Bowhunting Elk: The Basics

Posted by: Tracy Breen on Aug 21, 2012
Page 1 of 3

If you are an avid bowhunter, you have probably dreamed of going on an elk hunt.  Whether it was seeing elk country on TV or reading about elk hunting in magazines, most hardcore bowhunters get hooked on the idea and eventually take a trip West to chase the wapiti. 
Elk are just giant turkeys that live in tough terrain.  I say that half joking.  Elk are vocal animals like wild turkeys and respond to calling in similar fashion.  If you are a good turkey hunter, with a little practice, you can also be a good elk hunter. If you have mastered turkey mouth calls, you can quickly master elk mouth calls. After you have calling mastered, you are headed in the right direction but a long way from gripping and grinning with a bull of a lifetime.

Calling in a bull can be difficult because they are notorious for hanging up just outside of bow range. Bringing a bull that last ten or twenty yards is what can take years to figure out.  Al Morris figured it out.  Morris works for FoxPro Game Calls and has won many elk calling championships.  He has called in dozens of bulls across the West.  “If there are two guys hunting together, one should hang back and do the calling,” Morris said  “Most successful hunters have the caller fifty yards or further behind the shooter.  When a bull comes in, he walks right past the shooter.  When hunting alone, I suggest hunters rely mainly on cow talk and turn their head in different directions to make the bull believe the cow is leaving or moving around in the timber.  When a bull hears a cow calling form the same spot repeatedly, he gets nervous.  Liven things up by calling with some excitement and by sounding like you are moving around.”

Another option is not calling at all.  I killed a bull in New Mexico a few years ago by quietly slipping through the brush looking for bulls.  I glassed a lot, walked for hours, and eventually slipped in on the bull pictured.  I didn’t call.  Most Eastern bowhunters believe stalking an animal like an elk is extremely difficult.  It isn’t difficult; you just need a little luck and a lot of patience.  If I can do it, anyone can!

TB 1

The author with his New Mexico Bull.
One of the least discussed but most important subjects that should be covered while elk hunting is physical fitness.  Elk live in steep, nasty places where the air is thin, the terrain is unforgiving and if you are from the East, you will surely get your butt kicked unless you work out ahead of time.  I have cerebral palsy so I must do everything I can before elk season to prepare myself.  The last time I went elk hunting, I went on a diet, lifted weights and hiked with a 40-pound pack on my back.  It still wasn’t enough.  I was sucking wind the first three days of my New Mexico elk hunt.  You won’t be able to kill an elk if you are at camp most of the time because you can’t breathe or hike.  If you want to kill an elk, get into shape months before heading West.

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Tracy Breen

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