Win With This Elk Hunting Game Plan

Win With This Elk Hunting Game Plan
You have to be smart, tough and patient to bag a bull elk. (Shutterstock image)

You have to be smart, tough and patient to bag a bull elk. (Shutterstock image)

Drawing a tag is half the battle when elk hunting; filling it is another story.

Consistently killing a mature bull elk is one of the most difficult tasks a hunter can accomplish in North America.

Elk are smart and display nomadic traits that can keep a hunter guessing. Elk country is often remote and significantly more rugged than your average whitetail woodlot. And when you throw an over-the-counter elk tag into the mix, trying to come to terms with these Western icons is daunting. 


Physical fitness contributes to mental toughness. Having the right mindset will get you through the difficult challenges an elk hunt will inevitably throw at you. By its very nature, elk hunting is tough, and it's as much a mental game as it is a physical one.

 "Separation is in the preparation," says Dan Staton, developer of

Not only is this true in life, he says, but it's also a fact in the elk woods. In order to achieve this, a hunter really has to do something physical virtually every day if he wants to be ready.

When you train, do so with a high level of intensity that pushes you to the next level. Each time you push yourself to the limit and succeed, you've not only improved your stamina, but you've also enhanced your mental toughness by accomplishing something you didn't think you could achieve.

To build mental toughness you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and carry a "can't quit" attitude regardless of the situation. 

More Elk Hunting stories from G&F


Topographic maps present a three-dimensional landscape on a two-dimensional scale, and they are very effective tools in locating key terrain features elk use on a daily basis: food, water, cover and space. Since elk spend the majority of their time living in social herds, these items have to be plentiful.

Pairing the advantages of maps with today's digital aerial images enriches physical scouting efforts. Not only are you able to identify terrain features — like north-facing slopes, saddles, ridges, benches and valleys — but the visual element an aerial image provides only enhances those locations. 

Determine how the elk herd connects food, water and cover. Elk prefer to take the path of least resistance when unpressured. Saddles where elk can easily cross a ridge and long, covered slopes that lead to food and water are great travel corridors.

A bench on a north-facing slope is a great bedding location, as well, so identifying terrain features and cover between bedding and feeding locations will give you a leg up on your competition. Once you've located these areas digitally, physically scouting them before and during the hunt will only confirm your suspicions as likely elk hotspots or cause you to forget them altogether. 


Without question, one of the toughest elk hunting challenges is to kill a bull while he is in his bedding area. Not only do you generally have dozens of eyes to contend with, as well as sharp noses, but the inherent risk of bumping a herd of elk is a strong possibility.

Before you even consider an attempt, know the wind direction and wait for it to be consistent. A capricious mountain breeze is the first thing that will ruin such an attempt. It may mean waiting an hour or two before the wind currents level out, but if you are patient an opportunity will present itself.

Second, use an elk's biological yearnings as a weakness. If there is even a hint of rut activity in the thin mountain air, attempt to sneak into the downwind edge of the bedding area and present a call. Bulls will generally check their harem several times while bedded and will likely swing on the downwind edge to do it.

Using a seductive cow call could arouse his attention, or a bugle could spark his biological rage. Either call can work, depending on the situation; the key is getting within 50 yards or so before raising his curiosity. 

Another option is to still-hunt from above, at a quartering angle, while keeping the wind to your advantage. Bulls tend to bed above their harem, so coming at an angle can put you in the best possible position for a shot. This obviously requires a stealthy approach, sometimes taking over an hour to slip into range, but when using the cover and terrain to your advantage, it can be accomplished.

Last, rifle hunters can use their longer range to their advantage and wait on the upwind edge for an opportunity. This requires a hunter to be positioned at least a couple hundred yards beside or parallel to the bedding area, maybe on the opposite side of a valley, and waiting. Elk will generally move into the wind as they leave a bedding area. Use this predictable behavior and patiently wait from a safe distance.

Recommended for You


Find and Fish Bluegill Beds Efficiently

Terry Madewell - May 22, 2019

You can catch bluegill faster with these strategies.


No Kidding: Angler Smashes Record for Lake Trout

Scott Bernarde - May 21, 2019

The Pennsylvania man's trophy fish was more than two pounds heavier than the previous record.

Fishing How-To

Your Guide for the Best Catfish Baits

G&F Staff

If you've been catching catfish with the same method for years, it's time to change it up and...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

As KVD tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead, innovative Humminbird products and cutting-edge technology like that found in the new Mega 360 Imaging sonar are major reasons contributing to his unparalleled success.

New 4-Liter Dry Creek Gear Pouch from Simms

Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead gets new product details from Simms Fishing Product's John Frazier about the new waterproof 4-Liter Dry Creek Gear Pouch.

MLF Pro Tips: Go-To Baits for the Spawn

Major League Fishing pros talk about the first lure they choose when targeting spawning bass.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories


Top 10 Biggest Pike World Records of All Time

Jack Vitek - August 19, 2015

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the...


How To Make Your Own Catfish Dough Bait

Keith Sutton - August 04, 2015

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews...


Upon Further Review: 70-Year-Old Catfish Record Voided

G&F Online Staff - May 22, 2019

Experts agree record channel cat caught in 1949 was actually a blue catfish.

See More Stories

More Hunting How-To


Expert Tactics for Open-Country Coyotes

Scott Haugen - July 23, 2019

Summer is prime time to get after aggressive coyotes. Try these tactics for consistent...

Hunting How-To

Why Sharp Edges Matter to Suspicious Whitetails

G&F Staff - December 04, 2018

There are shapes, angles and hard edges that drive deer nuts, and it usually takes them a...


Plan It, Plant It for Your Food-Plot Future

Drew Warden - August 07, 2019

Ideally, you want a variety that provides whitetails with foraging options all year.

See More Hunting How-To

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


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