Hunting > Big Game

Do Your Elk Hunting Homework

Your big bull quest starts at home.

As hunters of the American wapiti many of us dream of a huge bull—the kind that simply rocks its head back and scratches its tail with an antler tip. Those bulls are out there, even on public land. But unless you have deep pockets or an extraordinary amount of pure luck, the space you’ve reserved on your wall may have to remain covered with that moth-eaten rendition of Elvis on blue velvet that seemed so cool years ago.

Keep in mind that of all the hunter-killed elk in a given year, only a very small percentage are 6-point or better, and that includes a lot of dink, willow 6-pointers. The reality is, it takes a huge amount of time, money, commitment and luck to score a magazine-cover bull. You can have more of one than another, but there has to be some of all four to ensure success.

Develop a Plan
Successfully hunting big bulls requires a plan, starting with honestly answering a few questions. The first is whether you plan to use an outfitter or do it yourself (DIY). An outfitter usually cannot guarantee success, but he or she can increase the odds of it greatly, provided the outfitter is competent and honest. Outfitters cost some money—sometimes important money—but they can save you a lot of time, reduce some of the physical commitment and put less emphasis on luck. How to find a reputable outfitter? Call—don’t write or e-mail—past clients, and ask that unsuccessful clients be included with the references.

At the same time, determine your physical condition and that of your party. Be brutally honest. Elk hunting occurs for the most part deep in the backcountry, and you’ll need to cover a lot of steep territory, often in bad weather, to say nothing of the injury factor. DIY hunters should make a rigorous physical fitness program part of their commitment. Do you have horses, or will you rent them? If you use your horses, consider their fitness. If you haul ol’ sweet-breath Sadie, your 15-year-old mare that gets ridden four or five times during the summer by the grandkids at sea level to 2,000 feet, and put her on an elk mountain with you and you gear, plan on leaving her there and packing out any elk and your gear yourself. As hard as we work hunting wapiti, horses work five times as much or more....

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