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Elk Hunting

Backlit bugling bull elk and his harum in Jackson Hole Wyoming
Bugling bull elk and his girls in Jackson Hole Wyoming

 

Large Bull Elk
Big bull elk, Gallatin Mountain range south of Bozeman

The Greater Yellowstone Region of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming has been a famous elk-hunting destination for over a hundred years. Yellowstone Park is quite a sanctuary for them but most leave for the winter. This migration is quite a boon for the hunters of our region.

To hunt elk successfully you must learn a bit about them, but if you lack the time or inclination to learn, hire a guide, it is a great shortcut and improves your odds immensely.

The most widespread species of elk is the Rocky Mountain Elk. Elk were once found over most of the United States and southern Canada, but human encroachment has narrowed their territory to mostly the mountains of the west. The largest herds live in Yellowstone Park, on Montana's Sun River, and in Washington's Olympic Mountains. They are also plentiful on most mountain ranges in Utah and Colorado and Arizona produces more trophies, but it is tough to get a tag. Rocky Mountain Elk have also been transplanted to states east of the Mississippi River, including Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. These states have small elk herds and allow elk hunting on a limited basis.

Despite the Yellowstone regions high elk numbers and the deceptive assumptions you can make while gazing at 6,000 elk on the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole in winter, hunting elk is not easy. Learning about elk is not as easy as one may think, as they are complex creatures. And once you think that you have learned all there is about them, they teach you differently, you will have to take what you have learned about elk and apply it to the different terrains and food sources available at the time of your hunt.

hunters shooting at elk
Elk Hunters, Jackson Hole Wyoming

All potential elk hunters should know what an elk looks like from pictures in magazines, hunting videos. Many deer and moose are killed by mistake because some don’t take the time to learn what they are shooting at. Many domestic cows, horses, and llamas are killed by mistake also. The Indian name for elk is Wapati, which means white rump, recognize it! For those who have never hunted elk before that plan to hunt in the vicinity of Yellowstone I recommend a quick trip through Yellowstone so you can see what elk look like in the wild and in the flesh.

Bull elk will have a light buckskin color to them as compared to the mousy color of the cows. This can be valuable knowledge during the poor light of dawn and dusk when it is too dark too see antlers. Bulls that have a darker, shiny coat will be younger bulls. The face and head of a big and mature bull will be more massive than that of the younger bulls. A mature bull may weigh from 700 pounds to as much as 1000 pounds, and that would be an exceptional animal. Bulls are bigger than cows as are cows bigger than calves. A cow elk may run from 500 - 800 pounds and calves will be anywhere from around the 100 pound range to several hundred pounds. Deer will have more gray in their coats; moose are the color of dark chocolate and are 40% larger than an elk. Whether you are looking for just a bull, a good bull, or that monster bull for the record book, or a cow elk you must be able to identify the difference when you see them.

packstring hunters Bridger Teton Forest
Packs string heading to hunting camp in the Wind River Range, Pinedale Wyoming

A hunter living in elk country has the advantage of first hand knowledge about elk habits and behavior. The hunter that does not reside in elk country needs to look at pictures, and videos to aid a successful hunt. There are many more cow elk than bulls and I recommend for the beginning hunter to hunt cows until you they are more failure with elk, elk country, and their personal ability.

Prior planning prevents poor performance; all the gear in the world will not make up for a shortfall in planning, experience, commitment or sound judgment. Don’t hunt where you haven’t scouted and are not familiar with. If you plan on holding out for a huge bull because you drove 1,000+ miles and spent $1,500 on gear and licenses, plan on being disappointed if you haven’t properly prepared. Those who spend the most time looking for elk seem to be the ones doing most of the harvesting and bragging. You will need to know how to a map and a compass or a GPS.

When choosing an elk cartridge is to shoot the largest North American big game with, chose a cartridge that you can shoot well and consistently. 30-06, 7MM Remington Mag, .300 WSM, .300 Winchester Mag, .300 Remington Ultra Mag, .338 Mag are all excellent choices for elk. Remember that the kill zone on a mature bull elk is about eighteen inches in diameter when looking at them broadside, when your target is moving or quartering towards or away from you? The aspect of the kill zone effectively shrinks. That eighteen-inch circle may now only be six inches. Site in your rifle before you leave home.

elk Hunter, Jackson Hole wyoming
Elk Hunter scoping in on some elk in Jackson Hole Wyoming

When scouting spend as much time as possible on high vantage points glassing with a good spotting scope and tripod. Focus on fringe areas, small parks within heavily wooded areas, saddles, and water sources. This is not the time to get in a hurry. Locating elk from a distance and then planning a stalk is much easier than chasing them down after you stumble over them. The south facing slopes of the Yellowstone region often has few trees therefore have more feed and at daybreak and before sunset these can be good places to look.

