elk hunting

Elk Hunting Tips and Tactics Leave a comment

For each American whitetail hunter, Western elk looking is aspirational, calling to them the best way Cooperstown calls to a Little Leaguer. The impossibly heavy and branching antlers of bulls are as alluring because the hovering mountains the place they dwell, and the mythology of elk is crammed with Western romance: canvas wall tents, the creaking leather-based of pack trains, and frosty mornings at timberline. And due to reintroductions and vary enlargement, elk are doing nicely throughout a lot of their vary. However elk looking within the West is just not essentially straightforward, and even inexpensive for a lot of hunters. Simply as Main League Baseball stays stubbornly out of attain for many of us.

So in the event you’re planning your first elk hunt or in the event you’re a brand new elk hunter hoping to search out success, it’s best to learn our elk looking information. We’ve rounded up the ideas, techniques, and data you’ll must a minimum of get within the recreation. 

Learn how to Get an Elk Looking Tag

Although there are hundreds of thousands of acres of public land all through elk nation, attaining a high quality elk tag is just not all that easy. There are three routes an elk hunter can go. You should buy an over-the-counter tag, you may apply for restricted draw hunts (ideally in a number of Western states every year), or you may rent an clothes shop and get your tag by means of them. Every of those routes has its personal set of execs and cons. Right here’s what it’s best to learn about every. 

Over the Counter Tags 

Bauserman with an OTC tag. Jace Bauserman

This sort of tag is what it feels like. You merely present up on the sporting items retailer counter (or extra seemingly, the state wildlife division web site) and purchase your license and tag. It’s just like what deer hunters within the East are used to when shopping for deer tags.  


No ready interval

You possibly can receive a tag yearly

Life like objectives can result in success

Most OTC items have numerous public lands


Excessive looking strain

Decrease high quality bulls

Vital funding for low odds

Demanding bodily hunt

I’ve been looking elk for 25 years, and in all however 5 of these years, I’ve gone the OTC public land DIY route. This sort of elk looking is tough to beat. You purchase an elk tag at Walmart, present as much as an space, hope the trailhead isn’t too crowded, and get after it. Most OTC tags are archery tags, however Colorado nonetheless affords resident and non-resident rifle tags for some seasons. 

It’s important to remain on high of every state’s OTC language, because it varies. Some western states have OTC tags with caps, which suggests tags go on sale on a selected day dictated by the state’s wildlife fee, after which they’re gone. OTC tags with caps promote out rapidly, so know your dates and make a plan.

Count on heavy hunt strain, even far off the crushed path, and set reasonable objectives. When looking elk in an OTC space, I shoot the primary authorized bull that provides me a possibility. These prepared to wander (and with horses) can nonetheless discover pockets of public-land elk nirvana, however it’s getting more durable and more durable to return by.

OTC Elk Looking Tip

Don’t overlook areas near entry roads. I don’t go deep too usually anymore. Except I do know the world nicely, I camp near my truck every evening and keep extremely cellular. I want diving into deep holes near entry roads that the majority hunters cross by. 

Restricted Entry and Lottery Tags

Executive editor Natalie Krebs took this elk with Federal Premium Terminal Ascent 200-grain .300 Win. Mag.
Government editor Natalie Krebs after a profitable limited-entry elk hunt. Natalie Krebs

This sort of software is basically placing your identify within the hat and hoping it will get picked. Annually you don’t get picked helps you construct choice factors, which enhance your probabilities of getting picked subsequent season. States range in how they run their restricted entry hunts, so this route requires numerous good analysis. 


Much less hunt strain

Higher animal high quality

Higher bull-to-cow ratio


Elevated strain to succeed

Requires researching odds

Drawing retains getting extra aggressive

Lengthy-term funding that may change into costly

I had restricted entry tags in my pocket for the 5 years I didn’t hunt OTC. Some took two years to attract, and one took ten. The standard of the animals within the unit usually dictates how tough the tag is to attract. You possibly can hunt OTC in some states and nonetheless put in for the annual restricted drawing, and I encourage this follow and the constructing of choice factors every year. 

