The Elk-Hunting Code
August 29, 2012
Elk seasons will soon be upon us. After 30-some years of passionately chasing elk — 23 of those spent guiding paying hunters — I still can't get enough. I'm poised, geared up and ready for action, anxiously waiting September's cool mornings.
Thinking about elk hunting always starts me thinking of the many misperceptions surrounding the sport. Mostly, these ill-conceived notions stem from trying to turn something inherently difficult, physically demanding most of all, into something leisurely and, well, "easy." Easy, as in, "Just toot on an elk bugle or cow call and trophy bulls will come running." As in, "Stake out a convenient watering site for an easy kill."
Unfortunately, these perpetuated myths, like rattling, decoying, still-hunting corn rows, sitting scrapes or dispensing buck lure, normally come off better on paper than reality. They're devices for inflating the validity of a particular product.
In reality, boringly straightforward approaches account for 90 percent of elk-hunting success. That 90 percent includes dogging bugling bulls and spot-and-stalk hunting. Calling, and waterhole hunting (unless you bowhunt elk in the dry Southwest), constitute the other 10 percent.
But you just watched the video of the call manufacturer's pro staff killing 12 trophy bulls in quick succession — all called into range with their remarkable products! Let me ask some simple questions: How many failed hunts didn't make the cut? More importantly, if you were in the business of fabricating videos highlighting your calling products, would you bowhunt the same public lands you now ply?
To put this as simply as possible, bowhunting elk is a tough assignment. Bowhunting success averages 10 to 20 percent. More pointedly, 10 percent of the hunters who get it regularly tag 90 percent of those elk. You can't arrive on an elk hunt expecting to hang all expectations on a single, fanciful technique. This is a sure setup for failure, save exceptional luck.
Calling is part of elk hunting, without a doubt. But I would never toss all my eggs into that single basket. So is guarding water and/or wallows, something exceptionally productive during the perfect weather (dry and hot) and settings (areas with limited water sources), but rain instantly dampers that approach. And bowhunting elk is also about dogging bugling bulls — the ultimate technique, but again not infallible, like during an unseasonably hot week, or when excessive hunting pressure turns bulls tight lipped. Elk hunting can also include spot-and-stalk techniques normally reserved for taciturn mule deer.
The point is all elk-hunting ploys, from calling to stalking, should remain open for consideration during any week of bowhunting elk. Savvy elk hunters read each evolving scenario and adjust approaches accordingly. Regularly successful elk hunters remain flexible and carry an extensive bag of tricks.
For more details, read Patrick Meitin's book, Bowhunting Modern Elk, available by clicking HERE.