Hunting stories always seem to come off a bit cliche (Massive antlers, heart pounding, subsequent divorce). Episodes provide a window into the hunt but often leave out the boring parts that would best educate the audience. I have written my 2019 elk hunt out hour-by-hour in hopes of giving beginners a better idea of what to expect. The blog includes tips for success as well as a few mistakes to avoid. I hope it helps you next season. Thank you for reading.
What to Expect
4:30 a.m. Wake up
5:00 a.m. Leave camp
6:00 a.m. Spook the herd. The herd was near where they had been the day before, only slightly down the valley. Tip: Hike an hour before daylight to get away from crowds.
6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Dog the herd. Tip: Remi Warren has a good podcast on how to do this properly. It’s basically just pestering a bull until eventually he turns around to fight.
9:00 a.m. Lose the herd. I would lose the herd for some time then get a response bugle and close in again. I bumped a couple cows and had a shot opportunity on a spike bull as well (Distance covered: 1 mile). Tip: Head uphill and towards water. When you lose the herd, examine your topo map for drainages with water nearby.
10:15 a.m. Hear a bugle. The thermals have not switched and are still carrying my scent downhill. I know the wind will shift soon. I swing to my left away from the herd and hike uphill until I’m on level ground with the bull before sidling towards the herd. Tip: Keep thermals in mind around 10 a.m. I usually call it a morning by about 10:30. I’ll keep at it longer if bulls stay vocal.
10:15-11:30 a.m. The bull continues to bugle. I stalk in slowly without calling and see several cows. Tip: If a bull bugles without prompting, keep quiet.
11:30 a.m. -12:00 p.m. The bull stops bugling. I continue to move forward with only a general idea of where the bull has bedded.
12:30 p.m. I cow call and get a response. Tip: Paul Medel talks a lot about painting a picture. I am imitating a cow that has strayed away from the herd, and won’t introduce a bull unless it seems necessary.
12:45 p.m. Cow call several times without a response. I can’t locate the bull and don’t have any dense brush nearby. I have been conservative up to this point but can feel the hunt slipping away. Tip: Call from cover. It gives you much more freedom to move, and the bull will feel more comfortable approaching.
12:50 p.m. I bugle. The bull responds. I cow call. Nothing. Tip: Default towards aggressive calling during the rut.
12:55 p.m. I bugle and cut off the bull midway through his response with a second bugle. Tip: I expect him to come out of the woods and walk above me both to gain the geographic advantage and to test the wind (thermals have switched uphill). He likely would have done that had I set up with more cover.
1:00 p.m. Bull hang up in the shadows. I draw and place my 40-yard pin on his chest. I plan to wait until he turns broadside. Instead, I take a frontal shot, and the arrow drifts right. Tip: Don’t take a frontal shot if you’re not 100 percent confident.
1:05 p.m. I think I have missed and rush over to find my arrow. Tip: If your state allows lighted nocks, definitely use them. Don’t start looking for your arrow immediately unless you’re sure you missed.
2:00 p.m. Find blood. Tip: Search an hour for blood. I would have given up entirely if it hadn’t been for a 60-yard blood trail.
3:30 p.m. Decide I’ll return the next day with my dog and grid search the hillside.
4:30 p.m. Bump herd and bull on the way out. Shoot the bull a second time. Tip: Always range what you’re shooting. I have a bad habit of not ranging whitetail. I am far worse at estimating distance on elk. The shot would have been placed better had I ranged the bull.
5:30 p.m. I find no more blood and there’s no time to quarter the bull and still get out before dark. Having seen a bear earlier in the day, I decide to return to camp. Tip: Better safe than sorry. Leave the bull overnight. Some meat may spoil, but the vast majority will not.
7:00 a.m. Leave camp.
8:00 a.m. Find bull. Tip: With thermals traveling downwards in the morning just pass below where the shot took place, then work upwards in a zigzag pattern. Listen for crows or bears; watch for flies, and follow your nose.
Though every hunt is different, each bull I’ve harvested has had similarities with the others. From losing track of the herd to calling more aggressively, routine decisions during the day will determine success. Thermals and trusting your gut will always play a role as well. I hope this post gives you an idea of what to expect and how a hunt can play out. Remember some of these tips and avoid my mistakes.
Good luck out there,