Elk hunting is probably one of North America's most prized hunts. If you consider the population of people on the planet, it's a divine miracle that humans are even able to hunt them at all. Game management has been very successful, and I am completely for fair chase. Let me take this opportunity to say, you should be scouting and exercising right now if you haven't already been. Don't forget to be prepared for the unexpected, if you scout long enough, I guarantee something will go wrong. This year I have already encountered a forest fire and had a flat tire, and a descent laceration on my knuckle from improper knife handling and almost got charged by a very large Black Bear so keep your survival awareness high and be prepared. What I will immediately suggest is that you take a refresher on knife safety and on firearm safety and on Bear and Moose safety; Carry a trauma kit and a one hand tourniquet.
Handgun for Bear and Moose Defense
The level of difficulty is reasonably high and that is what does it for me. Before you set out on a big game elk hunt, I would encourage you to brush up on your survival skills. In my opinion it's more important that you know how to handle yourself in the back country than it is that you are successful elk hunter. Venturing out into the wilderness chasing what I can equate as a very intelligent and experienced animal that resembles the power and abilities of a horse, but is wild and elusive could take you to a few points where you get lost in the woods. For example Elk have to worry about evading constant pursuit by bears and cougars and wolves and so it's often forgotten that your hunting an animal that lives and dies by it's ability to evade. Take a moment to consider the size of this animal I would say a cow elk weights in at 500 pounds and a bull elk weights in at 700 pounds. If we measure our own weight and compare ourselves to this animal, we are essentially hunting an animal that is 4 times our weight. If you chase them, you need to be a survival expert, or at least a boy/girl scout type. I don't know the last time you tried to drag out something that weights even just equal to yourself, but I can tell you, I certainly could not get both myself and another person out of the back country whole in a single trip. My point is, you are going to need to make several trips and each and every trip will be very hard. Your quads probably will give out before you can even pack out an elk if you are not in awesome shape. In other words, if you don't get in good shape, you cannot physically pack an elk out so why are you hunting them? I don't want to harp on it too much other than I will say if you have not scouted and don't know your limitations, don't hunt elk.
The first suggestion I have when it comes to hunting elk fairly is to get in world class shape. I don't think you need to be in perfect shape to be successful hunting elk, but you need to be in world class shape to scout, hunt and harvest these animals fair and humane. In my opinion, hunting is not hunting without a fair chase, what's the point of hunting when you can just slaughter a beef cow instead, and the answer is clearly the chase and possibly the quality of the meat. I do admit I think wild meat is extremely nutritious and I don't know about you but it's highly coveted by me. Back to the point, the realization that you may go home empty handed is the best part of hunting, so get in shape so you can chase them instead of tying one to a tree. What is the point if you pay a guy to drive you out to the elk and he tells you which one to shoot?
Dusky and Ruffed Grouse Hunting Utah
The biggest challenge of hunting elk in my view would be to hunt elk in Utah on public land because of the hunting pressure, but at the same time, hunting Utah public land for elk is awesome. I had a guy tell me he didn't think elk are in Utah, because he hadn't seen any, so I showed him my trail cam footage, and he was surprised. I should add here that there are a lot of bears where I hunt, so the Elk are way more evasive than normal, I mean, if a Bear has a hard time locating an Elk, then you will also have difficulty. Let's keep in mind that bears often pray on elk during the Rut, when they are bugling, for the same reasons we do, it's easier to find them.
If you can successfully harvest Elk in Utah on public land, then you can harvest elk anywhere. I say that based on the level of difficulty. For starters, Utah has some of the most rugged country in the Lower 48 states but also because of the number of hunters. Utah's game management plan is excellent, we have a surplus of elk, and the Department of Wildlife Management is doing an excellent job managing these herds. If you plan to hunt Elk in Utah the time is now. To be fair, it's hard to get an out of state Elk permit because of the odds but if you want to hunt here because you enjoy a challenge, don't hesitate. I have seen guys come from places like Florida to hunt elk here, and I always notice that they don't really know what they are doing. I mean they are in the area's where elk are but they are far from them. When you decide to hunt Utah as a non resident, you need to have an insider helping you along the way in my opinion, or you need to scout a lot before season starts. That means boots on the ground in September. The next thing I will say, is Utah has some very large areas of prime elk country and if you know where to go, you will find a vast amount of area to hunt. If you don't know where to go (a.ka. what you are doing), you will think there are no areas to hunt elk in Utah. You might even use the excuse there is too much private property or too many hunters.
