There are countless ways to mess up an elk hunt, and through the years, I keep thinking I’ve made most of them. Each year, however, I still manage to make mistakes, some old ones I should very well have learned by now, along with some new ones. I guess my philosophy is that if you aren’t making any mistakes, then you aren’t learning.
Elk country is tough. Steep mountains, high elevations, and brutal weather conditions all wreak havoc on hunters who show up physically unprepared. Whether you plan to backpack and hunt bivy style, or whether you plan to day hunt from a comfortable truck camp, you need to be physically fit to optimize your odds for success. Hiking and hunting in the mountains day after day can test anyone’s physical and mental fortitude, but throw in blisters, sore muscles, and lousy weather, and it becomes easy to make excuses to sleep in or maybe give up altogether. Before you plan a hunt, commit to preparing yourself with a strenuous workout and shooting routine. Also, before embarking on your elk hunt, make the commitment to yourself that you will hunt hard every day, no matter the circumstances, and not quit before the end of your hunt. Persistence and perseverance are critical components of the hunt.
There are many elk calling seminars, television shows, and DVD’s that cover plenty of elk calling techniques. Television is probably the least likely to show any semblance of what to expect in the elk woods. These shows are typically produced on private land with minimal hunting pressure on elk. In addition, producers have the ability to edit out all of the parts of the hunt where their calling doesn’t work. Corey Jacobsen has the best calling seminar going and if you have a chance to attend one, don’t miss it. What many other seminars or TV shows fail to cover is the importance to keep your calling to a minimum, no matter what your proficiency is. I’ve listened to and watched guys walking logging roads or trails using their Hoochie Mama calls constantly, never slowing down to listen. If you are going to call, then do it correctly.
Don’t call unless you are set up and ready for a bull to respond or come in. I’ve been lazy myself a few times and called from an open ridge or meadow and been busted before I could even work the bull. It’s easy and tempting to call from places where you can see, but it’s more important to have some cover available so if a bull does come in, he doesn’t pick you right off. When a bull answers a call, it’s very easy to get excited and call too often. Patience and calling sparingly will most often work the best for you.
Elk hunting is a unique blend of planning, tactics, stealth, and a drive to succeed. One of the worst mistakes an elk hunter can do is be tentative. Finding elk in the vast expanse of mountains can be a daunting task. When you finally locate a bull you are interested in, quickly evaluate the situation and plan your course of action. 50% of an elk hunt is finding the animal and 40% is hustling into a position of close proximity. The remaining 10% is skill, luck, or defeat depending on the outcome.
Your first order of business should be to cut the distance between you and the elk as quickly as possible. Once there, let your instincts take over and don’t second guess yourself. If you are going to call, set up accordingly and give it your best shot. If you plan to sneak closer, commit to it fully and don’t give up or hesitate. Be confident and make it happen for yourself. The more experience you can gather either calling or stalking will eventually help fill your freezer and put antlers on the wall.
Keep a few of these thoughts in mind for next season, but don’t ever let fear of making mistakes cause you not to try. Every failed attempt at calling or stalking will just bring you that much closer to when it works and you are grinning for the camera while holding antlers!