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How To/Pro-Tips

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.

Smokepoll Bulls

Elk hunting with muzzleloaders is a big deal. As a halfway point between bowhunting and the use of modern centerfire rifles, many muzzleloading elk seasons are set between archery and gun hunts. In many areas, muzzleloading hunters catch the tail end of the bugling and calling period. In response, muzzleloaders have come a long way fast. Though many still prefer the traditional side-hammer guns resembling those of the 19th century pioneers, others have gone more modern. The new "in-line" muzzleloaders look very much like a modern bolt-action rifle. The in-line advantages include faster and more positive straight-line ignition, better weatherproofing in the critical cap and nipple area and better, crisper triggers. Their faster rifling twist offers better accuracy with conical and sabot-type bullets. All in all, a newcomer to muzzleloading will be able to shoot an in-line gun more accurately with less practice.

States have varying regulations defining what is legal and allowable for muzzleloader/primitive weapons elk hunting. Check the regulations where you are going.

Beating The Crowd

Elk hunting's popularity often means crowded hunting -- even for bowhunters. However, there are some ways to beat the crowds. Play the Lottery -- Many elk-hunting states have set aside areas devoted to quality elk hunting. Some of these are archery or primitive weapons only and others merely have a quota for all hunters. Usually, hunting opportunity is decided by lottery type drawings. By applying for several quota-draw hunts, you have a good chance at some good, uncrowded elk hunting. Out-Walk 'Em -- Many designated wilderness areas offer large chunks of backcountry for those tough enough to get there. There is no guarantee you'll beat out everyone to the way back spots, but it does cut down the crowd. Pay for Privacy -- Easier elk hunting with some degree of exclusivity is easily available on private lands for those willing to pay the going rate. Paying a rancher a trespass fee, if his ranch holds good elk hunting, can be a bargain in the long run.

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.





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