Published by archerchick on 08 Jan 2011 at 11:58 pm
BOW & ARROW HUNTING
BOWHUNTERS ANNUAL 1979
Calling In The Elk ~By Douglas Kittredge
“Successful elk hunting has little to do with luck.”
Standing about five feet at the shoulders, from eight hundred to over one thousand pounds, a mature bull elk can challenge any bowhunter.
Fortunate is the man who
hunts elk with a bow. His season comes at a time when the few available odds can be in his favor: weather rare ly severe, fewer hunters roaming the woods, early Fall rains to dampen his
footsteps; but most valuable, this is the time of the breeding period, or rut.
This is the period when even the cagiest of bulls puts aside his normal caution for the more important matter at hand.
There was a time when elk were extremely common animals, found in
great herds roaming the plains of the West. Because of market hunting pressure, the turn of this century saw the herds decimated to only 40,000 animals. Fortunate for today’s hunters,
the elk is an adaptable animal and has shifted habitat from exposed open plains to sheltered mountain forests where they now thrive in ever increasing numbers — literally an elk explosion by some states’ reports!
Though in ancient times some ten subspecies of these magnificent animals roamed North America, today, there are but four, and of these our hunting is directed primarily to the .
Roosevelt .and the Yellowstone varieties.
The true name is wapiti, from the Shawnee Indians. “Elk” really belongs
to a different animal, the European moose. Standing about five feet at the shoulders and from eight hundred to over 1000 pounds, a mature bull elk is a formidable creature, particularly when a bowhunter, previously acquainted only with deer, suddenly confronts one at close range. Such a
large target is mighty deceiving, making him seem much closer than he really is.
The mating season, or rut, probably does not actually start until mid
September, but bugling often is heard much earlier, starting in the latter part
of August in some areas. Cows do not breed until their third year; however, bulls participate at age two and often account for the majority of actual breeding in their younger years as the
older herd bull becomes more involved in chasing harassing competition away
from his harem.
As the rut progresses, the bulls become increasingly preoccupied with
their activity. They pay less and less attention to what is going on about
them. I’ve spoken with knowledgeable elk hunters who tell tales about elk do-
ing almost stupid things — perhaps walking right in toward a waiting hunter,
nose to the ground and sun at high noon. Or just standing there shaking
his rack from side to side while the archer excitedly lets fly arrow after
arrow. The height of the rut usually occurs toward the end of September
and lasts into the middle of October. During this time pugnacious old bulls
gather together their harems, consisting of perhaps only a few to more
than twenty cows. Smaller bulls are driven from the herd and the herd bull
becomes ready for combat as he plays his role in this yearly ritual.
Now is the time for the bowhunter to take advantage of the situation.
The smaller bulls hang around the harem, looking for opportunity to cut
out an amorous cow while the herd bull has his attention drawn elsewhere.
Challenge is given in musical notes, unique to this animal. It is a full-chested
effort that many outdoorsmen acclaim as the most exciting sound in
nature. Beginning on a low note, the call rises up the scale in three or four
tones to peak in a clear bugle held as long as the air supply lasts, then fades
abruptly into a series of almost hiccup type savage grunts. No two elk sound
exactly the same. The larger, mature bulls usually can be determined by
their coarse, deeper calls, while the young animals make with a thin, high-
pitched whistle. As the older bulls become increasingly upset, their calls can
transform into a chilling scream, lacking almost all musical qualities, even
becoming nothing but a series of deep- throated grunts. Many successful elk
callers attempt to reproduce only this grunting part of the call, feeling it does
more to arouse a challenge and has less chance for slip-up by making a false-
The courting efforts take their toll on the condition of an active bull elk,
burning off most of his accumulated Summer fat, scarring his neck and
bruising his chest through wounds from other rivals’ horns. He enters the
threat of coming Winter in badly weakened condition. It is reported
that a weight loss of three hundred pounds is not uncommon among herd
bulls during the rut.
An elk is an impressively antlered trophy. The immense antler display
begins to bud forth in May and continues growth into the first of August
when the blood vessels constrict and the horn growth hardens, soon to be
rubbed and polished to a magnificent fighting tool. The yearling bull grows
only spike horns, measuring ten to twenty inches in length. Each year the
bull grows a new set of antlers. By the time he reaches three years old, this
growth starts to become impressive, being more massive and up to five
points on each side. From this point the antler growth becomes larger and
heavier each season. A mature bull sports a head dress of six, seven or
even more points on a side, weighing fifty pounds or more. It is little
wonder their neck muscles and bones are so massive!
