Teaching The Ways of The Elk

Colorado official instructs hunters on the intricacies of elk hunting.

Teaching The Ways of The Elk

Photo by Ken Dunwoody

Jim Bulger is the statewide coordinator for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Hunter Outreach program. In addition to overseeing the typical hunter education programs, Bulger and others on his staff have also written nearly 40 comprehensive articles on beginning elk hunting that appear on the CPW website.

The “Elk Hunting University” library offers details on every aspect of elk hunting – from acquiring licenses and permits, to guiding and calling, everything from the field to the table.

Beginners to elk hunting, Bulger says, nearly always commit the same list of mistakes.

“Almost always, they come from a whitetail background,” said Bulger, who himself grew up hunting whitetails in Alabama. “They’ve always hunted whitetail in thick cover, sitting in a tree and waiting for the deer to come to them, with short shot distances. With elk, it’s altogether different, and not everyone realizes that.”


When non-resident or inexperienced hunters begin to make the transition to elk hunting, Bulger said, they must first realize they are dealing with an entirely different animal.


“First of all, most guys who decide to try elk hunting, they don’t really know what elk do,” he said. “They don’t know that their habits are a little different from what they’re used to dealing with. For instance, they don’t know that elk will typically feed early in the day, then move into some thick cover to sit and chew their cud through the middle of the day.“They’re going to have to sit on a ridge and look through glass, usually for a long time. That’s not something most beginners have ever done before. They usually don’t understand what the elk do and how they do it.”

Other key elements that the inexperienced hunters are rarely prepared for are scent and how it is directed in the mountainous areas where the elk gather.

“A common mistake by the deer hunters out here is they don’t understand how that works in these mountains,” Bulger said. “They haven’t learned that in the morning when it’s cool, the air is going to be dropping down into those ridges. Or later, when it warms up, that’s going to reverse. Generally, it’s best to hunt up early and hunt down later.

“Elk are great with their noses. When they see you, they’ll try to validate what they see with what they’ve already smelled. Guys get busted by elk with scent more than anything else. Folks don’t give elk enough credit for their senses.”


Also, marksmanship preparation is also very important, he said.

“When I was hunting whitetail in Alabama, the longest shot I ever took was 100 yards,” he said. “Of course, that is different when you’re hunting elk out here. And it goes beyond longer distance shooting. You have to be able to estimate distance, realize that’s different shooting up a ridge than shooting down a ridge, have a greater understanding of the ballistics of your rifle at 200 yards … there’s lots of factors to consider.”

Bulger spends a great deal of time teaching hunters about elk hunting – he recently offered an 2 1/2-hour Elk 101 class. And while it may appear such lectures are chiefly for beginners, he said there is plenty for veterans to learn as well. With more than 250,000 elk within its borders, Colorado is North America’s elk hunting mecca. However, less than 30 percent of Colorado’s elk hunters actually harvest an elk each year.


“Successfully hunting elk is a challenging endeavor for even the most seasoned hunter,” Bulger said. “They require a different skill set for hunters than deer or pronghorn. My effort is to provide a foundation for novice hunters to begin to build a new set of skills and add a few more tools to their big game tool box.”

For more informaiton, visit Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Elk Hunting University at http://wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting/ElkHuntingUniversity/Pages/ElkHuntingUniversity.aspx

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