Elk Hunting Lessons

November 18th, 2008 / Posted by edersbow.com
Elk Hunting Lessons

by Bill Winke
Few things are more unnerving than watching a big bull swagger arrogantly across a clearing straight at you – with hate in his eyes and saliva dripping from his mouth. When he stops to thrash a tree 20 yards away, it’ll push you over the edge. I know because I’ve been over that edge a few times. In fact, a hunt I went on two seasons back had me on the brink of that fine-line between control and babbling idiocy for nine straight days.

That mid-September trip was enough to produce a lifetime of lessons in the humbling world of bowhunting for big bulls. Halfway through the hunt I had to radio for a Medi-Vac chopper to fly in a quart of adrenaline because I’d already used up all of mine! It was a roller-coaster ride I’ll never forget and a great opportunity to study elk hunting under the tutelage of several of the very best guides in North America. Here are some of the lessons I learned.

Don’t Be Afraid To Make Noise

Elk are noisy animals. They are used to noise in their world. If you are moving in a bull and make some noise it will not signal an end to the hunt. Simply make a cow call and keep right on going. You can hunt elk much more aggressively than you can whitetail deer.

Elk are noisy animals. They are used to noise in their world. If you are moving in a bull and make some noise it will not signal an end to the hunt. Simply make a cow call and keep right on going. You can hunt elk much more aggressively than you can whitetail deer.

The hunt took place on the Floyd Lee Ranch in northwest New Mexico under the guidance of United States Outfitters owner George Taulman and two of his best guides, Griz Montoya and Tony Rivera. The three men traded off guiding me. Apparently I was too much of a load for any one of them to bear for more than a day or two.

The most memorable aspect of their various hunting styles was their common aggression. When a bull bugled they moved fast and close. They were never happier than when they could get right in his face before they started calling back. Elk are noisy animals, so it is nothing out of the ordinary to hear running sounds, rolling rocks and breaking branches. I was amazed at what we were able to get away with. In fact, a little extra noise at times only added realism to our set-ups – as long as we weren’t seen or smelled.

Of course, the Floyd Lee has a bunch of bulls. If you bump one early in the morning there is always another screaming at the top of his lungs in the next drainage. If we’d been hunting a small ranch with only a few bulls I’m sure our hunting approach would have been a lot more subdued. But the intensity of their pursuit, under the conditions at hand, was shocking.

Stalking Vs. Calling
When hunting herd bulls we had the best luck when we forgot about the calls. In fact, the biggest bull I’ve ever seen while elk hunting was almost ours on that hunt. And we didn’t call to him one lick. We spotted the old white-sided monster from the distance as he closed in on a breeding party of bulls surrounding a hot cow. It was a frenzy of bugling and sparring, but once we saw that giant we never looked back at the tempest of pounding turf and clashing antlers behind us. He was that big.

By stalking in on a bugling bull you can often catch him circling the harem on the downwind side to round up stray cows. Once you get close a cow call may be all that's necessary to bring him into bow range.

After making a wide circle through the oak brush flat we had gotten between the bull and where he wanted to go. He was coming down a shallow draw right to us – we could see his antlers above the meadow grass – when a small 5 X 5 pushed several cows into the drainage right in front of him. Another 100 yards and he would have been in our laps. Instead, he took up with those cows and followed them off in another direction.

Once more we got in front of him, still without calling, and once more luck turned on us. At the last second, just as the cows were drawing into bow range with the big bull behind, we crawled a couple extra yards so the cameraman could catch all the action. (Of course my failures were being filmed.)

The cows didn’t see us but, unbelievably, we jumped a huge mule deer buck that pogo-sticked right across in front of them. The elk turned and followed the deer over a hill. So close but yet so far – twice! We never caught up with him and hunted the area for the next three days without seeing him again.

George Taulman calls as little as anyone I’ve ever hunted with. He would rather get in front and let the bull (or the herd) come to him than to risk tipping them off. Griz Montoya feels that a good stalker could get every bull on the ranch if he could only resist the temptation to use his call. Keep that in mind next time you’ve got an old herd bull pushing his harem up the mountain. Silence is golden.

Double Up When You Call
Double-teaming was another tactic that really made things happen on the satellite bulls. One afternoon I had the luxury of two guides: Montoya and Rivera. We got close to a herd but couldn’t get around in front of them. The cameraman and I set up while the two guides split and dropped back 75 to 80 yards and split up about 50 yards apart. As they cow-called back and forth to each other it sounded for all the world like a couple of forlorn cows that had gotten left behind by the herd. Of course, every satellite bull in the area instantly converged, but the herd bull simply stayed put and bugled back at us.

As the bulls approached, the guides moved from side-to-side to keep them coming right at the camera. As it turned out, five bulls came past within easy bow range, but, every single one was a medium-sized 5 X 5. We had set a goal for a bull that would at least meet Pope & Young’s minimum of 265 points so I never raised my bow. It was as exciting as bowhunting can get without releasing an arrow.

Every Ride Has To End

It is much easier to stalk or ambush a big bull working a harem of cows than to call him away from them. Satellite bulls, on the other hand, are much easier to call in.

It is much easier to stalk or ambush a big bull working a harem of cows than to call him away from them. Satellite bulls, on the other hand, are much easier to call in.

The hunt ended without my getting a bull, though I did get one shot at a giant 5 X 6 we nicknamed Holyfield because one of his ears was nearly torn off from fighting. It hung down uselessly along the side of his head. He was unmistakable and we were able to get on him two days in a row. He would have scored in the 325 range. We got between him and the cow he was following in one of the ranch’s big oak brush mottes. An exciting game of cat and mouse followed. He rubbed a tree for 20 minutes as we edged closer and prepared for his next move. When he finally took off we had to do some quick maneuvering and never quite got into position before he was onto us. I got what I thought was a clear shot but a limb deflected my arrow. It was two weeks after I got home before I fully recovered from the adrenaline hangover I took with me from that incredible hunt.

 Some of The West’s Best Elk Hunting
The best elk hunting takes place either on expensive private land leases or on public land controlled by limited access draws. Knowing where to apply (and going for several states) is the key to taking big bulls consistently.
United States Outfitters operates a very unique service for serious western big game hunters. For a reasonable set-up fee, George Taulman and his staff will put you in for the best limited access draws throughout the west. George specializes in New Mexico and Arizona, but he also applies in Utah, Nevada and Colorado for elk. Of course, USO also puts hunters in for other big game ranging from Ibex in New Mexico to Rocky Mountain Bighorn in Montana, and everything in between.

For more information about this valuable service contact United States Outfitters at (800) 845-9929.

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