Top factors influencing your success at shooting long distance and going home with a bull of a lifetime.
KNOW YOUR SETUP
You can read countless articles explaining why this caliber or that rifle scope is the best on the market and every elk hunter should be carrying one. However, if you are planning a hunt of a lifetime you do not want to take a weapon system to the mountains you are not familiar with. With this being said, you should reach out to the Outfitter and see what he or she recommends. The caliber options you have in the gun cabinet might be a great option for the hunt with possibly a few modifications. If you're really serious about big game hunting it might be time to break the bank and get a big game rifle setup that will work best for you and your intentions.
The preparation for an elk hunt starts almost a year out and one huge element of the process should be shooting the rifle you plan on bringing. We grew up chasing Whitetails in Virginia/West Virginia with the furthest shot averages between 60-150 yards. At these short distances MOA (Minute of Angle), windage, and slope are not factors to be concerned with. In contrary, shooting 500-700 yards across a canyon at a bull elk can become difficult without consideration of those factors mentioned earlier. To eliminate doubt in the guns capability, go out to the range on a calm clear day and place targets at 200, 300, 400, and 500 yards (even further if you are a more experienced long-range shooter). Take a few shots at each distance and walk down to check bullet placement. This will give your barrel time to cool between shots. Record the MOA for each distance required to hit the bullseye.
Create a cheat sheet for the distances you are comfortable shooting. You can tape the adjustments on the stock of the rifle or save them on your phone. Put them in a safe place so when the shot opportunity arrises they are easy to access and you feel confident in your shot. Be careful though, as you travel from sea level to the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains your bullet is going to fly faster in the higher altitudes. We personally use Vortex optics. If you reach out to Vortex and give them your current elevation you are sighting your gun in at and the future elevation you plan to hunt at, they can make you scope caps with a chart & the adjusted MOA settings. We've witnessed hunters showing up with this setup to have the most accurate rifles.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT BULLET & BRING PLENTY OF THEM
Don’t be the guy who brings a target bullet to try to take out an elk because the bullet flight is best. Yes, we've seen this before and it did not go over well, the guy got the elk but had to shoot multiple times. This will aid in placing the bullet on the mark but doesn’t create the trauma expansion like hunting bullets do. We suggest either the accubond hornady SST bullet.
Deer hunters rarely carry extra bullets outside what the hunting rifle holds but we suggest when hunting big game you carry at least one full box. When shooting across canyons the animals aren’t near as skittish when the rifle cracks. If the shooter is off the mark it’s not abnormal for an elk to stand in the same location for minutes after a shot has fired or remain feeding providing the hunter another shot opportunity to calm his nerves and make a good shot.
At the end of the day and before you head out west to hunt an animal of a lifetime get your setup together and practice! We've been told this since we were children, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT for anything that you do! When you step out on the mountain with a rifle you feel extremely confident with we can promise you are going to have better results. If you already feel confident in your shot, I urge you to get creative and challenge yourself!