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Velvet Bull Elk

Application Reminder: Wyoming Elk

Hunt Application Reminder: Wyoming Elk

One of the first western states to accept applications is Wyoming. The application period for Wyoming Non-resident Elk opened Jan 1 and will close on Jan 31st. Wyoming’s elk tag allocations are high with many elk populations exceeding objective.

Remember the price increase this year on almost every Wyoming license/tag. For a full list of license fees, you can visit this link:

To apply for Wyoming Elk, go to:

For more information on how to apply in Wyoming for elk, check out these youtube videos:

The Best states for an Elk Hunt

Elk are the ultimate hunting quarry. Combine their size, giant antlers, and in your face vocalizations, and you won’t find much more exciting. But hunting elk is a big undertaking. They are big animals, who can inhabit very uninhabitable country. They are much bigger than a deer, and getting that delicious meat out of the backcountry takes a fair bit of effort. You’ll want to be in hunting shape, or bring along someone, or some livestock that is. Planning a first elk hunt will also take considerable effort. When we look at the best states for hunting elk, we first have to consider our expectations. Most non-resident, public land elk hunts must be drawn through the state game and fish agencies. In some cases, it can take decades to accrue enough points to draw the more coveted tags. In other cases, tags can be acquired over the counter, or in just a few years. Therefore, identifying and considering your expectations, timelines, and abilities are paramount. Are you looking for that bull of a lifetime, or do you want an opportunity to hunt bulls more often and experience the hunt (this usually means compromising some trophy potential)? In this article we’ll visit the western elk states and try to break them down to decide which is the best. We will steer clear of giving Elk hunting states a defined ranking, rather — we’ll touch base on each state (from a non-resident perspective) and you can decide which one best suits your needs.


Arizona has BIG bulls, but doesn’t have much for OTC opportunities for elk hunting, but for the amount of habitat and demand for elk that exists in the state, I think they do a good job of managing the hunts and seasons. You’ll look to spend 3-7 points for a decent archery hunt. But these can be very good hunts. Of course the top tier units and rifle hunts will be a longer wait. With a little patience, you will have opportunities to harvest some very nice bulls in Arizona.

Tule elk are only found in California, so if you want one– you’ll have to hunt them there. It’s a very hard tag to acquire. California is the only state that has 3 elk species to hunt and hunter harvest success is pretty high. That being said, tag numbers are extremely limited.

The reason Colorado sits at the top of the list is because it provides both “trophy” and “opportunity” hunts. Colorado has the most elk of any state in the world, with opportunities to hunt in areas where you can find BIG bulls over 350 inches. There are also a large number of units that hold elk that can be hunted with an over the counter tag every year. Which is great for those who want to put in for a trophy hunt, yet still hunt elk every year.  If you want to hunt big bulls, but don’t want to wait — Colorado also has opportunities to purchase landowner tags to access private and public lands.

A few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have recommended Idaho as a very good elk state. Wolves had decimated some of the largest herds in the state. But, Idaho still holds a lot of elk with some exceptional elk hunts. Much like Colorado and Wyoming, there’s opportunity to hunt, but Idaho also has a few units that have been pumping out some monster bulls over the past few years. Do a little bit of homework and you can find areas of the state that have outstanding elk hunting.


Nevada is a desert — there are no elk in Nevada….wrong. Nevada has good elk hunting. Over the past few years Nevada has been producing some great bulls. They use a squared preference point system with no points reserved for max point holders, so you’re technically never guaranteed a tag, but you also have decent odds in some units once you reach 6-8 points. If you draw some of the top units in the state, you may just have a chance to kill a 360+ bull.

Montana is a great Elk state. Sure they have a few wolves around as well, but Montana does a good job of keeping under the radar. Tag prices have increased recently though, so expect to open your wallet for a chance to hunt. This price increase has made tags a bit more available. Montana has a good mix of big bull areas and opportunity hunts as well. Do your homework before you apply, and you should have a very good hunt.

New Mexico
New Mexico has some very good elk hunting, and good opportunities to purchase landowner tags. But New Mexico also has some great public lands as well. As with most elk states, the best units will take a while to draw, but if you are willing to spend a few thousand on landowner tags (some of which allow you to hunt the public land as well) you can hunt for big bulls often.

Oregon is similar to Utah in that there are some outstanding units that take a long time to draw, and some areas that are harder hunting that are easier to get tags. Once again, do your homework, decide if you want to wait to draw a great tag, hunt a tougher unit, or just apply in another state. Roosevelt hunts can be challenging timber hunts, but not many states provide opportunity to kill a Rosey.

elk feeding

Utah isn’t quite what it was 10 years ago. But it is still one of the best states for BIG bulls. But you’ll have to wait your turn, unless you’re lucky. The southern end of the state has been producing the biggest bulls, and you have a chance to hunt bulls during the rut with a rifle! Harvest success rates are extremely high on these hunts, but tag numbers are very limited. Archery hunters should keep in mind that seasons are early and mostly pre-rut. You’ll probably be waiting 10+ years just to get an archery tag though. The OTC units in Utah are pretty crowded, but you can find a bull here and there to hunt.

