High Pressure Elk
Elk hunting has to be the most thrilling bowhunting I have ever taken part of. What a rush chasing a giant 700-pound bull with five foot of antlers. Then to be able to chase them in the month of September during the rut is truly magical. I consider myself lucky that I get the chance to take part in it each and every year. Getting a tag every year means hunting OTC or easy to draw tags. Very rarely do I ever draw a super-premium tag, which means I end up hunting high pressure elk. These elk get wise to calls quickly, especially when chasing the big mature herd bulls. They don’t get to be 5, 6, or 7 years old by coming into every cow call. So, this might surprise you, but I don’t even carry a call with me all of elk season. Over the years, I have developed a highly successful system of targeting these big herd bulls with spot and stalk methods.
“These elk get wise to calls quickly especially when chasing the big mature herd bulls.”
Everyone loves the interaction of calling back and forth to elk. I just found over the years that a lot of these bulls are answering, but actually moving their cows away from me. I also found that the majority of elk I was calling in were satellite bulls. As I started targeting these bigger herd bulls, I found it was rare for these bulls to leave their cows to come check out my calls. I also found when I did call in a bull he would be on high alert. Keeping the element of surprise, I am able to get away with a lot more. I am able to hunt elk in their natural environment with no idea they are being hunted. I still get to hear and move on bugles and I still get to take part in the rut, I just keep quiet and bide my time until that big 6 makes a mistake.
The key to consistently harvesting elk is consistently being into elk. Elk are nomadic and use a network of features throughout a range. To locate elk you have to also be nomadic, covering a ton of country. The deal is you have to be at the right places at the right times to see them. You may be in the best elk drainage in the range, but at 10 am they can all be put away in cover and you have no idea they are there. You have to leave and be hiking in the dark to get into elk country by first light. I also use this time traveling in the dark to listen. Elk rut hardest at night and if you can hear a bull bugling, you have one located and now have a play. The same rule applies in the evening. Stay in elk country until dark and then hike out. I will also camp in a spot where I can listen at night to locate rutting elk.
“You have to leave and be hiking in the dark to get into elk country by first light. I also use this time traveling in the dark to listen.”
While hunting I use a strategy of moving and glassing. I move through country glassing every opening I can see. If I get to a good vantage I may sit down for a few minutes and then keep on the move. Elk don’t move much during the middle of the day, so never rule out a spot unless you have looked at it during a morning or evening at prime time. If elk are around, you will hear them or see them. Elk need to feed in meadows so they come to them every night to feed. They prefer the edges, so make sure you are glassing thoroughly. Also, elk like being around other elk. Find some elk a long way off, chances are there are more there. Sure, you can find a group of cows with a bull, but find the super party of multiple bulls and cows and you are in the money.
Finding elk is the opportunity I have been looking for. My game on elk is to go get into them and adapt on the fly. Elk are always moving so by the time I get to where they were, they are somewhere else. The key here is to know when to slow down and see them before they see you. This is where I will keep a distance and shadow the herd. I will move with them, looking for my chance to go all in. I let my instincts guide me and never give away my element of surprise. I prefer to hunt them in their feeding features where I can keep tabs on the herd. I will read their mannerisms to see if they are relaxed, feeding or on high alert. When they are on high alert I freeze. The all-in moment comes when they move over a ridgeline or I can use the undulation of the landscape to move into range. I don’t chase elk into the thick timber. If they disappear to bed, I let them go and keep tabs on them. I will then hunt them in the evening when they come back out to feed. This is a great chance to kill a bull as we tend to get a good downhill thermal wind in the evening.
“This is where I will keep a distance and shadow the herd. I will move with them, looking for my chance to go all in. I let my instincts guide me and never give away my element of surprise.”
About Brian Barney
Brian Barney has an unrivaled passion for bowhunting the west. He writes and films for Eastmans while also running a podcast – Eastmans Elevated. He is a blue collar bowhunter hunting public land, self-guided. He lives, eats, sleeps and breathes bowhunting and is a great resource for new age, next level tactics.