Top 5 Elk Hunting Mistakes Made from a Guides Perspective
#1 Hitting the Snooze Button!
4:30am is a tough time for anyone to roll out of bed, much less, a hunter who can see their own breath and hasn’t had a good nights sleep in a couple days. Do not let these factors keep you tucked into your warm sleeping bag and cozy tent. You do not want to be the guy rolling up the mountain after every, single, elk on the mountain has chosen it's bedding area for the day. It will be like searching for a needle in a haystack… I would prefer to nap from 12:00pm-2:00pm any day rather than to miss the first light. I cannot tell you how many times I have caught a glimpse of an elk’s rump slipping into the timber while there's barely enough light to see through my optics. Elk are diurnal creatures who prefer to move at dusk and dawn especially into the gun seasons on public grounds. So, get up early and be the ready for elk moving along the mountain side before the rooster crows, who knows, during the early rifle you may just hear a lonesome bulge who leads you into an area overlooked.
#2 Scared of the Pack!
Coming from a hunter who has logged 15 years of hunting back East (Virginia), the words “pack out, de-boned, and gutless method” were all foreign words to me. If you couldn’t get the pickup to the animal, you borrowed a friend’s four-wheeler. This is not the case in the rugged, steep, Rockies. They call them the Rockies for a reason. The terrain is downright brutal and even the most trained athlete will find themselves sucking for air the first few days. However, this should not be an obstacle for the hunter. Elk hunting trips can take years to plan and part of the planning phase should weigh in and include physical training. I have rucked in the military during both deployments overseas and trained countless hours in the rouged mountains. But still, every year I find myself in sticky pack out situations and I rely on my physical strength to carry the load. Most of the time bulls during the rifle season are searching for these sanctuaries (sanctuaries=hell holes!). These places are areas you look at on a map and question if a person has ever touched foot on these hillsides. I’ve found for myself success usually coincides with tough pack outs on public land.
#3 Look in the Right Places!
This may sound original but I see hunters every time I head to the mountains searching for elk along human travel corridors and wide open spaces. Yes, you can catch elk using these areas but the odds are stacked against you tremendously. If you cannot see a beam of light coming through the canopy, and the only flat spot on the hill side is the upward side of a Douglas Fir, you may be searching the right areas. These 2/3 up the mountain north facing slopes hold elk for a few reason. Cover, difficulty to negotiate quietly, escape routes, and lack of human presence. I challenge you next time you’re struggling to find elk, try locating the gnarliest area within your glassing spot and hike up the mountain and check for elk sign and smell. I am willing to bet you will be amazed by the terrain these large animals prefer once the guns start cracking.
#4 Get Off the Road!
The areas we hunt have countless roads and trails so this encourages hunters to claim the front seat of the UTV or ATV as their prime glassing point. I once heard a quote from a road hunter back east say, “The amount of miles you can cover are astronomical!”. Yes, this maybe the case if you are willing to be put behind bars or go home empty handed but we are here to kill elk and work harder than the guys running the roads. Glassing from roads can be beneficial, however, a lot of these elk do not want to be in an ear shots distance from a road and will use the topography to block out the sounds and sight. My best advice is to use the 4x4 roads to access trail heads and areas you have reason to believe elk inhabit, then let your legs carry you to the trophy.
#5 Throwing in the Towel and Eating Tag Soup!
Stay focused. Elk hunting is physically and mentally demanding. It's hard for hunters to keep focused after 3 or 4 days of straight hunting without any kind of success. Don't let yourself go into search mode for home or your list of things to do. Keep grinding & stay focused after the game you sought after. When a hunter leaves home he or she should have family and work issues resolved, don't let these thoughts ware & tear on your mind. This is your time, enjoy it. Countless hunters have given it their all to bring it all together on the last hour of the last day of the season. The money and effort getting here alone should keep you in the woods searching for the animal you intended on harvesting. The chances of success is as low as 5% in some units, why in the world would you want to cut a few days off and decrease the terrible odds in the first place?
~ Guide Running Bear~