.223 or 5.56mm Deer hunt ammo selection
I have been scouting for the spike hunt for 2016 since about mid July. In my opinion, you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket, what I mean is that I like to put in for deer, elk and any other permit I can obtain for the same general areas, so that I can scout while I hunt and when I scout I am looking for all the game and I'm not just going after one critter. I like to small game hunt as well, and so in Utah if you plan your hunts right, you always win because you are bound to get something if you know what you are doing. We seem to have a good population of grouse and rabbits as well right now, and so if you are persistent and dedicated, you are almost guaranteed to go home with some wild game.
This year, I didn't draw out in the lottery for any limited tags. I did get lucky enough to be offered a buck permit in my favorite area (Wasatch Mountains) and obviously I accepted, so I also decided to purchase a left over or over the counter spike elk permit. Since July I have found three solid areas with elk living in them. Meanwhile, I have spotted around 10 descent bucks most within a quarter mile of the main roads and I don't even count the doe's I see because they are everywhere.
I have seen sign of Cougar, Bear, and other predators as well if you are into hunting them. I decided to get my Furbearers this year, so I have been paying attention to the Beaver I locate and I must say I am encouraged. I would like to Document my 2016 Elk hunting experience this year.
Elk Hunt Rifle and Gear
So far, I have located Elk in three ways; by using a trail cam and by using optics and by simply walking up on them. There is one more important way to find elk however and that is Calling. Warning: Bears pray on elk, if you call then expect bears to respond to your calls. The first elk I have encountered this year was a cow elk. I spotted her while hiking through the quakies at high altitude. I figured since I saw one, I might see more, so I tried to be quiet, which isn't the easiest thing to do when you have an 11 year old kid tagging along. After seeing the cow elk I decided to walk through the area. After a while I took a break, and decided to walk back through the same area I just came through, as I was walking I noticed a couple of racks poking up through the foliage, it was a couple nice bulls laying down around 9100 feet in elevation. The most interesting part of this was that I had walked right passed them the first time. These types of experiences make me realize that the standard hunting dogma is not always what determines success. In this case I can only attribute successfully finding elk to, not giving up and just going the extra mile.
I know there are a lot of Elk hunting websites with awesome advice, but for what it's worth here is my advice and here are my Elk hunting tips. I will also try and provide an explanation.
Getting in Shape for the hunt 2017
1. Get in very good physical shape. Elk hunting is not an activity where you can purchase or draw out for a permit and then just go, I mean you can do that, but your success rate will be so low I'd be surprised if you ever wanted to go again. Elk hunting starts with scouting in June. I like to scout just about every weekend until October. We are talking about over 40 days of scouting for a 12 day hunt. I personally believe that with all the hunting pressure you will see from the rifle season, that you need to know where they are in advance. The point is, elk hunting requires a lot of hiking and scouting and spotting and lets face it, all those things are easier when you are in peak shape. If you take this approach, you will find out that your satisfaction level is much higher because at least you know you have a chance, or had a chance. The best thing you can do is put a back pack on and hike with it through rugged country. The next best thing you can do is run at the track a lot. I try to run 4-6 miles every other day minimum starting at least two months before the hunt. This year I have been training year round. It's good to do things like run 5k races and eat right.
2. Use Google Maps, but also, don't hesitate to buy the topographic quadrangles for your area and a couple nice compasses. Electronic navigation tools are great like the GPS, but when the going gets tough, you can only really rely on solid maps and a compass. GPS units fail, I would say regularly, your screen could break, or your batteries could die, or you could drop it in a river or maybe you have bad weather and can't track satellites. I would say, get your topographic maps and don't think twice. It's important to learn how to read a map and orient yourself with a map but most importantly you need to know your basic emergency azimuths. When the stuff hits the fan, you need to be able to just take a compass reading and be able to reach a road or ATV trail. I would put a little effort into learning how to use a topographic map in conjunction with your compass and GPS. Did I mention GPS can fail? Just last weekend my GPS started to "glitch" out on me.
