Bow Hunting Elk | How to Prepare for an Elk Hunt


Elk.  The word is less of a word and really an envisioning of an earned adventure pitting yourself against creatures and country significantly tougher than the average hunter.  Hunting elk is increasing in popularity specifically among archers wanting to find adventure way beyond their comfort zone.  To some, bow hunting elk comes easy and to others, it is a constant journey of self-improvement to stay sharp edging as close as possible to the pinnacle of performance each year.  The edge of human performance melded with the gracefulness and majesty of the mountains and animals they call home is what makes September a ritual, a rite of passage, and a yearly trek to refill passion.


To hunt elk on your own takes work.  A better word may be dedication.  Dedication to preparation to ensure you are putting all of the logistical pieces in place before ever stepping out of the truck and onto the trail.  More elk hunts are a disaster due to lack of understanding of the preparation needed beforehand.  The way you prepare allows you to focus more on hunting and less on small frustrations which are a part of any hunting trip especially when you are thousands of miles away from home.





This is the second installment of our Bow Hunting Elk blog. Depending on which information you are looking for, you may want to check out Part 1 Bow Hunting Elk | Setting Up Archery Equipment For Elk. Part 1 answers the following questions:


  • What is the right bow setup for elk?
  • What is the correct poundage for bow hunting elk?
  • What might be my maximum range with my set up?
  • What are the best broadheads for elk?
  • How should I practice shooting my bow for an elk hunt?


These questions are answered in Part 1 Found Here.


This blog, Bow Hunting Elk | How To Plan and Prepare For An Elk Hunt, or part 2, will go beyond the equipment. What should you now be doing as September approaches?


Questions You May Want to Ask Yourself


Like real estate, elk hunting is all about location. It is a good idea before taking any steps towards bow hunting elk that you develop a strong understanding of the area you wish to visit to hunt. Now, this varies depending on if you are waiting for a draw tag or are hunting general units.  Your choice of hunting implement is also a determining factor as to what units will be open.  General archery tags are much easier to obtain than rifle tags albeit gambling time and money on work to hunt elk with a bow is a huge risk statistically speaking. Bow hunting elk success is about 10% across the West.


Entire chapters and books have been written on picking a unit to hunt. Regardless if you are a resident or a nonresident the investigative work in the winter of the year is a big step to filling your tag in the fall.  Here are a few key aspects and questions to keep in mind when picking your area.


  • Look at harvest reports and look to see how many hunters reported spending time in the unit in recent years.
  • How will I get the meat out?
  • Have there been any recent wildfires in the unit?
  • Is the unit national forest, BLM, or designated wilderness?
  • What kind of road closures will the unit have during the season?
  • Difficulty or ease of access.
  • What is a general area and what is a draw area?
  • What are the essential items I must have for this hunt?


We naturally have a few “favorites” when it comes to showing what the hunt truly takes. SOLO HNTR with Remi Warren and Tim Burnett is one show, in particular, that demonstrates how much work is actually put in. So in order to gear your mind into the right thinking here is a quick episode from Season 6 of SOLO HNTR.



What Hunt Do You Want?


Realistically you need to decide at this time what kind of hunt you are going to pursue?  What can your body afford?  Are you going to park alongside a road and do day hikes?  Are you packing ten days’ worth of gear on your back to get in deep?  Will you do a drop camp? These questions all bring new scenarios which are a part of the logistical challenge.  The biggest logistical challenge for any elk hunt which must be decided on well in advance is how you are going to deal with the meat! The video gives some great insight to how this needs to be dealt with, but watching and doing are two totally different things.


You have a responsibility to care for the meat to ensure its quality. Elk meat is heavy plain and simple.  Meat care will dictate the type of hunt you have.  Choosing the way, you deal with the meat will let you dictate the type of hunt you really want.   If you can’t afford a packer to haul your meat out for a few hundred dollars then you will likely need to hunt within six or seven miles of a road.  If you wish to hunt deeper, either have a packer on speed dial or hire a drop camp.  Both cost more money but are worth every cent. If you are tougher than steel and don’t mind tough pack-outs then, by all means, carry the animal out.  Just remember it is a commitment in February you cannot come to regret in September, October or November.  If your unit allows mountain bikes, having a reliable bike and trailer can help alleviate some of the pain of packing.  Some states are restricting mountain bike use in certain areas so check with your state to ensure legality.