It is best to have completely different objectives and expectations whenever you pull a restricted entry or lottery tag. Do the analysis, discover out what class of bulls the unit is understood for, and set your sights on one. Be sure you community with different hunters, primarily in the event you draw a premium unit that took ten years or extra. Most hunters will share intel on these items as a result of they know they received’t be looking it once more anytime quickly. Social media has its downfalls, however it’s glorious for networking. 

It’s vital to recollect the better the tag was to attract, the extra looking strain there shall be, so plan accordingly. It’s additionally vital to grasp that you just’ll seemingly have to attend years earlier than drawing. It prices cash to use every year. When you begin placing in with a state, you’ll wish to proceed getting into the lottery till you draw so that you just lastly money in in your funding. Due to this, you’ll wish to do deep analysis about which states to use with and which season and unit to concentrate on. Memberships like Go Hunt and Rolling Bones are helpful for reducing down the analysis time.   

Restricted Draw and Lottery Tip

Time shall be your greatest good friend. Do no matter you should do forward of the hunt to make sure you get as a lot time within the subject as attainable. I’ve seen hunters wait 20 years to attract a tag, suppose the hunt shall be a cakewalk. Then they encounter a drought or low elk density resulting from winter mortality, and want extra time to discover a high quality bull.

Hiring an Clothes shop

jace bauserman
Bauserman with a 330-inch bull on an outfitted hunt. Jace Bauserman

Some outfitters are assured a sure variety of tags, so you should buy your complete hunt (together with the tag) from them. Different outfitters will information you after you draw a restricted entry tag by yourself. Some outfitters information on personal ranches, others in public wilderness. The general public-land outfitters usually make the most of horses to pack their hunters in deep, past the place most different public-land hunters can journey on their very own. 


Entry to personal floor more often than not

High quality animals

Clothes shop is aware of the nation, and the elk

Improved success charge

Not as bodily more often than not

Clothes shop packs the animal out (usually on horses)



Clothes shop high quality varies significantly

I’ve gone on a number of guided elk hunts, and I like them. Many unbelievable elk outfitters throughout the West exist in the event you analysis and sift by means of the weeds. Most high quality outfitted elk hunts will value over $10K, and that value will solely proceed to extend. If in case you have the means, go for it. In the event you don’t, another choice is to work with an clothes shop to make a down fee, and lock of their present value. Then pay them every year till you can also make the hunt a actuality. 

I spend over $2,000 elk looking DIY-style every year in Colorado and dwell within the state. Most out-of-state hunters will spend near $4,000. In actuality, nearly all elk looking goes to be costly. Going with clothes shop, doesn’t assure success, however you’re more likely to be in elk, study lots, and have a heck of time. In the event you save for 3 or 4 years, you can also make an outfitted or semi-outfitted hunt occur.

Clothes shop Tip

Ask numerous questions and ask for references. You’re the buyer. Any good clothes shop can reply all of your questions and supply a listing of references a mile lengthy. 

Elk Looking Gear

elk hunting gear
Don’t overthink elk looking gear. Jace Bauserman

Skilled elk hunters depend on plenty of specialised gear once they backpack deep into the backcountry. However the fact is, a lot of the gear you employ for deer looking will work high quality on an elk hunt. Nonetheless there are some issues you might want to take into account. Learn our full roundup on the most effective elk looking gear. 


You’ll need boots that let you hike steep nation with out getting blisters or rolling an ankle. Likewise, you’ll want boots that assist you whenever you’re loaded down with a heavy pack. Right here’s our information to the most effective elk looking boots. 


The backpack you select is determined by the kind of elk hunt you’re planning on doing. In the event you’re backpacking in, you’ll want a big pack to hold your gear and (hopefully) numerous meat on the best way out. In the event you’re tenting and looking nearer to the truck, you will get away with a smaller pack, however it nonetheless must be a succesful meat hauler. Learn our assessment of the most effective looking backpacks.

Rifles & Ammo

There’s likelihood that your favourite deer rifle and cargo will work simply high quality on an elk hunt. However in the event you’re dying to have a brand new setup, learn our information to the most effective elk looking rifles and greatest elk calibers. 


Broadhead choice is determined by the bow you’re taking pictures. Usually, archers taking pictures a heavier draw weight can go for mechanical broadheads whereas hunters taking pictures a decrease draw weight ought to shoot a fixed-blade head. Learn our assessment of the most effective broadheads for elk. 

