3 Elk Experts Reveal Their Secrets to Bowhunting Success

Finding and taking mature bulls consistently is this group’s forte.

3 Elk Experts Reveal Their Secrets to Bowhunting Success

Montana resident Danny Moore has stacked up the elk over the years, and this Arizona Pope & Young candidate is one such example.

I’ve heard it said that 20 percent of elk hunters kill 80 percent of elk harvested. If you’ve spent any amount of time chasing these icons of the West, you’d understand just how true that is. The country they call home will humble the best of hunters, and it takes someone with determination, skill and grit to consistently notch their tag. Although I’ve been lucky enough to arrow a handful of elk over the seasons, I’m by no means in this elite group of elk men. However, I’ve been fortunate enough meet some of over the years and have personally seen the result of their success. Although each has their own style and command of the elk woods, all have a knack for killing mature bulls virtually every season.          

Danny Moore

In his book, Unforgettable Bowhunters, M.R. James affectionately called Montana resident Danny Moore “Mr. Consistency” in regard to his success in chasing bugling bulls out West. To date, Danny (top photo) has killed 55 elk with his bow, 48 of which were bulls. What’s even more impressive is that over 20 of them would easily make the Pope & Young record books, and every elk Moore has killed fell on public dirt. In one season a few years back, he killed bulls in Nevada and Arizona just days apart from one another that scored 321 inches and 408 inches respectively. And when he arrived back home after basking in elk glory, he anchored a third Pope & Young bull in Montana. Although at age 71 Moore has slowed down a little, he says he still has enough gas in his tank to kill a few more.

Without hesitation, Moore insists using a call is the number one tool that has consistently brought bulls into bow range, but not just any call. In fact, he insists if you want to get close to mature bulls year in and year out, “You have to leave that damn cow call at home!” Although many hunters might argue with that theory, from his perspective, it’s hard to argue with decades of bugling success. As he explained it, “If you’re happy fooling smaller, satellite bulls, then use a cow call, it can be effective. But a herd bull is not going to leave his cows for a lone cow — period!”

Moore bugles sparingly and never delivers a call without a purpose. Although he will bugle to locate a bull if needed, he prefers listening over calling most of the time. Ideally, he likes to cover a lot of country listening for bulls bugling on their own. Once he hears the bull he wants, he starts moving in its direction with the intention of getting into the bull’s bubble. In Moore’s experience, all mature bulls have a comfort zone in which they will not tolerate another bull. When that bubble is broken, the bull will do one of three things: move his cows in the opposite direction, come in to investigate, or — even better — come in for a fight! Usually that zone is in the 50- to 100-yard range, according to Moore. Once that bubble is breached, he delivers a challenge bugle to bring the bull closer. If you’re close enough, most of the time that bull is going to come in, so setting up in areas tight enough to force him to look for you, but also open enough to allow a solid 20 to 30 yard shot, is ideal.

Using the bugle early in the season can be effective as well, insists Moore. Although bulls may still be in bachelor groups this time of year, the velvet has been peeled off and pecking orders are being established. Even a lone, early season bull without a care in the world, or a bachelor group of bulls, will come to the bugle if you’re close enough to entice them.

Justin Davis

Justin Davis has been chasing elk since he was a teenager. A firefighter by trade, but elk hunter by desire, he has killed over a dozen elk in his home state of Colorado, eight of which grossed over 300 Pope & Young inches. His largest was an impressive 342-inch toad. Like many savvy western bowhunters, all of his bulls have fallen on public ground with a tag most hunters could get by simply applying for or grabbing one over-the-counter.

Justin Davis with a Colorado public land bull.
Justin Davis with a Colorado public land bull.

Like a good piece of real estate, location is the key first ingredient to Davis’ success. In a nutshell, you have to be where the elk are, and that often means covering a ton of ground in order to find them. Although this sounds simple enough, covering the vast and remote country elk tend to live in takes a toll on many hunters. Bowhunting elk is difficult, and finding them requires a lot of effort that many bowhunters just aren’t willing to endure. Although elk will often frequent the same areas year in and year out, they can be fairly nomadic, especially with the slightest hint of hunting pressure. Because of this, Davis has more of a run-and-gun approach, dissecting a lot of ground until he finds fresh sign or hears a lone bugle in the distance. Once he finds the sweet spot, he determines where the bedding and feeding areas are and then focuses his efforts between them.

Unlike Moore, who will slip into a bull’s comfort zone and coax him in with an aggressive call, Davis prefers a more subtle approach, strictly focuses on ambushing a bull as he moves between bedding and feeding areas. Once Davis has determined likely travel routes, he aggressively moves into range, only bugling in an attempt to locate the bull’s position, making every effort to get in front of the herd undetected. In some cases, this means multiple leapfrog attempts as he finds the right ambush location while always keeping the wind in his favor. Although calling a bull into range is an epic way to hunt, letting one slip into bow range unaware of your presence isn’t too shabby either.

Chris Parrino

Similar to investing, bowhunting elk is often about risk versus reward. Although sometimes laying all the chips on the table pays off with in-your-face screaming encounters, oftentimes having a more conservative approach is a better long-term option. For traditional bowhunter Chris Parrino, keeping his cards close to the vest has paid off over the years.

Striking early has always been key to Illinois resident Chris Parrino’s success. Sitting a waterhole for several days last fall paid off with this big Wyoming bull.
Striking early has always been key to Illinois resident Chris Parrino’s success. Sitting a waterhole for several days last fall paid off with this big Wyoming bull.

Calling Illinois home, Parrino finds himself heading West virtually every season in search of the elusive Rocky Mountain elk. Over the years, this Bear Archery pro-staffer has had his share of success with over a dozen elk to his credit; his largest bull being a 340-inch Wyoming toad.

In Parrino’s opinion, a mature bull elk is the toughest big game animal to hunt in the Lower 48, and that is only compounded when you use the stick and string. Although there are several factors that have led to his success, one of the most important is time. An elk season is full of peak and valleys, both emotional and physically. “Blocking off enough time, especially for a guy like me who has to travel across the country, is a huge factor,” explained Parrino. Although killing a bull can happen during the first few days of a bowhunt, in reality it rarely does. According to Parrino, two weeks is the ideal block of time to navigate through everything an elk season can throw at you, and if you can afford to take more, even better.

The timing of the hunt is also important for Parrino. Although many bowhunters focus their efforts toward the end of the season with hopes of calling in a rut-crazed bull, for Parrino it’s all about the early season. Not only does there tend to be less hunting pressure, but bulls are often in small bachelor groups or alone, and tend to be more pattern-able. It’s also a lot easier to slip in on just a couple sets of eyes. Plus, with early season comes water and wallows, especially in more arid regions; if you can find the right ones, it can make for an epic ending to a hunt.

Wallows tend to be all-day sits in his opinion. “A bull can come in during the heat of the day or later in the evening,” according to Parrino. However, be cautious when slipping in to ensure you don’t spook anything off. Although elk can hit a water source any time of the day, it tends to be more of an evening affair. Like anything else, you need to know where the elk are coming from and hunt such locations only when the wind won’t spoil a hunt.

Lastly, be patient. If you know a water source is active, you may need to set several days before an opportunity presents itself. Last season, it took 4 days for Parrino, but when that 340-inch Wyoming bull strolled in to 20 yards, it was worth the long wait.

Danner Thorofare
Danner Thorofare

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Outdoorsman Spur 50
Outdoorsman Spur 50

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Sitka Flash Shelter
Sitka Flash Shelter
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