Hunting season can take its toll on a person who goes at it relentlessly for several months on end. I know my wife and family are all very happy when I call it quits for the year and to be quite honest, I don’t mind the break myself. Although the physical act of hunting is finished up for a while, the “Offseason” to me is one of the most important aspects to my year round game. The “Offseason” allows me time to reflect, research, practice, condition and spend time with my family.
Reflecting on the previous elk season is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects an elk hunter can do to gain knowledge. Elk blow out for a reason, we don’t get shots for a variety of reasons, that bull hung up for a reason, those elk changed their habits for reason, the list could go on and on but it is our job to sit down and try to make sense of what is happening in our surroundings during that magic month of September. Personally, I believe this is something all successful elk hunters do, and may be something most unsuccessful hunters aren’t doing. I like to consider myself a student of the game. I’m not the worlds greatest caller or the worlds greatest shot and I’m surely not in the worlds greatest shape. One thing I am is one of the most dedicated learners of elk hunting you will ever find. My philosophy on elk is everything in the elk woods happens for a reason. I’m always going over scenarios in my head trying to make connections between encounters and validate why this set up worked better then another set up. All elk encounters are, and will be, different to a certain degree. One could probably make the statement that all elk encounters are similar and somewhat predictable as well! Looking at both encounters that worked and encounters that didn’t, a person can really start picking apart pieces that put tagging a nice bull every year in place. While reflecting, I particularly like to tease out these three different areas of elk hunting:
1) Setups – Setups are as important as anything in the elk woods in my opinion. Set up to kill elk and not see elk. I learned this the hard way as I’m sure many of you have as well. A little thought and planning can make the difference in whether or not you get that shot you’ve always dreamed of. Always set up in front of cover and let your camouflage do its job!
2) Calling – Calling elk can be one of the most intense situations a person will ever be in. I’ve literally witnessed grown men shake at the knee’s and completely fall apart when that moment of truth arrives. It’s as crazy and wild as it gets when you have a bull screaming in your face. However, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can cost you all the excitement you were just getting ready to have. Really paying attention during these vocal times will give you the upper hand in years to come. As a simple rule of thumb, I would say work from non threatening calls to more threatening/aggressive as your set up goes on. If you have a bull responding to a cow call, stick with the cow call. If you have a bull that will only respond to a bugle, stick with the bugle. I really believe people over think many situations they are in.
3) Moving- Moving during a set up will often make or break whether you put your hands on those antlers at the end of the day. Making the decision to move is simple while calling by yourself. Making the decision to move when using a caller is often very difficult if the two of you don’t have a system in place to be able to communicate with each other. I recommend having signals that the shooter will use if he feels it’s time to move. Otherwise, the shooter never calls.
The “Offseason” is also a great time of year to begin researching new area and new gear. I have a pretty set routine that I go through year after year in terms of new area and taking inventory on the areas I hunt. In regards to inventory, I generally have a very good idea of what caliber and how many bulls inhabit the areas I spend most of my time in. Knowing what bulls survived all the different seasons is key information to have going into the next archery season. I live in a small town with many hunters. I simply listen to the stories, pay attention to photos in the local stores and spend as much time as possible in the woods during spring to see what kind of damage was done during rifle season. It amazes me year after year to see what kind of bulls escape the general rifle seasons when they go back to being solitary animals. Having good information from the past seasons tells me where to focus come summer and fall to find the bull I really want to go after. Another “Offseason” tactic for me is simply picking a new area on the map and trying to figure it out. I have found some of my best elk hunting spots doing just that. By looking at topography maps, talking with knowledgeable people and not being scared of some serious hiking, there never seems to be a shortage of places to explore and deploy some trail cameras. On more then one occasion, I have stumbled across some great sheds in the spring confirming I need to spend a little more time in the general area.
Being the gear junkie that I am, this is the time of year I begin taking a serious look at what worked for my style of hunting. I’m not the kind of person that will change anything during the actual season. If it’s with me during the season you can bet I have put it to the test during the spring or for many years already. New gear is great, untested new gear isn’t worth anything to me! Allowing my gear to cost me opportunities is simply unacceptable and I will work as hard as possible to make sure it doesn’t happen. This is also the time of year I make all of the changes to my bow. Whether it be putting a new string and cables on or rigging up an entire new system, this is the time of year for those duties. I like giving myself plenty of opportunity to make sure everything works great and will be failproof come fall.
Conditioning and I have a love-hate relationship. If I can associate conditioning with hunting then I’m good to go. You see, I despise running just for the sake of running. My wife will go for a couple runs a day and I just don’t like to do it. I will, however, go hike all day looking for sheds or exploring a new area. I do enjoy jumping on our elliptical machine a couple times a week just to keep my legs feeling good. Between the elliptical machine, hiking for sheds and hitting as many 3D shoots as possible, I feel like I get all the exercise I need this time of year! I know reality will hit in a few short months when it’s time to start training hard for some of the more physically demanding hunts the west has to offer.
An old high school basketball coach once told me, “Championships aren’t won during the actual season; Championships are won in the months the season isn’t going!” It’s easy to apply this message to hunting for me. A person can never go into hunting season being overly prepared. Happy hunting and good luck in the draws!!