Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Elk Searching Ideas and Ways


For each American whitetail hunter, Western elk looking is aspirational, calling to them the way in which Cooperstown calls to a Little Leaguer. The impossibly heavy and branching antlers of bulls are as alluring because the hovering mountains the place they dwell, and the mythology of elk is stuffed with Western romance: canvas wall tents, the creaking leather-based of pack trains, and frosty mornings at timberline. And because of reintroductions and vary enlargement, elk are doing nicely throughout a lot of their vary. However elk looking within the West shouldn’t be essentially simple, and even reasonably priced for a lot of hunters. Simply as Main League Baseball stays stubbornly out of attain for many of us.

So if you happen to’re planning your first elk hunt or if you happen to’re a brand new elk hunter hoping to seek out success, you need to learn our elk looking information. We’ve rounded up the guidelines, techniques, and information you’ll must a minimum of get within the recreation. 

Tips on how to Get an Elk Searching Tag

Although there are tens of millions of acres of public land all through elk nation, attaining a high quality elk tag shouldn’t be all that easy. There are three routes an elk hunter can go. You should buy an over-the-counter tag, you may apply for restricted draw hunts (ideally in a number of Western states every year), or you may rent an clothing store and get your tag by way of them. Every of those routes has its personal set of execs and cons. Right here’s what you need to learn about every. 

Over the Counter Tags 

elk hunting
Bauserman with an OTC tag. Jace Bauserman

Any such tag is what it appears like. You merely present up on the sporting items retailer counter (or extra possible, the state wildlife division web site) and purchase your license and tag. It’s just like what deer hunters within the East are used to when shopping for deer tags.  


  • No ready interval
  • You may acquire a tag yearly
  • Sensible objectives can result in success
  • Most OTC models have a number of public lands


  • Excessive looking strain
  • Decrease high quality bulls
  • Vital funding for low odds
  • Demanding bodily hunt

I’ve been looking elk for 25 years, and in all however 5 of these years, I’ve gone the OTC public land DIY route. Any such elk looking is difficult to beat. You purchase an elk tag at Walmart, present as much as an space, hope the trailhead isn’t too crowded, and get after it. Most OTC tags are archery tags, however Colorado nonetheless gives resident and non-resident rifle tags for some seasons. 

It’s important to remain on high of every state’s OTC language, because it varies. Some western states have OTC tags with caps, which suggests tags go on sale on a selected day dictated by the state’s wildlife fee, after which they’re gone. OTC tags with caps promote out shortly, so know your dates and make a plan.

Anticipate heavy hunt strain, even far off the crushed path, and set lifelike objectives. When looking elk in an OTC space, I shoot the primary authorized bull that provides me a chance. These keen to wander (and with horses) can nonetheless discover pockets of public-land elk nirvana, however it’s getting tougher and tougher to come back by.

OTC Elk Searching Tip

Don’t overlook areas near entry roads. I don’t go deep too typically anymore. Until I do know the world nicely, I camp near my truck every night time and keep extremely cell. I choose diving into deep holes near entry roads that the majority hunters move by. 

Restricted Entry and Lottery Tags

Executive editor Natalie Krebs took this elk with Federal Premium Terminal Ascent 200-grain .300 Win. Mag.
Govt editor Natalie Krebs after a profitable limited-entry elk hunt. Natalie Krebs

Any such utility is actually placing your identify within the hat and hoping it will get picked. Every year you don’t get picked helps you construct desire factors, which enhance your probabilities of getting picked subsequent season. States range in how they run their restricted entry hunts, so this route requires a number of good analysis. 


  • Much less hunt strain
  • Higher animal high quality
  • Higher bull-to-cow ratio


  • Elevated strain to succeed
  • Requires researching odds
  • Drawing retains getting extra aggressive
  • Lengthy-term funding that may turn into costly

I had restricted entry tags in my pocket for the 5 years I didn’t hunt OTC. Some took two years to attract, and one took ten. The standard of the animals within the unit typically dictates how tough the tag is to attract. You may hunt OTC in some states and nonetheless put in for the annual restricted drawing, and I encourage this apply and the constructing of desire factors every year. 

