From Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
MISSOULA, Mont.—If you’re an elk hunter, or would like to be, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is offering 10 ideas for improving your efficiency this hunting season.
1. Scout from Space
If you’ve looked into the night sky, you’ve noticed the many satellites now orbiting our planet. They’re great tools for today’s hunter. Google Earth (earth.google.com) uses satellite images and aerial photography to give birds-eye views of elk country. Locate meadows, burns, roads, water, heavy-timber escape areas and more. You can even find places where the forest canopy thins to suggest hidden grazing spots for elk. Newer GPS units accept uploaded coordinates from Google Earth, allowing you to walk directly to and more efficiently ground-truth potential honeyholes.
2. Count Points Quickly
In good habitat, a bull normally has a 5-point rack as a 2-1/2-year-old and a small 6-point rack the following year. Instantly distinguishing five- and six-pointers is not difficult. The fourth point, sometimes called the dagger point, is normally the longest point and most distinctive feature of an elk rack. If the main beam goes straight back from the dagger, you’re almost certainly looking at a five-by-five. If there’s another point rising upward behind the dagger, perhaps forming a horizontal “Y,” then you’re looking at a six-by-six.
3. Practice for Stress
Flinging arrows in the backyard is a far cry from placing a perfect shot on a live elk. In addition to changing shot angles and distances, hunters also must cope with distractions and excitement. Hone your focusing skills by practicing out of your comfort zone. Go to a public range, enter a 3D tournament, practice in the rain, shoot with strangers, hunt small game, anything to break normal concentration and practice rhythms. If you’re with buddies, try talking trash: “Hey, watch and learn while I center-punch this target...” Creating pressure and mental stress, expressly for the purpose of ignoring it, can help you overcome bull fever in the field.
4. Get Dropped Off
Halfway between a fully guided hunt and a do-it-yourself endeavor, a drop camp is a good option for those who can hunt and cook for themselves, but need help setting up a comfortable camp in the backcountry. Many elk outfitters offer pack-in/pack-out drop camp services. Drop camps can come complete with wall tents, cots, table, chairs, stove, cut firewood, camp tools and water. Some outfits even provide food and two-way radios. Cost is typically much less than a fully guided elk hunt. Talk to several outfitters about a drop camp and see if it’s right for you.
5. Try a Treestand
Bowhunting elk the whitetail way can be super effective if you’ve scouted well enough to detect patterns in elk movements. Hang or set your stand near a waterhole, wallow, food source or travel corridor. A hot waterhole will be marked with fresh droppings, tracks and rubs—lots of rubs. Prime forage areas include parks, meadows and hayfields. Travel corridors can be trickier to find. As you search for well-used game trails, also look for terrain features such as cliffs or saddles that will funnel elk into your ambush zone.
6. Claw for Ivories
Some hunters have found that a normal claw hammer works well for removing ivories from elk. Easier than pulling a nail, they say. Open the mouth, position the claw around the base of an ivory and angle the tool so that you’re prying squarely against the roof of the mouth. Gently lift the ivory out of its socket. Repeat on the other side. The prized jewelry-teeth should pop out much easier (and safer) than by the normal method of cutting and working them out with a knife.
7. Figure a Tip
Everyone knows the appropriate tip for a waiter or waitress is 15-20 percent, but there is no standard for a hunting guide. Most elk outfitters step lightly around this topic because suggesting specific amounts can seem presumptuous. But many veteran hunters agree on a few points. If your guide has met realistic expectations, worked hard, kept promises—someone who’s been a fine hunting partner, made your trip enjoyable and did everything possible to put you in a position to fill your tag—a good tip begins at 5-10 percent of the cost of the hunt. For camp cooks and other hands, a good tip begins at $10 to $15 per day. If you happen to kill an elk, consider the guide’s added chores of retrieving, cleaning, hauling, caping, etc., and tip more if you’re comfortable doing so.
8. Save the Hide
A hide is far down the list of elk-kill souvenirs to take home, falling somewhere behind meat, antlers, ivories and even bones for the dog. Yet with proper care, a hide can be turned into a functional memento of a successful hunt. Companies today can turn elk hide into gun cases, vests, jackets, gloves—just about anything made of leather. In the field, treat hide with the same urgency as meat, to prevent spoilage. Don’t worry about scraping away all the fat and flesh, but do worry about cutting too many holes. Freeze or salt the hide until you can get it to a taxidermist, tannery or leather specialist.
9. Know Your Range
Most elk hunters practice with their rifle at a 100-yard range, which is fine for the close-in shots you may encounter in the field. In a recent survey, about 40 percent of hunters reported the furthest elk they’d ever shot at was within 200 yards, an easy stretch for flat-shooting modern rifles. But more hunters, about 60 percent, reported taking shots at elk that were 200 to 400-plus yards away. Shooting exponentially farther than you’ve practiced can be risky. Distance magnifies mistakes and miscalculations. If you can’t practice at 200-400 yards, invest in a rangefinder, bipod, ballistics charts and top quality ammo. Know your effective limits and don’t shoot beyond them.
10. Use Dry Rub
Marinades are commonly used in preparing elk meat but more and more professional chefs, like Bugle magazine’s chef-columnist John McGannon, prefer dry rubs. He says flavored liquids dilute natural flavors while dry rubs caramelize the protein and maximize the culinary potential of wild game, especially if you’re planning to grill, sauté, roast, broil or braise. Apply dry rub 30-60 minutes before cooking. Here’s Chef McGannon’s recommended dry rub recipe for elk meat:
4.25 oz course ground black pepper
3 oz. smoked paprika
6 oz. course granulated garlic
6 oz. course granulated onion
1/4 oz. fine ground white pepper
2 tbsp dried thyme leaves
1.25 oz cane sugar
2.75 oz. ground ancho chili
5.5 oz course sea salt
1/4 oz. dried English mustard
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.8 million acres—a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.