Washington produces a giant every now and then, although it isn’t really known as a great elk state. Look to the southeast part of the state to find the biggest bulls. Washington also has some opportunity to hunt Roosevelt Elk, so take a look at Washington and Oregon if a Roosevelt bull is on your bucket list.

Wyoming also provides both trophy quality AND opportunity to hunters. You can play the points game and wait for a unit that has a good chance at providing that 350 + inch bull, or you can hunt every year, or every other year in the general hunt areas and have still see a lot of elk. Your chances at killing a monster are much more slim, but you will have an opportunity to see and kill mature bulls in the 300″ range.

Other States:
You’ll find very good elk hunting in a few other states like Kentucky, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania — along with a few other states. These tags are very limited without much public land. Keep tabs on the eastern states, as elk are recovering across much of their historic range, thanks to re-introduction and herd management.

So which state is best for you? Leave us a comment below and let us know about your upcoming elk hunting plans, or ask us a question!

Scouting for September

By Ben Carter

I believe that hunting elk during the rut is the most fun and most exciting hunt when it comes to western big game. I played the application game with the Utah DWR until finally my name was drawn for a Utah elk hunt. I would be hunting elk in southern Utah in 2014. I had a pretty good idea that I was going to draw based on current trends so I also applied for a general muzzleloader deer tag for the same unit and same time. Luck was on my side and my brother and I both had deer tags as well. It was going to be an exciting year.

I was unfamiliar with the unit that I had drawn. This is not uncommon in Utah where you only get the chance to hunt limited entry elk every 15 years or more. I knew that if I was going to take full advantage I would need to put considerable time in scouting and learning the country. Lucky for me I had some insider knowledge. A good friend of mine, that actually referred me to the unit, accompanied me on my fist scouting trip in July to show me a few places on the unit and get me started in the right direction.

I mostly hunt DIY (do it yourself). Not to disparage anyone that hunts with a guide, but I feel a greater sense of accomplishment knowing I was able to be successful on a hunt on my own. I knew time in the field and on the mountain was going to be crucial to my success. I had just started a new job and had no time off to use, so my weekends were filled with long drives to southern Utah for a couple days of locating key elk habitat. Over July and August I covered most of the unit and was able to hike in and find nice bulls in several canyons. I hung a few cameras and was able to get some pictures of elk, but none of the bulls I was seeing were really what I was after. The big bulls I did see were on a couple large pieces of private property. These “once in every 15 year hunts” put a lot of pressure on hunters to kill trophy class animals. Some people feel cheated when they kill a bull that doesn’t make the record book, or worse eat tag soup.

As August was coming to an end and September was just getting started the bulls started getting more vocal. Some of the coolest encounters I have ever had in the woods happened during this time. Had it been my season I could have killed multiple 6 points, but just being close was an experience in itself. I took a week break off to go help a friend on a rifle elk hunt in a different part of the state, and then it would be time for my hunt. My hunt was set to open on a Wednesday. I got down there Sunday night before it opened to have a couple days to locate a shooter bull for the opener.

It rained pretty heavy Sunday night and when I woke up Monday morning the air was thick with humidity. It was well before dawn as I had an hour and a half hike in front of me to get into where I knew where some elk were and check my trail-camera. The moisture made the woods quiet, and I climbed the mountain in silence with only the wind in the aspens making any noise. This peacefulness was not what I had hoped for. It was September 22nd, the peak of the rut! There should have been bulls going crazy.

It was just getting light as I crested a knob about 2 thirds of the way in. I was right on time. Usually from this knob you can get a good view of the canyon and I had seen animals most times I had been there. Today it was covered with a misty fog. I didn’t even stop, I dove into the trees. My first stop was a deer kill that I had found 2 weeks earlier. I had photographed this deer early in the summer, but then found him dead during the archery hunt. It was the nicest deer I had seen in all my scouting and I was pretty bummed to find him dead. I was going to check the kill again and see if it was still there. The kill was empty except for one front leg. Coyotes or bears had drug the rest off. I then continued up the slope to an area where 2 large clearings meet. This was where I had hung my camera. It was now about 7 am and plenty light to see. Still no bugles. When I got to my camera and checked my pictures, there was one nice bull on there and quite a few small bulls. I was a little discouraged and decided to break the silence with a bugle. I bugled into the fog and a bull answered me from below. It sounded like a young bull. I decided to check a bedding area where I had seen bulls and sign before. There was still lots of sign but no elk. Discouraged I started my decent and heading back to the knob.