It’s best to have totally different objectives and expectations whenever you pull a restricted entry or lottery tag. Do the analysis, discover out what class of bulls the unit is thought for, and set your sights on an excellent one. You’ll want to community with different hunters, primarily if you happen to draw a premium unit that took ten years or extra. Most hunters will share intel on these models as a result of they know they received’t be looking it once more anytime quickly. Social media has its downfalls, however it’s wonderful for networking. 

It’s necessary to recollect the better the tag was to attract, the extra looking strain there shall be, so plan accordingly. It’s additionally necessary to know that you just’ll possible have to attend years earlier than drawing. It prices cash to use every year. When you begin placing in with a state, you’ll need to proceed getting into the lottery till you draw so that you just lastly money in in your funding. Due to this, you’ll need to do deep analysis about which states to use with and which season and unit to deal with. Memberships like Go Hunt and Rolling Bones are helpful for chopping down the analysis time.   

Restricted Draw and Lottery Tip

Time shall be your greatest good friend. Do no matter it’s essential to do forward of the hunt to make sure you get as a lot time within the subject as attainable. I’ve seen hunters wait 20 years to attract a tag and anticipate the hunt shall be a cakewalk. Then they encounter a drought or low elk density because of winter mortality, and wish extra time to discover a high quality bull.

Hiring an Clothes shop

jace bauserman
Bauserman with a 330-inch bull on an outfitted hunt. Jace Bauserman

Some outfitters are assured a sure variety of tags, so you should purchase your entire hunt (together with the tag) from them. Different outfitters will information you after you draw a restricted entry tag by yourself. Some outfitters information on personal ranches, others in public wilderness. The general public-land outfitters typically make the most of horses to pack their hunters in deep, past the place most different public-land hunters can journey on their very own. 


  • Entry to non-public floor more often than not
  • High quality animals
  • Clothes shop is aware of the nation, and the elk
  • Improved success price
  • Not as bodily more often than not
  • Clothes shop packs the animal out (typically on horses)


  • Costly
  • Clothes shop high quality varies enormously

I’ve gone on a number of guided elk hunts, and I really like them. Many implausible elk outfitters throughout the West exist if you happen to analysis and sift by way of the weeds. Most high quality outfitted elk hunts will price over $10K, and that price will solely proceed to extend. In case you have the means, go for it. Should you don’t, an alternative choice is to work with an clothing store to make a down fee, and lock of their present worth. Then pay them every year till you may make the hunt a actuality. 

I spend over $2,000 elk looking DIY-style every year in Colorado and dwell within the state. Most out-of-state hunters will spend near $4,000. In actuality, virtually all elk looking goes to be costly. Going with an excellent clothing store, doesn’t assure success, however you’re more likely to be in elk, be taught loads, and have a heck of an excellent time. Should you save for 3 or 4 years, you may make an outfitted or semi-outfitted hunt occur.

Clothes shop Tip

Ask a number of questions and ask for references. You’re the buyer. Any good clothing store can reply all of your questions and supply an inventory of references a mile lengthy. 

Elk Searching Gear

elk hunting gear
Don’t overthink elk looking gear. Jace Bauserman

Professional elk hunters depend on quite a lot of specialised gear after they backpack deep into the backcountry. However the reality is, a lot of the gear you employ for deer looking will work high-quality on an elk hunt. Nevertheless there are some issues it’s worthwhile to think about. Learn our full roundup on the most effective elk looking gear


You’ll need boots that will let you hike steep nation with out getting blisters or rolling an ankle. Likewise, you’ll want boots that assist you whenever you’re loaded down with a heavy pack. Right here’s our information to the greatest elk looking boots


The backpack you select will depend on the kind of elk hunt you’re planning on doing. Should you’re backpacking in, you’ll want a big pack to hold your gear and (hopefully) a number of meat on the way in which out. Should you’re tenting and looking nearer to the truck, you will get away with a smaller pack, however it nonetheless must be a succesful meat hauler. Learn our evaluation of the greatest looking backpacks.

