Elk-Killing Setups: Part 1

One cannot predict what’s going to happen on the mountain in pursuit of elk. This anticipation keeps hunters returning year after year, and each step of the hunt holds its own unique experience.

Hunting elk is my passion and my life. Here, in part 1 of 3, are a few tips that I hope bring you success during the early season.

Early Season Success
Many hunters often wait for peak rut to start hunting elk, and I believe that this is a huge mistake. If you have the time to do some scouting and locate groups of bachelor bulls that are still in the velvet, chances are—unless pressure from predators is really high—these bulls will remain in the same general area come opening weekend.

These bulls are often found alone, or if they’re still in bachelor herds, they soon will start to leave those herds in search for estrous cows, giving you the opportunity to cow call in that big herd bull before he gathers his harem.

Here are a few tips for calling in that solo bull:

  • Keep in mind that you do not necessarily know where the elk are living because they might not be bugling, so you’re literally calling an area blindly. Set up in a location that you have scouted pre-season, that you know bachelor bulls were living and where these elk are likely to hear your vocalizations. If you’re hunting with a partner, you need to have a calling system that both of you understand so no talking needs to be done during these silent setups.
  • Begin your setup roughly 50 yards away from your partner. Both of you can do some calling in this situation, that way if a bull comes toward you, your partner becomes the designated caller as you become the silent shooter.
  • Start out with non-verbal calling strategies that sound like a territorial display from a bull. Rake trees, roll rocks, kick dirt, etc. Then try a sequence of elk herd sounds, such as soft cow mews and chirps. You want to create excitement in the area with your story.
  • If you don’t get a response from a bull, wait a few minutes, repeat the cow-calling sequence and end it with a single non-aggressive bugle.
  • Be patient, as bulls will often times come in silent. You need to be on the lookout and always prepared. Have trees range-estimated ahead of time because all too often, you look up and the bull will be standing there staring at you—within range and giving you the shot you’re looking for. The tricky part about silently approaching elk is getting to full draw without getting busted.
  • Elk will frequently come in to the down-wind position of your calls, so keep that in mind and try to use topographical features to your advantage if possible.
  • Bulls will oftentimes hang up at 70-80 yards, too, so keep on the lookout on behalf of your hunting partner. You might have the opportunity to help draw that bull in range for a shot.
  • If you’re on a solo hunt, calling silent elk is completely possible. Oftentimes I prefer to elk hunt alone. Again keeping the wind in mind, make your cow calls and bugle—and then move 30-40 yards to the downwind side of your call and wait. Repeat this as many times as you would like. When a bull comes in looking, he will be looking at your previous position, not your current position. Moving can be very risky when the elk are silent, so do your best to stay on high alert so that you don’t get busted.

The early season can produce come difficult hunting, but it can also land an unpressured bull right in your lap before anyone else ever has a chance at him.

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