Planning My First Elk Hunt

Drenalin

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Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
56
Location
Tennessee
Over the last couple of days I've decided that I need to get out west and hunt elk in 2020. I'm not getting any younger and it's time to stop thinking about it and get it done. I'd like to make it an annual trip ultimately, but for now just need to get started. Here's what I'm thinking for my first trip out, along with some general questions/clarifications. Any input you guys have would be great.

1. I'm going for OTC tags. I don't need a giant bull, I just want to get into elk. I'd be ecstatic with a cow, but wouldn't be surprised at all to come home empty handed. I'm prepared for that. Total trip would be 10 days, including two to drive out and two to drive back.

2. I haven't picked a state. Considering Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Any reason to pick one over the other? Tag prices seem close enough that I don't want to let that be the driving factor. Within those states, any particular units I should target or avoid?

3. Planning on a rifle hunt. Figure that gives me the best odds for success, even if I miss the prime part of the season. I'm not opposed to biting it off with archery tackle though if you guys think I'll have a better hunt.

4. Planning to do a truck camp. Don't know yet if this trip will be solo or not so want to keep my pack out distance reasonable given that it will be my first pack out of anything bigger than a whitetail. Once I've identified a state and unit, I'll research packers as a backup plan.

5. If I do get an elk down and packed out, I still have to get it home. I'd prefer not to spend the same amount of money on coolers that I do on tags. From what I've read here, looks like I would need around 200 qts of capacity, with at least one of those coolers long enough to fit a 34" quarter. Any cooler recommendations? If there are compelling reasons to invest in Yeti or comparable coolers to use once a year, I'm open to it, but reluctant. I'd plan on boning out.

6. Any reason I wouldn't do just fine with 10x42 binos if I'm just going for general elk? If a good pair of binos will do the job, I can put more money into those and skip the spotter/tripod.

7. I'm thinking I would target areas between trailheads, assuming the right habitat exists. I'm not foolish enough to think I'm going to come from the Appalachians to the Rockies and out hike everybody to get to elk. I assume I need to focus on the basics of water, open feeding areas, and benches in steep terrain. Is that about right as a starting point? Without scouting beforehand, I would plan on hitting areas I can identify off maps/aerials and then keep moving till I get on fresh sign.

I don't want to get hung up on gear for this trip. I assume since it'll be my first elk hunt, I really don't know what I want anyway until get out there use something. I can piece together the stuff to get it done and then adjust for future trips.

What are some considerations I'm missing? What screw ups have you made that I can learn from so I don't make all the mistakes my first time out?
 

brownie9582

Newbie
Joined
Jun 7, 2019
Messages
9
Looks like you have a good start and you are thinking about things the right way. I planned my first DIY elk hunt this past year, we ate tag soup but had some close calls and a bucnh of fun with beautiful scenery. 4 of us hunted Colorado Archery opener for 10 days with OTC tags.

My takeaways and learnings:
- Be as mobile as possible, we packed in to camp 3 miles and hunted and were not mobile except where are feet would carry us to each day. I don't think I would do that again for a first hunt.
- I bought just a cheap igloo cooler from amazon for 60 bucks, it held ice in the back of our truck in 80+ degree temps for 7 days... you don't need a yeti or even a feti for that matter
- Spend your money on boots and a pack, they will be more important than a spotter or swaro binos any day... if you can't walk you can't hunt (I wore a pair of Salomon Quest 4D and a Balnads Sacrifice LS pack and loved them but everyone's feet and body are different).
- The weather is very unpredictable and can change rapidly so be prepared for anything and have a full respect for the backcountry, when you go into the backcountry your life is at risk and you need to respect that fact but not fear it either... help is a long ways away.
- The wind is never predictable, every knob and terrain feature combined with the thermals will wear you out trying to keep in your favor lol
- The elk are where noone else wants to go, and after a few days they are even further where noone wants to go.. however this doesn't mean your far off the trail.... our best encounters we could see the trail below us but we had climbed through nasty elevation gains with no trail available
- Elk country is huge, and you can easily get discouraged so you have to stay positive and stay after it your whole trip could change in a minute
 

AaronMColeman

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 20, 2018
Messages
157
Location
Wyoming
I'll look through some of your questions in a little more detail later.

