Moving Up From Deer to Elk

Moving Up From Deer to Elk
Brandon Bates of “RMEF Team Elk” says elk can humble hunters. (Courtesy RMEF)

Bates offers advice for making transition to chase bulls

MISSOULA, Mont. — Elk: The official daydream of whitetail hunters everywhere.

But hunting deer and hunting elk are, typically, two distinct disciplines within North American big game hunting. Different skill sets and expectations are required. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation offers tips to help new elk hunters make the transition from fantasy to reality.

Brandon Bates, host of "RMEF Team Elk" on Outdoor Channel, is familiar with the dream. He grew up in southern Louisiana chasing white-tailed deer with gun and bow. Like thousands of his counterparts across the country, Bates spent countless quiet hours in low-country treestands while imagining snowy peaks, alpine meadows, dark timber basins — and giant bulls.

Today, Bates hunts elk or accompanies other elk hunters in several states each fall while producing a television show now reigning as the Fan Favorite Best New Series on Outdoor Channel.

"Elk still represent the best opportunity for an average hunter to get out, all on his own or with an affordable outfitter, and experience a classic Western big-game hunt," Bates said. "But elk are also the toughest animal for a newcomer to hunt successfully. Elk hunting humbles lots of folks who, like me, had become pretty good at taking whitetails and had assumed that body of work would carry over."Often, it doesn’t.

Bates discusses three tips learned during his first few years as an elk hunter.



"It took me 3-4 years to understand that you don’t just pick up a bow and go out to the mountains and take a big bull. That’s not how it works.

“When I was a strictly a whitetail hunter, I scoffed at the guys who claimed they hunted because they liked to be outside and see the flowers and hear the birds. Man, I hunted because I liked to kill deer. But hunting elk made me appreciate what those guys were talking about.

“It really is about the place, the elements, your ability to adapt and the overall experience. The happiest elk hunters I know are the ones who approach their sport simply as a campout or hike with an elk tag.

They just enjoy it for what it is. There’s no great expectation of a kill, and if it happens, it’s considered a bonus."


"All whitetail hunters know that elk hunting will demand better physical conditioning. More mobility in altitude and steep terrain. Better preparedness for harsh and changing weather. They understand that elk hunters literally live on what they can carry on their backs.

“But I think a lot of newbies are completely surprised and unprepared for the wind. In most whitetail country, winds are usually fairly directional. You just adjust and keep hunting. But in elk country, the wind swirls. It’s in your face, then at your back, then in your face again, all day long. It’s hard to cope with, and it really throws off hunters who aren’t used to it."


"Going from whitetail hunting to elk hunting is like going from pond fishing to lake fishing. Your world suddenly gets a lot bigger and it’s much less forgiving. You go from hunting an animal that patterns within a square mile or so, to an animal that could be anywhere on the landscape at any given time.”Finding elk, especially a particular bull, is really an incredible proposition. You have to take it day by day. Learn what you can about the country and how elk use it, and then use that knowledge to your advantage tomorrow. You’ll develop more patience than you ever thought possible."

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

RMEF is leading a conservation initiative that has protected or enhanced habitat on over 6 million acres—an area larger than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain and Great Smoky Mountains national parks combined. RMEF also is a strong voice for hunters in access, wildlife management and conservation policy issues. RMEF members, partners and volunteers, working together as Team Elk, are making a difference all across elk country. Join us at or 800-CALL ELK.

RMEF Team Elk's Show Page

Recommended Videos

SHOT Show 2019: Accumax Carbon Fiber Bipod

Game & Fish Editor-in-Chief John Geiger and Jarrod Grove of Caldwell discuss the features of the Accumax Carbon Fiber Bipod at SHOT Show 2019 in Las Vegas.

Brewster's 320-Plus Mega Giant: Buck of the Century?

North American Whitetail editor Gordon Whittington and Luke Brewster talk about the scoring process involved with his 320 5/8-inch pending world record non-typical buck from Illinois.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.