3. Find areas that don't have road access, find water holes in areas that are sort of centered away from roads. I have found most of my success in finding elk is finding areas where ATV's and motorized vehicles cannot bother them. Naturally, elk need water, so finding water holes there is the way to do it. I don't want to pretend these guidelines are the end all be all because you can also find places where elk live that are actually very near roads.
4. Keep a log book and document all your findings, the best thing you can do is find sign, like tracks, droppings and beds. When you scout so much, it's easy to forget where you saw what; and when the hunt arrives, you want to be able to refer to your book and say oh yeah, I saw a cow and a couple bulls over here in August.
5. Trail Cameras, I don't think trail cameras are required to hunt Elk, but they can make a very positive impact on your over all strategy. I was very impressed with the results of using my first trail cam. I had several bulls and a cow pictured with about 228 pictures my first time. This helps us realize that there are actually animals in those woods. A lot of people lose heart because they don't see them, but I am going to say, hey, they are there, they are just very good at evading you.
6. Having the proper gear is also extremely important. With the amount of time you will be spending in the woods if you take this advice, you will find out that you will be way less frustrated if you have the right pair of boots and the right backpack with all the right gear in it. Some of those slopes are so steep that you will slide no matter what you do, and that issue is increased with crummy tread on your boots.
7. Stay hydrated and energized; I am pretty sure most people don't realize that if you are working hard in the desert, your body can use up to two quarts of water per hour. I have noticed while scouting that I really don't drink enough water or have enough energy. A great tip I learned from a mountain climber is to start to super hydrate a few days before and eat every hour while on the hunt. You can eat a peanut butter sandwich or a cliff bar or whatever but make sure you are eating hourly and drinking a lot more water than you "think" you need.
8. Survival: My advice is to learn a lot about survival and what to do when things go wrong. I personally believe that most hunters do have the skills and abilities to survive, but what they don't have is the ability to admit when they are lost, and the ability to stay calm once they realize they are in a survival situation. The most important thing you can do, is tell people where you are going and when you plan to be back. The second thing you need to do is be able to recognize when it's time to stop and make a shelter, fire and go into survival mode. The third most important thing you can do is carry a stuff happens proof survival kit. There are other reasons for survival situations other than getting lost, maybe you just went too far and are too exhausted to safely travel through rugged terrain, or maybe you were lost and recovered but realized you were too far back to be able to hike out. When it comes to survival, the most important thing you can do is recognize when you are in the situation. For example let's say you went fishing and fell in the river and the water was 37 degrees. You could immediately start a fire and warm up or you could try and make a run for the truck. The question is which one do you choose? The answer is make a fire immediately, don't try to risk hypothermia by getting to your truck. Another example would be you hiked too far, and you feel exhausted and it's snowy and getting dark, do you try and make it back to the truck or do you setup a survival camp? The answer is you setup a survival camp. But you will say to yourself "I am not sleeping in the snowy woods tonight" It's that kind of thinking that puts you in danger. If you are not mentally capable of making decisions like to setup a survival camp instead of make a run for the truck then you really should consider a different hobby. I assure you there will be times when you need to stop, stay put and think. I suggest that you at least make the camp, rest, warm up (build fire) and hydrate for at least a half an hour before even making another decision. This will give you time to rationalize and not act on panic or under reduced mental capacity. Sometimes the best thing you can do is stay put and think. If you start feeling rushed, panicked and scared, that is when you stay put and think for a while before doing anything. I guarantee you that 10,000 acres of prime wilderness will exhaust your body if you are not using good survival skills. Physical conditioning comes into play here as well, this is why you get in peak shape, but being in good shape is no excuse to stop thinking and act without taking your time during a rest period. The human body is capable of some amazing things when you simply take a rest, a drink and eat something then give your body time to digest. You can't exercise hard and digest at the same time, so when you take an eating break, when you are done eating give yourself at least a half hour before you consider any more physical exercise. The last piece of survival advice I will give you, is trust your compass, a lot of people get lost for certain because they doubt their instruments. This is also why I like to carry two compasses because I can then tell myself that it's highly unlikely that two separate compasses are wrong.
9. Learn how to call, learn how to talk Elk. The truth is, Elk can hang out in some dense vegetation and that vegetation in Utah can span for miles, so how do you locate elk in the dense wilderness? The answer is, you learn to talk elk. The flip side to this coin is that later in the season it can be detrimental to the hunt to try and call because they have been called in by bow hunters and muzzle loader hunters.
