How To Bowhunt Elk

These seven tips explain how to bowhunt elk successfully. Get information from calling strategies to playing the wind and shadowing the herd.

How To Bowhunt Elk

Success rates for those who bowhunt elk rarely surpasses 10 percent — that’s for any elk, not just mature bulls. And that's also despite thriving elk populations.

So what's the skinny on how to bowhunt elk successfully? Here are seven tips that will get you started, plus supporting articles and information for those looking for a deeper diver.

1) Get in Shape

You don’t have to be a marathon man to be an elk hunter, but the truth is you can never be in good enough physical condition. A year-round fitness program is the foundation by which all consistent success is built. Before you can get serious about bowhunting elk, you must first be prepared to physically execute your game plan.

You can get fitness tips and bowhunter-training recommendations from Bowhunting World editor Jace Bauserman at the “Fit Bowhunter.” Consider hiking with a heavy pack to prepare or, if you’re an over-scheduled bowhunter, check out this 20-minute workout.

2) Research

Spend as much time as you can researching the area you want to hunt. Call biologists, local game wardens, sporting goods store dealers and even other hunters. Ask them about the area. Have there been recent fires, floods, droughts or new roads built? How about other changes that may have affected the local elk population? Are predators a problem? What about hunting pressure?

And don’t forget map study. Keep in mind that hunters today have so many online map resources that make accessing information much easier than it used to be. Read “How to Prepare for Hunting Season” for more information on maps, pre-hunt scouting and tips for making time at the shooting range time well spent.

3) Shooting Practice

Getting a shot at an elk takes hard work — and some luck. You want to extend your maximum effective shooting range with broadheads as far as you can and learn to shoot from your knees, with your body twisted and contorted so you can shoot over and under and around limbs and brush.

Here are 10 ways to Perfect Your Bow-Shooting Technique.

4) Practice Your Calling

None of us were born a natural elk caller. It takes lots of practice to be good enough to fool an elk. Learn to use both diaphragms and open reed calls. Learn to bugle and make cow sounds.

Here are three elk-calling tips from Joel Turner, two-time champion of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation calling championship.

5) Hunt From the Top Down

When elk are on the move, you’ll never be able to catch them. That’s why it’s critical to hunt them from the top of the mountain down, letting gravity work for, not against, you. Get ahead of the herd and let them come naturally to you.

6) Play the Wind

An elk’s nose is better than any fighter jet’s radar. If they even get a little whiff of you, they’re gone. Check the winds and, if they’re wrong, back off immediately.

Avid elk hunter and Idaho native Fred Waymire likes to shadow the elk herd as they move toward their breeding grounds. By moving along with the herd at a safe distance, Waymire can play the wind and often observe elk activity. Because he’s always within striking distance, he waits for an opportunity like a bull raking a tree, splashing in a wallow or chasing a young challenger away from the cows.

7) Hunt Where the Elk Are

Just because you had a good hunt at a certain place last year, doesn’t mean it will be good this year. To be successful you have to hunt where the elk are, not where you wish they were. Be prepared to cover a lot of ground until you find them and then, once you do, hunt them hard, but hunt them smart.

If you're looking for content that's focused less on hunting strategy and more on elk behavior and patterns, check out this Elk Q & A. It covers the animal’s origins, reading an elk's body language and the rut.



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