On-Your-Own Elk

Posted on June 20, 2012

Many bowhunters are under the impression that all elk hunting is either too expensive or just not feasible to do on your own, which just isn’t true. Here’s how you can plan your very own elk bowhunt, all on a relatively small budget.

By Mike Poulin

Have you been sabotaging or limiting your hunt opportunities on false beliefs? Does out-of-state elk hunting seem so cost-prohibitive you just won’t apply? Do you think drawing an out-of-state elk tag is nearly impossible? Do you think you can’t get a public-land bull elk on your own? Well, I once believed these exact lies, until a fellow hunter educated me. Come along with me while I share how to obtain tags, and how an average hunter like myself prepared and connected on a public-land bull.

elk hunting

One of the bulls taken in the author’s hunting party during the trip to Wyoming.

Entry Into Elk Hunting

As a diehard Nevada mule deer hunter, the thought of hunting elk, let alone out-of-state elk, came slowly for me. As you may know, claiming a Nevada elk tag is rare. On the other hand, an archer in this state has very good draw odds and many opportunities to hunt mule deer.

But the lure of these “bigger” deer animals pulled at me, so I threw caution to the wind and initially opted for the easier-to-obtain cow elk tag. By alternating between applying for a cow elk tag once year, and the bull elk tag the next, I could start to build and retain my bull elk bonus points. In short order it worked, and soon I was hunting cow elk in the Ely, Nevada area. And this is how I got hooked on elk hunting.

I learned so much in those three seasons bowhunting cows, as I encountered huge bulls that I could only watch in awe. Observing the interaction between bulls and cows and developing quite a respect for both sex’s vision and sense of smell. One could argue that going cow elk hunting those three seasons rather than staying home and just earning points helped develop me as an elk hunter. So, words for the wise—do whatever elk hunting you can, even if that means chasing cows.

Out of Time—Time to Go Out of State

The longing to go after one of those impressive bulls just grew stronger with time. Building bonus points was good, but I knew it might take 10 years or longer for me to draw a coveted Nevada bull elk tag.

One day I was lamenting the fact that I wasn’t getting any younger and it might take quite a number of years for me to get a Nevada bull tag. My friend Mark Hueftle listened patiently before asking me why I had been limiting myself to my home state.

I basically told him expense, and he basically laughed. He said not all hunts are expensive, and many could be done successfully without a guide. And plenty of western states had good elk draw odds for nonresidents.

Mark offered to help me research some nearby states and to apply along with me. Over the next few weeks, Mark and I looked into hunting in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. Soon thereafter we applied for a few limited tags and purchased an elk point in a few states that allow you to do so.

Our research had identified some good draw odds for certain hunts in Wyoming. In the end, we applied for a Wyoming general bull elk tag. Their system for out of state general tags is by draw, with a special twist. If you paid the regular license/tag (the cost at the time was $493—2005), but if you were willing to pay nearly twice that at ($893), you were placed in a “special” draw pool. The reality was that few hunters would be willing to pay the higher fee and therefore the draw odds in that pool of hunters would be better than the more numerous “regular” pool of hunters. We ended up paying for the “special” and endued up getting tags!

Wish Fulfilled—Now What?

Not only did we each obtain a “general area” tag, but one of Mark’s friends who had relocated to Cheyenne a few years before was about to be recruited. Soon his buddy Bob Koehler purchased an over-the-counter tag, too. One added benefit of Bob’s enlistment was that if we wanted to hunt in any of the designated wilderness areas of Wyoming, law required you to have a resident accompany you. Though we ended up not hunting in the wilderness areas, Bob’s contacts in Wyoming helped us narrow down which general area to hunt in the state.

Getting bull elk tags was just the start of our adventure. I knew that this hunt was not going to be as easy as my broken-country cow elk hunts, especially if the public area we picked was heavily hunted and heavily timbered.

Outlined below are the key activities we employed to narrow the general areas down and to prepare for the hunt:

Research Online and Read Reports

By using herd reports and differentiating the general areas’ characteristics and topography, we were able to rule-out some areas. Neither Mark nor I were fond of hunting in an area too populated by bears and thus we marked some bear areas off our list as soon as we found out.