Getting in Shape for the hunt 2017
10. Check this website for current conditions in your area. www.utahcommuterlink.com
11. Staying positive, and being optimistic until the last day. I successfully harvested a spike bull elk this year, this was contrary to the belief of some of my critics. I heard things like "You'll never get a spike" and "they gave out too many tags this year" and, "the elk are not here" or, "you need a 4 wheeler or horse" or "they are bedded down this time of day" and in the end none of those statements were correct. It's important to stay positive and to keep moving forward, for example, if you hike for three days and cover miles after miles, and say, gosh this was a waste of time, then you're not being positive, what you should be thinking is "nice, at least now, I know where they are not, so we need to go and find out where they are. Ruling out places is just as helpful in the overall strategy in my opinion as any other part of hunting. You don't give up when you realize elk are not there, what you do is you move to a new spot.
12. All said and done this year, I have filled both my Spike Elk and Buck Deer tag. One of the most effective tips I can give, is don't go back to camp for lunch. There seems to be this ideology among a lot of hunters where they think the animals bed down during the day, and that may be true occasionally, but I harvested both my big game animals mid day this year and your best bet is to stay in the field all day from light until dark. One good way to make sure you don't go back to camp for lunch and dinner is to take some good freeze dried food with you while you hike. I have found that some healthy and good tasting foods are from thrive. Give them a try. Click the link below.
My Log Book so far This Year.
July 30th, 2016
-4 Mile Hike. Saw tracks.
July 31st, 2016
-Encountered Cow Elk at 9100 feet @ 4pm
-Note, replace batteries, carry more water, replace GPS and use water reservoir.
-Saw cottontail Rabbit
-Fresh Elk Sign, scat,
-Gave kid shooting lesson
-Walked up on two Bulls bedded down elevation 9100, at 5:08pm
-Spotted big Buck 3 or 4 point on west slope.
-Saw three doe's (two fawns)
-4 mile hike
August 1st, 2016
-encountered two Rag horn Bulls
-4 mile hike
August 5th, 2016
Scouted Peak- Checked Trail Cam, 228 pictures on cam.
-4 mile hike
August 6th, 2016
-spotted 3 bucks
-spotted 4 bull elk
-found beaver ponds with beaver, will go back to those in september
-cow elk call practice
-spotted 4 rabbits
-spotted 5 grouse
-4 mile hike
August 7th, Range Day.
-Sighted in 10/22 for small game season
-the kid did 200 rounds of target practice for hunter safety test
-coached kid on shooting
August 12, 2016
-spotted a coyote, two bucks (spike)
-spotted 1 grouse
-4 Mile hike
August 13, 2016
-Found very good fresh elk sign
-old rubbings, fresh scat, tracks, beds
-saw 3 grouse
-4 mile hike
August 14, 2016
-Setup Trail Cam new spot
-Fresh sign, scat, tracks,
-spooked elk, didn't see it, heard it crash through the forest
-4 mile hike
August 17, 2016
-kid passed hunter safety
-Completed 6 mile run
August 19, 2016
-Went to PMAA range, sighted in .270 Win and .300 Win mag
-Shot 15 rounds of .300 win mag
-Shot 5 rounds of .270
-Both are zero'd
August 26, 2016
-Forest Fire near trail cam, changed plan didn't want to risk hiking while there was a forest fire.
-The change in plans ended up being successful, I did end up seeing Elk at the other location.
-saw 8-10 doe's this day
August 27, 2016
-Spotted several Elk at 7:39 am
-Spotted additional Elk at 7:49 am
-Did practice Stalk,
-4 mile hike
-Got flat tire, had to do a tire change, decided to go home early this weekend since I had no spare.
-The flat tire was good practice for handling situations where things go wrong. It was a good opportunity to use my survival thinking skills and decision making. Possibly being stranded is a good opportunity to go into survival mode, which means, take your time, don't panic and think. What could I do better next time (be a little more organized).
August 28, 2016
-Went to PMAA range, practiced and fine tuned the .300 Win Mag zero's for 2" high at 100 yards; shot 15 rounds.
-Saw that Hush (Huntin-Fishin) guy from YouTube, he was sighting in his muzzle-loader, said hello to him.