Elk thrive on browse, grass and forbs. Preference changes with availability
and the season of the year. During the Fall bowhunting periods, grass
fills most of their needs. They tend to be early morning and late evening
feeders, spending their midday in secluded, shaded bedding areas. Most
beginning elk hunters misjudge the speed of travel of a browsing elk herd.
It is almost impossible to keep up with using normal pussy-footing tactics.
They average better than one mile per hour and tend to browse in a straight
line, heading into the wind. Thus, a better technique calls for rapidly circling
the animals at a fast trot, dropping far enough to one side to keep
noise of travel from being important. The hunter should either get out in
front of the moving quarry to position himself in a hidden location, letting
the herd move to him; or be able to sneak in directly from the side.
Rarely is it a bull that is boss of the herd, rather it’s a wise old cow that
has her eyes, ears, and nose poised on what goes on about her. A bark-like
call acts as a warning of any danger, with headlong flight soon to follow.
As with many herd animals, elk often panic and stampede en masses, taking
their cue from other animals in the group whether they themselves have
seen a real danger or only imagined it. Such stampedes usually end quickly,
as soon as cover is reached, and the hunter can rapidly circle again to catch
up with the group. However, some elk movements are remarkable in distance
traveled. It is not uncommon to have spooked animals travel five miles or
more, going farther than just the next drainage cover.
During archery seasons, elk usually are found at the higher elevations
where they can take advantage of cooling breezes. They are restless animals,
perhaps because of the huge amount of food required. I have seen some
daily movements involving over eight miles of travel from feeding area to
bedding ground undergone on a daily basis. Elk water at least one time each
day and they may travel some miles to get to it. Rare is it that good elk habitat
does not contain an ample supply of this important liquid relatively closeby.
Their daily movements involve a pattern of feeding, watering and resting.
They tend to browse uphill from the bottomlands during the early morning hours, bedding in the cool thick timber during midday, resuming the browsing late in the afternoon,
moving in a downhill direction until after dark. Elk do feed during bright
moonlight periods of the month and most hunters feel their chances of success
are better during the dark phase of the moon.
Elk are bothered by hot weather. At times, they may seek bedding far out on an open point where refreshing breezes make life more comfortable and free of flies. High winds put elk
down into the safety of sheltered canyons where they can hear approaching
danger more easily. In heavily hunted areas, elk quickly become aware of the
pressure and either completely leave the area for more remote parts, or they change their habits such that they rarely leave the thicker-timbered hillsides, rarely being seen out in the
open. During such times, a patient hunter stands a chance of getting into the action by lurking high in a tree overlooking a well-used main trail or hidden water hole.
Successful elk hunting has little to do with luck. The hunt must be planned in detail. Six states account for eighty-five percent of the elk taken: Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho — with Arizona and New Mexico becoming more popular with knowing bowhunters
First on the planning agenda should be writing the Fish and Game Department, c/o the capital city.of each state in which you are interested. Request information on expected season
dates, license costs, regulations and any suggestions as to possible hunting areas you might consider. If the name and address of the state bowhunting organization, or of individual hunters is available, it is a wise plan to contact them as well. Working out the details of a successful elk hunt takes time, so start well in advance of the season opening.
Hunting elk is an expensive undertaking, even when hunting without a paid guide or outfitter. There is no guarantee of hunter success. In fact, doing it the hard way with bow and
arrow puts the odds against you about nine to one. With increasing hunting pressure, decreasing available habitat and more restrictive hunting seasons, the best chance for success lies with booking a guided hunt through a reputable outfitter, Such a man should be able to put you in an
area where game is known to be, saving you the days of pre-season scouting. He also arranges for handling of the meat once you have an animal down — no small matter in the steep, remote areas most elk prefer.
Finding a suitable outfitter for a bowhunting experience can be highly frustrating. Most guides would rather hunt with a rifleman, as it makes their job many times easier. A number of
them look down on bows as ineffective for hunting these tough animals.
Frequently a bowman can be put in on game, only to have the wind shift so
he doesn’t get his shot, it becomes a miss, or there is a branch in the way.
Unless the guide is well acquainted with the quirks of hunting with bows,
he can lose patience with the hunter and his enthusiasm actually can
diminish the hunter’s chance for success.
