Being successful in OTC, DIY, public land elk units is a wonderful subject line that could likely be expanded into a multi-volume set! I will, however, sum it up in one sentence: be persistent and be different. I could list countless occurrences and situations to solidify my opinion on this subject, but I will just cover some generalities.
Each elk and its location will determine the approach needed to convince him to give up the ghost to sirloins, back straps, and some good protein-producing jerky. Before I go too far, however, I must admit my own common failure in hunting pressured elk – I usually don’t do it. Too often, I quit and go looking for a bull that I feel hasn’t been called to every morning from every road and ridge around him. When I return to the pressured areas a few days later, I don’t often find the elk settled down and ready to play. Instead, I often find a gutpile left behind by someone who was willing to hunt there.
When hunting in areas where elk get regularly called to and chased around I suggest forgetting everything you think you know about elk hunting. Try something different. Come at a different time. Come from a different direction. Bugle like you don’t know how. Don’t bugle at all. Cow call with something that no one else has. In a nutshell, be versatile and be different.
A few seasons back, I was hunting with Corey Jacobsen and we had enjoyed some great early season success. We each managed to fill 2 Idaho elk tags and I was left with nearly 3 weeks to play without the pressure of filling a tag. Late in the season, we located a bull close to a well traveled road. There had been a tribe of 4 wheelers hunting this area all season, so we figured going after this bull would be a waste of time and likely expose how quickly elk can cover ground heading into the next drainage. We decided to try a new tactic and within a matter of minutes, the small 5X5 bull was standing within bow range of us both. Without the pressure of filling a tag looming over us, and being willing to step out of the box, we were just playing around and basically acting completely out of the norm and discovered a tactic that we have used during the season several times since with great success. I am sure if we had used our usual tactics, the bull would have been up and over the first ridge before we made it 100 yards from the truck!
Another effective method I like to use for hunting pressured area is waiting until everyone else is back in camp and then still hunting around bedding areas. I picked up on these tactics through my many years of hunting whitetail deer back east, and surprisingly, they work on elk as well! I am a very aggressive hunter and this characteristic has cost me more opportunities in hunting than any other. Conversely, this same attribute has likely created more opportunities than any other as well. I feel that in hunting highly pressured animals, however, patience will present more opportunities than being aggressive. We have taken several elk over the years by slipping into a bedding area after another hunter has left the mountain for the comfort of a nap back at camp. While this approach won’t produce full game bags every time, you won’t find out if you’re sitting back at camp.
To consistently kill bulls on public land, it often requires thinking outside the box. Try often, be persistent, and do things differently than you normally would, and you just might end up with different results than the majority of OTC elk hunters!