Bowhunting Elk on Public Ground — Have Heart

Skill and luck certainly play a role in elk hunting success, especially on public land, but in the author’s opinion, the No. 1 factor is heart.

Bowhunting Elk on Public Ground — Have Heart

When it comes to consistently killing elk on open-to-anyone dirt, there’s one thing that will separate you from the masses. It’s not a magic call or digital scouting app. It’s not having the best bow and gear money can buy. It’s simply about having heart.

If you haven’t seen the 1993 film, Rudy, watch it. If you have, you know what I’m talking about; Rudy Ruettiger had little athletic ability — he was small and he was slow, but he made up for it with heart. He pushed and pushed and then pushed some more. Why? To achieve a goal to play football for the University of Notre Dame. Despite all odds, he did it.

I’m not trying to pull at your heartstrings. I just want to help. My elk tenure has taught me that when it comes to killing elk on public land,  nothing can replace or is more important than heart.

You have to be willing to stay in the field during nasty weather when a warm bed at home is calling. You have to be able to push through pain and adversity. You have to rise early each day, slide into icy boots and shoulder a heavy pack. You have to walk toward that drainage that seems so far in the distance.

A couple years ago, my buddies and I were moving toward a bugling bull. When we reached the edge of the drainage, it was clear the bull was on the other side. We needed to press close before making another call. Just as we were about to dive off, another hunter ripped a bugle. He had come up the bottom of the drainage and was in perfect position.

Being ethical hunters, we tipped our hat to him and waited for the show to unravel. It didn’t. The bull stayed on top of the ridge. The hunter stayed in the bottom. The hunter called and called, but the bull wouldn’t budge, and the hunter wasn’t about to climb the steep ridge and go after the bull. He quit. He gave up and walked away.

Because the coast was clear, we climbed the ridge. My buddy made a single cow call, and the bull came running. That bull was arrowed at a distance of 21 yards.

Elk hunting public ground is hard. It’s a grind that can, at times, seem like mission impossible. Don’t give in, and don’t give up. Just keep going. If you’ve allotted 10 days for your hunt, then hunt all 10. Leave it all on the mountain. It’s those who keep pushing — keep going — that find success.


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