The larger outdoor magazines contain sections devoted solely to listings
by the outfitting fraternity. Many Fish and Game Departments have published
listings of registered guides in their state. Write as many as you can. Not
only ask for their brochure, rates, and other pertinent information, but specifically request information about their capabilities of guiding a bowhunter. It is wise to request a minimum of three recent clients’ names as references. A phone call to a reference is worth many times that of a letter, for it gives a chance to listen to the tone of voice, or any hesitancy in giving an answer. Try to find out how the man felt the hunting conditions to be. Did game abound in the area? What
was the competitive hunting pressure from others in camp and other camps
in the area? What about the terrain and the weather? Did the guide perform as expected? And most important: Would he return to hunt with this particular guide again if he had the
Beware of any outfitter who makes fancy promises and fills his camp too full of hunters. Good guides rarely guarantee anything other than a good hunting experience under conditions
of fair chase, particularly when hunting an animal as elusive as an elk, with a bow. The top guided hunts have a single guide with a maximum of two hunters, and though admittedly more
costly, the best arrangement is one guide to a single hunter. Over half a dozen hunters in a single camp begins to spell overhunting of the area. You also want to know what flexibility you
might have in relocating the camp should the game not prove abundant or move out of the area.
Top guides and outfitters are much in demand, often being booked solid a
full year in advance. If you find this the case with the guide of your choice,
ask if he might be able to suggest another he considers capable, but perhaps not so well established. Though a quality guided hunt provides better chances for success, many of us cannot afford the bucks required. The well—conditioned, properly-prepared,
do it~yourself hunter still can have a good crack at this wily game. Begin setting up your plans by
writing for hunting maps of the area you have decided on. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management both publish such material. Topo maps are another vital addition and may be
obtained from many sporting goods outlets.
Consider how you are going to maneuver around in the hunting country. In most areas a four-wheel-A drive vehicle or a horse will be needed, though more and more backpackers
are going after elk. Elk hunting demands equipment that is in dependable, first-rate condition. Though archery seasons usually are blessed with fine weather, it can change overnight to an early season blizzard. Most hunters take more gear than they need until they learn how to
plan for all eventualities without duplication. I like to allow for a layered type of clothing outfit that provides a minimum amount of covering should the temperature be in the seventies,
yet I can keep adding another shirt or pair of long johns as needed to provide
warmth down to ten degrees or so. Nothing beats a good sleeping bag, so if money is to be saved, do so elsewhere and pay a little more for a sound night’s sleep. The same applies to boots, tent and backpack. Remember that elk inhabitat mountainous country and the smooth soled boots used by an Eastern whitetail hunter
Being in shape physically is easy to say, but all too few of us really prepare for hiking the high mountain country where chances for elk will be best. Probably the inability to move around easily in hunting country accounts for more unfilled elk tags than any other single thing. Considering the
cost and effort most of us expend to hunt elk, it behooves us to prepare a bit in advance.
Start by paying a visit to your doctor. Tell him what you plan. He might
want to give you a brief examination, then offer his advice for an exercise
program you can follow a few months before the hunt. A couple of months
before the season I like to begin jogging or walking a few miles each day,
at a speed fast enough to work up the heartbeat and get my wind to puffing.
If a horse is part of the hunting plan, regular riding a few weeks ahead of
time can make the whole trip more enjoyable. Plan to be in the hunting area
several days ahead of time. Western elk areas tend to be at high altitude where
acclimatization can be a major help.
As most bowhunting seasons occur during the rut, the majority of hunters
take along some form of elk call. Over the years, these bugles have been fashioned from just about every type of plastic tube, bamboo, metal gas pipe, rubber hose, or modified reed calls.
Exactly imitating a bull’s bugle is difficult, if not impossible. I don’t believe I have ever heard a man-made call which sounds exactly the same as a real elk, and many of those on the market are
at best but a faint imitation. Accordingly, most hunters will acknowledge that the elk herds are becoming Wage wise” to the human efforts of trying to sound like a bull. In some areas, it is
rare for the elk to bugle at all, other than for a short while during height of the rut. In most areas. a poorly executed bugle will announce the hunter’s presence, instantly silencing the whistling bulls, putting the herd into flight, or at least on wary alert.
Correct use of a good bugle can save a lot of miles of walking. When an
answer is received, it shows the location of the elk, assures you of being in elk terrain, and that you can slow your travel and begin use of your hunting skills in working in for a shot. Though bulls will come in to an elk call, it has been my experience that more likely they will answer, then move the; gathering of cows out ahead of the: getting away from what they believe
to be a rival, challenging bull. I suggest moving in on the answering bull using a circling movement
watching to keep the wind in your favor and moving at the pace of a fast walk or trot. Don’t be too concerned about noise, just try to get out ahead if the elk as quickly as possible. Don’t
call again for about ten minutes. If the bull calls again before the ten minute; are up, try to decide if it is the same bull that first answered your call and he is moving toward or away from you. If toward you, hide in a position where you think you will be able to get a clear shot. Wait a minute or two before making another call, perhaps shielding your call behind your hand or shoulder to sort of muffle the sound and eliminate giving it true direction.
