Planning first elk hunt - advice welcome

ElkFever2

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After batting around the idea of hunting elk for years, I have decided to go for it. Now begins the daunting task of planning my first self-guided public land elk hunt.

Some years ago during a September camping trip in Alberta I witnessed two big bulls face off IN my campsite. The bedded "smaller" 6x7 bugled in a cow from the herd bull's harem, only to have the boss come over and assert his dominance (see pics; the third is a younger bull I photographed in ND). Both terrified and exhilarated, I moved away from being between the animals, but I might as well have been invisible as none of them paid me any attention. Witnessing them bugle and glare at one another from less than 5 yards away planted a seed of desire to return to elk country to hunt these majestic animals someday.

My #1 goal is to see elk on my hunt. I have heard countless stories from other people that go something like: "On my first elk hunting trip I was so hyped. I hunted hard for a week but didn't see or hear a single animal." I do not want this to be my tale. Of course the nature of hunting is that you get skunked sometimes, but I am willing to put in the hours and effort to increase my chances of at least getting into elk.

My other hunt goals, in order:
#2 Solitude and scenery. Get off the beaten path and enjoy my time
#3 Have an opportunity to take a 2+ year-old bull

My main reference point, like many first time wannabe elk hunters, is whitetails. I've hunted them for 25 years and have it pretty much figured out. I know how to get into huge bucks, and I pass on every animal except the biggest one in my hunt area. I mainly hunt IA public land gun season and no-cost cold call private tracts during bow season. If someone were to ask my opinion of driving 16 hours to IA for self-guided hunt of public land whitetails, but had never hunted deer before, I'd tell them they better really enjoy the scenery because there's barely better than zero chance of driving home with a punched tag - the learning curve is simply too great.

I'm concerned about wading into a similar situation with a first time elk hunt, and am wondering how best to prepare myself. I've done 100+ hours of internet research, and have come up with a tentative plan, but I am open to any suggestions for what might better accomplish my goals. I don't have a desire to hunt elk every year, but if I enjoy my first experience, I could see making return trips every few years.

Hunt NW WY in about 3-4 years. This allows me to buy a couple of points so I am guaranteed a general tag in the regular draw. It also gives me time to save up money, acquire and test gear, and go on at least 1 scouting trip to my hunt area. I picked this area because of the lower hunter numbers (grizzlies and lack of roads seem to keep people away), challenging but scenic terrain, and distance from home state (IA). Many units here, even in non-wilderness areas, have a rifle opener in September. I figure this makes things a little easier with the rut likely still going on. I'm young and healthy, and am no stranger to high elevation back country hiking. I have ample vacation time, so I'm setting aside 16 days for a trip: 4 days travel, 3 scouting, and 9 hunting. I haven't completely ruled out bow hunting, but there seem to be enough added challenges here to at least start off with a rifle instead. I'm planning to map out numerous areas likely to hold elk in a unit, then scout them out in the three days before the opener to try and locate the animals. My understanding of scouting is: look for: cow groups, fresh tracks/sign, glass for animals, and listen for bugles/calls, especially at night. I'm a bit worried about overlooking elk that may be in an area since there are so few of them in such a huge area and I'm inexperienced at finding them.

Please tell me if there are any glaring holes in my tentative plan; I'm open to any suggestions. Thanks!

CAN elk2.pngCAN elk1.pngND elk.png
 

Mtolliver

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Looking for cow groups depends on when youre going. If archery then yeah find the groups of cows but instead of hunting 9 days I would hunt all 12 and scout as you go. If you go with a later rifle hunt I wouldn't worry about the cows to much, most of the bulls will be off on their own in some hell hole draw or in small groups together in some hell hole draw. Best of luck!
 

pipelake

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Don't discount archery. usually better weather, access to better zones with fewer points, SOLITUDE. even though there may be other hunters in the woods, you don't hear the rifle shots.
 

ElkFever2

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Don't discount archery.
How realistic is it to bow hunt elk with zero calling experience? I've hunted coyote, duck, geese, squirrels, deer, and turkeys, and none of these animals were very convinced by my calling until I learned the correct volume, sequence, spacing, time of year, direction, muffling, pitch, etc. through quite a bit of trial and error. Is it realistic to just listen for bugles and walk towards them? I live close to a large fenced elk herd - would it be worth it to practice calling bulls during the prerut/rut and see how they respond? These are not hunted animals, so I'm wondering it is too artificial to bother doing that though.
 

pipelake

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Hunting is hunting. learn the habitat. Between myself and the guys I've hunted with we have killed 2 bulls and 5 cows in 3 trips, none of which were called in, all were archery. lots of my experience is that calling just lets them know where YOU are, sometimes that is not an advantage. we basically sit or still hunt in areas where we see lots of elk sign or known bedding and feeding areas.
 