Hunting during the rut has many advantages the number one being, bulls aren’t in the right mind. Bull elk bugle as a form of male advertisement not as a challenge to a fight. When bulls bugle back and forth during the rut it is typically one bull trying to advertise his superiority over that of the other bull. A cow call or bugle in the hands of someone who knows how and when to use it can be the key to his success. For success learn to use it before you go into the woods.

When you come across where elk have bedded down look carefully at the tracks leading out of the bedding area. Elk that left in a hurry will leave sets of tracks widely spaced because they jumped up and bounded away, whereas elk that did not leave in a hurry will usually leave evenly spaced tracks. Elk that have left hastily may still be in the area. When elk bed down, they usually bed with 50 yards of a water source. Find a well-used source of water and start looking for elk.

Elk Herd, Jackson Hole Wyoming
Elk Herd, Jackson Hole Wyoming

Following the rut and before deep snows move into the high country, look for big bulls in the higher elevations. A general rule of thumb is…the higher the bigger. The reason is mature bulls are very solitary following the rut and will seek out secluded areas where they can recover, feed, and be left alone. Younger bulls are often found lower on the mountain and may even be found on the fringe of a herd of cows.

If an extreme cold snap moves in expect increased elk movement. Elk requires more food to stay warm during these conditions. If the cold is accompanied by snow, it may force the elk to shift their feed and bedding areas thus becoming more visible as they move about. The first deep snow often triggers the migration out of Yellowstone and other high elevation areas. Snow can help you locate fresh tracks and is a weather condition that seasoned elk hunters treasure.

If you are using scent management systems, don’t forget that guys sweat a lot around the neck and head (hatband). These are areas that are usually not covered by these systems. Carry some unscented wipes and a Ziploc bag to store them in.


When I was younger I used to hunt the depths of the wilderness areas, now that I am older I wait until the snow pushes them down into the barley fields close to my truck. 
Know your limits and don’t get in over your head. Often, while hunting I have wandered to far up the mountains then suddenly realizing that I didn’t want to shoot anything this far away from the trailhead. How you will get your harvest out of the woods is something to consider before pulling the trigger.

Elk will evade hunters by hiding in the toughest country imaginable. When you are on your hunt is not the time to find out that you are not in shape. You will be hunting in elevations of up to between 6,000 and 10,000 feet or more. Conditioning may not be the answer to hunting success but it will have a part in it. Exhaustion and fatigue can kill you in the mountains. It is important to remember that the air is thinner at higher elevations than it is at sea level and getting enough oxygen for some might be tough. Don't let you poor physical condition ruin your hunt. The elk, are not going to come to you.

Hunters, Gros Ventre Wilderness
Hunting guide Clark Wheeldon glasses the surrounding hillsides for game in the Bridger Teton National Forest outside of Jckson Hole Wyoming

Horses can be a great expediter of hunting success as you can hunt deeper into the wilderness and more easily pack out your harvest. There are places to lease horses for your hunting trip and there are also horse owners that will contract with you to haul you harvest our for you. For those who can afford it, it is a great experience to hire an outfitter who will pack you into a backcountry camp. They know where the elk are and will feed you well and usually have the item you left in Omaha, but best of all most are great entertainers.

If you are going to hunt for record book bulls you will need to know what kind of bull it will take to make the record books, and to be able to judge them in the field as well. Not all elk country is the same, and will differ when it comes to holding elk. Not all areas will grow big elk. You just can't go anywhere to find a trophy bull; you have to go where the trophies are. Genetics and diet are two major factors but most importantly probably is hunting pressure. They will also need a good water supply and a good food source high in mineral content. And most of all, a big bull needs to be able to grow old to grow big. You will need a big bull with a big spread and good symmetry to get a good score.

Cowboy, hunting camp, Bridger Teton National Forest
A hunter enjoys a hunting camp fire in Bridger Teton National Forest

You will know when you see a big bull right away whether it is a big 6x6 or 7x7 as their headgear will surely stick out. First look for the fourth point or sword point and count back from there. It is the longest point and can be spotted very easily and quickly. Just count how many points he has beyond that. One behind that is a 5-point, two is a 6-point, and three is a 7-point. Once you learn to recognize this sword point, it will allow you to recognize a 5x5, 6x6, 7x7, and even 8x8 very easily.

To be a trophy the main beam needs to be about 55" and a minimum inside spread of 45." The eye guards second point, and third point all need to at least 18," and the fourth point at least 24" in length. The fifth and sixth need to be at least a foot long. There are record book trophies and there are what you want as your trophy. You must decide by yourself which one it is that you want, as it does not have to make the books for one to call it a trophy.

