#1 An Elk Hunt Is A Physical Workout
Be physically ready! Sitting in your home each week prior to the hunt we all dream about the possibilities and hopes and that we all have for a great hunt with a big bull down in front of us. Keep up the dreams, but get into physical shape to give your all on the hunt. Nothing can prepare you for hunting at 7,000 feet and above, but you can do all kinds of exercises to be prepared for the rigors of the hunt. Start walking, then perhaps running. If you can’t run, then put on your backpack and find the closest hills and start marching up and down the hills. DO NOT hike on cement or blacktop. There is nothing like hiking over deadfalls and rocky terrain to tear up your feet if you have not practiced on uneven terrain. There are golf courses and even small hills that you can practice on. Get to the point where you can physically hike a MINIMUM of 2 hours with your backpack on and loaded with your gear. You owe it to yourself and to the animal you are hunting to give it your best effort.
#2 Push The Limits On Accuracy By Practicing Often
Your hunting permit (which some consider a gift from the Gods) will dictate your weapon of use. Be completely familiar with your weapon! This means a lot of hours either at a gun range or a bow range dedicating yourself to the skill your weapon demands. Practice in all kinds of positions and all kinds of lighting. I once had a miserable hunt in the best unit that Arizona offers for trophy class Mule deer. I had practiced from a shooting bench or off my bi-pod. The country I hunted offered miles of sage and no spots to lean against anything for support. I wound up emptying my gun twice trying to shoot off hand at 400 yards. Be ready and familiar with your weapon. Find an commit to the time necessary to practice. So many times we all have excuses for doing something other than practicing with our bows or rifles. If you are only drawn once every 7 years for a tag then make sure the skill set you had seven years ago is not eroded. It can happen! Along with your bow or rifle, practice calling for elk. I try and add a new call each year to my arsenal of different calls. For a couple of years Primos Hoochie Mama was the rage. Then it seemed as if I could hear the Hoochie Mama being used by someone across the way in every drainage I was working. The Hoochie Mama is a great tool, but just make sure it is not your only tool. I think that elk get accustomed to someone using just one call and they tend to get leery pretty quickly. Change your tone, your pitch and even the length of the call. Consider it as if it were a new language and you were trying to get as many new words as possible. Using a different call can sometimes turn quiet bulls into screamers if the pitch is what they want to hear. Practice using new calls until you feel confident and comfortable with them.
#3 Know The Lay Of The Land During The Off Season
Visit your hunt unit before the hunt! There is nothing like knowing the lay of the land prior to opening day. Most hunting units have a minimum of a couple thousand square miles. Get familiar with as much of the land as you possibly can. Know where the roads are, know where the animals feed and where they come and go to. The week-ends that you can visit your hunt unit will allow you to also achieve some of the physical conditioning that is necessary and you can see if any patterns have changed from the last time you visited that area. Water sources and food sources change many times. A fire will move animals around and in Arizona in particular fires have driven many animals out of areas for extended periods of time. Try and talk to local people who have a knowledge of the area that you will be hunting. Know where the boundaries are for your unit and be sure of where you are in that unit!
The 5 Phases of Elk Hunting
Other Helpful Tips
#4 Successful Elk Hunts Hinge On Good Binoculars
“ It is far better to wear out the seat of your pants than the soles of your boots.”
You can always find a high spot in any unit and I suggest that you climb to the top of it and park your butt at just before first light. A seat pad is always the best thing to bring with you because you should be sitting for an extended period of time glassing for elk. Elk move early and late from bedding to feeding and vice versa. During the rut they will be more active as the bulls are trying to lure in the ladies, but glassing allows you to view elk from a distance that does not cause them to be spooked. Along with binoculars, I really suggest a tripod with a good base to view through. I have watched people hand hold their binoculars and I know that they cannot stay focused for very long since the weight of the binoculars eventually causes them to either start shaking or simply put them down so they can rest. Using the right type of binoculars is critical for what you are trying to accomplish.
If you are stalking and working your way towards a bull then lightweight 10 X 42 binoculars are great. If you are glassing from a distance then a spotting scope is awesome to have but you can substitute 15 X 56 binoculars as an alternative.
Investing in good glass carries a steep price tag. However, you only have to buy them once and they will last darn near forever. I prefer Swarovski but there are many others that can do the job. Practice using the binoculars for extended periods of time. You will find over time that animals just seem to pop out at you. Look for movement or a leg or tail or even antlers. The more you practice the better you will become at finding animals on any hillside or in any drainage.
#5 Backup Equipment Will Save The Day Hunting Elk
Prepare your equipment for the hunt and make sure that all of the items are in good working order. Have back up items available in case something happens to your equipment. I once helped a hunter who had a deer tag in a great area. I had glassed up two beautiful bucks at first light and we carefully maneuvered over 600 yards of terrain to get to a spot at less than 200 yards away. He was prepared to do the final stalk when he looked down at his bow and noticed that somehow during our stalk he had lost his quiver and all his arrows. Finding them was not a possibility due to the extreme terrain we had covered and he had no other arrows in his vehicle. We had to drive over 2 hours to get new arrows and a quiver. I like to have additional back up on items that may be hard to come by. I prepare a list of clothes, food, camping gear and any emergency equipment we may need. I prepare a couple of plastic storage tubs that are marked for hunting only and keep my gear stowed there well before the hunt.
If you start out with doing the little things it will all be so much more enjoyable when you are there. JK
About the Author
Born in Toledo, Ohio circa 1950. I was the oldest of four children and had the good fortune to be inquisitive about wildlife and specifically rabbits and pheasants that were abundant in the area that I was raised in. With later moves to Michigan, I found that exploring the great outdoors was just a short bike ride away and I invested in a Havahart trap at age 11. Raccoons, skunks, squirrels and possum became the choice of prey and that stayed my mainstay until college.
I knew that elk were abundant and of trophy class in Arizona so it sealed the deal for relocating here. Since 1986 I have spent as much time as possible learning about elk and trying to become a better hunter.