Radical Elk Hunting Strategies

Rifle Elk Hunting
Lots of other elk hunters around? Then climb high before daylight, set up in a travel route, and let the other guys drive the elk right to you.

The more you hunt elk, the more you realize that there is no magical formula for success. In fact, elk hunting can be one of the most frustrating of all North American big game hunting challenges simply because no two elk hunts are ever the same. On most elk hunts, no two days are ever the same, either.

What that means is that, to be consistently successful, the elk hunter must be willing to adapt his techniques and hunting style to the conditions at hand. He or she must be able to shift gears in mid-hunt, forsaking their favorite technique and doing whatever it takes to get a shot.

That's where radical elk strategies come into play. The veteran elk hunter’s attitude is simple. If the elk won't play by the rule book, why should you?

Controlled Aggression

Many novice elk hunters are deer hunters out trying to find an elk. They forget that elk are not deer, and that passive techniques that can be deadly on the smartest whitetail buck will impress bull elk not one whit.

A popular style is known to some as "controlled aggression." It has been so successful for elk hunters that they have adapted it to virtually all of their big game hunting, regardless of the species being pursued or the weapon they are using. After losing opportunities at several good bulls over the years by waiting for something to happen that never did, hunters start to change their attitudes to make it happen. You'd rather blow a shot opportunity by being a bit too aggressive than lose that same opportunity by being too passive. Being bold -- but not too bold – can be the key to success.

Elk Hunter
Scouting on the go can turn up all sorts of hidden hot spots. A wallow inside the dark timber that has been recently hammered is a superb place to set a tree stand and wait ‘em out.

While elk hunting, try to travel as fast as possible through the woods looking for elk or hot elk sign. Heck, sometimes dog-trot! You want to cover maximum territory in minimum time. When you spot elk or stumble across fresh sign, slow down and start actually "hunting." And whenever you find the elk, things are never textbook perfect. That's when you have to make something happen. A common practice when elk won’t come around is using a fake elk antler as a sort of decoy to lure in a hung-up bull during a calling confrontation. That's a good example of controlled aggression. Another is The Flush.

Two elk hunters were stalking a herd of elk through heavy timber during the tail end of the rut. These elk wouldn't come to their calling, and the nature of the terrain and shifting winds made crawling in close to them impossible. So they decided to take a page from fall turkey hunting and flush them. They spread 50 yards apart and sprinted downhill, right into the herd, bugling like a pair of satellite bulls with over-active testes. The cows, of course, scattered like hen turkeys, taking the two good bulls with them as they thundered off down the slope. It was the Charge of the Light Brigade!

The two elk hunters followed them for a quarter mile as quietly as they could, then set up and began a series of cow and calf calling, alternating with silence. It took 45 minutes, but suddenly a single cow appeared. Then another, and another, and another. Soon there were cows everywhere, and soon came the bulls, trusting in the judgment of those cows. One of the hunters arrowed a dandy 6-point that day.

The Flush doesn't always work. In fact, it's a good way to run the elk into the next county. But, sometimes it does work. It's a dice roll, a lottery ticket buy. But when all else fails, why not try and make something happen?


Sometimes aggressively using a passive technique can pay off. Treestands are an example of this. Treestands can be used passively over water holes and wallows during the rut or during hot early-season weather. There’s guys in Montana who glass up elk from their trucks during late-season snows and, when the migration is on, simply set up treestands in funnel areas right in the migration route. When they hit it right and the elk are moving, they often see a dozen or more bulls each day. They aggressively use their treestands, often packing them on their backs a mile or more up steep, snow-covered slopes.

Another bunch of serious elk hunters like to listen for lots of bugling, then move into the area (which obviously holds several bulls) and aggressively scout it on the go. Then, before daylight, they'll seed a fresh wallow or bench full of fresh rubs with elk-in-heat scent, set a treestand and, at first light, use a combination cow-in-heat calling and satellite bull squealing right from their elevated stands. If they can pack one to the area, they'll set an elk decoy. They're passively hunting from the trees, but they have aggressively tried to lure the elk within shooting distance.

You get the picture. When aggressively hunting in a controlled manner, the only limitations are your imagination, ability to read the situation, and willingness to go with your gut feelings and break the rules. There’s no such thing as an elk who has read the rule book. They'll never know you fudged.

The Buddy System

Elk Hunting
It may not be glamorous, but often your best move is to locate a water source, then set up a blind and wait ‘em out. It may take a week, but this tactic can pay off big time.

One of the most effective ways to work bull elk is in tandem, with one hunter the caller or decoy, the other the designated shooter. Here's how it works.

When bulls respond to your calling, they'll often come close, but hang up 70 to 100 yards out. They want to see another elk before committing. One solution is to have one elk hunter set up and call, rake trees, and continue working the bull, while the shooter slips ahead 50 to 100 yards, depending on the circumstances. The shooter must keep his eyes and ears open to avoid bumping the bull, and once it’s obvious the elk is coming, determine his line of march and get set up in a hurry. If the caller knows where his partner is set up, he should try and put a straight line from his position through his buddy to the bull. That will usually draw the elk right to the shooter. The bull is intent on the location of the caller, and, if the wind is right, will sometimes walk right past the shooter without giving him a second glance.

The buddy system also works well on herd bulls that continue bugling but won't leave their cows to come. The caller simply stays put and calls, keeping the bull talking so the shooter will know exactly where he's at as he slips in like stealth bomber and tries to stalk in close enough for a shot.

There are many variations on the Buddy System theme, but one thing's for certain. When it comes to fooling bull elk, two heads are generally better than one. Especially if they work together as a team.



Cheyenne, WY
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