Q&A with Tommy Sessions, Slayer Pro-Staff: Handling the heat of early elk season
By M.D. Johnson
Tommy Sessions of Idaho Falls, Idaho, is a busy man. He’s a father of three (all between the ages of nine and 13 — a handful, to be sure!). He works full-time as a general building contractor and operates a multi-employee concrete business.
A man after my own heart, Sessions is also an experienced waterfowler who’s not shy about chasing greenheads and honkers for 90-plus days of a 107-day season. Now that’s dedication!
In 2012, though, Sessions discovered the wonders of elk and hasn’t turned back. This week, Slayer Calls had a chance to talk with the 36-year-old entrepreneur on the subject of hunting bulls in the heat of early elk season.
Slayer Calls (SC): Is temperature an important factor during early elk season?
Sessions: Oh, yeah … but in some aspects, it’s not as crucial as others. For instance, do I hunt when it’s 95 degrees? The answer’s yes, but I [consider other factors] like whether I should hike in 10 miles when it’s 95 with nowhere and no way to get an animal cooled down when I do get one. I’m more cautious now. My game plan changes. Maybe I’m hunting deep in a valley instead of on a mountain top; somewhere I’m close to water. That water is important too, because elk aren’t going to be far from water when it’s 95 degrees out.
SC: How do you prepare yourself physically for the heat of August?
Sessions: I don’t think you’re ever going to be 100 percent ready, no matter what you do, unless you live on the hill every day. You should be working out — not just at the gym, with weights or on the treadmill, but outside in the sun and the heat. Going through the paces there. Setting up trail cameras. Hiking. Getting out on the mountain as much as possible during those times when it’s hot. Being in the elements is what’s going to prepare you best. Working out [in the gym] is important, but your ‘mountain legs’ don’t come by being in the gym.
SC: Cold at daylight; hot by 10 o’clock. How do you begin to dress for those changes?
Sessions: I don’t worry too much about my base layer on my legs, as I know those are going to be the first to ‘fire up’ when I start hiking. I’ll wear the thinnest long-sleeved shirt that Sitka makes, with a hoodie pull-over over that. If it’s really cold, I’ll put on a parka. It’s a layer system, I guess, so I can shed clothes either as my body temperature rises or the outside temperature rises. Too cold — say, below 35 degrees — and I’m putting on my rain jacket over the top of everything, so I can trap that body heat.
SC: Does an elk’s daily routine change when the temperatures rise?
Sessions: Absolutely! I think an elk’s routine changes every day, no matter what, but … and that said … it’s not truly a routine. There may be three or four canyons the elk travel to as they make their ‘circuit,’ so to speak. They’ll drop down into a canyon, spend the day there, go to the top of the mountain, spend the evening feeding and then drop over the other side into a different canyon. They’ll usually travel back and through that same circuit, UNLESS their water disappears. The creek or pool dries up. They can’t cool off. That [cooler] north-facing slope changes for some reason, and they can’t get cool.
SC: Do your strategies change, the hotter it gets?
Sessions: You won’t find me sitting on a log. My ADHD [chuckles] kicks in, and my drive to go find bugles gets me up and moving. Typically when it’s cold, you’ll find elk on the south-facing slopes, but when it’s hot, you’re spending time on those north-facing slopes. That’s where you’re going to find them. When I’m scouting on foot or E-scouting in the early season, I try to find a big long ridge that has a lot of north-facing slopes, and I’ll target that area. Rather than staying toward the top of the ridge, I’ll drop off and side-hill on the shaded side. Elk are smart. They know there’s not going to be another elk walking around on top of the mountain at noon when it’s hot.
SC: Does there ever come a time when it’s simply too hot to hunt?
Sessions: Yes and no, I suppose. The simple answer is no; still, I have to be hunting in an area I know so that if and when I get an animal down, I can properly take care of it — even if it’s 90 degrees out. So instead of taking a couple days to get an animal out, you’re doing it in a day.
SC: Hunt all day when it’s hot? Limit it to cooler mornings and evenings in early elk season?
Sessions: I hunt all day. A lot of people say that when it’s really hot, you can only hunt mornings and evenings, but elk are still elk, and if a bull’s coming around to find cows, and there’s a cow in estrus, hot or not, he’s going to go find her. Mid-day is a good time to be checking those bedding areas, the benches, and the mountain flats. But even when elk are bedded down, there’s still going to be a cow or two — or a bull — that gets up, walks around and feeds a little more. Lies down in the shade. Elk are still active during the middle of the day, but if you’re back at camp, you’re obviously not killing ’em.