If archery is a consideration, I would HIGHLY recommend it. It is tough, but so much more fun. Almost every day I hunted from September 15-30 I got within 15-50 yards of a bull. It was magical and so much fun. I finally got one during rifle, but the archery experiences were amazing.

Other pro for archery is the weather. Rifle can be zero visibility, snowy, and cold. The couple weeks of archery before hand are usually really nice. I was hunting in a t-shirt around September 15, and in a zero visibility single digit snow storm by October 3rd.

Down side to archery is it is tough, and you have to know how to call (not amazingly, but you have to put in some time with cow calls and bugles). In Wyoming 10% of elk kills are archery. I think that's largely due to way less archery hunters. But, at the same time, the guys I know who consistently get elk every year, tend to do it with archery.

I'd say if you want an experience, and you have some archery experience, your odds are just as good during archery season as rifle...but it's so much more fun. If you've never shot archery it may be a bad idea :)
 

justin84

Member
Joined
Apr 12, 2019
Messages
62
Location
Wisconsin
I've been deer hunting in WY for awhile now and came to the same conclusion you have. Sounds like you have considered most of the critical things. For me, my biggest consideration is learning how to actually hunt elk. I have seen tons of elk while deer hunting but I have never called an elk, tried to stalk an elk, shot at an elk. Aside from ambushing an elk, what else about elk hunting do you need to learn?
 

One-shot

Junior Member
Joined
Dec 4, 2018
Messages
41
Location
Spring Creek, Nevada
Look up the hunter success stats for each state. My gut tells me Wyoming likely has highest success rate due to more open terrain in some areas.
You have a good plan and sound well prepared. Elk hunting is addictive, hard, supremely satisfying...
 

jmez

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Joined
Jun 12, 2012
Messages
4,470
Location
Piedmont, SD
If you get a tag in WY it will be through the random draw, you need preference points to be assured a tag in a general unit. Start buying points if interested in WY. You can apply in WY and will find out if you draw prior to having to put in for MT. Co you can just buy a tag.

MT is getting to be the same way as WY, buy the preference point in MT when you put in for the tag. It will up your chance of getting a tag and in MT the point will be applied toward that year's license.

Are you comfortable hunting around grizzly bears? If not then there are a lot of areas in both MT and WY that you can scratch from you list right away.

Do your homework. There are a lot of units in both WY and MT that have high success rates, a lot of those units are going to have a high % of private land or land locked public land. In WY, you can not hunt elk in a designated wilderness area unless you have a guide.

10x42 binos are plenty. The only reason you would need a spotting scope would be for identifying a trophy animal at long distances.

Packers are extremely unreliable. Don't count on it. Most all of them work for outfitters and will only help if they aren't busy when you happen to need them.

By the time rifle season rolls around don't waste a lot of time on "open feeding meadows."
 
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Drenalin

Member
Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
56
Location
Tennessee
- Be as mobile as possible, we packed in to camp 3 miles and hunted and were not mobile except where are feet would carry us to each day. I don't think I would do that again for a first hunt.
Are you saying I should spike camp it? Sounds like I would be in a similar situation as you if I'm striking out from a truck camp every morning. I'm open to it, just clarifying.

- I bought just a cheap igloo cooler from amazon for 60 bucks, it held ice in the back of our truck in 80+ degree temps for 7 days... you don't need a yeti or even a feti for that matter.
Do you remember what model you got? I've been looking at Igloo and Coleman a little.

- Spend your money on boots and a pack, they will be more important than a spotter or swaro binos any day... if you can't walk you can't hunt (I wore a pair of Salomon Quest 4D and a Balnads Sacrifice LS pack and loved them but everyone's feet and body are different).
I'm still trying to find a boot that works for me. Considering EXO packs, MR Metcalf, or Kifaru. Will probably come down to the best deal I can get on one of those three.