-keep in mind, it probably costs me $2 a shot to practice with my .300 Win Mag, so I don't shoot it a lot!
-red fire day, not allowed to shoot the long distance steel targets;
-Organized back of truck post flat tire.
-Saw Ben Hur (it's good)
-Note: Small game opens in 4 Days; will be going after grouse and rabbit.
-Also note: Might buy new tires, not sure about that.
August 29, 2016
-Completed 6 mile run.
September 2, 2016
-Encountered two spike bucks
-Encountered 1 Turkey
-Encountered 1 Grouse
-Saw many Doe's
-Several miles hiking
September 3, 2016
-Recovered Trail Cam- technical issue, no pictures recovered.
-Harvested 1 Pine grouse
-Harvested 1 Ruffed grouse
-spoke to bow hunters who have been hunting region for 20 years, they told me they saw a bear (big'n) and 6 spike elk plus bulls and cows. They told me they took a spike in that area a couple days prior.
*This was in the same area my trail cam took the pictures above, this may be my opening morning location.
September 4, 2016
-Heavy Fog, lost morning of spotting
-Mid day nice and cool, spotted two bulls with spot scope across a canyon, was windy, hard to keep spot scope steady.
Note: BFGoodrich A/T tires performing excellent in comparison to my All/Season road tires which failed.
Temperature was down at 39 degrees F last morning.
September 6,8 2016
6 Mile Run x2 complete.
September 10, 2016
-Setup trail-cam, accidentally chopped finger while clearing branches for cam, got 6 stitches,
-Saw 2 Turkeys
-Saw 9 grouse
-limited out on grouse (harvested 4 dusky)
-2 mile hike
-went home due to knuckle laceration
September 17, 2016
10 MILE HIKE
I was doing a little Cow Elk calling and I had my (Pomeranian) dog and an 11 year old kid with me. I had my heavy 5.11 72 hour back pack on my back and I had my 12 GA with number 4 bird shot because I was also hunting grouse. We sat down to do the calling and I was holding my dog in my arms because if I don't hold him, he'll whine which isn't conducive to trying to call in an Elk. After a few moments of calling I just happened to look over my left shoulder and I saw a big old black bear stocking down on us. My 12 GA was on the ground or fell to the ground once I noticed the bear and stood up. I put my dog down real quick and I drew out my Glock model 40 and simultaneously let out a battle cry in preparation to fight the bear. The bear stopped, kind of jumped up as if startled, then he took about ten rapid steps back stopped, looked at me again, and I think I hollered out again at the bear and he finally ran off. Make no mistake ladies and fellas, I almost had to use my Glock model 40 10mm Auto 6" barrel to defend my kid, dog and self against a hungry big old black bear. This would be a good time to mention, that you need to have a good natural instinct to shoot in the correct vital areas if you get charged, I also decided I'll be giving the kid a little bear training.
September 18, 2016
Did a little spotting, located elk. Took a quick picture through the Nikon XL II spotting scope. Decided on my opening day strategy.
September 20, 2016
-6 Mile Run
September 22, 2016
-6 Mile Run
September 24, 2016
-8 Mile Hike
-Couple inches of snow. Snowed the first half of the day, heavy fog, snow. Used my Gor-Tex pants and coat. Field tested my new Keen boots.
-Did a little bugle and cow calling after the snow stopped, got a response from another bull.
-Talked to a long time hunter in the area, they are getting ready for the Muzzle loader elk hunt.
-Went home early, decided I'll need time to prepare for the hunt which start in less than two weeks.
-Purchased some Gor-Tex outerwear for the kid.
September 26 and 28
-6 Mile Run
October 1, 2nd 2016
Packing up and preparing for hunt which starts next weekend. Assembled Camping Gear, and Gear in General. Loaded truck. Will be heading up on Friday to setup camp.
October 3, 2016
5 Days until hunt, I'm taking it easy for the most part, gearing up and watching hunting video's, getting last minute tips, advice, gear. Will maintain my cardio vascular routine until Wednesday. Then I will stop exercising so I have a couple days to recover before the hunt.
-6 Mile Run
October 13, 2016
Successfully harvested my Spike Elk.
Time To get Ready for the Buck Deer Hunt. General Season Buck hunt starts October 22, 2016. I happen to have a buck tag to fill.