I was side-hilling across a large foggy clearing when I caught some movement in the tree line about 80 yards in front of me. I had been cow calling and wasn’t moving quietly, so it surprised me that an animal would be there. I was completely exposed except for the blanket of fog, but I decided to move closer. I got about 30 yards from the tree line and I could see fuzzy brown shapes moving through the aspens near me. Elk, and they were bulls. Five bulls in total and they were moving my way. I froze and did my best tree impression. They got closer. The bulls didn’t even notice me, they were feeding and got comfortable. They started sparing and a few times it got pretty heated. My range finder could barely pierce the fog, but they were only 30 yards away. Most were 4 and 5 points, but one was a small six, probably the bull the bugled back to me earlier that morning.

It was so cool being so close and them being oblivious to my position. After about 15 minutes the wind picked up and the fog started to clear. I remained motionless, but they soon spotted me and spooked down the hill. The visibility at 30 yards really didn’t change much even with the fog gone. However, the sense of security it gave them must have gone and they became aware of me. I side-hilled back to the way I had come up and caught a glimpse of them going out a clearing above me, they had circled me across two giant rock slides and climbed 200 yards above me in the time it took me to get over to the ridge. The last bull I saw was actually a bigger bull that they must have picked up on the way. Still not a giant, but a nice bull. I decided I was going to check out a different area on the unit that would hopefully have more rutting activity.

I made it to the new camp site about 2 in the afternoon started setting up camp. My spirits were already better as I could hear bulls bugling on the hill above me. I finished with camp and I could still here a bull bugling and he sounded pretty close. I thought that if he was going to bugle in the middle of the day I would sneak in on him and see what he was.

I started moving in on that bull about an hour later. He would bugle every 10 to 15 minutes and I slowly worked in. Eventually I spotted some fur through the trees at about 80 yards. I started glassing very carefully and started to make out the herd. Eventually I spotted the bull. He was a 6×7 with great tops. I was excited because had it been open season I could have easily harvested him from where I was hiding. I watched him and his cows for a while and decided to see how they would respond to calls. I cow called a couple times and boom he was out of there. He took is cows and left. I was very surprised how call shy he was. I would make a note of this.

I went back to camp, ate a quick bite, and got ready to go and watch a property boundary that I was planning to hunt to see what kind of evening activity there was. I got into position and waited to see if any elk were using this as a corridor as I had heard they have in the past. After a little while the hills lit up with bugles. However most were below me. Closer to the 7 point I had snuck in on earlier. There were a few bulls on the private land, but most were on the public. I waited until dark and then went back to camp. I still wanted to see if there was any activity there in the morning.

Tuesday morning came and I was in the meadow on the property boundary again. Tomorrow the hunt started and this would be my last day to scout. Again nothing close to me, but I could hear bulls below in the trees. I waited a little while and checked the cameras I had positioned the night before. Nothing but pictures of me setting them up. I started back to camp but thought I would check on a bull that I could hear bugling. This was in a draw farther north and I hadn’t seen much activity in there. I moved in and could hear elk going through the oaks in front of me. I had a 5 point bull come into about 10 yards and never know I was there. It was hard to be quiet and my going was slow, but suddenly a bull bugled close by and started pushing some cows my way. A nice bull that I estimated around 330 340 came by and I watched them for a while. I tried calling on him as I left and it didn’t seem to have any affect. These animals must have been called pretty heavy during the early rifle hunt.

I went back to camp and ate lunch. This time I was going to come in from above on the bulls I had heard bugling this morning and the night before. I dropped into the timber and was moving silently. I was making my way down the draw when the brush in front of me stood up. There was a rag-horn bull about 5 feet from me. I was just through a dead pine and I couldn’t see me. The wind was blowing up the canyon and right into my face. He couldn’t smell me either. He got a little nervous and walked a few yards away but we stood there for a while. I eventually got impatient and just started moving again and he spooked a little. I could hear bulls bugling below me and I pressed on. I jumped a spike and he ran down the draw. I hoped he wouldn’t spook out the other elk so I climbed up on top of the ridge and kept going down the mountain. The spike apparently had the same plan and popped up in front of me again. I had no option to just push him so he ran off again and I hoped the other elk wouldn’t listen to some dumb lone spike. I saw some more movement and figured it was the spike but then I saw big tines moving through the aspens. It was a nice 6 point and he was about 100 yards down the ridge from me. I watched him until he crossed the ridge and I followed across to see what was on the other side. I could see a smaller 6 point up the hill from me some. I could still hear bulls below and was worried everything was going to spook out now that I was completely surrounded by elk. The smaller six was headed right to me so I dropped back into the bottom of the draw and decided to try and slip back out the way I had came.

He beat me to it. And I had to wait him out. I called at him once and he started raking trees. I called again and he spooked. He circled me and headed north. I knew that if I stayed down there I would blow all the elk out. I headed out the way I had come.