Basic Elk Looking Suggestions

A herd of elk mills around on a snowy plain.
A herd of elk mills round within the snow. John Hafner

4 distinct subspecies of elk at present roam North America. By far probably the most quite a few and extensively distributed of them is the Rocky Mountain elk, which may be present in mountains and adjoining habitats from Arizona north to the Yukon. The Roosevelt elk lives within the wet forests of the Cascades and Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. California’s inside valleys and remnant swamps are residence to the uncommon tule elk, which is creeping again from the brink of extinction. And the Manitoba elk lives within the northern woodlands of the Canadian defend and the St. Lawrence River.

Regardless of the place they dwell, elk like open meadows however can tolerate dense forest—and they’re going to flee to the densest, most distant timbered pockets every time they really feel threatened. Hunters ought to key on these edge habitats, the place elk emerge to feed at twilight.

Establishing on meadows is an effective plan, assuming the animals arrive as scripted. In the event you want a extra energetic kind of looking, climb to a lookout and use optics to search out elk after which work out a stalk that will get you inside vary. Pay cautious consideration to the wind, all the time preserving it in your face. Shifting winds have saved the lives of extra elk than all of the habitat conservationists collectively.

Particularly within the mountains, elk migrate alongside historical corridors that ship them from higher-elevation summer time ranges to extra hospitable winter ranges. As soon as snow piles up, intercept elk alongside these routes. Or you may bowhunt through the rut and name bugling bulls into bow vary.

There’s a sound cause most archery seasons for elk open in early September. These short-range looking alternatives are timed to coincide with the rut, the breeding season when mature bulls collect and defend giant breeding harems of cows from interlopers.

In follow, it’s not fairly really easy. Typically calling spooks elk, different occasions it attracts solely immature bulls (known as spikes or raghorns). However when it really works, calling a bull into bow vary is like conjuring a cage fighter. I do know of nothing else in looking that compares to having an 800-pound (363-kg) bull come operating to your name, wild-eyed and heaving, thrashing brush together with his exceptional antlers, calling you out to battle. —Andrew McKean

Suggestions for Looking Public Land Elk

elk hunting
Public land OTC elk looking is tough work, particularly after the bull is down. Jace Bauserman

The mission was a Colorado/Wyoming public-land archery elk hunt with over-the-counter tags. There have been three of us — two with Colorado tags and one with a stamp from the Cowboy state. Looking on Colorado’s northcentral border was our greatest choice, since it might reduce down on drive time between states and provides us extra time within the subject. The planning was accomplished. Now it was time to execute. Right here’s what we discovered. —Jace Bauserman 

All the time be Able to Discover New Floor

One factor we’ve discovered, particularly when chasing public-land elk in closely pressured OTC items, is to not get married to a spot simply because it’s produced up to now. Verify it once more? Presumably, however provided that there’s a logical cause to take action. Time is valuable. Don’t be afraid to strike out and have a look at new nation. On the flipside, simply since you don’t hear elk and don’t see any shooters, don’t write an space off. If the signal says elk are within the space, belief it. Elusive bulls are inclined to go quiet when looking strain ramps up. 

Set Up In Entrance of Cowl, Not Behind It

Too many bowhunters hinder themselves by establishing behind cowl. Get in entrance of canopy and provides your self taking pictures choices. Don’t be glad to get a bugle and setup. Except the bull is true on high of you, get your self ready the place you may execute a shot. If attainable, get parallel with the bull on even floor.

Be Ready for a Frontal Shot

I solely advocate taking this shot in the event you’ve accomplished research of an elk’s anatomy and also you’re tremendous assured in your tools. I cannot take this shot past 20 yards. (Learn the place to shoot an elk, right here). 

Public-land OTC elk have a tendency to maneuver to closely timbered areas, and sometimes once they come to research a name, they may merely stick their entrance half by means of cowl. Having the ability to execute this shot is commonly the distinction between meat for the grill and a sob story.

Study the Panorama

Don’t be a unit jumper. It takes time, usually years, to study a unit. So long as the unit holds elk, hold investing time. The extra deeply you recognize a unit, the extra success you’ll have.