Rifles & Ammo

There’s an excellent likelihood that your favourite deer rifle and cargo will work simply high-quality on an elk hunt. However if you happen to’re dying to have a brand new setup, learn our information to the greatest elk looking rifles and greatest elk calibers


Broadhead choice will depend on the bow you’re taking pictures. Generally, archers taking pictures a heavier draw weight can go for mechanical broadheads whereas hunters taking pictures a decrease draw weight ought to shoot a fixed-blade head. Learn our evaluation of the greatest broadheads for elk

Common Elk Searching Ideas

A herd of elk mills around on a snowy plain.
A herd of elk mills round within the snow. John Hafner

4 distinct subspecies of elk at present roam North America. By far essentially the most quite a few and broadly distributed of them is the Rocky Mountain elk, which will be present in mountains and adjoining habitats from Arizona north to the Yukon. The Roosevelt elk lives within the wet forests of the Cascades and Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. California’s inside valleys and remnant swamps are residence to the uncommon tule elk, which is creeping again from the brink of extinction. And the Manitoba elk lives within the northern woodlands of the Canadian protect and the St. Lawrence River.

Regardless of the place they dwell, elk like open meadows however can tolerate dense forest—and they’ll flee to the densest, most distant timbered pockets each time they really feel threatened. Hunters ought to key on these edge habitats, the place elk emerge to feed at twilight.

Organising on meadows is an efficient plan, assuming the animals arrive as scripted. Should you choose a extra energetic sort of looking, climb to a lookout and use optics to seek out elk after which work out a stalk that will get you inside vary. Pay cautious consideration to the wind, at all times holding it in your face. Shifting winds have saved the lives of extra elk than all of the habitat conservationists collectively.

Particularly within the mountains, elk migrate alongside historic corridors that ship them from higher-elevation summer season ranges to extra hospitable winter ranges. As soon as snow piles up, intercept elk alongside these routes. Or you may bowhunt throughout the rut and name bugling bulls into bow vary.

There’s a sound purpose most archery seasons for elk open in early September. These short-range looking alternatives are timed to coincide with the rut, the breeding season when mature bulls collect and defend giant breeding harems of cows from interlopers.

In apply, it’s not fairly really easy. Generally calling spooks elk, different occasions it attracts solely immature bulls (known as spikes or raghorns). However when it really works, calling a bull into bow vary is like conjuring a cage fighter. I do know of nothing else in looking that compares to having an 800-pound (363-kg) bull come working to your name, wild-eyed and heaving, thrashing brush along with his exceptional antlers, calling you out to combat. —Andrew McKean

Ideas for Searching Public Land Elk

elk hunting
Public land OTC elk looking is difficult work, particularly after the bull is down. Jace Bauserman

The mission was a Colorado/Wyoming public-land archery elk hunt with over-the-counter tags. There have been three of us — two with Colorado tags and one with a stamp from the Cowboy state. Searching on Colorado’s northcentral border was our greatest possibility, since it could minimize down on drive time between states and provides us extra time within the subject. The planning was accomplished. Now it was time to execute. Right here’s what we discovered. —Jace Bauserman 

At all times be Able to Discover New Floor

One factor we’ve discovered, particularly when chasing public-land elk in closely pressured OTC models, is to not get married to a spot simply because it’s produced previously. Test it once more? Probably, however provided that there’s a logical purpose to take action. Time is treasured. Don’t be afraid to strike out and have a look at new nation. On the flipside, simply since you don’t hear elk and don’t see any shooters, don’t write an space off. If the signal says elk are within the space, belief it. Elusive bulls are inclined to go quiet when looking strain ramps up. 

Set Up In Entrance of Cowl, Not Behind It

Too many bowhunters hinder themselves by organising behind cowl. Get in entrance of canopy and provides your self taking pictures choices. Don’t be happy to get a bugle and setup. Until the bull is true on high of you, get your self able the place you may execute a shot. If attainable, get parallel with the bull on even floor.

Be Ready for a Frontal Shot

I solely advocate taking this shot if you happen to’ve accomplished an excellent research of an elk’s anatomy and also you’re tremendous assured in your tools. I can’t take this shot past 20 yards. (Learn the place to shoot an elk). 

Public-land OTC elk have a tendency to maneuver to closely timbered areas, and infrequently after they come to analyze a name, they may merely stick their entrance half by way of cowl. With the ability to execute this shot is usually the distinction between meat for the grill and a sob story.

Study the Panorama

Don’t be a unit jumper. It takes time, typically years, to be taught a unit. So long as the unit holds elk, preserve investing time. The extra deeply you understand a unit, the extra success you’ll have.