Archery hunts are earlier than the general season and often occur during the rut, a helpful detail as bow hunters handicap themselves to increase their challenge.

Elk hunting in The Greater Yellowstone region can be one of the most remarkable experiences of a lifetime. Here in the Greater Yellowstone region you will see either the splendor of the Grand Tetons, the Gros Ventre Mountains, the Wyoming Range, the Absoraka Range, Snake River Range, or the Big Hole's. Jackson Hole is also the home of the National Elk Refuge where 6 to 12 thousand elk spend their winter taunting you into thinking that your hunt is going to be easy. In the Greater Yellowstone area there are many outfitters and guides to choose from if you choose to not go without a guide

Featured Hunting Outfitters
elk hunting guide, jackson hole wyoming
Mill Iron Ranch • (Jackson Hole) Mill Iron Ranch has been a Wheeldon family tradition for three generations. We carry on the old cowboy traditions around here, showing the Jackson visitors how to ride, fish, hunt and camp.
Hidden Basin Outfitters (Jackson Hole) Jackson Hole is home to some of the finest big game hunting on earth, where hunters have the opportunity to pursue animals in their natural habitat. Our experienced and fully-licensed guides will lead you and your party in search of cow elk, bull elk, moose, sheep, mule deer, antelope, and bear. For Big Game Hunters Looking for a True Wyoming Experience!
elk hunters, jackson hole wyoming

Hunting Stories and Information

Trophy Mule Deer Buck

The Modern Hunter-Gatherer •Walking with a loaded rifle in an unfamiliar forest bristling with the signs of your prey is thrilling. It embarrasses me to write that, but it is true. I am not by nature much of a noticer, yet here, now, my attention to everything around me, and deafness to everything else, is complete. Nothing in my experience has prepared me for the quality of this attention. I notice how the day's first breezes comb the needles in the pines, producing a sotto voce whistle and an undulation in the pattern of light and shadow tattooing the tree trunks and the ground. I notice the specific density of the air. But this is not a passive or aesthetic attention; it is a hungry attention, reaching out into its surroundings like fingers, or nerves. My eyes venture deep into thickets my body could never penetrate, picking their way among the tangled branches, sliding over rocks and around stumps to bring back the slenderest hint of movement. In the places too deeply shadowed to admit my eyes, my ears roam at will, returning with the report of a branch cracking at the bottom of a ravine, or the snuffling of a. . .wait: what was that? Just a bird. Everything is amplified. Even my skin is alert, so that when the shadow launched by the sudden ascent of a turkey vulture passes overhead I swear I can feel the temperature momentarily fall. I am the alert man....................... rest of article

Yellowstone Region Hunters Need To Remember That They're in Grizzly Country • When a person hunts they are the one who is in control of the situation. They choose the time, place, animal and the shot. In the past, it was even a rite of passage for young native tribesmen in Canada and Alaska to kill a grizzly bear with a spear! The key was that they practiced and planned on how to control the situation. Today’s hunters are infinitely better equipped when it comes to hunting, but how prepared they are for a surprise encounter with a formidable wild creature such as a grizzly bear may be another story, unless they too prepare and plan ahead........More

Greater Yellowstone Region Hunting Outfitters

 

A nice Greater Yellowstone Bull Elk

Swan Valley Outfitters • (Swan Valley ID) Swan Valley Outfitters is a family owned and operated business. We offer the best scenic trail rides and hunting in the are . We offer many different hunts from mountain lion to trophy elk. Our experienced team of guides and mounts will take you on the experience of a lifetime.

Hidden Basin Outfitters (Jackson Hole WY) Jackson Hole is home to some of the finest big game hunting on earth, where hunters have the opportunity to pursue animals in their natural habitat. Our experienced and fully-licensed guides will lead you and your party in search of cow elk, bull elk, moose, sheep, mule deer, antelope, and bear. For Big Game Hunters Looking for a True Wyoming Experience!

Non-Typical Outfitters • (Star Valley WY) Robb and Dr. Brenda Wiley make their home in one of the most beautiful places that God ever created, the mountains of western Wyoming. Brenda practices veterinary medicine and Robb lives his passion, providing your hunting and fishing opportunities in the Wyoming back country..........We feel that Non-Typical Outfitters has the ability to provide an unmatched opportunity for trophy hunting in Wyoming. The amount of time that we spend in the field before your hunt starts is one of the things that separates us from the rest. We spend extensive days in the preseason locating our trophy animals. For us trophy hunting is a year around job.............We are the most diversified permitted outfitter in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Our hunting area encompasses over 900 square miles of National Forest and close to double that in BLM lands. This gives us the ability to hunt the top trophies in the area without over pressuring any part of it. We can hunt out of a forest camp or a lodge and have the ability to tailor a hunt to almost anyone's needs.