Elk hunting private land.
Elk herds usually congregate on personal land the place there may be much less looking strain. John Hafner

Know The place the Elk Will Go

Pressured elk love deep drainages, benches (flat spots that give method to steep vertical terrain) and areas the place seemingly impenetrable timber offers method to small open meadows the place they will feed.

Study a Diaphragm Name 

Have the ability to make reasonable cow and bull vocalizations. Watch YouTube movies of high callers like Corey Jacobsen, after which try to mimic his sounds. Report your calling and be trustworthy with your self about the way you sound. Having the ability to really sound like an elk will set you other than the lots.

Be Unselfish

I extremely advocate going into the elk woods with a three-man group of buddies. Killing a bull is a group effort. Even whenever you’re not behind the bow, be engaged. Except you’re a map, get off your cellphone. Instagram can wait! Your job is to be scanning the timber, calling, working the decoy, checking the wind (and being a pack mule after the hunt is profitable).

Be Ready for the Packout

Elk are big-bodied animals. In the event you plan to pack them out in your again, ensure you have got a backpack able to the job. Additionally, know the best way to bone-out meat. You don’t wish to pack pointless weight. Distribute meat into recreation luggage. Nobody particular person needs to be hauling extra weight than one other.

Preserve Your Power

When there may be downtime within the woods … sleep. Working into city to bathe and do laundry is a pleasant noon aid, and it’s one other advantage of not packing in deep.

All the time Consider

Elk looking is hard. If there’s one tip I may give to the public-land OTC bowhunter, it’s this: By no means give up. Simply hold going and good issues will occur.

Learn how to Name Elk

A hunter in camo and cowboy hat using a hunting call.
Carlton bugles to a high-country bull within the mountains above Craig, Colorado. Andrew McKean

In one other lifetime, Wayne Carlton may need been a carnival barker. He has that method of hooking you, yodeling or catcalling to catch your consideration in a crowd after which preserving it with a barely ribald joke or curious flip of phrase. You may acknowledge Carlton from his profession as a pitchman for Hunter Specialties, his Southern accent purring from beneath a cowboy hat as he describes how his newest name will flip trophy bulls inside out and convey turkeys operating from the following township. He’s again in enterprise together with his Native by ­Carlton model, and he nonetheless has a lot to say.

Outside Life: You could have talked about setting the stage for a dialog with elk. What do you imply by that?

Wayne Carlton: If you blow a name, you’d higher have some concept of what you count on the reply to be. You possibly can’t stumble by means of the woods blowing a name and count on to create a dialog. One of many first bulls I ever known as in was on Purple Mountain Cross in Colorado. I walked at the hours of darkness to the crest, about 12,000 ft above sea stage, and I waited for the wind to show from blowing downhill to blowing uphill earlier than I blew a name. I knew that any bull under me couldn’t scent me, and that they couldn’t resist answering an elk uphill of them. It labored. I had a bull begin raking bushes, and I used to be in a position to spot him and residential in on him.

OL: So how do you advance the dialog?

WC: With that Colorado bull or any animal you’re calling to, don’t wait between their name and your name. The second they cease responding, you blow one other name in order that they don’t have time to suppose or to doubt. You simply get them to reply instinctively by getting of their head. That Purple Mountain bull would rake that tree and bugle, and I’d already be able to blow a bugle on high of his. It simply revved him as much as the purpose the place he needed to react by coming to me. That’s the essence of recreation calling. With bears, so long as you retain calling, they hold coming. However in the event you ever cease, they do too.

OL: However what about pressured animals who’ve heard weeks of calling? Don’t you threat overcalling?

WC: Pressured bulls might have heard all of the wimpy bugles and reedy cow calls that everyone else blows, however I’ll gentle up an space with very high-pitched calls, simply squeaky-thin screams, and I’ll get responses from mature bulls. If doubtful, simply torque the pitch. Excessive-pitched calling works with turkeys, predators, hogs…

hunters walking through the woods while calling elk
Crisp locator bugles are sometimes the important thing to getting a bull to hold forth. Adam Amick

OL: How a lot emotion do you construct right into a name? Or is it simply hitting the suitable be aware on the proper time?