Good info brownie, I really appreciate it!
 
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Drenalin

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Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
56
Location
Tennessee
I'll look through some of your questions in a little more detail later.

If archery is a consideration, I would HIGHLY recommend it. It is tough, but so much more fun. Almost every day I hunted from September 15-30 I got within 15-50 yards of a bull. It was magical and so much fun. I finally got one during rifle, but the archery experiences were amazing.

Other pro for archery is the weather. Rifle can be zero visibility, snowy, and cold. The couple weeks of archery before hand are usually really nice. I was hunting in a t-shirt around September 15, and in a zero visibility single digit snow storm by October 3rd.

Down side to archery is it is tough, and you have to know how to call (not amazingly, but you have to put in some time with cow calls and bugles). In Wyoming 10% of elk kills are archery. I think that's largely due to way less archery hunters. But, at the same time, the guys I know who consistently get elk every year, tend to do it with archery.

I'd say if you want an experience, and you have some archery experience, your odds are just as good during archery season as rifle...but it's so much more fun. If you've never shot archery it may be a bad idea :)
I archery hunt more than I rifle hunt. You make a good argument for sure. Thanks!
 
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Drenalin

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Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
56
Location
Tennessee
I've been deer hunting in WY for awhile now and came to the same conclusion you have. Sounds like you have considered most of the critical things. For me, my biggest consideration is learning how to actually hunt elk. I have seen tons of elk while deer hunting but I have never called an elk, tried to stalk an elk, shot at an elk. Aside from ambushing an elk, what else about elk hunting do you need to learn?
I know what you mean - I know next to nothing about elk at this point. I'll research all I can, but my gut feeling is that I still won't know jack till I get some hunts under my belt.
 

chops24

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2014
Messages
266
Good for you man, I trully hope you get to experience western hunting.

First off, dont forget about NM, no point system and great elk hunting. If you dont draw you get your money back and then you can go OTC somewhere else. PM me if you want to talk units. Since you are open to doing a rifle hunt i would put in for a later season tag, if you can do either sex that would be great but a late season cow tag is in my opinion a great way to get your feet wet in the elk woods. I feel like a lot of people jump right into super competetive archery rut hunts and go out with 350" bulls in mind. there is no shame in killing a cow and filling the freezer that way, plus your odds are better.

I am convinced most people buy Yeti coolers to put the sticker on their "rig". i have used coleman 120 and 150 qt coolers for many years and many Elk, Deer, Ibex, Aoudad, Antelope, Oryx, and no, i dont have a sweet sticker but the coolers just work. Dont over think that. An elk will fit in a 150qt cooler if deboned and if you are doing truck camping and its just you, by the time you get the elk off the mountain you will be ready to head home and can add ice as needed on the way home. I usually run 2 150qt coolers, one with beer, food, etc and one with a bunch of frozen 1 gallon and 20oz water bottles covered in ice. When i kill my elk i remove the water and as many bottles as necessary to fit the elk, put all the meat on whatever frozen water bottles are left and leave it closed for the trip home. It works just fine. If you do a later season hunt you will have no issues with maintaining ice. September is a little tougher.

10x42s are plenty for elk. recommend a tripod but its not necessary. I love my Alpha glass and would have a hard time going back to cheaper glass but run what you brung and buy what you can afford. Spotters/15s are more necessary for Coues, Mule deer spot and stalk than Elk hunting.

Dont get too hung up on gear, dont worry about what everyone on Insta-attention is wearing this year. I run First Lite and i love it but if it comes down to where you put your money, i would divvy it up this way in order of importance. Time in the woods, boots, pack, glass, clothing.

most importantly of all i would say is once you decide where you are going SCOUT it! if you cant get out there during the offseason i would show up a day or two early to get a lay of the land.

good luck!
 

