I will never forget my crosshairs bouncing around the spike’s vital area when I was only twelve years old. That was 23 years ago, and I believe was the sole instance that hooked me on elk hunting to this day. I began archery hunting elk the following year and have been doing so ever since. Over the years, I have joined friends and family on rifle elk hunts and even gone on a couple out of state rifle elk hunts myself. Although the quarry is the same, the tactics between rifle and bow can be drastically different.
Depending on the area and season, rifle hunting unpressured elk can almost be laughable. In most areas, however, the elk have made it through archery elk season, rifle deer season, maybe an antlerless elk hunt, and now are going to be pursued for another extended period of time. One of the keys to hunting anything pressured is having a good understanding of where they go when they get bumped? Unfortunately for some, these safe havens are generally at the bottom of a horribly nasty canyon that most people don’t want any part of.
My wife is kind enough to allow me to tag along on her annual spike elk hunt. This hunt always takes place in Western Oregon and has basically unlimited tags sold. As you can imagine, it’s a complete rat-race for many of the hunters. I always tell my wife, we have opening morning to kill an elk before we have to start hunting them where they get bumped too. We always have a trophy spike picked out and have a plan for that first morning. When it works, great! When it doesn’t, we hit the brush and make a new plan work. Locating areas that hold elk where people can’t drive to is often the first strategy we use. However, the elk don’t always follow those rules so we have to hunt them where we find them. If you can find elk that people can’t spook with vehicles, it surely can make their habits more predictable and easier to hunt.
Finding areas that people can’t drive to can often times be very difficult depending on where you’re hunting. This is especially true on the Oregon Coast due to all of the logging activity that has gone on for years and years. These logging areas are also where the best feed is located, making the issue of vehicles even more noticed at times.
A stark contrast to public land with lots of road access is the Roadless and Wilderness areas located throughout the west. I just returned from an awesome rifle elk hunt on public land in Idaho. Because of the brutal terrain that went on for mile after mile, hunting pressure was relatively low and success was relatively high for people who were willing to get off the beaten path and get after the elk. Because of the early start dates in some states, elk may still be vocal and readily give away their position. I won’t soon forget the first bull that came running to the call in the thick timber as I waited on him with my rifle. Because of my bowhunting background, I very much enjoyed this rifle hunt and hopefully will be able to make the trip again. Anytime you can get a rifle elk hunt in the month of October, you still have a legit chance of locating or having bulls come to the call. When it comes to hunting elk with a rifle, I like to be aggressive!!!
As we know, there is a fine line between being aggressive and being dumb. Without making dumb mistakes though, you can put a lot of pressure on elk with a rifle because all you really have to do is see them within range for your hunt to work out in your favor. Don’t be afraid to follow tracks right into the nastiest of places. Elk are there for a reason and you will often have to get right on top of them to make them move. This extra leg-work is usually the difference between backstraps and tag soup!