There were still bulls that I hadn’t seen in there and I thought that maybe I could come in from the south and get a look at them. I got back to my wheeler and did a big circle around the mountain. I started hiking in from the south and I was right in the elk again. I could hear horns clashing and elk running. I moved stealthily though the oaks and suddenly I saw some tines sticking up above the brush. I moved my position a little and got a better look. It was the 6 point I had seen cross below me earlier. I watched and photographed him for a while. I couldn’t get past his heard to go see what was beyond. Also it was getting dark fast. I decided to move out and not spook them out. Tomorrow was the hunt and I knew I had a bunch of undisturbed bulls in the area to hunt.

My brother and father arrived late that night I told them about my scouting and I told them my game plan to go after the 7 point from the north early in the morning. I knew no other hunters were going after these bulls.

We woke up well before light to watch the traffic and see if we would need to adjust our plan for other hunters. There was some traffic on the roads but they all drove past the area I was wanting to go in on. Perfect, I thought. The elk were pretty close to camp so we waited until it was a little light in order to not spook them out without being able to see them. I picked a bugle that sounded like the 7 points and started moving in with my dad and brother close behind. It was a little hard to move 3 guys silently in, but based on my experience with these animals we weren’t going to be able to call them in.

We closed the distance to under 100 yards, but the elk had gotten on the other side of some small aspens. The trees were so thick there was no way to get through them silently. We could hear another bull just up the slope from us and I decided to move in on them to see what he was. We crossed the bottom of the shallow canyon and started up the other side and into the oaks. Flash! I saw elk.

I dropped to my knees so I could glass under the oak canopy. I could see quite a few elk flashing through the trees. I could see they were moving pretty fast. The elk were moving, and they were moving our way. I ran 30 yards up the draw to about the edge of the oaks and got ready. Suddenly the whole clearing in front me was full of elk. A bunch of cows came running in and a couple of smaller satellite bulls. Then with a screaming bugle the herd bull entered. He dwarfed the smaller bulls and rushed in to push them off.

I could see his mains were decent and his tops looked good. I decided that if he gave me a shot I would take it. The herd was running around about 80 yards from me but there were so many elk I couldn’t get a clear lane at the bull. He disappeared and I thought we had lost him but then he came running back out into the middle of the clearing. The herd cleared and he paused to look back. BANG! The sound filled the clearing and the gray smoke of my muzzle loader shot out in front of me. He humped up and his herd ran off into the trees up the draw. I knew he was hit and hit hard. He took a wobbly step, then another and disappeared behind some trees down towards the bottom of the draw.

I quickly started to reload as my brother and dad came to my side. I got my weapon ready and headed into the meadow. From the way he was moving I thought we would be down.

I got around the trees, and I could see a horn sticking up above the grass. He was down! Man that was a good feeling. I moved over cautiously to make sure he was finished. That was the end. There was some relief and congratulating. My bull was down. He had only gone 10 yards. I had hit him perfect and my hunt was over. I only actually hunted about 30 minutes, but what a great experience. I can’t wait until next year. It was great being able to share it with my father and brother who are both as passionate about hunting as I am. Truly one of the best moments of my life.

Bow Hunting

Success is in the Details

Bow HuntingThere is an advantage to being a relative new-comer to bow hunting. The lessons I have learned in my relatively short ‘career’ are still vivid in my mind and memory. The basic instincts and awareness that seasoned veterans may take for granted, I still consciously account for each time in the mountains during elk season, in the tree stand waiting for wary whitetails, or patiently stalking late season mule deer.

This September, I will embark on only my 7th big game hunting season with stick and string. The memories of that very first elk hunt; walking up the drainage at dawn, moving slowly, brushing the heavy dew off of my pants, and listening to my very first elk bugle still make the back of my neck tingle like it did that crisp autumn morning. It is this clarity that gives me an advantage in relating some of my hard-earned lessons to those starting out or anyone looking for an edge.

As clear as my memories are of that maiden hunt with my good buddy Jason, the knowledge that I was completely clueless are even more pronounced. Other than a few close calls, probably more like blind luck, our efforts were pretty futile that year. However, it was the lessons of that season and the next few that built the foundation for whatever hunting prowess I now have (or don’t have in some cases).

One of the most important lessons that I have learned, and continue to learn is to listen to what the animals are telling me even when they are not there. What clues did they leave? Some are easy to spot, some are much more subtle but they are there nonetheless. ‘What were they doing when they were here?’ ‘Have they been here more than once?’ ‘How long has it been since they were right here?’ Examples of these clues are elk wallows, whitetail rubs and scrapes, bear marking trees, creek crossings, etc.


One of the best examples of this took place several years ago when one of my hunting buddies and I started seriously hunting whitetails here in southern Idaho. After elk season, we talked nonstop about setting up some trail cameras and hanging some tree stands, but we continued to procrastinate well into October. Finally, one day, I decided to take my Labrador out to look for some pheasants in the same area we planned to chase the whitetails later in the season. Combing through the brush and crossing the creek, I began to see deer tracks everywhere and lots of potential choke points to hang some cameras. I began to get excited.

