One In 19

One In 19

Years of futility prove there are no shortcuts to elk-hunting success.

Few game animals offer bowhunters more of a challenge than elk. Steep mountains and thin air makes elk hunting physically demanding. Add in the facts that elk are extremely intelligent, respond quickly to hunting pressure and often hang up 80 yards from the shooter, and you have the perfect recipe for tag soup. In most Western states, 80-90 percent of all bowhunters who chase elk go home empty-handed.

Elk country is beautiful, and spending time in this kind of country is one of the biggest rewards of elk hunting. Although the vast majority of elk hunters return home without filling their tags, just being in the places elk call home is a worthy reward for the effort.

No one knows that better than Greg Sesselmann, president and founder of Scent-Lok Technologies.

Since founding Scent-Lok in 1992, Sesselmann has hunted all over the country for big-game animals. His office is covered with mounts of whitetails, mule deer and several other species. Sesselmann is an experienced bowhunter, yet for an astounding 15 years, the dream of harvesting an archery elk eluded him.

No Beginner's Luck
Sesselmann's first elk hunt occurred on public land in Colorado a couple years after Scent-Lok was founded. "A friend of mine invited a friend and I on an elk hunt. For months before the trip, the buddy who invited me kept encouraging me to get in shape and warned that if I didn't, I would be in trouble," Sesselmann said. "The more he preached, the bigger couch potato I became. I remember stepping out of the truck at almost 10,000 feet, gasping for air, and realizing I should have gotten into better shape."

Although Sesselmann failed to get into shape for the hunt, he hunted hard and had several close calls with elk, even though he never let an arrow fly. "That first hunt got me hooked on elk hunting," he said. "The amazing country that elk live in and the crazy voice God gave bull elk gets me excited. I never tire of it."

Elk country is beautiful, and spending time in this kind of country is one of the biggest rewards of elk hunting. Although the vast majority of elk hunters return home without filling their tags, just being in the places elk call home is a worthy reward for the effort.

After that first hunt, Sesselmann began bowhunting elk almost annually. After the Colorado hunt, he drew the tag of a lifetime and had the hunt of a lifetime. "A year or two after my Colorado hunt, Aubrey Gale -- a dear friend and great cameraman from Scent-Lok -- and I drew tags in Arizona. At the time, I didn't even realize how lucky I was to draw the tag," Sesselmann said.

But it didn't take long to figure it out. "Aubrey hired a cameraman to follow me around," he said. "On the first day of the hunt, I told the cameraman to film my hunt but not to get in the way. The guy was six feet, five inches tall and weighed about 240 pounds. He looked down at me and said, 'Yes sir.' We got into bulls immediately.

It was amazing. There were bulls everywhere! I saw a 300-inch bull walk less than 10 yards from me. I drew back, and just as I was about to shoot, the cameraman said, 'There's a world record behind him coming in.' So, I let the smaller bull walk. If I would have shot the 300-inch bull, I am convinced I would have a pile of elk racks today. Instead, I had a long dry spell."

The larger bull eventually came walking within bow range and stopped behind two trees.

His chest was positioned between the two trees, so Sesselmann took aim and let the arrow go. "The arrow smacked into the first tree and bounced into the second tree. It broke, and the bull slowly walked off," Sesselmann recalled. He and his buddies figured the bull would have scored above 380 inches. As a reminder of the incredible hunt, Sesselmann had single frames from the video footage printed. Today, pictures of the monstrous bull, the broken arrow and the words "Target Panic" are framed and hang on his office wall.

The top three rules of elk hunting are: get in shape, get in shape and get in shape! Climbing up and down steep ridges to locate and stalk bulls is physically demanding, and you are setting yourself up for failure if you show up for a hunt unprepared.

Over the next few days of hunting, Sesselmann missed multiple bulls. "After missing the big bull, I just couldn't pull it together," he said. "I missed multiple times, and my drought continued for years."

If Something Can Go Wrong'¦
After the Arizona hunt, Sesselmann chased elk in many other states. And although many assumed he would hunt cream-of-the-crop private land, most of his elk hunts took place on public land with close friends. "One of the things I enjoy about elk hunting is hunting with friends and chasing bulls," he said. "I've been with friends on almost every elk hunt I've gone on, and I've had shot opportunities on almost every hunt."

While in Idaho, Sesselmann misjudged the distance between himself and the bull, largely because he didn't take into consideration the steep angle of the terrain. "I snuck so close to a herd of elk in Idaho that I was chuckling aloud; I was so happy with myself.

Sometimes I crack myself up, and this was one of those times," he said, laughing.

