Bull Elk with a Muzzle Loader

Preparing for Elk Hunting

With my archery elk hunt about two months away, I get more excited as each day passes.  I am going to be hunting an area that I hunted for 15 years or so before I started hunting in the Flat Tops, so I am anxious to go back to the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area and see what it is like after a 14 year hiatus.  I am not going to have the chance to scout the area before the season, but I know the area very well, and I know where to look for elk.  The fact that I can still get an over-the-counter archery tag for the area is my first clue that there is still a good population of elk there.  One of my favorite things about elk hunting is the preparation for the trip, building up the anticipation for months before I actually go.  I thought I would share some of my preparation advice with anyone else who might be headed out after elk in September.

Keep in mind that I hunt in the Rocky Mountains, so my advice applies to that type of hunting, although most of it will apply to any type of elk hunting.  With the successful reintroduction of elk into so many states, you may find an opportunity to hunt them in an area much different than the Rockies, which could be a very different experience.  However, preparation is equally important, and that rule applies to all types of outdoor activities.

If you have never been elk hunting, and you have this picture painted in your mind that you are in a mountain meadow, you hear a bugling bull, and then you call him in to within 30 yards for a clean broadside shot with your bow, that’s a bit of a dream.  Sure it happens, but that picture only tells half of the story.  Elk hunting is the toughest, meanest, nastiest form of big game hunting in North America in my opinion.  Sure mountain goat and big horn sheep are a challenge, but if you are going after elk, you are going to put in long days and nights in the woods, you will be traversing grueling terrain, you will be fighting the elements (which could be thunderstorms with hail and lightning, snow, or even hot days in the early fall afternoons).  You will be pushing yourself physically for 12 – 16 hours a day, or more.


My Favorite Elk Camp

This is why physical conditioning is extremely important for hunting elk.  I am not going to tell you how to get in shape, just the fact that you need to, and if you haven’t started by now, it’s not likely going to happen before September.  If you are significantly over weight or out of shape, you are not going to have much fun hunting elk, and you will be a liability to your hunting partners if you are going in a group.  I remember times when I have worked as a guide when I would cringe when meeting a client for the first time at the trailhead who was over 250 pounds and clearly out of shape.  It is really hard to get an elk if you are in that type of condition, and it also puts a lot of pressure on a guide, and the horse that carries that client.   Start getting into shape at least six months ahead of your hunt, knowing that your legs, heart, and lungs will be worked the hardest.  You also need a lot of upper body strength for normal camp chores like cutting and splitting firewood, and also for packing out meat if you harvest an animal and you don’t have a horse to pack it out.

Next is to make sure all of your gear is in tip-top shape.  Don’t wait until two weeks before your trip to make sure your tent doesn’t have a big hole in it from mice getting to it, or that your wood stove is missing its spark arrestor, or whatever it might be.  Check out all of your gear well ahead of time, down to the smallest details, like the laces on your hunting boots.  There is nothing worse than going to set up your camp and finding that something is missing or broken, or on the morning of your first hunt you discover that the bulb in your headlamp is broken.  If you have bought any new gear, make sure it is broken in properly if it needs to be.  For example, I got a new wood stove this year and I need to have a fire in it for two hours to cure the paint.  If I didn’t know that, the first night of using it in the tent would be pretty miserable.

This should go without saying, but make sure you are proficient with your weapon of choice and that it is functioning properly.  For me, I just got a new bow about a month ago, and I have been shooting it a lot, and I will continue to do so over the next two months.  I would not feel ethically responsible going on an elk hunt if I can’t consistently put my arrows in a four inch group at any distance from 10 to 40 yards.  I also hunt with a muzzle loader, which requires fine tuning as well, especially making sure my powder loads are consistent shot after shot.  If you hunt with a rifle, it is not only important to make sure your scope is sighted in, but also to be sure you can consistently hit your target at a range in which you have confidence.


Map and Compass

The final thing I will mention is having adequate navigation
tools and knowing how to use them.  I wrote an article about using a map and compass, you can read that by clicking here.  You should have your map in your hands today and be studying that map.  If you use a GPS, you need to be able to operate it without having the owner’s manual in your hand, and still carry a compass and a map just in case.   When hunting elk, you will be covering large expanses of land that can be difficult to navigate, so you need to hone your orienteering skills well before you get into the wilderness.

As my hunt gets closer I will write more about the pre-hunt activities.  As I said in the beginning of this post, the preparation for an elk hunt is part of the hunt itself.  Even though I won’t be going until September 15th, I’m thinking about it every day as I get things ready for what promises to be a memorable hunt.