I quickly packed up my dog and started the hour plus long drive back to my house. As I was driving I called Doug and told him to leave work early and meet me at my house, we were going to do some scouting work. He debated for a minute or two and then agreed. As it was already late afternoon, we hustled as fast as we could to our destination. Frantically, we loaded our gear and disappeared into the tangle of river bottom foliage. As we traveled through the same area I scouted earlier, Doug began to point out to me all of the things that my inexperience and excitement hid from my eyes earlier.

“Look at this rub!” He exclaimed. “And this scrape here, there is a lot of buck activity in this area!”

As he showed me some of these signs, it felt like the blinders were removed from my eyes. I started to slow down, look harder and–surprise–see more. I knew what each piece of sign was I just wasn’t looking hard enough. I was only seeing the surface, not what the clues were telling about what was going on below the surface. It was a matter of

knowing what to look for and where to look, but most importantly to just be aware of all of it.

Good Whitetail Buck

I can think of countless scenarios before and since that point to the importance of paying attention to these clues. Several years ago, while hunting elk here in my home state, I took off after an unsuccessful morning glassing session. In a meadow not far above our camp I noticed a cluster of elk tracks that appeared to be extremely fresh because the dry, cocoa colored dirt was still pressed down solid in spite of little moisture. In an area like ours, there are a lot of tracks so telling fresh and old apart is a much needed skill.

Again, Doug was with me so I motioned for him to come and check out my find. “Those are really fresh,” he acknowledged. We quickly made a plan. We would move down the drainage, alternating calling sessions with one guy as a ‘shooter’ and the other as the ‘caller’. I volunteered to call first, nothing. We moved down 100 yards and he started calling, nothing. We moved again…nothing. Less than an hour after seeing the tracks and on our fourth session, Doug called up a nice 5-point bull that I arrowed at 16 yards. You have to love when a plan comes together.

Sometimes it is more than visual clues that tell us the habits and whereabouts of our quarry. Learning to pay attention to the sounds and smells of the outdoors is a skill to be honed like any other. Most hunters are aware that elk have a very distinct odor and hunting into the wind can help lead you in the direction of the herd if you are paying attention to your senses. Some people like to charge through the forest, a lot like we did during that maiden season. A ‘hunter’ has the discipline to slow down and be aware of all of his senses and surroundings.

The year before the elk hunt mentioned earlier, I was probably still in that class of hunter–charging through the mountains, mostly oblivious to my surroundings. However, curiosity was something that I had in spades. So, much to my best friend Jason’s dismay, I scrambled off of our intended path to investigate a strange sound I had heard on the finger ridge above us. Several minutes later, and only two hours into our week-long adventure, I had arrowed my first bull elk, a nice 6-point Idaho monarch. To this day, Jason swears that it was a bird squawking and not any sound an elk would make that drew me up the hill that evening.
196527_1009345246062_2275_nPaying attention to my surroundings paid off that day as it has many times since. It doesn’t always lead to harvesting an animal but all of it contributes to my education and knowledge bank. Again, sometimes it is a familiar smell or a nearly inaudible sound that leads us in a direction. Sometimes it is the way the grass is still folded over in a peculiar way. Other times it is a splash of water from hooves or paws leaving a stream. All of these things tell us something, even in the absence of game. It’s how we process and use this information that makes the difference.

I have been lucky enough to have mentors that have showed me some of these things, which definitely expedites the learning curve, and that is what I hope to do for others by sharing my experiences. I have had opportunities to take a few young hunters with me on an adventure or two and passing this knowledge on is highly rewarding. Seeing the light bulb flicker on when you show them some of these tell-tale signs can be just as much fun as the hunting itself.

New Decals!

I hope the draws have treated you well. Mine were a bit sparse this year, but at least I’ll be chasing bucks in Colorado with an old friend of mine.

We’ve added a new decal to our lineup- expect more soon as we’ve decided to get a few more made. The latest is for all of us Elk hunters. It features a pretty herd bull pushing a few cows – and I think it turned out pretty awesome. We’ve got these available in white and silver in 8 inch and 15 inch widths. If you need a custom size or color, email me and I’ll see what I can do. ( As summer rolls along, we’ve got some exciting new product reviews, contest, articles, and some very unique and cool map products coming your way.

Leave a comment on what type of decal you’d like to see, and let us know what tags you drew!

New Decal – order one today!


Practical Motivation for Today’s Hunter

By Israel‘Izzy’ Walls
I have heard varying opinions on the importance of fitness to today’s hunter.  On one side is the mindset of extreme training (i.e. Cam Hanes and company) and on the other are those that symbolize the mainstream perception of us [hunters] (i.e. the ‘good ol boy’ with a frosty beverage in one hand, a family heirloom rifle in the other, and a midsection that has a value higher than their I.Q.).  There is nothing wrong with either individual but the truth is that most hunters fall somewhere in the middle.

Most hunters that I know want to be in better shape for each upcoming season, but fail to find the time or motivation to do what it takes.  I, like most people, tend to find motivation in the form of failures and successes. Experiencing both of these the past two seasons have demonstrated to me the practicality of needing to do as much as you can to put yourself in the best position to succeed.

