Hunting > Big Game

Can You Outsmart This Elk?

Hunting smart and hard and persistently will help you outsmart that big bull.

Elk can confound you with all kinds of behavior, but no matter the situation, putting your tag on one comes down to a few basics: Don’t let them smell you, then get close enough for a shot. You can stalk closer, call them closer, ambush them, drive them or wait for them to show up somewhere special—all tactics described here. But in the end, you need to know elk, know their habits and habitats and keep hunting. Persistence pays. It can make even the dumbest elk hunter look brilliant. 

Bull elk are big, tough, wild and experts at putting and keeping distance between their hides and your projectiles—but they aren’t smart. Never mind what every hunter who’s ever eaten a tag whines. Elk are stupid. This makes it really embarrassing when you can’t outsmart one.

Tommie had this Idaho bull cold. It wasn’t more than 30 yards away, bugling like a love-struck teenager with a new cell phone and practically dead already. There was just the small matter of putting a broadhead through its chest, but that was about to happen. Tommie cow-called again. The bull bugled. Brush obscured all but glimpses of its dark, wet legs and patches of white hide. The recalcitrant beast came no closer. So the music played on. Mew. Bugle. Mew. Scream. Mew mew mew. Grunt, bugle, scream. After what seemed like an hour—and tired of the auditory stand-off—Tommie decided to shift right and uphill to clear a shot. And the bull decided to shift left and downhill. The shrubbery was still in the way. At that point the melody changed to “Round and Round the Mulberry Bush” as man and bull tried to glimpse each other without exposing themselves. But this dance didn’t last long. Despite his “scent-proof” garments and cow urine cologne, Tommie eventually leaked a clear warning and his romantic partner jilted him.

You might say that bull was smart, but “cautious” and “patient” would be more accurate. Like virtually all animals except humans, elk can’t reason. They don’t look at a hillside clump of brush behind which a cow elk is calling and think, “Hmm, that bush could be hiding one of those pesky bowhunters blowing one of those new Primos cow calls. It is, after all, the ninth month of the year. I’d better stand here and see if he’ll expose himself....

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