Cow Elk Selection - Age, size, etc

Tsoenen

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Jul 24, 2021
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I’m new to the forum and new to elk hunting this year. I was very lucky to draw an early cow tag in unit 7W AZ on my first draw and am looking to fill a yet to be purchased freezer.

I dove in to as much research as I could over the past few months and there’s not much discussion on this topic that I could find.

If you had a cow tag and ran across a herd in the field. How do you select the cow you’re going to take if your prioritizing flavor over quantity? Is there conventional wisdom of the younger the animal the better the taste and texture?
 

BBob

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Jun 29, 2020
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Southern AZ
Is there conventional wisdom of the younger the animal the better the taste and texture?
No, not in my experience. Never could tell the difference between a bigger one or a smaller one, same with bulls. The people I help have one goal, bring one home. We go after the easiest to sneak on and shoot-able mature cow. We never try to wait or take a harder sneak for a bigger (or smaller) animal.
 

LostArra

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May 9, 2013
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Oklahoma
You will get a lot of different answers on this.
I think how the elk is handled after the kill is the most important factor regarding meat quality. Get it cooled quickly.
I'm sure a calf is delicious but I just don't shoot them.
I try to shoot a dry cow if possible. Two years ago I got two cows, one wet and one dry. The dry one had a lot more body fat but the meat wasn't noticeably different.

If I come upon a herd with a cow tag, the cow I shoot is the first one broadside in range without another elk standing directly behind it.
 

Coveyleader

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Nov 27, 2013
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It sounds like a rifle hunt. If it were me, find the calves, look for the next size up. You can't go wrong with those for a variety of reasons. When I'm archery hunting, I always try to take that sized cow. You won't see much difference in taste, but tenderness you will. I make steaks out of just about everything, and over the years of eating elk (many) those 2nd year elk are good as they get.

I've shot some huge old cows, they were good, but they're not on the same quality level.
 

wytx

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Feb 2, 2017
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Wyoming
I shot an old cow last year. Not again. She was the only mature cow with group of calves and 1 1/2 yr olds. That should have told me something but she was the only cow I had a chance at. She was bedded, stood up and I shot her. Quick recovery and in the walk in within 2 hrs.
Aged her 14 days, toughest cow ever for us. Even the straps were tough.
 

Coveyleader

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Nov 27, 2013
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I shot an old cow last year. Not again. She was the only mature cow with group of calves and 1 1/2 yr olds. That should have told me something but she was the only cow I had a chance at. She was bedded, stood up and I shot her. Quick recovery and in the walk in within 2 hrs.
Aged her 14 days, toughest cow ever for us. Even the straps were tough.
Happens! Been there.
 

hunterjmj

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Feb 3, 2019
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217
I shoot the first cow that gives me the best shot. I shot a tagged cow 2 years ago and the biologist estimated her age at 18. She was decent size but I've killed bigger cows. Not sure if size correlates with age. Oh, she tasted great.
 

Vids

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Jul 3, 2012
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Littleton, CO
I've shot a rutted up and wounded 6x6 bull that was nice and tender, a medium cow that was tender, and had meat from a buddy's old cow that was tough as shoe leather. The flavor was the same for all of them, fantastic. I've eaten a calf or two, always delicious and tender, like veal.

I wouldn't pass on any cow, young or old. If it's tough, make it into some delicious burger. One thought - if you're with a group and you run into a herd I'd try my best to shoot the lead cow. They will run off but likely some will revisit the area shortly after because of the confusion, could lead to more than one cow down. If I'm alone I'll shoot the first cow that gives me a shot, but if I had several to choose from I'd shoot the biggest because I use up a lot of burger.
 

mlgc20

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Oct 29, 2018
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DFW, TX
You will get a lot of different answers on this.
I think how the elk is handled after the kill is the most important factor regarding meat quality. Get it cooled quickly.
I'm sure a calf is delicious but I just don't shoot them.
I try to shoot a dry cow if possible. Two years ago I got two cows, one wet and one dry. The dry one had a lot more body fat but the meat wasn't noticeably different.

If I come upon a herd with a cow tag, the cow I shoot is the first one broadside in range without another elk standing directly behind it.
This is how I approach it as well. When my 14 year old daughter got her cow last year, there were 3 cows all standing still and broadside at 257 yards. One was clearly a calf and the medium sized one looked to be the mom. So, we decided to take the biggest cow. This thing was the biggest cow I had ever seen. She dropped it and we were skinning her within a few minutes. The meat from that cow has been fantastic.
 

Lee_R

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Apr 27, 2021
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Location
Northern Wyoming
The group I've hunted with primarily has taken cows over the years ranging from calves to one's with more than a few teeth missing due to age. As some other posts have said, meat care and preservation is critical. The other thing that played a primary role was how quickly the animal went down. When possible, the best results were from animals that were shot in such a way as they were DRT without even minimal tracking. Guessing adrenaline might've had something to do with it, but who knows.
 

BuzzH

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May 27, 2017
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Wyoming
Any cow without a calf which is pretty easy to do if you pay attention at all.

Have shot a calf every now and then, but haven't for several years.
 

Ucsdryder

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Jan 24, 2015
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1,950
I don’t buy it. An old cow tastes like an old cow. There’s a reason you don’t buy a 10 year old beef bull fillet at Costco. You buy a 1 year old steer instead. The same applies to elk. The problem with a cow is that in most units the biggest and oldest bulls get removed from the herd. With cows, you never know how old the lead cow is. A 4.5 year old bull is a trophy in most places. With a cow you could be shooting a 10+ year old cow. I try and shoot a middle of the road size cow. Last thing I want is the biggest cow in the herd.

Be careful tho. A few years ago I got into a herd at about 50 yards. I couldnt figure out which one to shoot and by the time I picked one I lost my opportunity and was trying to shoot running elk. I felt like a tuna trying to pick a sardine out of a sardine ball!
 

mtnlomo

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Jan 21, 2021
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Location
Salem, OR
Having only killed cows so far personally I am adamant that meat care is crucial. Both in the field care i.e getting it cool and dirt free, and processing, if you process the meat yourself take your time and pick through each piece and you won’t regret the extra time.

When I was 12 I killed my first cow in December and she was a yearling that was freezing to death in the high country separated from the herd that moved down weeks before, she was super lean and sick. Even in her condition she tasted the same as the any other cow I have killed since then with my bow and rifle. Haven’t noticed a difference myself.

Generally cows are in groups I would say shoot the one that provides the clearest/closest shot.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

Overdrive

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Aug 10, 2018
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Earth
Closest to the road gets my vote, I've never packed a cow I shot more than a 1/2 mile from a road, get the truck and load up.
 
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