Backcountry Elk Hunting Advice (PART 3)

Posted on May 5, 2013

Here it is! The final installation of this three-part hunting segment will bring you some final elk hunting tips to make your trip to the backcountry well worth it! Be sure to check out  Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them!


Gear Up Effectively

Your choice in hunting gear and clothing must be made up of old standbys. Don’t bring new gear on a backcountry elk hunt. Every ounce counts, and only bring what you know works best. Choose quiet, quick-drying garments that are comfortable and durable. My favorite for September hunting is Cabela’s MicroTex Light, or regular MicroTex if temperatures are expected to be cooler. Sitka’s 90% Series is another excellent choice. Good thermal underwear is a must. I favor Smartwool Micro Weight or Sitka Core Base Layers. Cabela’s MTP Extreme Hunt Series or Thermastat is an excellent choice as well.


As far as raingear goes, bring only the lightest and the quietest. My go-to gear is the Cabela’s Space Rain Ultra Pack Rainwear. It’s so light, packable, and effective, it’s truly amazing.


Your footwear is perhaps the most important. Bring aggressive-soled boots that offer good support and extreme walking comfort. I favor Danner, Lowa, and Meindl brands. The Danner Talus is an all-time fa­vorite boot. To prevent blisters and hot spots, be sure your boots are well broken in and use an extra-thick wool sock and liner combo. I prefer Smart Wool Hunting Socks (midweight or heavy) along with a micro-thin Cabela’s Thermax extra-tall liner sock. Change socks immediately when they become soaked with sweat.


Bring a tough and comfortable daypack that will hold your lunch, survival gear, and so on. I believe Badlands makes excellent packs, with the 2200 or Super Day being an ideal choice.


Other must-have gear includes high-quality 7-10X mid-size binocular (Nikon, Swarovski, Zeiss, etc.), Cabela’s Outfitter Fleece Vest and Legacy Fleece Pullover, or Outfitter’s Microfleece Pullover, Petzl Tikka XP headlamp, Alaska Game Bags, drop-point skinning knife, small caping knife, and sharpener. A small saw or hatchet (Gerber makes good ones) is a must for detaching horns from skull to reduce weight.

bow hunting


Get In Shape & Eat Right

The mountains are steep, the air is thin, and walking through blow-downs can cause you much strain and soreness at the end of the day. All in all, you must be in decent shape on a wilderness hunt.


To do this, change your lifestyle now—not a couple months before the hunt. Start incorporating a good cardio workout into your weekly regimen. Cycling, jogging, hiking with your family or friends—any endeavor—will prove a Godsend come hunting day. Lift weights on occasion and do some abdominal exercises (sit-ups, crunches, etc.) to strengthen your torso area so you can carry a heavy backpack without feeling major strain.


Most importantly, start eating wisely. Begin each day with a very large, nutritious breakfast, followed by a balanced lunch and dinner with adequate lean portions of protein and vegetables. Eat lots of oats, nuts, and other natural foods. Say no to greasy foods and super-high-calorie desserts and treats, cheating only occasionally. Also, keep your intake of carbonated drinks to a minimum, drinking generous amounts of water instead. This will increase your propensity to avoid altitude sickness.


A healthy eater doesn’t crave at-home meals as frequently as one who con­sumes more fatty foods. This effectively alters your taste buds so you can hunt harder and longer, day after day. This benefit is huge.



Avoid Big-Bull Syndrome

Some macho bowhunters don’t consider smallish elk a worthy tro­phy—it’s a 6×6 herd master or nothing. Well, on a typical wilderness hunt, with an over-the-counter tag in pocket, any elk is a good elk, I say.


Examine why you are hunting the backcountry. If you’re doing it for the challenge, the mystique, and the overall experience, then any elk should be a grand trophy. If you happen to be a highly experienced wilderness hunter with many bulls to your credit and don’t feel the itch to just put one down, then I say good for you. In this case, you should probably stick it out and wait for a larger more mature animal. Of course, this means you must be willing to go home empty-handed, too. Are you?


My advice for beginning wilderness elk hunters is simple: shoot the first legal bull you see. Otherwise you’ll probably regret it. Besides, all elk hunting, big horns or small, cow or bull, will prove extremely exciting and rewarding, particularly to those that have never done it before.



After the Kill

Elk meat is delicious and is an important part of the reward, but you must care for it properly or risk spoiling it. When hunting alone, use parachute cord to hold legs out of the way for the field dressing and/or quartering chore. If you shoot the animal at late dusk, field-dress the animal immediately and gather some tree limbs or small logs and do your best to get the animal’s back up off the ground to prevent spoilage. Try to prop the legs so they are facing straight up, allowing the hindquarters to cool more efficiently. Also, throw your shirt over its chest as well, as added prevent­ion to ward off predators through the night.


With morning kills, quarter or remove boneless portions of meat and place in game bags in the shade. Backpack meat out as soon as possible to a rendezvous point so your wrangler can pack out using horses. Or a buddy can help backpack all 175-pounds of boneless meat back to the trailhead (pretty tough) and to the locker.


Embarking on a wilderness elk hunt, especially for the first time, is a major ordeal. Many first-time bowhunters are under the false impression that elk are literally everywhere in the deep backcountry, which is the real benefit of doing it this way. However, this just isn’t always the case. Much research and the use of smart hunting tactics still apply. If anything, you must be more prepared on a wilderness hunt than on any other. After all, it’s only you and the game, and what you bring with you is all you’ve got. However, in the end, I believe there is no greater way to bowhunt.



By Joe Bell


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