Elk hunting private land.
Elk herds typically congregate on personal land the place there’s much less looking strain. John Hafner

Know The place the Elk Will Go

Pressured elk love deep drainages, benches (flat spots that give technique to steep vertical terrain) and areas the place seemingly impenetrable timber offers technique to small open meadows the place they’ll feed.

Study a Diaphragm Name 

Have the ability to make lifelike cow and bull vocalizations. Watch YouTube movies of high callers like Corey Jacobsen, after which try to mimic his sounds. File your calling and be trustworthy with your self about the way you sound. With the ability to really sound like an elk will set you other than the plenty.

Be Unselfish

I extremely advocate going into the elk woods with a three-man group of friends. Killing a bull is a workforce effort. Even whenever you’re not behind the bow, be engaged. Until you’re a map, get off your telephone. Instagram can wait! Your job is to be scanning the timber, calling, working the decoy, checking the wind (and being a pack mule after the hunt is profitable).

Be Ready for the Packout

Elk are big-bodied animals. Should you plan to pack them out in your again, be certain you could have a backpack able to the job. Additionally, know learn how to bone-out meat. You don’t need to pack pointless weight. Distribute meat into recreation luggage. Nobody particular person must be hauling extra weight than one other.

Preserve Your Vitality

When there’s downtime within the woods … sleep. Operating into city to bathe and do laundry is a pleasant noon reduction, and it’s one other advantage of not packing in deep.

At all times Imagine

Elk looking is hard. If there’s one tip I may give to the public-land OTC bowhunter, it’s this: By no means give up. Simply preserve going and good issues will occur.

Tips on how to Name Elk

A hunter in camo and cowboy hat using a hunting call.
Carlton bugles to a high-country bull within the mountains above Craig, Colorado. Andrew McKean

In one other lifetime, Wayne Carlton might need been a carnival barker. He has that manner of hooking you, yodeling or catcalling to catch your consideration in a crowd after which holding it with a barely ribald joke or curious flip of phrase. You would possibly acknowledge Carlton from his profession as a pitchman for Hunter Specialties, his Southern accent purring from beneath a cowboy hat as he describes how his newest name will flip trophy bulls inside out and convey turkeys working from the subsequent township. He’s again in enterprise along with his Native by ­Carlton model, and he nonetheless has lots to say.

Out of doors Life: You’ve gotten talked about setting the stage for a dialog with elk. What do you imply by that?

Wayne Carlton: If you blow a name, you’d higher have some concept of what you anticipate the reply to be. You may’t stumble by way of the woods blowing a name and anticipate to create a dialog. One of many first bulls I ever known as in was on Crimson Mountain Go in Colorado. I walked in the dead of night to the crest, about 12,000 toes above sea degree, and I waited for the wind to show from blowing downhill to blowing uphill earlier than I blew a name. I knew that any bull under me couldn’t odor me, and that they couldn’t resist answering an elk uphill of them. It labored. I had a bull begin raking timber, and I used to be in a position to spot him and residential in on him.

OL: So how do you advance the dialog?

WC: With that Colorado bull or any animal you’re calling to, don’t wait between their name and your name. The second they cease responding, you blow one other name in order that they don’t have time to suppose or to doubt. You simply get them to reply instinctively by getting of their head. That Crimson Mountain bull would rake that tree and bugle, and I’d already be able to blow a bugle on high of his. It simply revved him as much as the purpose the place he needed to react by coming to me. That’s the essence of recreation calling. With bears, so long as you retain calling, they preserve coming. However if you happen to ever cease, they do too.

OL: However what about pressured animals who’ve heard weeks of calling? Don’t you threat overcalling?

WC: Pressured bulls might have heard all of the wimpy bugles and reedy cow calls that everyone else blows, however I’ll mild up an space with very high-pitched calls, simply squeaky-thin screams, and I’ll get responses from mature bulls. If doubtful, simply torque the pitch. Excessive-pitched calling works with turkeys, predators, hogs…

hunters walking through the woods while calling elk
Crisp locator bugles are sometimes the important thing to getting a bull to pontificate. Adam Amick

OL: How a lot emotion do you construct right into a name? Or is it simply hitting the correct notice on the proper time?