Most years, I make plans to train like the ‘extreme’ side of the fence but probably land closer to what would be characterized as consistent, diligent, and intense training for the ensuing hunting season.  During the year 2010, however, I would say that I didn’t live up to my normal standards of weight training and cardio-vascular conditioning.  My lack of training was not without good cause, mind you, as my wife and I prepared for the birth of our first child. Not to mention the fact that I drew my once-in-a-lifetime Shiras Bull Moose tag here in my home state ofIdaho.  All of the good luck must have lulled me into a false sense of security.

I soon learned my lesson.  The first week of September found me in one of my favorite areas with my bow in one hand and both a Bull Elk and a Bull Moose tag for the same unit in my pocket. Three days of hiking and searching various spots with two great hunting buddies, produced several good encounters with elk and only a couple small moose spotted. I ascended a narrow finger ridge at daybreak by myself.  Waiting for my serenade from above or one of the timbered canyons to either side of me, I paused at about two-thirds from the top waiting for ample light to gain the remaining elevation.

Legal shooting light found me moving again.  Shortly thereafter, I caught movement ahead of me at the plateau I was heading for.  It was a mature 5-point bull and he was heading away from my direction. With good thermals and the methodical ascent, I knew he wasn’t leaving because of me so I sprinted up the hill, quickly cutting the distance in half.  I dropped my pack and continued to hustle my way up to a single pine just below the precipice of the plateau.  My first set of cow calls revealed the reason the 5-point was high tailing it out of the country.  A monstrous bugle echoed out of the timbered canyon to my left.  My doubt that the new bull would reveal himself caused me to stay in my current position and continue to try to lure the first bull back in my direction.  My second session of cow calls didn’t reveal the original bull either, but sparked another series of chilling screams from the bull to my left.  His third series of bugles set off an alarm in my head that this bull was, in fact, heading up the drainage in the direction of my calls.  It was time to make a move.

Still laboring from my initial race up the hill, I left my position at the base of the pine, dropped down a level, in an effort to keep my scent below the charging bull, and sprinted back towards him at an angle up the hill forming a ‘fish hook’ with my path.  I soon reached the edge of the timber and took a knee just in time to see the buckskin animal moving right to left through the morning shadows up the hill in front of me.  I reached for my rangefinder and attempted to find a landmark in his path that would give me an accurate reading.  My heaving chest and lungs made it hard to make sense of what the rangefinder was telling me.  Finally, as the giant 340 class six-point bull crested the timberline, I stopped him with a gentle ‘chirp’ and was able to get an accurate reading on the single tree that was directly in front of his hind legs.

My mind quickly replayed the hundreds of practice shots I had taken at sixty yards during the off season and here was this massive target standing broadside at fifty-eight.  ‘I can make this shot in my sleep,’ I recall thinking.  With that I raised, and drew my bow in one steady motion only to realize that my breathing pattern was bordering on asthmatic.  My sight pin bobbed & weaved like a prize fighter and I was powerless to get it under control.  My lack of conditioning would not allow me to make an ethical shot on this monarch.  I would have to let him walk.  As he trotted off another fifty yards and stopped to look back at me one last time, he barked in my direction as if to say, ‘What is your problem?’ I knew what my problem was, and I would not be doomed to repeat it.

The third week of September 2011 found me in the same unit but in a different spot from where my heartbreak occurred the year before.  My pre-season routine had been better than ever and I was in the best shape I had been in since my final year of college football.  I was cruising the mountains and the miles with an ease that I faintly remember experiencing many years ago.  At one point, I remember my hunting partner, Doug Somsen (who is my mentor and an amazing hunter) saying, ‘I am glad you have been sick this week or I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with you at all!’  Between his back injury from earlier in the year and my severe head & chest cold that made breathing next to impossible, we were a sorry sight but we were still hunting hard.

Day five of a seven day bivy hunt revealed a herd of elk within a couple hundred yards of our modest dry camp.  Unable to get around them and into position undetected, we poured off the north face of this drainage towards the bottom of the canyon.  One consistently vocal bull had grabbed our attention as we flowed down the timbered slope across the creek in the bottom and over the next ridge.

As we neared the bull’s ‘bedroom’, Doug held up to stretch his back and sent me after the quarry like he would his Labrador retriever.  Hearing the persistent bull beckon once more just a couple hundred yards ahead, I saw no reason to complain or argue.  I eagerly moved up the draw, careful to keep my approach hidden and quiet but at a pace that would have me there in no time.  I soon had a visual on the elk; he was bedded down by himself about seventy yards ahead.  He was a magnificent six-point that was comfortably above the 350 mark.  We were separated by a diagonal row of quaking aspen trees so a shot from this direction was not possible.  I took a knee trying to assess the situation when I noticed his cows to my left at about fifty yards.  They hadn’t seen me either so my focus returned to their leader.  He then bugled once more from his bed in response to another bull well up the ridge who had been making noise non-stop this whole time.  As his bugle tapered off, he stood up, left his cows, and made a bee-line up the hill towards his vocal challenger–leaving me there bewildered.