Keep your calls short. Don’t call too often. Try to let the bull make all the moves. He may continue coming in even though you don’t answer him again, and by staying silent you eliminate any chance of a poorly made call alarming him. I like to make a grunt
by sucking in my breath behind the flat of my hand, but unless you know
what you are doing, you can choke up and ruin the whole thing.
I found that the quickest way to learn how to call up elk was to spend a
few days in the field, after the close of the regular season, to try calling. Most
archery seasons close just as the rut is really beginning to hit its full peak. Arranging your schedule to allow a few extra days following the season can work wonders in polishing up your
technique. Here is a time when you can experiment with anything and failure won’t matter,
First crack of morning and just before it is too dark to hunt legally are the prime times for calling. Some hunters even go out well after dark, leaving their bows behind, to make a bugle or two directed into canyons or up mountainsides where they hope an answering hull will indicate a new
place to try hunting. Except during the height of the rut, most elk terminate their bugling shortly after dawn. In working through your selected hunting country, when no elk are known to be close by, try to cover as much ground as possible, looking for fresh signs of droppings or tracks. Make
a bugle every fifteen or twenty minutes during the first hour or so of morning and the last half hour of evening.
Keep your eyes peeled for spring fed areas in small alpine meadows
where elk may be wallowing in the mud. An elk wallow is an important
part of the rutting ritual Here the bull will paw, dig and urinate, until he has a sloppy quagmire in
which he`ll roll around much like a domestic hog. Such wallows are used year after year.
There is a strong, distinctive odor in the wallow area during the rutting season. Frequently an alert hunter will recognize this unique smell when pussy-footing through the woods, signaling him of animals in the area long before they actually come into view.
This scent of elk is a good one to help mask the human odor. I like to step on fresh droppings as I come across them, squashing them well into the soles of my boots. I also rub some
onto the cuffs of my pants. One elk hunter told me he ties an old sock to his belt. In the sock he puts any fresh droppings he might find, a little of the odorous mud from a wallow, the
scented dark urine spot from a fresh elk bed he comes across; anything that
is strongly elk scented. Then he dips his sock in such water seepage as he may come across, letting the resulting mess slop around against his leg, splattering his pants and the trail around
him. There is a certain air about him, but he doesn’t smell of man!
An elk’s best protection is his nose. The careful hunter must pay strict attention to keeping the direction of wind movement in his face. Hunting clothes never should be worn near a campfire. Cigarette smoke is a no·no. Care must be taken not to slop gasoline when gassing up the transportation buggy. Don’t consume strong coffee first thing in the morning…it
exudes from the skin much like eating raw garlic or onion.
Barely second to his nose are the elk`s eyes and any movement spotted will bring his immediate attention. Noise seems to be the only place where there’s a bit of a chink in his armor — perhaps because an elk is pretty noisy himself — but just let the sound be foreign to the woods, such as
a clink of metal or a rubbed thump of a bowstring, and he’s all ears. The lean, red meat of the elk is absolutely the best there is. No moose, sheep or deer I’ve ever had quite equals the flavor. Because the animal is so large and the insulating qualities of the heavy hide so good, elk meat spoils easily. By the very nature of the bow and arrow where there is a time lapse in between shooting the animal, then finding his carcass, time is against us.
The man who hunts with a bow must be prepared on the spot to take adequate care of his animal. Carry a small knapsack in which you have all the necessities: a small hoist for moving his heavy body, saw or ax for splitting up the carcass, a stout skinning knife and sharpening equipment, extra rope, and plastic trash bag to protect the innards.
It is important to get the hide off the animal as quickly as you have dressed it out. Open up the body well and let it begin to cool. lf possible, the carcass should be cut into quarters,
then hung high in trees so air circulates fully around the meat. A couple of temporary cheesecloth deer bags carried in the knapsack will afford protection from insects. If the meat has to be
backpacked out, boning will reduce the weight about forty percent; even then, it will take a number of loads. Elk meat should be hung in a cold room to age for a week or ten days.
This breaks down the muscle tissue and makes it tender. You can keep your meat in camp, even with relatively warm temperatures, by hanging it out during the nighttime coolness and wrapping it
well in blankets or old sleeping bags during the heat of the day. Cook in the same manner as a fine cut of beef, remembering that it takes a little less time and heat to cook to the same degree of doneness, Any of your favorite recipes for beef will prove doubly tasty when you prepare
it with elk!
To hunt this regal animal and tramp through his beautiful western lands is
an experience to be cherished. With sound game—management programs
and sportsman-like pursuit, we should look forward to continued outstanding
hunting recreation for ourselves and our offspring in many lifetimes to
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