Sophomore failure discussion


Sep 14, 2020
Posting this humbly after a 20 hour drive from Montana back to Illinois. Intention of this post is to start a discussion and solicit tips, opinions and suggestions and if you feel free to dish out humble pie.

Quck info about myself. 36 year old waterfower from northern Illinois who has become obsessed with western elk hunting. 2020 was my first year elk hunting in 2020. Last year was the quintessential "hike in the woods with a bow" experience. Summary of 2020 bow hunt was hot weather in early September with lots of hiking and being humbled by the terrain, altitude and scale of big Montana mountain elk country. Lots of lessons were learned and it was an overall positive first year experience that left me hungry for more.

Fast forward to early 2021. I spent the entire year working out with weighted pack rucks and air dyne bike workouts to get cardio as good as it could be. Many hours were spent escouting, pouring over this forum, Randy's content, cnelk, Paul Medel, well as other various online resources. I came into contact with a fellow flat lander who has hunted Montana for 20 years and received some general knowledge which was useful and I am thankful for. In short, 2021 outside of work and family ...western elk hunting has become an obsession that I dedicated many hours to with physical prep and gathering as much info as I could.

I drew a Montana general elk tag this year. I went out with a close friend of mine who has zero hunting experience of any kind. We were in Montana from 9/15-9/22. The plan was to hunt 9/15-9/25 but he had to cut the trip short due to work and moving to a different city. I had dozens of areas on national forest and BLM land that I wanted to hunt that spanned 2 different hunting districts. First 2 days in Montana consisted of hiking in an hour before first day light to vantage points that would be glassing points on open meadows. The thought process was to hopefully see elk feeding in open areas and pattern their movements before they went back into the forest to bed. Evening glassing sessions were the same. Get to a vantage point and hope to see elk in open country before bedding back down. The plan was to pattern the elk and make a plan based off their movements.

At the end of day 2 due to a an active fire and high winds, our plans turned upside down. Local sheriff as well as fire authorities closed down accesss roads to 2 roads that spanned both districts. A near by town was evacuated. Both districts were esentially closed down. We watched the fire grow and saw great air show with planes dropping water all over the mountain.

All of my months pouring over google earth and onx went up in smoke like the mountain.

Luckily my buddy is one those guys who would forget to breathe if he wasn't talking. We got great intel at a local watering hole from a bartender who killed a bull 2 weeks prior.

Day 3 and until the end of our hunt was spent in a totally new to us district. Plan again was hike to a glassing area and spend the morning pouring over the country until we found elk we could make a play on. Evenings were spent glassing as well. The intel we received was that elk were quiet in the area due to wolf activity. After 3 mornings and evenings glassing we didn't see any elk.

I decided to change up tactics. Ended up still hunting. Walking through the woods hoping to see sign and hopefully get on an elk.
Just 100 yards off the edges off open country into the woods we began to follow game trail and saw lots of elk sign. Lot of scat, fair amount of rubs, tracks and found a few bedding areas. None of the sign seemed fresh. I'm guessing the freshest scat looked 3 days old. Saw a ton of bear and deer scat as well. It was still exciting seeing animals have been in the area. Each day in the district was roughly 8-10 miles of hiking.

Day 4 at 530 am at the parking area we heard a bugle. Figured it was another hunter. About 100 yards into the slow hike up the mountain under red head lamps that bugling bull busted out 10 yard in front of us in the dark. Scared the living crap out of my partner and I. He ended up crashing up the mountain through thick brush and staring at us at least 500 feet above. It was an exhilarating encounter. At the end of that hunt, hiking back down we saw an elk calf spooked by our hiking.

Remainder of the hunt was much of the same. Lots of elk sign that wasn't really fresh but showed previous elk activity. It was all very encouraging that we were in the same general area that elk liked to visit but the timing wasn't right. I was never discouraged that we never got onto elk. My hope was just at an opportunity to shoot one, not necessarily kill one. It was a great trip. Country was beautiful and spending time with a close friend is always good.

I'm going back out for the rifle opener next month and hoping to get my first opportunity to shoot an elk.

Again, any suggestions, tips and shit talking about my experiences are open. I have a total of 16 days in Montana elk woods which is probably less than a typical toddler who grows up that way, so I am not expecting immediate success of killing an elk. But rather I want to take my lumps which I will remember forever to be able to start taking my son when he's old enough to share the western hunting experience with him.


Senior Member
Jun 6, 2012
There is no way around it, elk hunting is hard. Glassing is only going to get you so far and that's usually just at first light and last light (first and last half hour). Once the sun hits a park, the elk are out of there in most cases. You really needed to be looking for bulls that wanted to talk. Rutting elk don't pattern well from my experience.


Junior Member
Jul 23, 2020
Hey man keep your head up! I’m in the same boat as you, I elk hunted as a kid with my dad but over the last couple of years I have been trying to take this seriously. That’s an understatement because it’s all I think about. Last year was my first “solo” hunt and I missed a 6x6 with my bow at 50 yards. Total buck fever/my rangefinder broke the day before.
This year I poured myself into this thing, I was a good caller before but I took the year to get great. I studied, I worked out incessantly, I bought some nice gear. I’m serious man my only goal in life is to kill a bull elk. I spent a week with my close buddy in a wicked spot and called in 5 elk and couldn’t get a single shot off. 10 yards, 5x5 broadside and I couldn’t sneak an arrow through the poplar covering his lungs.
This sport will break your heart and test your will but it’s the best shit ever man! Good luck keep grinding! Thanks for the post so I can vent too!

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Senior Member
Feb 13, 2014
Great Basin
Truly humbling hobby. Honestly, I hate to burst your bubble but the 10,000hr rule applies here. The more time you spend in elk woods observing, smelling, watching, finding, hunting, calling, listening to elk- the better. Keep your chin up, that’s far more successful than most coming from out of state.
During the rut (archery) I would focus less on glassing- it’s certainly nice to see them, but as Hobbes said that’s only for a short window morning/night when in reality that could be your best time to talk to and kill a bull. Rather than look at him from 700yds away through binos.
Seems the more I talk to folks and read... the less I know. Some guys are damn at killing bulls whether their method is spot and stalk, run and gun calling, still hunting productive country, ambushing a pinch point, sitting water, etc. Keep after it, you’ll connect.


Senior Member
Jan 23, 2014
I’m 0-6 on elk hunting - elk hunting isn’t a get rich quick scheme. You’ll get there - keep at it and remember - it isn’t the kill that keeps you coming back…