I walked up the timbered slope to my right and met up with Doug who was looking at me in a way that asked, ‘what on earth just happened?’  I replayed the story for him in short order and he confidently revealed that the lower bull was probably headed up to start a fight with his antagonistic adversary.  We decided to take chase but the pain in Doug’s lower back was going to slow his usual long-legged pace so I told him I would run up this ridge to the right of the action and try and cut off the elk.  He would come up behind the group in case they busted me from the other direction.

I took off up the hill as quickly as I could, trying once again to move swiftly but quietly.  After what seemed like a significant distance I began to see the shapes and colors I was looking for a little farther up the hill and to my left.  I continued to gain elevation in order to get parallel with the elk and quietly moved in closer to the herd, now directly to my left.  I settled in next to a pine tree in order to break up my figure.  I was now fifty yards from one of the most amazing sequence of events I have witnessed in my hunting life.

The large bull from the bottom of the hill charged into the dense timber and locked horns with the vocal bull we heard from the bottom.  The large five-point held his ground and fought for all he was worth to keep this dominating figure from taking his harem in its entirety.   The battle echoed through the trees, sending cows and smaller bulls scattering out of the cover and off of the hill in order to protect themselves.  There were elk headed in every direction and I was right where I wanted to be…right in the middle of them!

The two bulls separated and danced around the forest in front of me occasionally stopping to catch their breath and survey the damage.  My rangefinder picked up one tree near a popular spot that was forty-eight yards from me.  Immediately after that, the impressive five-point came through the modest opening and provided a view of his vitals giving me my first opportunity.  Even with the highly intense and taxing chase I had just completed I subtly drew my bow with no issues and was just about to settle my fifty yard pin with confidence when the action picked back up and the bull sprinted off to defend one of his subjects once again.

A few moments later, the larger bull retreated back down the mountain with a few new prizes.  The big 5 points was now hustling around trying to take account of who he still had so as not to lose any more.  As he worked his cows up the hill to my right I snuck onto the dusty battlefield in an attempt to come up behind the scattered herd.  I could hear him dart down a canyon finger to my right looking for stragglers.   As he bugled his way back up to the cows that were now right in front of me I got into position and took a knee, once again ready for my opportunity.  My sixty-eight pound Carbon Element drew back with ease. He continued his ascent up the canyon working from my right to my left; his antlers followed by his impressive body materializing right in front of me at a mere twenty-three yards.

Unlike last year, my weapon was solid in my hands, even with the much more intense scenario that had just played out.   There was no heaving of my chest, all of my facilities were under control, and my pin was as steady as a rock.  All of that off-season effort was just about to show its worth.  The squats and lunges, the circuit training in the gym, and all the miles on the treadmill, gravel, and pavement were about to pay dividends.  My raspy voice did it’s best to create a subtle cow call in such close quarters.  The bull stopped almost instantly, completely broadside, and looked right at me.  I could hear him breathe as I settled my thirty yard top-pin tight to his left shoulder and released my arrow in his direction….

I mentioned earlier that we are motivated by our successes and failures.  My failure in 2010 motivated me to work harder than ever to succeed in 2011.  For the most part, it worked.  But, as my 393 grain Gold Tip skipped off of a microscopic branch that had eluded my vision, I realized I would have another source of motivation for the upcoming off-season.  Not only to continue training the way I had for the previous nine months but also to always make sure that my shooting lane is clear. Hey, that’s hunting.

Public Land Elk Hunting: 5 Steps

By Brad Carter

I watched my Dad peer through the eyepiece of his binoculars. Barely old enough to keep up, I desperately wanted to take a look. I tried to search with my eyes in the direction that the binoculars were pointed, and finally could make out small tan spots in a meadow on the very top of the highest peak around. I finally had my turn to view what made my heart pound with anticipation. They were elk, and they were living at 9,000 feet where we had seen them several times before, and several times since. Now later in life, as I carry my own rifle, I have found myself climbing that same rocky peak in search of the elk I hunted with my father years before.

I have seen elk up close in that same meadow consistently year after year. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Elk have similar patterns that they follow every year almost to the foot. This is just one of the many things I have learned about hunting successfully for Bull Elk. By following the tips below, you can increase your success when hunting on public land for pressured Bull Elk.

1. FIND YOUR ELK: Elk are going to be found in the same places year after year, unless they have been moved out by an irregularity. For example, an area that I, along with my family and friends, had found success in just wasn’t clicking for us one particular year. As I glassed the opposite mountain side where I had previously seen elk nearly every time I went, there wasn’t an animal to be seen. To investigate further, I hiked to the top of that ridge. Sheep tracks littered the ground. This event ruined my hunt until I figured out that the herd had moved across the canyon, to nearly the same clearing that I was glassing from the day before. Nothing can replace pre-season scouting for finding where elk will be during the hunt. The most critical days are those right before the hunt. However, once an area has produced results during consecutive years, there is a good chance you will find elk in the same place the next year.

