Best Way to Hunt Elk
It’s tough to say what the best way to hunt elk is, because everybody has different opinion of the ideal elk hunt. First, you need to decide if you are going DIY-style on an unguided hunt, or on a fully-guided elk hunt. We have great options for both. We’ll attempt to discuss all of the different options here in this post.
On an unguided hunt, you’ll most likely be packed into the backcountry with horses and mules and “dropped” at a camp that has already been set up by the outfitter. These types of hunts are called “drop camps“. If you go the guided route, you’ll have a variety of hunting styles available: Private land base camps out of a hunting lodge, a hotel or bed and breakfast, the outfitters home or cabins, or even sometimes hotels in town; Backcountry wall tent camps packed in on horseback; and Remote, off-your-back bivy camps.
If you’re in a good area, (and we do our best to put you in a GREAT area) you can usually expect to see elk almost daily, and on most of our hunts, you could expect an opportunity at a mature bull. A mature bull can be anything from a five-point up to that 400-inch monster that everybody dreams about….EVERYBODY wants a 400-inch bull, but that isn’t really a realistic expectation. You can up your odds by having a great elk tag, choosing a great area, and usually, by writing a big check. A more realistic “top end” bull in most areas is 320-340 inches, but 250-320″ is a more realistic expectation on most hunts. We try to put our hunters with areas that have a 75% or higher success rate on rifle hunts, and 40% or more on archery hunts.
Elk Hunting can be Physically Demanding
Your physical condition will determine, not only your success, but also what type of hunt you can even manage…being in “elk shape” is paramount! If you’re not in great shape, you can hunt hard to draw, private land units with high elk numbers and relatively easy terrain, which is great, but more expensive. You could also go to a hunting estate. Being in shape will give you more options, like packing in to wall tent camps with moderate to steep terrain, or for the more hardcore hunter, a remote, hunt off your back trip with horse pack-out support.
Choose Your Elk Hunting Season
When it comes to elk hunting, not all seasons are created equal. Each time of year has its own pros and cons. Everybody wants to hunt elk in September, during the rut, and for good reason. YOU NEED TO EXPERIENCE THE ELK RUT! Calling in a bull is an amazing experience, and if you’re a bowhunter, it’s almost the only way to go in our opinion. Rut hunts are in high demand, and for that reason, often more expensive and harder to get a tag. We can help you get a tag by the way. Early season hunts are mostly archery, but we do have some rifle elk hunts during the rut.
General season offers the bulk of the rifle elk hunting opportunity. While it is usually considered the least desirable time to hunt, you can have a great experience this time of year if you do your homework, or consult with us. Bulls don’t often respond as well to calling during the general season…but sometimes they do if you’re hunting an area with less pressure. Every year, our hunters take some huge bulls during the general season. General season hunts are also, almost always combo hunts with mule deer. We even have a hunt in Colorado that we call “The Trifecta” where you can hunt elk, mule deer, and pronghorn antelope!
Late season hunts are interesting…and can sometimes be hit or miss. Most late season elk hunts are weather dependant, and if you don’t get snow in the high country, you might not see a single elk on your hunt. That sucks. However, if you do get snow, it can be the best hunt of your life! If you choose a late season hunt, go in with eyes wide open, and willing to come home and eat tag soup. Your gear can be a huge deal on these hunts.
What Weapon Do You Choose?
If you’re a bowhunter, you’re gonna want to hunt in September. There are tons of awesome options available for you! If you go unguided, do your research. We can speed up the learning process for you by putting you with a guide or a good drop hunt in a great area. Rifle hunters are usually hunting the general season or going late, but we do have some great options during the rut for you as well! Muzzleloader hunters are almost always limited to the late season. Let us know if you want help finding a great elk hunt. We’d love to help, and remember our service is free to you.
I’ve been on a lot of hunts over the past years, and can honestly say this was one of my best trips to date! With animals in every direction, the hardest decision was figuring out which Goat we were going after. That is a true rarity these days. I can’t wait to go back to hunt with this outfit!
Just returned from my Alaska mountain goat hunt – great hunt and fantastic group of guides, packers! Got my goat on the second day and I want to thank you for putting me in touch with such top notch, friendly, extremely capable people. Everything was A+ all the way around. Thanks again and I’ll be touch for another hunt.
If you’re looking for a cost effective, DIY, Moose hunt, get ahold of Outdoors International. I’ve never been more appreciative of a company and the knowledge they share to put together this hunt for my dad and I. Thanks for everything!
My elk hunt was fantastic. I have hunted all over the world, but chasing big bugling bull elk in New Mexico was a thrill. The camp and staff were great and the hunting was exciting and memorable. This was a hunt I will never forget and I took a trophy that will help me tell the story for years to come. Outfitter was top notch and so was the hunting.
Private Land and Town-Based Elk Hunts
This type of elk hunt is usually, but not always on private land with mild(ish) terrain among river bottoms, with more potential shot opportunities, and higher success. You’ll usually stay at a hunting lodge, the outfitters house, or sometimes you have the option of a bunk house/wall tent in the heart of the hunting area. On some hunts though, you’ll be staying at a hotel in town or even a Bed and Breakfast.
If we put our hunters in lodging off-site, we try to make sure that there is no more than about a 30 minute drive to the ranch where they will be hunting. The mornings will usually start off driving to, and glassing from higher elevations to locate a particular bull and coming up with a plan to stalk or a location to intercept a traveling herd. Success rates are often higher on these types of hunt, as well as trophy quality, but be prepared to spend a bit more in most instances.
Traditional Elk Hunts in the Backcountry with Wall Tent Camps
These pack-in hunts will start out on horseback with a ride into the backcountry ranging from 1 to up to 8 hours. All of the stock are well trained and experienced backcountry animals. Once at camp, accommodations will be very comfortable, large wall tents (usually with a cook tent, hunter tent, guide tent, and tack tent), cots complete with foam pads, lanterns, wood stoves, tableware, first aid kit, applicable safety equipment and more. Camp sizes will range in size from 1 hunter to a maximum of 4 hunters on most hunts.
Mornings start off with breakfast while guides/wranglers catch and saddle horses for the morning ride. The rides in the morning will vary in length and difficulty depending on where the elk are holding. Untampered and untamed, this is nature at its core; be sure to prepare for the physical challenge of steep, rugged terrain on this hunt.
Lunches will be packed every day. We prefer to spend the entire day trying to locate your dream bull. Bulls on these hunts will most likely range from 260″ to 320″ with good potential of seeing a 360″ plus bull.
Mountain Man Style Elk Hunts
This is an experience of the truest form of hunting. You and your guide will pack in all the supplies you need to enter the wilderness. You’ll cover steep country and set up mini camps in your search for high mountain backcountry game. The areas you will be hunting have only seen a small amount of human pressure due to the lack of access and rugged terrain. This type of hunt will have you camping on high ridges so you can start glassing at first light. All of your guides will be in very good shape and love these 1×1 off-your-back style hunts.
Elevations range from 8,000 to 10,000 ft. Horse support will usually be available to pack out harvested animals. You will see elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep and mountain goats. This hunt is a true adventure.
Estate Elk Hunts
Free ranging bulls of 350+ caliber will cost from $15,000 to $25,000 most of the time. You can find that quality on lower cost hunts, but if you want to up your odds, get ready to stroke a serious check…or you can hunt those bulls for $7-$10,000 on a high fence place. There are some very good, big property high fence elk hunts out west. We know some properties where you are going to have a very challenging hunt to get a bull.