Greenhorn

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If you’re honest with your goals of #1, #2, and #3. Then it is a no brainer for you to archery hunt. It is not rocket science. Cavemen did it with homemade bows and spears. You seen a modern bow? Leave the calls at home. An “opportunity” to take 2 year old bull in 16 days? You’d have to really be helpless to fail on that. It would be a series of unfortunate events for you to not succeed.
 

genesis273

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I'd chance NOT killing a bull during archery season in Sept, just to listening to endless bugling, than wait until I can take a rifle later. But, that's just me.
 

Flatrock

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Have a plan A, B, C, D, E and maybe F for locations. What looks great on paper might not pan out.
 

ElkFever2

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After reading through these replies, I am switching gears and focusing on an archery hunt. I agree that it is a better fit for what I want in a hunt. I think I got a little sidetracked/intimidated watching all these archery videos with fancy calling and got the impression that an archery hunt can't work without calling expertise. A lot of these videos have a call manufacturer as a sponsor, so I guess it makes sense they are going to feature the equipment. I get a chuckle over people who think they need to buy a whole heap of gear to get into bow-hunting (whitetails), when in reality a stand, a bow, and some arrows check off about 80% of the needs.

Another newbie question: What are some ways to discern an actual bugling bull from a hunter using a call? Is it really obvious, or do you have to have an ear for it? When I've hunted waterfowl or turkeys, the people calling are VERY obviously different from the real animals. 95% of the time people are not subtle enough, too loud, too forced, call too much, etc. Is it similar with overzealous hunters bugling?
 

genesis273

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Most guys running around the mountains blasting away on a bugle tube, you'll know because it's obvious. But sometimes you'll be fooled. And likewise, you'll swear another nut was blowing a tube and sounds horrible, then realize it's a bull. Same as turkeys.
As for you worrying about your calling ability. I've never carried a bugle tube, just a cow call. But, most consistent elk killers use one. I killed my first bull on my first full day elk hunting. Yes, it was a fluke and sheer luck, but a mid Sept bull isn't the smartest critter on the mountain!
 

jtm307

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Don’t let calling intimidate you. It’s pretty easy to learn, and makes hunting much more fun. I literally learned while driving to my first hunt during the rut. Just get a basic diaphragm and start practicing cow calling. You don’t have to be as good as Corey Jacobsen to call in elk. There are videos on YouTube to give you tips.
 

pipelake

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After reading through these replies, I am switching gears and focusing on an archery hunt. I agree that it is a better fit for what I want in a hunt. I think I got a little sidetracked/intimidated watching all these archery videos with fancy calling and got the impression that an archery hunt can't work without calling expertise. A lot of these videos have a call manufacturer as a sponsor, so I guess it makes sense they are going to feature the equipment. I get a chuckle over people who think they need to buy a whole heap of gear to get into bow-hunting (whitetails), when in reality a stand, a bow, and some arrows check off about 80% of the needs.

Another newbie question: What are some ways to discern an actual bugling bull from a hunter using a call? Is it really obvious, or do you have to have an ear for it? When I've hunted waterfowl or turkeys, the people calling are VERY obviously different from the real animals. 95% of the time people are not subtle enough, too loud, too forced, call too much, etc. Is it similar with overzealous hunters bugling?
Bulls USUALLY don't bugle from roads, high points, etc. Also, human bugles are repetitious, like two or three bugles spaced a couple minutes apart, then move a couple hundred yards and repeat.
 

beginnerhunter

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Any recommendations for a good beginner call? I mean, something idiot-proof that will get u started. I'm thinking of a cow call but would be interested if someone has a bugle they would recommend.
 

jtm307

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Any recommendations for a good beginner call? I mean, something idiot-proof that will get u started. I'm thinking of a cow call but would be interested if someone has a bugle they would recommend.
I started with a Carlton's Beginner Red Diaphragm and a Primos Super Pack Bugle Call. I have bulls come in to the former and respond to the latter. Both are cheap and easy to use. If you only get one, get the diaphragm. I've also used the Primos Cow Girl, but I haven't had noticably great results with it.
 

Botch

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Phelps Easy Estrus is head and shoulders the best, most realistic, and easy to use call out there for a beginner or seasoned pro.

I agree with everyone else diaphragm calling isn’t that bad practice to and from work (wear ear plugs!) watch a few videos.
 

805Bowhunter

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Ditto on what others have said. The one thing I will say is that it may be worth your time to spend a few extra bucks to buy some different mouth reeds. What works for some people may be impossible for you and visa versa. Everybody has a different shape of mouth. I prefer the Phelps AMP calls (grey and green specifically) as they work for me. Find what works for you and let it rip.

Another way that I practice is by recording myself from 60-100yds away. I will put my phone up somewhere and then head back into the timber and start calling (both bugles and cow calls) and then listen to how you sound compared to elk. Its kind of like hearing your own voice for the first time. It sounds odd at first but it will help. Because I'm not a great caller, I've always employed the less is more strategy when its game on and it has worked better for me.
 
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