Elk hunting tips for beginners: the dos and don’ts
By M.D. Johnson
Life is full of so-called “dos and don’ts.” Don’t drive too fast. Do pay your taxes on time. Don’t eat too much sugar. Do this. Do that. Don’t do that. Yes, sir; a lot of guidelines disguised as dos and don’ts.
But, for the most part, these guidelines — these morsels of wisdom — are good ones. They keep us out of trouble. Keep us safe. Ensure, to an extent, our happiness. And perhaps most of all, they help walk us down the path to productivity. To efficiency in our day-to-day lives. To success.
Why then, shouldn’t elk hunting be any different? This week, Slayer Calls takes a look at several elk hunting tips for beginners—the dos and don’ts that can help you become a better elk hunter.
DO learn all you possibly can about elk as big game animals. As animals in general. Study their habits and their habitats. Where they go. What they do. Are there weaknesses or tendencies that you can use to your advantage? Certainly, the need for the species to procreate — the rut — is one such tendency. But there’s also the factors of food, shelter, and security. What might you get away with in your pursuit of that bull, and what should you avoid? Study them. Get to know elk inside and out, and you’ll be better prepared to meet them on their home playing field.
DON’T underestimate the ability of your quarry to be a survivor. Never think for an instant, “Ah, an elk wouldn’t do that!” because yes, if pushed to their limits, they just might. Get overconfident, and you’ll make a mistake. Be too casual in your approach to the hunt as a whole, and you’ll make a mistake. Be too hesitant to make a mistake and, yep, that might also be a mistake.
DO your scouting. Sure, we’ve all walked in, unprepared and logistically “blind,” so to speak, and walked out with a big gobbler or that bull of a lifetime. But does it happen consistently? It does not. In-depth scouting can help swing the scales in your favor, as long as it’s done correctly. I always tell my turkey hunters, “Your goal is to have opening day arrive as if, to that gobbler, it was just another day. As if nothing had changed.” You weren’t disruptive. You weren’t intrusive. BUT you did your scouting, gathered your information and were ready when the bell rang on the opener. Elk? Same story. Do it wisely.
DON’T forget that to an elk, you smell really REALLY bad. So two points of order here: One, ALWAYS keep the wind in mind. Play the wind, and you’re playing the game. Two, practice safe scents. That means investing in and employing some type of scent elimination program, such as washing your clothes with something akin to Code Blue or Wildlife Research products; storing those clothes (and all your gear) in such a way and in a place where contamination won’t occur; and using any of the so-called “scent killer” sprays afield in conjunction with watching the wind and a scent elimination regime.
DO educate yourself on the basics of the elk’s vocabulary, always keeping in mind that to run, one first has to walk. In an earlier blog, we discussed how to choose your first elk call. Now, with the call chosen, it’s time to learn the basics: cow and calf sounds. Most importantly, the mew, which is the elk equivalent of the wild turkey hen’s yelp. Learn the mew — calf, cow, voice, inflection, volume and, perhaps most of all, control — and you will have the foundation upon which to build the whole vocabulary you’ll need in the field.
DON’T be in a hurry to sound like world champion Cody McCarthy on day one. Effective (and successful) elk calling, like learning any trade or skill, takes time. There will be good days and not-so-good days. And remember, the animals themselves play a big role in your abilities as a caller. Some days, I’m the late Timmy Grounds when it comes to calling Canada geese; others, I sound like a 2-year-old blowing a broken party horn. Or worse. Set time aside to practice calling, then practice. Listen to what elk truly sound like, and mimic them.
And finally, DON’T make elk hunting harder than it actually is. Easy? Absolutely not; however, it’s not a bad thing to go with your instincts in order to out-maneuver that bull. Do this. Try that. Call aggressively. Go quiet. Walk further. Hunt harder. And if all that doesn’t work, sit down, set your bow aside and start on a sandwich. THAT ought to make things happen!
Meet M.D. Johnson
Originally from Ohio, M.D. Johnson, and his wife/business partner, Julia, spent 18 years in Iowa before relocating to her native Washington state in 2015. A full-time freelance outdoor writer since 1992, Johnson, with the photographic assistance of his wife, has authored and illustrated six full-length books, including three on waterfowl hunting. Today, The Johnsons reside in Wahkiakum County, where they both enjoy a 107-day duck season, salmon fishing, and everything the wonderful Pacific Northwest has to offer. Oh, and if you ask, M.D. will tell you he prefers 16 gauge doubles to anything else.
GREAT ARTICLE! One thing we never hear much about are escape routes. Scout out where elk escape too, and the route they take, once the shooting starts. The older bulls and cows will lead the herd straight to places of refuge like private property, open grasslands, farmer’s fields, high mountain meadows, etc. So many times beginners waste time tracking elk movement up high when the elk are down low in fields just below tree-line. Elk will escape to wherever hunters are not, so avoid the pumpkin patch areas crowded with hunters in orange and find areas void of ATVs, people traffic and hunting pressure.