How to Prepare for Backcountry Elk Hunting
There is no hunter ever, in the history of hunting, who has stood at 9,000’ft, chasing bulls, wishing he was in worse shape.
So you just booked your first archery elk hunt. You’ll be hunting with an outfitter and now the questions have started to roll around in your head. The main one being — What do I need to do to be prepared for backcountry elk hunting? That sparks more questions such as these: How good of shape do I need to be in; What equipment do I need; How far should I be prepared to shoot; What is an average day going to look like; where should I camp; and on and on…
Backcountry elk hunting can be very physical.
Physical condition is always key when chasing elk in the Rocky Mountain West. Sure, there are some easy physical hunts (and we have them) but they are far and few between. Most archery elk hunts will demand a high level of fitness for success and enjoyment of your hunt. No one likes to wake up super sore on day two! We recommend you start a fitness program at least six months before your hunt, or at a minimum, 90 days. We send most our clients to Train to Hunt. You need to train with a pack on and you need to have good cardio. It’s very likely you will be hunting at elevations of 7,000’+ if not 9,000’+, and at those elevations there just isn’t as much oxygen, and you will feel it if you’re not ready.
The right gear is critical for backcountry elk hunting
Now, lets talk equipment. You will need good boots, I recommend Hoffman Boots or Lathrop and Sons. They are the best September elk hunting boot on the market in my opinion. Your feet are your most important tool to take care of on an elk hunt, don’t go cheap. For your hunting clothing, get a good layering system and plan for warm mid day temps and a wide variety of temps and conditions. I wear Kryptek gear (members get a discount), it’s made well for a great price and has been tested and proven by the military to be the best camo pattern in the high end, hunting apparel industry. For your backpack, I like EXO Mountain Gear. I’m a Hoyt and Black Gold man on bows and for sure take along a set of good game bags. It’s always nice to have a good knife along as well.
Check out our elk hunting gear list.
Backcountry elk hunting isn’t easy, but it will be fun… if you’re prepared.
You won’t’ get much sleep on an elk hunt
Be mentally prepared that you will be getting up usually at least an hour before light and going to bed at least 2 hours after light. It’s a, go to bed at 11pm and get up at 4am deal. Sleep deprivation is always a part of chasing bulls with stick and string. Slip in a nap, mid day, if you can….it will help huge by the end of the hunt. Don’t forget the importance of a good headlamp (and extra batteries) as many times you will have it on, both morning and evening on your way in and out. You will be likely hiking several miles a day. Don’t forget moleskin for blisters. Blisters can shut down a hunt. You will likely hunt hard in the morning and take a break mid day, or sit on a wallow. Here’s a list for backcountry elk hunting.
Hunters that want to keep going midday are often just blowing out elk….don’t press your guide if he suggests you lay low during the heat of the day. The evening hunt will be short, everything will happen quickly…move with a purpose and error on the side of aggression. Most of the best evening hunting happens quickly. Usually in the last 45 minutes to an hour.
Lastly, be ready to shoot as far as you can…sounds like common sense, but often clients limit themselves by what they practice. If guys practice out to 40, then that is all they are good at. If you practice at 80 all the time, you will be good at that too. Practice long range…it makes a 30 yard shot feel like a chip shot.