WC: Have you ever ever heard an digital caller? These digital sound information are precisely the suitable sound. However they don’t have any intonation or cadence. The right be aware delivered with out emotion is ineffective. You possibly can blow the flawed be aware on a diaphragm or tube name, however in the event you do it with depth and feeling, and quicken the cadence, you will get to animals which may not reply to 80 to 90 % of “canned” calls. The distinction is that you just sound pressing. If doubtful, name sooner and with extra feeling, and also you’ll get animals to reply.

OL: Okay, however even you must admit that there are some animals which can be merely uncallable. Proper?

WC: I hate to confess it, however sure. We hunters suppose the world revolves round us. We’ve got evening in a snug mattress after which go looking after a cup of espresso, and we count on the world to be in the identical scenario. However an enormous herd bull might have been rutting and preventing all evening, and we present up at daybreak and count on him to play in line with our guidelines? You by no means know what kind of evening the animal you have an interest in had earlier than you confirmed up together with your excellent name. Some animals are by no means going to return to your name, and it’s just because they produce other priorities.

OL: What’s the largest mistake elk callers make?

WC: They hold blowing their single excellent name. You may need the world’s sweetest cow chirp or the most effective immature bull chuckle on the planet, however it’s not what an enormous, mature bull desires to listen to. That you must have an entire vary at your disposal so if one name doesn’t work, one other one may, and also you want the braveness to strive it. That, and you might want to pour emotion and cadence into any calls. In the event you try this, have a variety of calls at your disposal, and may make them sound pressing and good, you’ll name in elk and every other animal that decides to carry a dialog with you. You simply should be conversationalist. In the event you don’t have something to say, why on earth would they arrive to you?

READ NEXT: Greatest Elk Looking Calls

Elk Looking Form

Many new elk hunters severely underestimate the bodily problem of a DIY elk hunt (or perhaps a guided hunt for that matter). If profitable, you’ll should pack lots of of kilos of meat off the mountain. If the climate is sizzling, you’ll have to do that rapidly or the meat will seemingly spoil. So it’s important for elk hunters to be bodily match. The underside line is that this: That you must be able to mountaineering steep terrain (presumably with a heavy pack), at elevation, for days on finish. 

One of the best ways to coach for that is merely to hike the hills as a lot as you may. Past that, right here’s our information for moving into elk looking form.

Q&A: Solutions to Your Elk Looking Questions

colorado elk hunters
Mountain climbing into the snow on the primary day of a Colorado elk hunt. Tess Rousey

When is elk looking season?

In most locations, archery elk looking season begins in early September. Relying on the state and unit, the season can run into November and even December.

What states have elk looking?

All Western states have elk looking seasons. Nonetheless many of those states require hunters to attract a tag. Some Jap states with reintroduced elk herds even have elk hunts, prime examples being Pennsylvania and Tennessee. 

How a lot does it value to go elk looking?

Totally guided elk hunts can value from about $8,000 as much as $15,000 or extra. Guided hunts proceed to get costlier every year. DIY hunts are extra inexpensive. A resident elk license in Colorado prices about $63. Nonetheless, when you add in meals, gear, fuel, and different bills, you may count on to spend a minimum of $1,000 to $3,000 on a DIY hunt.

What rifle to make use of for elk looking? 

At first, use a rifle you may shoot precisely. Medium-sized calibers just like the .270 Winchester or 6.5 Creedmoor are high quality selections for elk looking. Many hunters want taking pictures a bigger .30-caliber rifle for elk. Ideally, the rifle shall be gentle sufficient to hold within the mountains and maneuverable when stalking by means of the timber. 

A caravan of hunters in the snow while hunting bull elk.
After securing the third and closing set of elk quarters, von Benedikt leads the loaded pack prepare again to the path. Natalie Krebs

Remaining Ideas on Elk Looking

Competitors for elk tags is hard lately. You might spend a lifetime ready to win that particular restricted entry tag, or you may hunt over-the-counter yearly (albeit with low odds for efficiently punching that OTC tag). A sensible wager for many non-resident elk hunters is to use for items which have comparatively excessive odds of drawing each few years. That method you get to hunt each few seasons and study extra about elk looking. There’s additionally the nice choice of cow-only hunts. Then at some point, whenever you do draw that particular restricted tag, you’ll be able to put all that data to make use of. 

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