Public Land Elk

A monthly Column from Alpine Archery

We often hear that there are support groups for almost anything out there so I have decided to come clean. Hello, my name is Michael, and I’m an elkaholic. I live all year long for elk season. I am so addicted that I even start counting down the days till the following years elk season as soon as the current season closes. Hunting for elk with a bow on public land can be one of the most challenging hunts I can think of, but also one of the most rewarding. It is both physically and mentally draining. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to be successful at hunting elk on public land with preparations being an ongoing process.

Elk live in tough country so physical conditioning is a must. The average person is only willing to walk a mile past a closed gate or down a trial to find elk. If you are willing to go that extra distance you eliminate 80% of the public and increase your chance for success. Keep in mind that 3 miles in, means 3 miles out and hopefully with an extra load of meat then what you went in with. I don’t feel that there is one conditioning routine that works for everyone as we are all different and our bodies respond differently. I like to mix in swimming and hiking in the mountains for my cardio, and lifting weights for strength training. The key here is to find something that works for you and stick to it. Even if this means a simple routine that you do at your house.

Know the country you are going to hunt. Between Google Earth and topo maps, I spend a lot of time looking at country that I feel will hold elk. The first thing I look for is North Eastern facing timbered slopes away from roads and main trails. These are prime bedding areas for elk. The more distance between roads and main trails the better.

Once I have found an area that I think looks like a good spot for a bedding area, I will start looking for water in that vicinity along with travel routes in and out of this area that will lead to possible feeding areas on open Southern facing slopes. This applies to an area I have hunted before or a new area I am looking at hunting. I am always looking at maps to get a better understanding of these areas to increase my chance for success. Taking the time with this will make your scouting trips more effective and save you time and money in the long run. Mark these spots on both the topo map and also in a GPS. A GPS is a great tool but they don’t work everywhere so basic map reading skills is a must. This can mean the difference between getting lost and getting home.

Scouting is a great time to work on getting your legs, body and lugs ready for the upcoming hunt. Hiking the same area you intend to hunt with a pack on your back gives you a true measure of what to expect and what you will need to do to prepare. Seeing elk while scouting is nice but I tend to look more for rutting sign than I do for animals. Rutting sign I look for is old rubs on trees and old wallows. Old rubs can also give you an idea of the size of bulls that have been in that area in the past. Make sure to mark these areas on the map and on the GPS for future reference. Along with the rutting sign, scouting trips can also show you spots for base camp location along with potential spike camps, depending on how far in you plan to hunt from base camp.

Spike camps save time and allow you to be closer to the areas you intend to hunt. The more time you spend in elk country, the better your chance for success. Glassing from high vantage points will show certain land markers that can be used to navigate your way out when going down into a canyon or bowl after a screaming bull. As the season draws close I tend to spend more time glassing from these spots to see what has moved into the area and their patterns for moving around.

Practicing calling and shooting are two areas I see so many people fail at. Shooting all year long builds confidence in your shooting ability and also shows your effective shooting range. 3d shoots during the summer are great practice at estimating yardages and knowing your equipment. Basically shoot, shoot and shoot some more. Practicing calling is another key that often gets over looked until the week before the season starts. Making elk sounds at critical times can mean the difference between filling that tag and eating it.

Listening to instructional cd’s and mimicking the sounds is a great way to practice. Bugling Bull Game Calls has an instructional cd and dvd that not only explains the meaning of these sounds, but also will teach you how to make them using mouth diaphragm calls as well as external calls. Actual elk sounds are the best sounds to listen to and learn from. Don’t be afraid to record yourself so you can hear how well you are doing.

Hunting elk on public land with good friends is something I live for and spend all year preparing for. It does take time and dedication but the end result is oh so rewarding. Taking the time to prepare for the hunt will make your hunt more enjoyable and increase the ultimate goal: success. As the memories start to build so will the motivation for more success and you may even find yourself in the same position I am, an elkaholic. Don’t worry about it though, there are plenty of support groups out there to feed and fuel this addiction. I can’t think of a better addiction to have.

One Response to "Public Land Elk"

  1. Brady Miller   2011/01/13 at 6:56 pm

    Great article! One cannot beat public land elk hunting. September will be here in the west very soon!!!!