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The Thrill Of The Hunt: Bow Hunting Elk

There are very few things you can do with your pants on that are as thrilling as calling in 700 pound screaming, bull elk within 20 yards. The experience will leave you shaking at the knees.

There are basically three ways of bow hunting an elk; stalking, calling, and ambushing.

Stalking

Elk can be stalked. It is difficult, but it can be done. A bow hunter can locate an elk by calling it or observing it from afar and then start stalking or slow stalking in heavy timber without an elk spotted.

Lets examine slow stalking first. This technique is generally used when you are in an elk area, but don’t have an elk located. This is a great technique for afternoon hunting. The usual pattern for elk is to eat all night, move to their day bedding area in the morning, sleep all day, and in the evening start moving to their feeding area.

During bow season the weather is generally warm so elk will be bedded on a north-facing slope in heavy timber. The idea is to spot an elk before it spots you. You must move slowly and quietly. I will walk ten feet, stop behind a tree, scan the area thoroughly, and then walk another ten feet. When I come to the top of a hill or rising terrain I carefully scan ahead before totally exposing my body on the higher elevation. Scan the area for parts of elk like an ear or horn not for a complete elk body.

Calling

Lets examine locating an elk by calling. A hunter basically has a cow call or bugle at their disposal for locating an elk by sound.

Cow Call

A cow call or mew type sound can be used at short distances. Elk mew year around. If you ever get close to a herd you will hear a lot of mewing especially at night. Cow calling can be very effective on bulls or cows. I have had elk come right into bow range with a cow call and I have had them hang up out of sight waiting for the caller to show themselves. If an elk hangs up a technique I have used several times is quickly backing up, finding an open area, erecting a Montana Decoy, and then back up an additional 20 yards behind the decoy. Next position yourself in a good ambush location and call away from the elk or in softer volume. The idea is to fool the elk that you are moving away. If the elk follows you it will see the Montana decoy and hopefully start to feel more comfortable with the situation and move closer for a shot.

I have used cow calls every 15 minutes are so as I have slow-stalked in heavy timber with success. If an elk cow calls back while you are stalking you have a chance to use the Montana Decoy trick.

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Be careful while setting up decoys. Make sure you are hidden during the assembly process. I have been sighted by elk a couple of times while assembling a decoy and then it is game over. I like the Montana decoy because it can be set up quickly and quietly. When waiting behind a decoy I like to sit on my knees instead of standing. Elk quickly feel threatened by a standing human, but a human on their knees can fool an elk into thinking it is not a threat.

I recommend learning how to cow call with a mouth diaphragm call to keep your hands free.  For short distances learn to make the mewing sound with your mouth.

Bugling

I have a love hate relationship with bugling. I have had elk come right into a bugle and I have had them run the other direction. When a bow hunter bugles he/she is really rolling the dice.

A herd bull with cows may move his herd away from a bugle. He doesn’t want the competition for his herd. If a bull continues to bugle, but gets further and further away you can try to pursue the bull. This can lead to a long chase that generally leads to a chance for lots of cardio.

If the bull is far enough away from your bugle he may just call back and stay put. In this case I would stop bugling, move as close as possible to the bull, set up a Montana Decoy and start cow calling. This is a higher percentage play than moving in closer and bugling. A cow call is not a threat to the bull and in his brain a potential addition to his herd. A bugle will threaten the bull and in most cases he will move his herd further away. In rare cases the bull with come charging into fend off a threat to his herd. In most instances I have found bulls to be chickens and run away or play the show me game way more than charging in for a fight.

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After wolves were reintroduced into Montana bulls pretty much stopped bugling. I guess they found out quickly that bugling was calling in predators as well as warning other bulls about their presence. If I hear any bugling at all in wolf infested areas it is more of a ¼ bugle only heard from about 100 yards away.

Another situation I have found bugling to be pretty useless is areas that have high concentrations of elk. In these areas the herd bulls have cows and will not come to bugle at all.

I have used bugling with success as a locator by calling before daylight. When the sun does finally start peaking over the horizon a bow hunter has a direction to start hunting.

Be sure that whenever you are calling that you constantly check behind you. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had a satellite bull sneak up behind me during a calling sequence.

Ambushing

Ambushing works well if you know the pattern of an elk. An ambush can be set up in a tree stand or some type of ground blind. This technique works well around water in desert climates or near a wallow. Cow calling can work well with the ambushing technique. Just be alert for the elk that comes in silently.

Next topic: Bow Hunting Antelope

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