Speak to Game Department Biologist or A Local Contact

Knowing we wouldn’t have a chance to scout the remaining areas, we needed to get first-hand information. That meant person-to-person contacts. Besides talking with one of the biologists, we were able to have Bob ask some of his friends in the state about a couple different hunting spots. This helped us narrow it down to just two places.

Learn About Access Roads By Using Maps

Whether online or hard copy use maps to locate roads into the hunt area. Vehicle closure areas and wilderness boundaries are very important to identify before the hunt. We utilized some online topo map services to review the areas and ended up making certain each hunter carried a map of the area.

Preparation… Preparation…

Gear preparation, clothes choices, practicing elk calling, exercising… especially hills, shooting up and down hills, travel plans, and almost every facet of the trip needs to be planned out. Doing it yourself adds to the fulfillment, but it takes some planning. So think bout possible scenarios and bring the appropriate gear and a few back-up clothes. Due to my less than stellar directional aptitude, I brought along a GPS in addition to the compass and map.

Read the Details

By reading the regulations, we knew that our Wyoming “special” general tag was really a rifle tag, but that by purchasing an archery permit and paying we would be able to hunt in the archery season. If we failed to connect, we had the option of returning during rifle season.

On To the Hunt

The sound was like a reverberating electric guitar, as the arrow oscillated back and forth…harmlessly embedded in the tree trunk! My dream of arrowing my first bull elk seemed to be vanishing as fast as the massive 6×6 and his harem showed up.

Moments before, Bob Koehler and I had split up to pursue different bands of bugling elk. Having more than one band of elk within striking distance was a good problem to have for sure. I had raced over the ridge in hope of intercepting that fast moving herd that was working toward the thicker timber. Each time I heard a bugle I could tell they were getting closer, and I needed o get in front of them as quickly as possible.

Quickly I dropped down over the ridge into their projected path. I identified a tree to crouch beside, nocked an arrow, and tried to catch my breath. Moments later, the sound of footsteps, mews and the shapes of sleek cow elk filtering through the trees greeted me. My rangefinder read 39 yards. I knew the bull was close behind, and I had little time to prepare myself for his appearance.

Drawing my bow was effortless and my confidence swelled as I positioned my 40-yard pin on the walking bull. In a split second the massive form of a rutting bull totaled filled the space in between two trees. Still, something seemed wrong as I released the arrow. The bull had stopped, but just as I let go he began walking again. My arrow missed and struck a tree just behind the bull.

A sense of disappointment overpowered me like a thick fog. It seemed like someone had just knocked the air out of me. Fortunately, a thought crossed my mind … In videos, the callers all seem to call right after the shot.

With very little faith, I reached down and grabbed the rubber Hoochie Mama call hanging on my belt and gave it a push with my thumb. The sound of the call had barely ended when a loud bulge erupted just 25 yards away. Looking through the pine needles to my left, I could make out a large tan body with dark legs, and I though I could see antlers. A whir of motion caught my attention as a smaller boded bull trotted past the hulking figure saw me and quickly vacated the area.

Satellite bulls, of course, I thought to myself. I used the call again and another enormous bugle erupted from the bull … but this time at 10 yards! I narrowed my eyes in hope that he wouldn’t see me through the tree cover and wondered if he could hear my pounding heart. Time seemed to be standing still as my emotions jumped back and forth between joy and fright.

The tree was the only thing between me and the bull, and he was now peering through the branches trying to find the owner of that swee cow mew. Not seeing anything, the 6×5 stepped downhill to go around the tree. I drew my Hoyt bow and swung my body around, just in time to see his big body step out at 8 yards.

My 20 and 30-yard sight pins both appeared behind his shoulder and I concentrated to hold them both behind his shoulder as I released. The arrow was gone, and the bull raced away at break-neck speed. I finally heard myself exhale and tried to follow the bull visually.

 Success at Last

It took many minutes to collect myself but finally I looked over and saw the crimson-stained arrow buried in the ground just 20 yards fro

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