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How To/Pro-Tips

When Success Strikes

When your bull is down and found, you have achieved elk hunting success but your job is not over. Now you are working against the clock, temperature and other conditions to preserve the prime meat. Considering elk size, on-the-spot butchering is the most common option. The goal is two-fold. You want to get the carcass cooled quickly and get it cut up into manageable chunks for easy transport. Some skin the elk immediately, because warm skin comes off easier. They then use the skin, flesh side up, as a clean surface on which to lay chunks of meat. Others gut and quarter with the skin left on to protect the meat, in its natural wrapper, during transport. Either way, quick cooling is essential to top meat quality. However, in the West, a shady spot often offers cool air and breezes even on a warm day. Get the meat out of the sun and protect it from insects with meat bags. Then begin packing it out.

Be A Dweeb

As with gobbling back to a turkey, bugling to a bull elk can cause different reactions. Of course we all hope that it will bring him raging in to confront his challenger. But that is not always the case. If you come on too strong, you'll likely drive away sub-dominant or "satellite" bulls. If the boss bull hears what he perceives as a strong challenger, he's prone to take his cows away rather than take a loss. A weak and halting bugle sounds like a yearling bull trying to show off. Grown bulls that show grudging respect toward each other don't cotton to inferior interlopers. There's something about the male hierarchy of bull elk society (this works with gobblers too) that just can't stand a dweeb trying to run with the big boys. Back up your wimpy bugle with some grunts (not too guttural) and maybe some mews and chirps. If the local bulls think the dweeb is getting some action it really drives them crazy.

Elk Ambushes

Trails, crossings, funnels and bottle-necks. These are all important to the whitetail hunter's "read" of his hunting territory. They should be part of the elk hunter's scouting and hunting strategies as well. Deer and elk both have to walk somewhere. Given a choice that doesn't put them in danger, they'll walk the easiest route possible. Of course in elk country "easy" is a relative term. However, by its sheer ruggedness, elk habitat tends to bottle-neck and funnel travel lanes to an even greater extent than in most deer habitat. You can find some really well-beaten elk trails simply because they offer the only reasonable way to get from point A to point B. Smaller trails into and around the most rugged cover in the area are likely an old bull's secret avenues to a favorite hideout. Elk sign is generally similar to deer sign and laid out in similar patterns. However, it is usually on a larger scale and over a wider swath of countryside.

Elk Gun Basics

A good elk rifle should be defined by practical, use-compatible terms rather than solely by ballistic theory. Everyone loves to debate cartridge performance but let's get off that tired old horse and onto a real one. Riding in a saddle scabbard is tough on guns, mounts and scopes. All components should be strong and well bolted together. (Never leave your rifle in the scabbard if you leave the horse. Few rifles are tough enough to take a good wallowing from a 1,200-pound horse.) If you hunt on foot, lightweight rifles have appeal, but don't sacrifice steady holding, "shootability" and structural strength for the sake of a few ounces. Scopes must be strong and strongly mounted, reasonably efficient in low light and weather impervious. Elk hunting is tough on rifles and scopes. Assuming a rifle is chambered for an elk-adequate cartridge, a steady performer that is reasonably accurate, absolutely consistent and can take some abuse and keep on shooting well is my choice for an ideal elk rifle.

Going Against The Grain

Sometimes you can't avoid high-pressure hunting situations and it's deal with the crowd or don't hunt. Maybe you can't beat 'em, but you don't have to join 'em. These are the times for long-shot options. Look for some really ugly and uninviting segment of hunting country. If it has some decent cover and a little water, it could be an elk hotspot -- at least right then. The elk are trying to get away from the crowd as well. Maybe this "bad" area isn't holding a lot of animals, but how many bulls do you need to tag out? Another play is to hunt in ridiculously easy areas -- right along roads and in little brushy draws in open and accessible areas. Most elk hunters want to "climb the highest mountain." The elk just want to be left alone. Elk are not as good as whitetails at occupying tiny little niches of odd-spot cover but under enough pressure they'll give it a try.

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