There really are very few things in this world that get a hunter’s heart racing more than a massive bugle of giant bull elk. The sound, especially when close by, sends shivers up one’s spine and gives a person goose bumps all over. It seems to me that even after years of chasing these majestic monsters, the feelings that overtake my body at the sound of bugle has not waned one bit.
Archery hunting an elk is an amazing endeavor. I have hunted all kinds of animals with my bow and very few bring the kind of excitement and adrenaline rush as hunting elk. This is especially true if you have the privilege to hunt an elk during the rut. That is the time of year when the elk bulls are bugling and they become more susceptible to getting arrowed by the prepared archer.
There are all kinds of methods and techniques to hunting elk with the bow. Many people have put all their eggs into one basket as far as their preferred method or approach to an elk hunt. I have found that a well rounded elk hunter will have many approaches to hunting this great animal. I would like to share with you the learning curve and experience of a North Eastern Whitetail hunter turned elk fanatic.
Since that first encounter with an elk 7 years ago, I have been almost mesmerized in my pursuit of the screaming giant. I also have read, watched, and observed everything I could to learn how to become a better elk hunter. After that first year, my pursuit changed to hunting this animal with the bow. The first fall with the bow brought me much experience even though I didn’t harvest a bull elk. The second year brought the success of a cow elk. It also was the year that I ended up moving into elk country in western Colorado. Since that time my learning curve has grown and so has my harvest of both bull and cow elk with the bow.
My first advice on hunting elk may sound trivial, but it is tested and proven. Be ready for anything. I have had elk come running into calls. I have had elk run from calls. I have had elk come to water and I have had elk stay away from water. I have had elk almost step on me and I have elk spot me 500 yards away. All of that experience tells me you have to be ready for anything and you have to be willing to adapt to anything.
I enjoy calling in an elk during the rut. It is like hunting an 800 pound turkey. The similarity of hunting a rut crazed elk to a gobbling turkey is uncanny. I take 5-7 different calls with me into the woods every time I venture after one of these critters. I have learned that each and every bull responds differently to calls. I almost always start off quiet with my calling sequences. I also have moved to a philosophy in which if I know elk are in the area, I often won’t call until I hear them talking first. I used to just call all the time to locate and then set up and call and then repeat. Now I have learned the discipline of silence and waiting. My success has greatly increased since the beginning of my elk hunting days. This is especially true when hunting elk on public land where they have been called to regularly. These wary, over called elk, will often vacate an area at the sound of a call.
So I call, but call wisely. I usually start off with a great diaphragm mouth call like the type made by Bugling Bull Game Calls. I have found this company’s mouth calls to be the best on the market with a large variety of tones and types. I will usually have 3-4 different mouth calls. If I get a receptive bull, I will start to introduce other calls into the game. I will change calls and pitches to give the indication of a bunch of cows. At that point I will usually implement a Bugling Bull Whose YRR Daddy call into the mix and just get ready for that closing bull to show up. I always have a bugle call with me and have had success in using it. But because much of my hunting comes on public land, I am very cautious with a bugle. I have found that there is major damage that can happen with a bugle call on public land. However, if I have a dominant bull that is screaming and isn’t coming, a challenge bugle may be just what the doctor ordered.
If the bulls are hot, then calling is a great tactic. When they are silent, I will often sit on water holes in a tree stand for the day. I will often sit still and quiet on the ground in an area where I know elk live and where they will frequently be. Sometimes it is simply a matter of patience that gets a hunter to a harvest. This is an area in which many hunters have trouble. They just move way too often and way too much. Sitting in the woods for long days is one sure fire tactic to give a hunter a great opportunity.
Another tactic that I implement is to follow elk that are talking and then stalk in on the elk once they seemed to have bedded down or are in a feeding area. I will do this without making any sound at all. It is a great tactic when there is a known bull with a big herd and some constant pesting going on by younger bulls. The busyness of that scene allows a hunter to sneak in close to the bull that is preoccupied.
In all the scenarios I use, a decoy is usually with me. Sometimes a decoy has helped and sometimes it has hindered the hunt. It is just another tool in the tool box that you need to know when and when not to use it. If I have a hot bull on the hook, I will often set out a decoy to just take the attention off of my position and shift it to that decoy. I have found cow elk sometimes get skittish when I use a decoy. Therefore, I don’t always use one, but always have one with me.
Once you are on the bull and he is within range, then it all comes down to the shot. I practice often and at long ranges so that I am equipped to make a shot in that moment of truth. The vitals on a mature bull elk are about 18” x 18”. The double lung shot is the ultimate shot with a bow on an elk. Both of my daughters were with me when I shot a bull elk a few seasons ago at 60 yards. He went about 80 yards after that double lung shot. If you can get a bull elk in range, it is likely you will be experiencing a high level of excitement. At that moment it is all the hours of practice that will enable you to make a shot because it will be second nature.
My approach to elk hunting is very eclectic. I have learned to get almost a feel for the situation and attempt to apply the right method to the situation at hand. Time and experience will help you to learn the right answers to those questions and will also increase your chance at harvesting a good elk.
Any time I head out into the woods to hunt a Screaming Giant I have one of my Bear Archery Bows in hand. I will be carrying my Agenda 7 and, at times, my Anarchy HC into the woods this fall when my pursuit of elk once again begins. Until that time I will be shooting my bows, scouting, fine tuning my Ultimate Steel Broadheads, and getting in shape to climb the hills.