How to Hunt Elk in the High Country
Be in Good Shape to Hunt Elk in the High Country
If you're going to be hunting elk at higher elevations
, even 8,000 - 10,000 feet, you better get yourself in good shape before hand, because the hiking and equipment carrying and then the carrying of elk carcass is going to take a toll and require a good deal of strength and endurance at times. A young elk can weight 600-650 pounds and an adult well over 800 pounds.
You can lift weights as one way to be stronger, but actual hiking with a heavy pack is going to be the best way to get in shape for this. In the off season (winter months when you're not likely to be hiking in the mountains to get in shape) spend regular time on a specialized treadmill with an incline of 25%; you can train for elk hunting right at home; that's a much steeper incline than the typical 10-15% max seen on traditional treadmills.
Don't run on this treadmill with a steep incline though -- hike on it. Build up your leg muscles and carry a couple light weight dumbbells. As you get stronger and in better shape increase the incline (you're not likely to start at 25%, that's the maximum incline of these treadmills) and start carrying slightly heavier dumbbells. It may not be smart to carry a backpack on a treadmill due to possible equipment malfunction (treadmills aren't designed for people carrying 80-100 pounds on their back).
Don't think for a moment that you'll have to carry an entire carcass that weighs 600 pounds or more -- keep reading (further down) for tips on field dressing and quartering (butchering) an elk for backcountry transport.
During the rut (elk mating season), elk calls can be an effective way to bring adult bulls to your location, where you'll be waiting to take one down. If you know how to use an elk call and sound a lot like a cow (female elk) that's calling for a mate (during the rut), these bulls can often come running right to you -- literally running to where you're set up in a treestand with your weapon ready.
Elk Rut / Annual Breeding
The rut is only a few weeks long and lasts from September through October and some breeding can even continue into November. During the peak of the rut you can hear elk calling and bugling throughout the area.
Some hunters advise calling out like a fawn. Other hunters advise to break up the sound of your walking, so your "walk" through the wilderness doesn't sound like a person, but instead your movement sounds more like another elk. Take two steps and stop. Take four steps and stop. Call like a fawn (or cow). Staying downwind and crouched down out of sight -- for example behind tall grass or brush -- may enable you to move within range of a shot -- for those times you're trailing an elk rather than waiting up in a treestand.
Practice your elk calls at home before you ever get out to the wilderness. Buy a DVD on hunting elk and on that DVD make sure that actual elk calls are included; listen closely and then practice your calls; after a few days or weeks of practice let your wife or one of your friends rate the sound of your elk call. Play some pranks on your neighbors. Whatever it takes. Once you've got it down practice your calls from time to time so your new ability doesn't get rusty.
Check out major outfitters like Cabelas for elk calls and then search for the best price on Amazon.
Dealing with Wolves and Predators when Hunting
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With the re-introduction of wolves into the Rocky Mountains in recent decades, you may hear wolf howls from time to time (if you're in the Rockies). Wolves are going to spook elk and during the rut elk are likely to quiet down and hide themselves and wait for the wolves (who are typically nomadic) to pass through the area. If you hear wolves in the area it might be best to hold off on hunting and just wait a few days yourself -- preferably safely back at camp or even high up in a tree. It's common knowledge that wolves in the wild can be dangerous, even though most keep their distance from humans presently (there have been reports though of wolves stalking people and in a time of collapse there's a chance that wolves might be a lot more dangerous than they currently are today -- I explain why in another article
). Wolves have killed people in the past. Learning how to build a temporary shelter high up in the trees might be a smart way to avoid any predators prowling the forest below -- though cougars can climb trees also. At the least high up in the trees you're off the ground and less likely to fall prey to wolves or grizzlies -- or other predators that appear.
Signs of Elk
Bulls have antlers and shed the velvety covering each year; when they do they'll rub their antlers vigorously on trees and brush, leaving clear signs that they were there. Bark will be scraped away, branches broken; recognize these as signs that elk are in the area or have frequented that area in the past. If you're near the mountains, and down in the lowlands when you spot these signs of elk, most likely elk are in the area during the winter months, when snow fall in the mountains pushes them to lower elevations. Consider the season as well as land elevation in the general area as well as any drainage basins when deciding when and where to place treestands that (as experts have advised) you'll use a few months later when wind and weather conditions are just right.
Like deer, elk are split hooved animals; because of an elk's greater size, they usually leave tracks in most places that they walk. While deer tracks may be alone or in a smaller group, elk are typically herd animals -- you might find 20 - 50 elk traveling together with one really large bull as the alpha. If you come across fresh tracks and see prints left by numerous elk then you have a chance of coming across a herd -- as long as you stay downwind. Here's a good article on reading elk tracks and tracking elk.
Because elk (some elk in some areas) like to stay near drainage basins, the noise of a nearby river or creek may offer you some cover -- meaning that as you walk along the basin, elk up ahead may not hear you due to the sound of the river or creek nearby. Use the noise of the river or creek to your advantage when you believe elk are in the area. If elk can't hear you you have an advantage. Again, pay close attention to wind direction -- you don't want elk to catch any hint of your scent.
Concealing Your Scent from Elk
You can buy artificial scent concealment
such as fox urine, raccoon urine, or even elk urine, but in a time of collapse these may not last you more than a few months (depending on how much you stock up on) and you will want to figure out some natural ways to help conceal your scent, in case these products run out on you. Talk to guides and outfitters in your area -- not all scents are effective in every area. Find out what works best on elk in the region you plan to hunt.
If you can find an elk wallow (that's an area where male and female elk urinate in mud -- and then roll around in -- typically during the rut) consider it a great place to pick up natural scent concealment. Coat your hunting clothes with mud from the wallow and you're going to smell a lot like elk-urine and a lot less like a human. The smell may be really strong depending on just how fresh that wallow is.
Consider bottling up some of that mud and storing it back at camp for use at a later time. If the smell is too strong for you to handle (in other words it's all you can do to keep from gagging) water it down with non-wallow mud, then coat your clothes, your skin, your hair.
If the idea of coating yourself in elk urine disgusts you, ask yourself this -- how bad do you want that elk? You can always wash off in a river or creek before heading back to camp. Just maybe you'll have a quartered elk carcass to bring back to camp.
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1. Elk Hunting - Ultimate Big Game Hunting
2. What You Need to Know About Hunting Elk
3. How to Spot and Stalk Elk, Hunting from Treestands, Hunting at Night
4. How to Hunt Elk in the High Country
5. Big Game Hunting: Final Points About Hunting Elk