How to Successfully hunt for Elk

3 Elk hunting tips & Tactics

I like to do my elk hunting in both mountain and open terrain. However, most of my hunting now takes place in the open terrain. One reason for this is the change in the behavior of the elk. These intelligent animals are quick to learn from experiences. For instance, when I hunted elk about two decades ago, they used to be quite responsive to the elk call. Now, most elk just ignore. If you are going to succeed at hunting elk, you will need to utilize these specialized tips and tricks.

1. Get the Set-Up Correctly

These are one of the most critical components of a successful elk hunt. If you do not get the set-ups right, it is unlikely you will succeed in your hunt. Before I mastered set-ups, most of my hunts used to be very disappointing.

It was always some minor problem that I had overlooked. For instance, lack of shooting lanes, lack of enough cover, inconsistent wind currents, being caught in the open and so on. Now, when I am setting up on a bull, I always keep one important word at the back of my mind: ARC. The significance of this word is twofold. Firstly, the bull will approach a setup by circling downwind. This article by Steve Wagner perfectly explains the arc.

As a hunter, you should visualize a straight line from the caller to the bull and draw an arc on the downwind side. The bull will follow this arc as it approaches. You should try to setup along this arc. The second significance of ARC is Always Remember Concealment. The elk uses their sight, ears, and smell to survive. Each time you setup, you will need to stay concealed.

To be effectively concealed, set up in front of a bush, which will help to break your outline. Besides that, it will give you a clear shooting lane. Besides that, only draw the bow when the elk is facing away from you. When setting up, clear the area. Even the slight sound of a breaking twig can draw attention to you. Thirdly, always obey the wind. If the elk gets a whiff of you, the hunt is done. No amount of cover spray can eliminate your powerful odor.

Tips for Getting the Set-Up Right

One important tip to keep in mind during the setup is that you should come with a partner. He or she will act as your caller. A partner is the most effective way to call the elk. Since the elk follow an arc towards any call, it will increase your chances of success. Additionally, you should range landmarks before the elk arrives. That way, you will know the exact distance of tree, rocks, and other objects around your setup. This helps to eliminate any guesswork, which could hurt your chances of success. It can be quite frustrating to get everything in the right position only to misjudge the distance by about 5 yards.

2. Work On Your Body

A while back, a friend asked me what was the most important aspect they needed to improve on as an elk hunter. My answer to them was that they needed to be in shape. He asked me again, and I repeated my answer. I had to sit him down and tell him how important it was to be in shape as an elk hunter. Finally, I saw him hit the gym a few times, and we even had a chance to hunt elk together that season.

I am not telling this story to try to make it sound like I am a beast out in the wilderness. I am telling you this in the hope that you will be motivated to improve your physical condition. Cliff Gray agrees with me. He has even provided a few important pointers. However, you should keep in mind that it is not a competition to be better than anyone else it is a competition to better yourself.

No living person will ever run down a healthy elk. However, if we can keep up with a heard as it moves from the feeding to the bedding area, we increase our chances of catching elk. If we can intercept a bull as he saunters on his way to a saddle, then we get the shot. If we can follow a bull down into a canyon, we have better odds than anyone else of catching elk does.

Training Improves Mental Stamina

Being able to go where most other hunters cannot go is a major advantage. If you are able to push through the rough terrain and have the mental stamina to stay focused, it will increase the chances that you succeed. When training your body, push your body as hard as possible. This will help you to avoid becoming mentally defeated when faced with difficult terrain and low prospects. In time, your body will begin to respond in the manner you would like.

No matter how worse off you are right now physically, push yourself as hard as you can. Stephen Spurlock has a few pointers on how to maintain mental stamina on long hunts. It is certainly better than accepting that you are an unfit hunter. In some areas, most big bulls can only be found in the back country. The main reason for this is that the good areas have high tag quotas. The result is that most of the big bulls are missing. If you want to get the trophy class bull, you will need to be able to endure some tough terrain.

3. Stay Mobile On Your Elk Hunt

This effective method of hunting elk will not be easy, just in case you were in doubt. It is going to be physically strenuous. However, it will also be quite rewarding. This style has always been a favorite of mine. It is a great style, especially when hunting in the backcountry. Tyler Frantz has a few ideas for a mobile hunt.

If you dread the feeling of not being able to follow a herd because your camp is too far away, this style is perfect for you. With your camp and supplies on your back, you will be able to sleep close enough to the herd to get there in time. Besides that, you will be able to catch more sleep.

The main reason you need to stay mobile is that the elk have more than likely heard calls in various setups. Nowadays, there are not many areas you will go, which a hunter has not attempted to catch elk. If they failed, then you have little chance of successfully calling the elk again.

How Being Mobile is Advantageous

Elk feeds in one area at night and moves to the bedding area in the morning. If you are mobile, this will pay off in a big way. You have a good idea where the elk will feed in the evening. Thus, you can position your setup in the area where they will use for bedding. If you are lucky, an entire herd could walk up to you.

However, if the wind is not on your side, you will not catch elk. Try to get the wind right. As the elk move to the bedding area, the bull elk will be working hard to keep the females moving in the right direction. This is a good opportunity for you to catch a big elk as it tries to go after a female. They are distracted, and they will no doubt lose focus.

Besides that, there are always satellite bulls that generally stay away from the heard. However, they trail along far enough so that you can hunt them. Their main aim is to get a female, which means they are distracted from the task of staying alive. If you follow the herd long enough, you will no doubt have a good chance at getting a satellite bull. Chuck Adams gives a good explanation on how to catch satellite bulls and other big bulls while mobile.

Establish Mineral Sites to Attract the Elk

It seems as though you can just walk into any store that sells out products and find some new-age elk-attracting minerals. However, this simple interpretation can lead to major disappointment. Thus, you will need to understand the kinds of minerals elk need if you are to succeed.

  • Check the Local Laws - In some jurisdictions, it is illegal to establish mineral sites. By establishing a mineral site, it could lead to huge fines and even bans. Only use mineral sites if they are explicitly allowed.
  • Understand the Minerals - Minerals are not the same. For elk to be attracted to the minerals, they need to be of benefit to them. The antlers they sprout are made of about 20 percent calcium and 10 percent phosphorous. The product that you choose should have enough of these minerals. Do not choose products designed for cows. These products are made of salt more than anything else. They are just not beneficial to elk.
  • ​Choosing the Products - Minerals come in different forms. They can be liquid, granular or blocks. If you are a hunter in a rainy area, you will need to use a block form. The blocks take quite a long time for minerals to seep into the ground. The granular type can be mixed into the soil directly. Whatever product you decide to use, check the specific instructions on the package.
  • Pick Your Location - The final step is to choose where you will place the minerals. To do this, you should have observed the herd for a few days. Thus, you should place the minerals in areas of high usage. For instance, any areas they use to transition from the feeding area to the bedding area is a good idea. You must also choose a mineral site that offers you good cover. If you cannot find cover, you will not catch elk.

You will need to be patient when you establish a mineral site. Do not expect all the big males to come running to your site immediately you establish it. Remember that other hunters may also be using the technique. Thus, the bulls may already have had their fill of minerals. Think of the mineral site as the distraction that will allow you to draw the bow as the elk takes a few licks.


No matter what your favorite technique to catch elk may be, your skills will get better as you hunt more elk. I did not learn these techniques overnight. Even after I had learned them, it took me time to perfect them. Elk hunting cannot be leavened by reading; you will need to go out there and try to catch yourself a big bull. If you do not catch anything on your first attempt, do not give up. Most people fail miserably the first few times.


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