Sesselmann thought the bull was 28 yards away. When he shot, the arrow sailed over the bulls' back, and the animal just stood there. "I shot again, and instead of thinking he was really close, I thought he was 26 yards away and shot again. I shot again. I missed every time. He was probably only 10 yards away," Sesselmann said.

Sesselmann came close to bagging a bull in New Mexico, only to have everything unravel at the last second. "I seduced a bull within bow range with a cow call and thought he was mine," he said. "I was fairly calm. It was a good shot, and I was confident in my shooting ability. As I drew my bow, I drew too quickly, and the arrow popped off the rest." After several more mishaps with that bull, he once again went home empty-handed.

Elk Monkey Off His Back
After numerous years of dealing with unique brand of "luck," Sess

elmann's elk-related failures became something of a legend in the archery industry. "Everywhere I went, people who knew me would joke about it or volunteer to take me elk hunting, hoping they would be the one to break my streak," he said. "In the end, it was my close friend Phil Phillips who helped me end my bad luck streak."

In 2007, Phillips invited Sesselmann on a Colorado mule deer hunt. But when he showed up, Phillips played a wild card.

"Phillips had a few elk figured out, and told me that it would be a combo hunt where we would hunt elk and mule deer," Sesselmann said. "After hunting elk one morning, I spent the afternoon sitting on a wallow. About 5 in the afternoon, I got up to look around and saw a big bull about 300 yards away, heading in my direction. I filmed him myself, and as he approached, I took a few pictures with my camera and got ready to shoot."

Once the bull stepped into the mud hole, he splashed around for a while. When Sesselmann decided he had seen enough of the show, he shot him. The bull ran a short distance and expired. It was the 19th time Sesselmann shot at a bull!

"I was so excited I could hardly stand it," he said. "The bull died in a perfect pose. We never even moved him to take pictures. Once I took some pictures, I built a large rock pile at the kill site; something I do wherever I go. I have rock piles built all over the world."

Greg Sesselmann marked the location of his first elk kill with a small rock pile, something he has been doing for years. Rock piles such as this were commonly built by Native Americans hundreds of years ago.

Sesselmann's elk-hunting journey started more than 15 years ago and has featured many bumps in the road along the way. Reflecting on the long and winding road to initial elk success, Sesselmann offers the following advice to fellow archers preparing to begin their own elk quest:

"First and foremost, you really need to be in great shape," he said. "I can't stress that enough. If you're not in good shape, you will have a hard time hunting elk all day. There were several times over the last 15 years that I was up hours before sunup and we didn't return to camp until a few hours after dark. Elk hunting isn't easy, and the better shape you are in, the better chance you have at getting a shot."

Sesselmann said being a good shot is also extremely important. "When I first started elk hunting, I was a good shot," he said, "but after missing several elk, I realized I should practice more at longer distances. Now, I practice regularly at 100 yards, so when I have a 50-yard shot at an elk or mule deer, it's a popcorn shot."

Even with laser rangefinders, knowing how to judge distance and take shots up and down steep slopes is a must. "I think a lot of Eastern bowhunters who are used to shooting 20 yards from a treestand struggle out West," Sesselmann said. "Bowhunters going west should practice from a variety of places and angles. They should shoot with friends so there is a little pressure. Hunters should try to create in practice what is likely to happen in the woods so they are prepared."

Do you have what it takes to be an elk hunter? Elk hunting doesn't have to be very expensive if money is a major concern. An unguided elk hunt can cost less than $1,000 in states like Idaho and Colorado. Practice shooting at long ranges, practice your calling until it drives your spouse crazy, and get into shape! The first time you hear the high-pitched squeal of a bugle, you will be hooked for life.

Western Scent-Control Tips
It's no surprise Sesselmann is a scent-free fanatic when he's hunting. And even on Western hunts, he is covered from head to toe in Scent-Lok clothing.

Despite activated carbon clothing, odor-eliminating sprays and other anti-odor products, it's still a big challenge to keep yourself from stinking on Western hunts because, as Sesselmann points out, "Hunters sweat a ton when hiking up and down mountains."

To help prevent odor contamination, Sesselmann recommends carrying your hunting outfit in your pack and not putting it on until after you've reached your main hunting area for the day.

He said it's also a good idea to bring several sets of hunting garments on your trip and switch to a new one every few days. While at camp, Sesselmann recommends keeping hunting garments in a scent-free container to prevent contamination.

Since a lot of human odor is given off from the head, Sesselmann also suggests using a scent-control head cover and having several available so a fresh one can be put into service every few days.

Finally, Sesselmann employs odor-eliminating sprays and field wipes while hunting. "I often spray down my boots and gear and wipe down my skin to reduce my odor as much as possible," he said.

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