Old timers will tell you that elk are where you find them. It is part of why the thrill of successfully harvesting an elk is so well warranted. An elk hunter can be forced to endure two entirely different types of habitat in one single morning. From bugling a big bull from the edge of a meadow to creeping through thick timber. In the Pacific Northwest, it’s likely you’ll find yourself in a clear cut for your morning hunt, and in the coastal jungle during the evening. But southwestern bulls will have a hunter bushwhacking through juniper thickets in open country. Each elk hunt is dependent on location and requires a specific outlook. Exploring major differences between habitat and elk behavior is key to success for a well-rounded elk hunter.
High Alpine Elk
High-alpine elk are often found in deep wilderness areas. It’s the sort of stuff that postcards and hunting magazine photospreads are made of. All through the Rock Mountains, alpine elk can be found at first and last light. While finding elk in undisturbed wilderness ares can be easy, getting to them is no piece of cake. Nasty terrain, thin air, and ankle-breaking crags are what is in store for you should you accept this challenge. Spotting a herd of elk a few canyons away is fun, but getting to them is not. The high-alpine hunter’s strongest assets are his legs and his lungs. Having the best optics you can possibly afford also helps a great deal with this hunt. When going after elk in Wyoming, central Montana or eastern Idaho, arrive in peak physical condition. Work out before hand and prepare to be work hard.
When conditions are this tough, it scares most hunters off. This makes for some unpressured herds that have had little to no contact with humans. Aggressive bugling with grunt and chuckle finishes are incredibly productive in deep wilderness settings. Those big herd bulls are out there guarding their harem from satellite bulls, and in such a situation, satellite bulls are ripe for the picking.
Remember, high-alpine elk bed in the open, in swaths of scattered trees where they are pretty visible. Try playing the wind and stalking them while they are bedded, between about 10AM and noon.
Elk-hunting’s most difficult challenge is the rainforest bull. The Pacific Northwest’s Roosevelt elk exist in a universe of their own. The coastal jungles that are their habitat make for a hellish hunt. Blackberry brambles, devil’s club, and tangled second-growth trees make shooting lanes few and far in between. In this habitat, visibility is severely limited.
The only way to pull off hunting these timber bulls is by vigilantly still-hunting them. Choose a game trail or an abandoned logging road and start tracking. Keep in mind that making large amounts of noise will not completely ruin your hunt, as elk are used to hearing other elk moving through that thick brush also.
When you start keying in on an area where the elk are present, bust out your cow call and start chirping. Offer about one chirp every 5 minutes. Do not overcall. If after 20 minutes or so you do not get a response at all, try using the bugle. Always be prepared to rock and roll, timber bulls can slip in on you without notice. They are the sneakiest and wily of the elk family. Sound does not travel very far in thick bush, so keep in mind that you may have missed a response or two.
Above all, remember that the map is not the territory. Allow the terrain to dictate your approach, and remain vigilant. Mother Nature doesn’t give up one of her own without dishing something back in return.