Elk hunting is the ultimate hunt each year for us guys out West. What’s not to like about it? They live in killer country, they’re an awesome animal and provide for great eating. I travel a bit, and any time I strike up a conversation with anyone east of Colorado, they automatically ask me about elk hunting. I live in Idaho, where we used to have the best elk hunting in America. For the life of me I can’t understand why we allowed the Canadian wolf to be introduced into our state. It completely devastated our elk hunting. Let me give you an example:
One year we packed into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area. There were five people hunting for 10 days. We killed four elk, three deer, one bear and one moose. Then the wolves moved in. Three years later, we hunted there again. After three days I went back to work. There was no use wasting my vacation. I didn’t see one big game animal. I say the above so you know that to hunt elk now, you are going to have to do things differently than 15 years ago in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Oregon, Washington and Colorado –just wait. They’ll be coming in droves to you as well. (Yes, I know that you already have them, but wait until they get well established.)
If I was writing this article 15 years ago, it would have had a whole differnt twist. With the introduction of the wolves, you are going to have to hunt totally differently now. So with that said, here’s my advice:
Elk are now not as vocal as some other big game. If they are, guess who shows up? If you go to any elk hunting seminars, the presenters will tell you not to call as much. I disagree. The elk don’t call as much, but I still call just as much as ever … or more. Just don’t expect to hear a response. I have numerous bulls come sneaking in without calling.
DON’T GET ME WRONG, bulls will still come in screaming. It’s just that now it’s a little different. I sorta learned this by mistake, like most of the tricks that I discover. I have an old buddy who I take elk hunting often. Due to his age and health, he can’t get around too good, so when we do a setup, we may sit there for 1½ hours. I’ve never done an elk setup for that long in my life. What I learned from hunting with him is that sometimes a bull may not come in for 1½ hours. One year he wanted to go to a spot where he’d seen a couple of bulls. By now he was using a walking stick, and teetered and tottered up the mountain wobbling like the proverbial weeble that won’t fall down. I set up a couple of Montana Decoys, and put him on one side of the ridge and I set on the other. We called steady for 1½ hours, and suddenly I saw a decent four-point bull slipping up the mountain, sniffing like a bird dog right towards me.
I couldn’t believe it. It was a good 1½ hours after we’d first started calling. So don’t jump too fast. He did not make one peep, and I credit that to wolves. And he wasn’t just a smaller satellite bull. He was the herd bull of a group of four cows that I’d seen that morning. So, regardless, whether they come in screaming or silently, you want to set up the same. Sometimes I’ll carry a piece of camo burlap. I lay it over two bushes to help hide. Set up one or two Montana Decoys. If a bull comes in and doesn’t see an elk, that’s not normal. They expect to see something. You’ll want to use scent cover to hide your scent. I’d have to say that scent is the number one elk defense.
When they come in, they always circle downwind. I use a lot of Tink’s gear, and I really like the Hunter Spec Solid Scent Wafers. I clip a couple on my backpack. For calls, I like the Hoochie Mamaand Quaker Boy Herd Master. For a bugle I use the Primos Terminator. Everyone will tell you to cow call more than you bugle and this is true. As I’m walking, I’ll cow call every 50 yards.
I’m out of room and still have a lot to cover, but hopefully I’ve given you a few new tricks. It’s a lifelong quest. I learn something new every year and every time that I hunt with someone new. Have fun and stick an arrow in a big bull.
Editor’s note: Tom Claycomb writes for Bass Pro Shop and has outdoor columns in newspapers in Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana. He freelances for numerous other magazines, newspapers and websites. He teaches 60 outdoor seminars each year and is on prostaff? for numerous companies.