Luziana Feller

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 18, 2018
Messages
261
Location
Louisiana
i'm a huge fan of truck camping with the ability to spike in a night or two if conditions require. save the $$ on Gucci coolers and get one really big igloo and fill it with frozen gallon jugs of water (worst case scenario, you won't run out of water at camp). 10x42s are fine for identifying "an elk" as long as they are of good quality. it's nearly impossible to get a feel for the lay of the land and pressure until you put eyes and boots on it. i would recommend driving around and looking at all the trailheads in the area you are looking at and talk to folks. you will have an idea of where the pressure is at least.

your head is in the right place. spend 20% of your time on gear and 80% on skills, tactics and knowledge of elk hunting. this is one reason i would encourage archery- sub par gear is less likely to put you in a bind in the mountains. the gear to invest in= boots/socks, weapon, sleep system.
 
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Drenalin

Member
Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
56
Location
Tennessee
If you get a tag in WY it will be through the random draw, you need preference points to be assured a tag in a general unit. Start buying points if interested in WY. You can apply in WY and will find out if you draw prior to having to put in for MT. Co you can just buy a tag.

MT is getting to be the same way as WY, buy the preference point in MT when you put in for the tag. It will up your chance of getting a tag and in MT the point will be applied toward that year's license.

Are you comfortable hunting around grizzly bears? If not then there are a lot of areas in both MT and WY that you can scratch from you list right away.

Do your homework. There are a lot of units in both WY and MT that have high success rates, a lot of those units are going to have a high % of private land or land locked public land. In WY, you can not hunt elk in a designated wilderness area unless you have a guide.

10x42 binos are plenty. The only reason you would need a spotting scope would be for identifying a trophy animal at long distances.

Packers are extremely unreliable. Don't count on it. Most all of them work for outfitters and will only help if they aren't busy when you happen to need them.

By the time rifle season rolls around don't waste a lot of time on "open feeding meadows."
I may start applying/buying points in case I really get the bug and want to go after big bulls later. For now though, mainly looking at OTC tags. I thought I had read that OTC tags may not be available in WY to non-residents. If WY is a point state for non-res now, I may mark it off the list and stick to Idaho or Colorado.

I assume I'm comfortable hunting around grizzlies. I haven't done it though. One of the areas I hunt back home is on a bear reserve, so I'm used to black bears, but I get that's a totally different thing than grizzlies. I'm not going to mark an area off over it though.

Thanks for the heads-up on "open feeding meadows."
 
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Drenalin

Member
Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
56
Location
Tennessee
Good for you man, I trully hope you get to experience western hunting.

First off, dont forget about NM, no point system and great elk hunting. If you dont draw you get your money back and then you can go OTC somewhere else. PM me if you want to talk units. Since you are open to doing a rifle hunt i would put in for a later season tag, if you can do either sex that would be great but a late season cow tag is in my opinion a great way to get your feet wet in the elk woods. I feel like a lot of people jump right into super competetive archery rut hunts and go out with 350" bulls in mind. there is no shame in killing a cow and filling the freezer that way, plus your odds are better.

I am convinced most people buy Yeti coolers to put the sticker on their "rig". i have used coleman 120 and 150 qt coolers for many years and many Elk, Deer, Ibex, Aoudad, Antelope, Oryx, and no, i dont have a sweet sticker but the coolers just work. Dont over think that. An elk will fit in a 150qt cooler if deboned and if you are doing truck camping and its just you, by the time you get the elk off the mountain you will be ready to head home and can add ice as needed on the way home. I usually run 2 150qt coolers, one with beer, food, etc and one with a bunch of frozen 1 gallon and 20oz water bottles covered in ice. When i kill my elk i remove the water and as many bottles as necessary to fit the elk, put all the meat on whatever frozen water bottles are left and leave it closed for the trip home. It works just fine. If you do a later season hunt you will have no issues with maintaining ice. September is a little tougher.

10x42s are plenty for elk. recommend a tripod but its not necessary. I love my Alpha glass and would have a hard time going back to cheaper glass but run what you brung and buy what you can afford. Spotters/15s are more necessary for Coues, Mule deer spot and stalk than Elk hunting.

