Elk Hunting

Elk Hunting – The Ultimate Big Game Guide

By FarWide September 29, 2020

Primarily found in the Rocky Mountains, this big game Western species was earlier found in big herds on the Great Plains and across the terrains of the lower-48. Unfortunately, excessive commercial hunting and the woes of habitat loss have taken their toll. Thanks to the latest conservation practices and government efforts, the population of elks in US is on a rebound. With elks finding their way into old and new hunting grounds, elk hunting is back with a bang. 

Elk Hunting
Elk Hunting

Nowadays, this big game hunting opportunity, despite limited elk seasons, has gathered momentum on the wish list of American and other hunters. Here’s a quick elk hunting guide to help you lead from the front. 

Elk – A Closer Look

The elk (Cervus canadensis) is considered to be among the largest species in the deer family, Cervidae. Also referred as wapiti –attributed to the Shawnee and Cree term wapiti that means ‘white rump’, it ranks high on the list of largest terrestrial mammals in the northern precincts of America. 

Habitats in US

Elks can be found in different habitats ranging from the Alpine terrains of the Rocky Mountains to the coastal rainforests and the grasslands (forests too!) of east and central U.S. If you are planning your next big gaming trip with elks, then note the season. This big game species of deer moves to the upper mountainous regions during spring and come downwards to retreat from heavy snows during fall. 

Expert elk hunters are aware of their diet and preference for specific native bunch grasses. Elks are primarily grazers and also go after woody browse like willow and aspen. Along with common agricultural crops, they can be found in habitats that nurture forbs. 

Reproduction & Breeding

Elk hunting in US
Elk Hunt

Elks are known to breed across two months – from mid-August to mid-October. It’s in the late weeks of May and early June that calves weighing about 35 pounds are dropped by their mothers in ones and twos. 

Spotting by Physical Characteristics

The coat of elks is light tan in winter, spring and fall; it attains a beautiful copper brown shade in summer. The light beige rump patch is quite prominent. If you look at their legs and mane, you’ll find that they are darker than the rest of the body. The antlers on male elks (over 4 feet long, 6 with tip-to-tip width of over 3 feet) are shed off during late winters and come back during spring. The female elks or cows weigh between 300 and 600 lbs. on an average. The bulls of male elk, which are a huge draw for big game enthusiasts, usually weigh about 700 lbs. with some notching over a 1,000 lbs.!

Are They Edible?

According to pro big gaming hunters, elk meat is the best in existence. Often considered superior to beef, it can be used for different red meat applications.

Hunting Elks

There are liberal restrictions on tags in the western US states; however, other states grant permission for killing two elks every year. If you happen to be a non-resident elk hunter, then you need to apply for tags through a lottery system in most states; specifically, in the spring application period. Along with archery hunters, other hunters have a 100 percent chance of getting success in most state lotteries. If you are planning to hunt in Idaho or Colorado, then you may apply for OTC non-residents tags until the night prior to the opening of the season. Its best to apply in time as there are limited tags and the draws can be tough. 

Hunting Elks Across the Year

Hunting Elks Across the Year
Hunting Elks Across the Year

Winters: You are likely to find elks on the South facing slopes with lower elevation in habitats rich in Pinyon pine, juniper and sagebrush. Woody browse comprising of sagebrush, mountain mahogany, aspen bark, etc. provide the elks with nourishment at this time of the year. 

Migration during spring: With the onset of spring, elks start traversing in the direction of receding snows into higher country while surviving on new vegetation.  They migrate to the breeding grounds by mid-May and can be found in high-altitude sub-alpine basins by mid-June until late July.

Summer: The calving or summer range witness elks in high country terrains with protein rich grasses; this enables them to put fat on old bulls and the young ones alike.  The cool temperatures and lesser biting insects at this altitude and temperature are favorable for the breeding season. 

Rut: Elks spread out in a big way during the rut. While some start descending to the lower country sides, others choose to remain at higher altitudes. 

Fall/winter: With winter comes snow and the this inspires bulls to move away from the mountains towards the lower-elevation winter ranges. 

What to Pack? 

The following table can be your checklist for elk hunting essentials this season:

Hunting Equipments
Elk Hunting Equipments

Water purification tabletsFishing suppliesTags and licensesBrimmed hat 
KnifeThermal underwearHunter education certificateRain gear
Folding sawExtra glovesWarm stocking hatClean clothes
First aid kitWaterproof matchesExtra socksDry ice
Water bottleLighterBright tape for marking trailsFood and beverages
Foam sleeping padSunscreenFace washLarge foam coolers for game
Flashlight, extra batteriesCameraMapsFleece
ThermosToilet paperCompassCamouflage
TentSleeping bagGame bagBinoculars
Rope for hanging the gameTinder materialHand/dish soapAmmunition and arrows
Pillowcase (stuffed with additional night clothes)Trash BagsUtensilsRifle/bow
Cooking pot Insect repellentCooking stoveAltimeter
Elk Hunting Essentials

Elk Hunting Guide Services

All elk hunts require fair chase in the wild. For success, you must have accurate shooting skills or knowledge of archery. While DIY elk hunting can be fun, it pays rich dividends to go the full way with professional guides and outfitters with experience in providing elk hunting services. They can help you procure tags and licenses, understand the seasons when kills are assured, and guide you through the adventure. 

Do know that success rates in big game hunting are dependent on a wide range of factors and skills. Reach out to professionals in the field to make the most of your hunting trip, right away. 

All the best!

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