Archery Elk Tactics from the Experts

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

It's game time. You've been counting down. August 30 is the opener, the day when the months of practice and the scouting pay off.

Up in the high country, the grass is curing with the heat and elk antlers are hardening. The bulls have started to rub. In a few days, the biggest elk will have the velvet off and bone will shine in the sunlight.

Some of the best hunting is in the early season. It's a time experts call the Great Break-Up. Now is when the mature bulls seek out their ridgetop haunts. They lay claim to a piece of real estate and begin to advertise for cows.

Over the last few years, whether I've carried a bow in archery season or not, I've tagged along with a few of the West's best elk hunters. Here are some tips I've picked up that might help you bag an elk this season.

To Jim Horn, of Primos Calls, scouting is one of the big keys to success. He recommends driving back roads on a four-wheeler and watching for fresh tracks that come down the bank and cross the road. Once you locate an area with a lot of fresh sign, get to know the herd's habits. Find out where they feed, where they bed, where they go to water and what trails they use when they're spooked.

Dan Kloer, owner of Deep Timber Sounds, likes to point out that to a bull elk, the breeding season is not about fighting. "It's about seducing the cows," he said. "Aggressive bugling probably drives away more cows than it attracts." 

Mike Crawford, of Battle Creek Outfitters agrees. "These days, you need to finesse the bulls more. Do more cow calling and squealing. Mimic him or copy him, but don't overpower him."

If you blow the set-up and the elk leave you in a cloud of dust, come back later.

Allan Sanford, owner of the Blend'n In Scent System knows when to call it off and start over. "If I blow the setup and spook the elk, I will back out of the area and leave them alone. Patience is key here. Elk usually will not travel too far when initially spooked, allowing me try again later in the day or preferably the next day. Chasing them will only push them out of my area, and put them possibly into someone else's."

Troy Neimann likes to hunt in groups of three hunters. He'll set up in a triangle with the shooter at the point. The shooter might make a few cow calls, but will go silent when a bull moves in. It is the callers' job to draw the bull past the shooter.

In most cases, a bull will circle the caller. That's why it's important to go in clean and use cover scents. Dan Kloer says the bull isn't trying to smell you. If you're making the right calls, he's sold. "He knows what you smell like. He circles to view you." And the bark that you sometimes hear when he hangs up 80 yards out is him telling you to show yourself. If you've got a decoy, let him see it.

And manage your scent. Here's how Allan Sanford does it. "When hunting elk, I like to use cover scents that are all natural and scent specific to the area that I am hunting. I will locate a spot where some elk have been recently and use the elk-scented earth, filter it with some local water into a bottle with a sprayer. During the hunt I will apply it lightly as I do not want to apply too much scent because I will locate elk by smell first a lot of the time. It is during my set up or if I get a bull coming in that I will spray myself down from top to bottom, and my equipment." 

Calling elk into bow range is as intense as hunting gets. I know people that have had bulls so close that they forgot what they were there to do. That's why practice is so important, not only before the season, but between hunts as well.

For Sanford, the practice continues into the season "I am constantly evaluating and working on form and technique. The number one thing I tell myself is to hold on my spot while I am releasing the arrow and follow through after the shot. My focus will be on my pin to the animal. If I have done things right, I won't remember releasing my arrow, it will be automatic."

And practice with your broadheads. Even if they are the same weight as the field point, a broadhead will almost always shoot to a different point of aim than the target arrow.

This game is about fundamentals. Scout new areas, keep the wind in your face, practice for the shot, perfect your calling technique and pay attention to the terrain and your camouflage. Perhaps you'll hear an answering bugle or maybe the bull will come in silent. Pray the pounding of your heart doesn't give you away.

Back to Elk »

Win a Limited Edition Hunting Knife
Announcing the Award Winning Fishing Central Oregon