Dont get too hung up on gear, dont worry about what everyone on Insta-attention is wearing this year. I run First Lite and i love it but if it comes down to where you put your money, i would divvy it up this way in order of importance. Time in the woods, boots, pack, glass, clothing.

most importantly of all i would say is once you decide where you are going SCOUT it! if you cant get out there during the offseason i would show up a day or two early to get a lay of the land.

good luck!
Thanks for the good info! I hadn't considered NM, but will now. As for the scouting, I'm used to using a good bit of my whitetail hunting time to scout instead of hunt. If I have to walk around for a couple of days more focused on scouting than hunting, I absolutely will.
 

justin84

Member
Joined
Apr 12, 2019
Messages
62
Location
Wisconsin
I know what you mean - I know next to nothing about elk at this point. I'll research all I can, but my gut feeling is that I still won't know jack till I get some hunts under my belt.
Definitely just need to experience it to really learn. Luckily there are some great resources and helpful people to fill in some gaps. The one thing I know I need to do before I elk hunt is learn to call. I know where to find elk from deer hunting experience, but the calling skills will be a must in September with a bow.
 

AaronMColeman

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 20, 2018
Messages
157
Location
Wyoming
Gear is the most overrated thing. Get good boots and good binos. I have some Maven C.1 10x42 and love them, get a decent range finder too...things are often far away :) Pants, tops, socks etc. I basically wear whatever I found on cabelas for cheap, and a pair of OR gaiters, no complaints. If you hunt you likely already have all the clothes you need. Packs, I'd check out what Sierra Trading Post has for cheap. I got a really nice big sitka bag last year for about $150 and love it.

Wherever you choose to hunt, get in shape! One of the most important things is being able to spot, then run to wherever you think they are. I do a lot of HIIT workouts during the offseason. I hike a lot in the summer to get ready. Can't train for the altitude if you aren't here, but you can get your body lean and mean and that will help a ton. I feel like HIIT stuff works great because elk hunting is a lot of general cardio hiking, and a good number of intense sprints!
 

AaronMColeman

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 20, 2018
Messages
157
Location
Wyoming
Definitely just need to experience it to really learn. Luckily there are some great resources and helpful people to fill in some gaps. The one thing I know I need to do before I elk hunt is learn to call. I know where to find elk from deer hunting experience, but the calling skills will be a must in September with a bow.
Calling isn't too hard to learn. At first you will think it's impossible. Youtube has tons of great resources. I'd highly recommend learning some cow calls and bugles with a diaphragm. If you don't know how to call, learn with what you wish you knew, not what is easiest. Diaphragms are amazing because they're hands free. I couldn't call at all until this summer. But, with some practice I learned and was amazed that I called in bulls with bugles. The elk I shot during rifle season I basically cow called in. It's totally doable, just takes practice. Primos has a 4 pack on amazon so you can get a feel for single vs double reed, and practice until you find which ones you like.
 
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Drenalin

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Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
56
Location
Tennessee
Definitely just need to experience it to really learn. Luckily there are some great resources and helpful people to fill in some gaps. The one thing I know I need to do before I elk hunt is learn to call. I know where to find elk from deer hunting experience, but the calling skills will be a must in September with a bow.
I am considering the Elk101 course online to help with the learning curve.

Anyone else done this? Thoughts on it?
 
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Drenalin

Member
Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
56
Location
Tennessee
Wherever you choose to hunt, get in shape! One of the most important things is being able to spot, then run to wherever you think they are. I do a lot of HIIT workouts during the offseason. I hike a lot in the summer to get ready. Can't train for the altitude if you aren't here, but you can get your body lean and mean and that will help a ton. I feel like HIIT stuff works great because elk hunting is a lot of general cardio hiking, and a good number of intense sprints!
This is one of my biggest concerns, especially with the pack out. I can hump around in Apps with a pack on no problem, but it's not the same and the elevation isn't even close. We used to PT in our gas masks in the Marines and I am considering mixing some of that in to help get my body used to not having oxygen.
 
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