran hunters can help you big time.
Let’s get some of the most essential things straight with the Elk Hunting Basics before you head out and start shooting.
How Hard Is It To Hunt Elk?
When it comes to hunting elk, it’s extremely harder to get one, compared to hunting a deer. With a success rate of only 10% combining all weapons and elk hunters, you can imagine how hard the game is. Only 15% of the hunters usually return successful each hunting seasons, and that alone points to how much luck you need. And if you exclude the rag horns, cows, spikes, and mature bull, the rate could come down to 3%, or even less.
The denser muscles and higher pace of elk make them faster, more endure, and most of all, hard to kill. On top of that, elk usually blend into the background, making it harder to pinpoint a shot. However, on the bright side, they usually travel in small packs. And that will make thighs a little smoother to get at least one shot right.
A Note About Elk Hunting
Before you go for the hunt, you must apply for a local government permit for hunting elk. Since elk is a protected species and unauthorized hunting is highly regulated, you must keep the permission papers with you. Local rangers may ask for it at any time.
Although you can apply for expensive multiple hunting licenses, as a beginner, that’s not necessary. Depending on which state or province you’re hunting in, know about hunting rules and other local regulations regarding elk hunting.
10 Useful Elk Hunting Tips For Beginners
Elk hunting is not only about making the right move while taking the shot, but also preparing yourself for the game. Despite the odds in elk hunting, if you follow the right procedure, you can expect pretty good results. Here are the 10 most important elk hunting tips for beginners that can help you get better at it:
Get your hunting pack ready
First off, get your things ready before you head out on your elk hunting trip. Depending on how far and how long you’re staying out and how you’re hunting, your packing list could be different. But as a rule of thumb, you’ll need the following things for sure:
- Have a map of your hunting ground (both printed and digital)
- Have a backup communication device like a Garmin Mini
- Extra clothing is necessary (make sure they’re hunting ready).
- A rain jacket and a waterproof backpack to keep things safe
- A sleeping bag (lightweight and retractable into the backpack)
- Triple check your hunting license and the federal papers (if necessary)
- Extra pair of socks and latex gloves while having a pair of boots with strong traction
- Good quality tripod, a sharp knife, and a long parachute cord.
Write the whole plan down
You’re going out hunting, and that requires a thorough plan if you want to be successful. Since it involves danger, your family needs to know what you’re up to, using something to follow you with. Prepare a plan which will include all your stoppages, destinations, and other activities, including your partners’ details (if any).
Once you have the plan, keep it with you and give a copy of it to your family or loved ones. In case they lose your contact, they can send a rescue team or inform the local authority. It’ll not only help you stick to the plan, but also keep your family worry free.
Choose your hunting gun or bow
The weapon choice for hunting elk can be either guns or bows. Bull elk is a big animal with heavy muscle under thick skin, let alone their endurance. Therefore, you need a heavy gun or a bow that can penetrate through the heavy bones of the elk. If you’re going with a hunting bow, make sure that it’s made for big games.
It can be anywhere between 400 and 600 grains, depending on how experienced you are with the bow. However, don’t forget the arrow trajectory will have significant downhill with a heavy arrow. Therefore, 475 or 500 grain arrows should be ideal.
As for the gun, choose a bolt action rifle with controlled expansion designs instead of a pump or lever action. Penetrating elk skin and muscle is harder than other deer species, and you need the right bullet for that.
You can choose regular elk cartridges from .270 to the newer .300 Weatherby Magnum. These are heavy bullets, appropriate for wild game, but they need a skillet to operate. Choose bullets that are designed for elk hunting and be comfortable operating your gun.
Get your optics correct
Choosing the right optics is as important as the rifle itself, especially for elk hunting. You’ll need extensive scouting and long range shooting, which require the right tools. Go for both a binocular, and a good quality scope, alongside a rangefinder.
Best if you can get them waterproof to withstand harsh weather that includes rain fog. Plus, make sure the scope has a weatherproof mechanism inside as well. A nitrogen purged anti-fog inner tube is mandatory when you have to deal with fog and rain.
Check the weight
As for the gun, you must get a lightweight one, that’s the first rule, but without compromising power of course. Remember that whenever you attach the scope, the overall weight will go up. Plus, you’re going to climb steep hills on unforgiving, harsh terrains, which might make it even harder to carry the weight.
Have a synthetic stock rather than a wooden end, as it’s both lighter, stronger, and good at its job. For the scope size, a basic 3-9×40 magnification should be enough for elk hunting. This much magnification is good enough for whitetails, mule deer, and other deer species including elk.
Have a good elk bugle (elk call)
You may not be familiar with using an elk bugle, also known as cow call, but savvy hunters use it all the time. Therefore, you should also get your hands on this thing and learn to use it for good. Using an elk call can give you a huge advantage, especially in the rutting season, to call the male elk.
Also have a good diaphragm to use with the bugle to amplify the sound if necessary. There are different types of bugles you can find on the market that make different types of noise. Certain type of hunting require different levels of skill to use. Experienced hunters can help you learn the best method to attract the right elk.
Take an experienced person with you
As mentioned earlier, hunting elk is not as easy as it is for other similar species. You need some solid experience to ensure a hunt without failed attempts. Besides, there will be situations where you cannot just figure out what comes next. An experienced hunting partner can be a big help in such uncertain situations.
If you cannot manage a partner for your trip, you can join another team, for the first season at least. There will be harsh weather conditions and odd hunting situations where experience is the biggest asset. Be prepared for every moment of the trip and make sure you learn to trust your gut feelings.
Scout for the hunt (and the area)
Elks usually move in packs while looking for food, migrating, or just walking around. Therefore, scouting one will lead you to another possible hunt if you can follow the trail properly. You can also find them by locating their habitat area and food, as well as their footprints or left dung.
For a general idea, you can find elks in the deep forest where they usually live. Like other deer kinds, elk migrate to the lower elevation area in the cold winter and go back to the higher altitude in the spring. Scout the hunting spot, and stay out of acute mountain sickness (AMS).
Know the elk rutting season
The best time to find an easy game for elk hunting is their rutting season when they mate. You can attract the male elks easily by making a sound with your bugle. The same goes for the female elks as you can make different sounds to attract female elks. Having multiple bugles comes into play in this phase because different size and age cows make different sounds.
For the season, the peak will be mid-september to mid-october if you’re hunting in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Although it’s usually often to hear elk bugles also in November, the main season is september-october. It’s the same for Colorado until you move to far Arizona. In Arizona, the rutting season would be mid-August. If you talk with successful elk hunters or the local people, you can get a better understanding of this.
Understand their movement and pattern
Elks move high in the mountains when it’s winter, as mentioned earlier. Plus, their food and movement patterns are also important to know. Male elks get aggressive in rutting seasons and get ready to fight other male rivals to get their place. Therefore, they rub their antlers with trees to sharpen them up, and on the ground for polishing.
That way, it doesn’t only get ready, but also leaves his scent to attract the female cow. You can find such areas where they rub or make a mess and look around for the hunt. Never go for a shot without you being 100% sure about the hunt, or you may not return successful.
Now that you have the elk hunting tips for beginners, things will be much easier when you get into the wild. One thing never to forget about is safety and hunting best practices. Beware of hunting laws, stay away from private land, and stick to public land with access for hunting for a successful hunt. As a first-time elk hunter, take some online courses, do physical training, and choose the mating season for best chances.
Be sure there’s no other hunter in the line of fire, and shoot the elk only when the kill zone is clear. Follow the elk hunting for dummies, never shoot it on muscles and aim for the heart/lung for a quick kill. That way, you can both ensure a kill and don’t have to let the elk escape injured.