Practicing Beyond the Bow


Practice for elk hunting must be deliberate.  The last thing you want to have happen is any doubt as to where your bullet or arrow will hit on an animal.  More often than not changes in elevation are not practiced for in the offseason which provides unwelcome surprises when touching off on the trigger. This is why, when preparing for bow hunting elk, your practice needs to go beyond simple backyard shooting.


It is important to remember that geometrically your arrow flies consistently parallel to the ground but the ground elevation changes which is why, for downhill shots, it is traditional to hold a touch low.  When you draw on a downhill target remember to bend at the waist and not just aim down with your arm.  You will be fighting your body which causes accuracy issues. For uphill shots, it is important to draw as if the target animal where on a flat plane in front of you then bend at the waist pointing upward to your target.  This will keep your shoulders from fighting themselves and forcing a bad shot.





Shots in elk country don’t always come when you are relaxed.  Often times you are forced to make your shot with a racing heart and throbbing legs.  How do you recreate this on the range to see how your body reacts?  Surprises at crunch time are not welcome and finding out you can’t hold your bow steady with a racing heart puts one opportunity on the line to kill a bull.  Some resort to jumping jacks or push-ups, even sprints to get the heart rate up to replicate the intensity of the moment while on the range.


Need some help? Here are 5 Long-range Archery Hunting Tips!


Physical Preparation


Your body is your ultimate tool in the wilderness.  It is your vehicle and it must be prepared.  This part of elk hunting is really the only thing you can control.  You can’t control the weather, animal populations, the wind, or pressure.  You can control your body and your attitude.  By focusing on what you can control your chance of getting into a shooting situation because of being able to stay in the field.  Preparing the body and mind for the rigors of the backcountry are again a deliberate commitment to discipline.  Now to some, the gym is more intimidating than the mountains.  Get help.  There is no shame in working with strength and conditioning coaches who study this field.  Learning the tools to be able to execute are really the barrier to physical prowess.  Learn, organize and execute the plan.  It really is up to you.



Scouting for Elk


The biggest part of bow hunting elk preparation is scouting. There is no substitute for putting boot leather to dirt and hitting the mountains to scout during the summer.  However, scouting for elk takes many different forms and is best when organized and deliberate.  This is more than just a walk in the woods, it is learning specific areas, contours, wallows and bedding areas to return to each year.  Scouting should always first take place on a topographical map.  If you are not familiar on how-to read a topographical map it is imperative that you learn before heading into the mountains. Regardless of what animal you hunt the three basic necessities of life remain: Food, Water, Shelter.  Elk are no different, they just pick very specific aspects of the mountain to fulfill those needs.  Seek north facing slopes on your topographical map and mark them on your GPS. Mark on your maps where the dark timber meets the feed.  These will be fantastic evening hunt areas.  Even if they are at the bottom of a canyon with a three-hour hike out you have a headlamp for a reason. Always mark where you fit old rutting activity like rubs.  This indicates traditional rutting areas to be hunted during September.  Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see animals there during the summer since they may only be at higher grounds during those months.  Keep in mind that patterns shift and where you find elk on warm July days may to be where they are during the season.




Trail cameras are a very practical tool for tracking patterns and getting an idea of what kind of bulls are in the area.  Placing cameras over wallows are the best for early season hunting when the weather is warm and you may be able to hunt a mature bull much like a whitetail and ambush him in the heat of the day by knowing roughly what time the wallow becomes active.


If you live out of state most of your scouting is done vicariously through OnXMaps and the good will of others.  Marking specific contours becomes the name of the game but in truth it is returning every year to learn the area you want to hunt which makes true understanding possible.




Elk and elk country deserve our very best efforts. It is an adventure that results in an output that is entirely dependent on the input.  Taking the time to plan ensures the ability to have fun with your hunt.  The logistics of the hunt are as important as the hunt itself.  Plan it out, hunt it out and hopefully, you’ll be packing it out!


[av_promobox button=’yes’ label=’Equipment for
Elk Hunting’ link=’manually,’ link_target=” color=’theme-color’ custom_bg=’#444444′ custom_font=’#ffffff’ size=’large’ icon_select=’no’ icon=’ue800′ font=’entypo-fontello’ box_color=” box_custom_font=’#ffffff’ box_custom_bg=’#444444′ box_custom_border=’#333333′ av_uid=’av-303iwr’]