2. PATTERN YOUR ELK: Elk aren’t likely to stay in the same area year round. Several factors play into this phenomenon. Hunting pressure will move elk out of their summer areas and into areas where we are less likely to reach them—unless we’re just plain crazy. Frankly, I have been called crazy several times for killing elk where I have.

During a public land bow hunt in Wyoming several years ago, I was out of my tent well before the sun had even thought of rising. The elk had been bugling all night, and I knew exactly where they were. However, upon crossing the river that flowed between the elk and me, they had already begun to move off. I couldn’t get a shot at the bull I was after, so I started my trek back to camp for lunch. I met up with my father, and we took a shortcut on a game trail through a patch of heavy timber. We plodded along, not expecting, or thinking about chancing onto an elk that may be out late in the morning. I was looking through the timber, and caught some motion out of the corner of my eye. Realizing it was an elk, we dropped and crouched behind some brush. It was just a cow, so we waited and watched. Then another cow materialized out of the trees, and she slowly fed away from us. I looked up at my Dad, and I could see excitement in his eyes. He motioned with one finger as he leaned over and informed me that a good bull was bedded about 70 yards away. We huddled silently as the bull stood up and fed away from us and over the ridge. We didn’t have an opportunity to stalk, and we had to go home because of other obligations. We returned later in the season, and after a morning of hunting returned back to camp on the same game trail. We sneaked in and thoroughly scanned the trees for elk. There weren’t any there, so we continued through the trees back to camp. My father was leading and suddenly stopped. I froze in my tracks, he pointed with one finger behind his back. I looked ahead, and there was the same bull facing us at 80 yards. He had spotted us before we spotted him, and he scuffled off and over the same ridge he’d disappeared over earlier that season. This old bull had found a place very much to his liking. After he had the slightest hunting pressure, he moved into his favorite old hiding place and stayed there.

3. GET DOWN AND DIRTY: If you want to kill a trophy bull on public land, you’re going to have to get to places others just plain won’t. The peak I watched with my father as a young boy was one such place. As soon as the fist rifle shot was fired, these elk went as high as they could go—9,000 feet into the sky on the top of Elk Mountain. Elk, however; don’t always climb the mountain peaks; they often find the deepest and darkest patch of timber around. These big bulls only feed out at night, and when faced with any danger from a hunter can escape with a few quick kicks of their feet. One of the only ways to get a shot at these elk is to sneak your way into the timber after them. Usually these big old bulls won’t go to such extreme measures during an archery season because the hunting pressure isn’t as great and success is a lot quieter. I have been faced with this dilemma many times during my rifle hunt experiences. I have found that sneaking through elk-filled timber as quietly and slowly as possible creates results. By slowly, I mean very slowly—taking a step and studying the trees, then taking another five steps, and then stopping to search the trees. This method does often present difficult, running shots, which under some circumstances may question our shooting ethics. Other times, however, you can see the elk before they see you. I often sneak into timber along a worn game trail as the morning wears on, and have frequent sightings of mature bulls.

4. PRACTICE: I am a firm believer in practice. Of course going out to the shooting range and putting a few rounds through your rifle is going to help. But I think an important part of practice is stepping back and learning from your experiences. Decide what you could have done better in a certain hunting situation that would have made it successful. Feel comfortable shooting at distances that you have fallen short in real situations. Your surroundings will not always be perfect when that bull of your dreams comes around the nearest pine tree, but you need to be.

5. BE PERSISTENT: Even seemingly hopeful situations can end up falling apart. For instance, the sun had already fallen below the horizon when my father and I plucked an arrow from our quivers and pushed them back into our nocks. I cow called, and the brush began to crackle under an old bull’s feet. My heart nearly leapt out of my chest. I caught a glimpse of his ghostly silhouette; my release grasped my bowstring as I drew my bow. To my right, my Dad was doing the same thing. The bull froze; I set my pin behind his shoulder blade. But a lone branch from a deadfall log blocked my arrow’s path, so I informed my Dad that I didn’t have a shot. He decided to take the shot. The arrow clanked as it disappeared into the darkness. The bull circled us and holed up for the night, all the while still barking at us. I could no longer see the bow in my hand, and knowing that my father had missed, we returned to camp for the night. The next day we chanced into the same clearing. Wondering what caused the miss, I followed the bull’s tracks from the night before and froze in the very place that it had. My father stood where he had drawn his bow the previous evening. As we replayed our experience, my father spotted his arrow. It had lodged nearly six feet in the air in the same branch that had obstructed my way.

Things don’t always go as planned. Realize that it’s just part of the game, and continue to join me in being consumed in the passion of hunting elk.