Bowhunting elk the whitetail way may sound like a disappointment due to the lack of interaction, activity and simply seeing the country, but oftentimes it’s the best strategy. If you doubt that statement consider the following.
Related Video: Elk Calling Basics
For starters, elk hunting is brutal and with more than 67 percent of adult Americans now classified as “overweight,” the mountains can be unforgiving. Locating a frequently visited waterhole, wallow, food source or the trail in between can lead to an ambush opportunity without added health risks. And despite the randomness of elk, they do pattern. The pattern may be more subtle than that of whitetails, but with dedicated scouting patterns emerge.
Another bonus is the fact elk arrive and busy themselves giving you ample time to draw, aim and release. You don’t always get that luxury in a calling situation. Finally, even if you wait in ambush there are no rules telling you to “stay put.” If you hear or see elk seemingly on another pattern, by all means jump ship and engage.
Ground blinds, commercial or do-it-yourself, work for ambushes, but by and far an elevated perch is the route I recommend. Field edges and waterholes are generally in open locations so a treestand offers a wide view, helps keep your scent above the elk and definitely keeps your movement hidden above their peripheral vision. Look for lightweight aluminum models and check public-land regulations before you hang a stand. Also scout for a downwind location and keep in mind how thermals affect scent throughout the day.
By and far your whitetail-like ambush will take place near water. Water attracts elk for the obvious activities of drinking and wallowing. Elk require 10 gallons of water or more each day. They visit water sources varying from mountain lakes to hidden springs and often wallow on the edges at these locations to cool themselves and cover themselves with urine-soaked mud to display their dominance.
To pinpoint a water hotspot look for fresh droppings, tracks and rubs…lots of rubs. Like whitetail scrapes or rubs, elk may wallow one place and never return, but ample sign in the form of numerous rubs and rutted trails distinguishes an infrequent location from an elk night club. Elk may visit water or wallows 24/7, but midmorning through dark activity peaks at these spots.
The whitetail way isn’t the only way for elk, but if you see a pattern emerging in a location, patience may provide the perfect venue to waylay one of nature’s most unpredictable creatures.