WC: Have you ever ever heard an digital caller? These digital sound information are precisely the correct sound. However they don’t have any intonation or cadence. The proper notice delivered with out emotion is ineffective. You may blow the unsuitable notice on a diaphragm or tube name, however if you happen to do it with depth and feeling, and quicken the cadence, you will get to animals that may not reply to 80 to 90 p.c of “canned” calls. The distinction is that you just sound pressing. If doubtful, name sooner and with extra feeling, and also you’ll get animals to reply.

OL: Okay, however even you need to admit that there are some animals which might be merely uncallable. Proper?

WC: I hate to confess it, however sure. We hunters suppose the world revolves round us. We now have an excellent night time in a cushty mattress after which go looking after a cup of espresso, and we anticipate the world to be in the identical scenario. However a giant herd bull might have been rutting and preventing all night time, and we present up at daybreak and anticipate him to play based on our guidelines? You by no means know what kind of night time the animal you have an interest in had earlier than you confirmed up together with your good name. Some animals are by no means going to come back to your name, and it’s just because they produce other priorities.

OL: What’s the most important mistake elk callers make?

WC: They preserve blowing their single good name. You might need the world’s sweetest cow chirp or the most effective immature bull chuckle on the planet, however it’s not what a giant, mature bull needs to listen to. It’s good to have a complete vary at your disposal so if one name doesn’t work, one other one would possibly, and also you want the braveness to attempt it. That, and it’s worthwhile to pour emotion and cadence into any calls. Should you try this, have a variety of calls at your disposal, and might make them sound pressing and good, you’ll name in elk and every other animal that decides to carry a dialog with you. You simply need to be an excellent conversationalist. Should you don’t have something to say, why on earth would they arrive to you?

READ NEXT: Finest Elk Searching Calls

Elk Searching Form

Many new elk hunters severely underestimate the bodily problem of a DIY elk hunt (or perhaps a guided hunt for that matter). If profitable, you’ll need to pack lots of of kilos of meat off the mountain. If the climate is sizzling, you’ll have to do that shortly or the meat will possible spoil. So it’s vital for elk hunters to be bodily match. The underside line is that this: It’s good to be able to mountaineering steep terrain (presumably with a heavy pack), at elevation, for days on finish. 

One of the simplest ways to coach for that is merely to hike the hills as a lot as you may. Past that, right here’s our information for moving into elk looking form.

Q&A: Solutions to Your Elk Searching Questions

colorado elk hunters
Mountain climbing into the snow on the primary day of a Colorado elk hunt. Tess Rousey

When is elk looking season?

In most locations, archery elk looking season begins in early September. Relying on the state and unit, the season can run into November and even December.

What states have elk looking?

All Western states have elk looking seasons. Nevertheless many of those states require hunters to attract a tag. Some Japanese states with reintroduced elk herds even have elk hunts, prime examples being Pennsylvania and Tennessee. 

How a lot does it price to go elk looking?

Absolutely guided elk hunts can price from about $8,000 as much as $15,000 or extra. Guided hunts proceed to get dearer every year. DIY hunts are extra reasonably priced. A resident elk license in Colorado prices about $63. Nevertheless, when you add in meals, gear, fuel, and different bills, you may anticipate to spend a minimum of $1,000 to $3,000 on a DIY hunt.

What rifle to make use of for elk looking? 

Firstly, use a rifle you may shoot precisely. Medium-sized calibers just like the .270 Winchester or 6.5 Creedmoor are high-quality decisions for elk looking. Many hunters choose taking pictures a bigger .30-caliber rifle for elk. Ideally, the rifle shall be mild sufficient to hold within the mountains and maneuverable when stalking by way of the timber. 

A caravan of hunters in the snow while hunting bull elk.
After securing the third and ultimate set of elk quarters, von Benedikt leads the loaded pack prepare again to the path. Natalie Krebs

Ultimate Ideas on Elk Searching

Competitors for elk tags is hard today. You could possibly spend a lifetime ready to win that particular restricted entry tag, or you might hunt over-the-counter yearly (albeit with low odds for efficiently punching that OTC tag). A wise wager for many non-resident elk hunters is to use for models which have comparatively excessive odds of drawing each few years. That manner you get to hunt each few seasons and be taught extra about elk looking. There’s additionally the great possibility of cow-only hunts. Then in the future, whenever you do draw that particular restricted tag, you’ll be able to put all that information to make use of. 


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