There are several places to hunt Mountain Goats in the Yellowstone Region

Jake's Horses • (Island Park WY) All day or by the hour trail rides, alpine lake fishing, hunting, pack trips & guide service. We are located in Island Park, Idaho.

Mill Iron Ranch • (Jackson Hole WY) Mill Iron Ranch has been a Wheeldon family tradition for three generations. We carry on the old cowboy traditions around here, showing the Jackson visitors how to ride, fish, hunt and camp.

Wind River Trophy Hunts • (Pinedale WY) We provide hunters with the unique experience of hunting in the remote backcountry that contains one of the healthiest elk populations in the state of Wyoming. For hunters looking for the ultimate hunting experience - whether it be elk, moose, sheep, antelope, or mountain lions - Wind River Trophy Hunts is your best bet!

Jenkin's Hunting Camp • (Star Valley WY) Larry Jenkins' Hunting Camp has provided Big Game Hunting since the 1970s. His hunting camp is a family run operation where Larry, his wife Shirley, and their two sons and daughter are all part of your hunting experience. Larry and his family have owned and operated their camp for over 30 years. By specializing in pleasing the individual, Larry can gear the hunt to your own abilities and desires. The saddle horses are all mountain trained and gentle enough to carry you all day in safety. However, Larry prefers to ride as little as possible and still get your game. Your not in the saddle all day long. You can expect an average of 80% success rate on buck mule deer. Larry's hunter success on bull elk ranges from 80 to 100% average each year.Many of these bulls are trophys.

Many Bighorn Rams like this one have been harvested from the mountain tops of the Greater Yellowstone Region

Sheep Creek Outfitters • (West Yellowstone MT) is a small family outfitting business located in the West Yellowstone, Montana Area. I am a full-time outfitter with over thirty years experience hunting Elk, Mule Deer, & other Big Game in the Rocky Mountains. We take only a limited number of hunters per season, approximately fourteen to sixteen rifle hunters and eight archery hunters. Each hunt period is an eight day trip (six actual hunt days) and a nine day trip (seven actual hunt days) for archery. The two non-hunting days are pack-in and pack-out days. We take only four hunters per hunt.

Boulder Basin Outfitters • (Cody WY) Generations of Experience Hunting and Fishing Wyoming Carl and Michelle Sauerwein, owners of Boulder Basin Outfitters, bring more than a lifetime's worth of hunting and fishing experience to their Wyoming outfitting business. Born and raised into a family with outfitting experience that spans back generations, Carl has more skill and knowledge of Wyoming big game hunting and fishing than the average Cody Country Outfitter

Elk Ridge Outfitters • ( Bozeman MT) We hunt the Bridger Range northwest of Bozeman, hunting districts 393 and 312. This 28,000 acre private ranch takes in 2 major drainages. The ridges and slopes are covered with scattered timber and numerous basins. Elevations vary from 5,200 ft. to 7,200 ft. The Bridger Mountains of south central Montana offer hunters one of the highest success rates in Montana for elk. Private land and limited access allows us to manage elk numbers and limit bull harvest.

Absaroka Ranch • (Dubois Wyoming) Our hunting area is the most magnificent Dunoir Valley located northwest of Dubois, Wyoming. The Dunoir remains one of the last truly abundant wildlife and virtually hunter - free areas in the state, if not the entire West. We provide nearly everything for your hunt such as saddles, rifle scabbards and saddle bags, and you will enjoy a comfortable, modern cabin and excellent, hearty meals. All you provide is license, rifle, ammunition, and other personal hunting gear. Please don't hesitate to call or write us for additional hunting information. You'll find the hunting excellent, the crew superbly qualified, and the country spectacular. We'd love to have you along for the fun, excitement, and sheer pleasure of a true Rocky Mountain big game hunt!

Elk Hunting Articles
elk hunting spacer gif

An embarrassment of elk
My house lies near the north boundary of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on the fall and spring migration routes of elk from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the surrounding wilderness. Over the last 16 years, I've watched tens of thousands of elk make their annual pilgrimage to their winter range and return to their birthing grounds in April. I've photographed them on the refuge-bulls, cows, and calves in herds stretching from one side of the valley to the other. I've seen them stand off wolves and evade grizzly bears. I've listened to them bugle. I kill one each year.

Elk Meat Nutritional Information
Elk meat is very low in fat and cholesterol and the animals are not treated with growth hormones or chemicals. The following statistics were taken from Outdoor Life, August 1992, which had an excellent article written by Kathy Etling entitled "The Wild Diet". The following two charts are exerts from this article:

Reflections of a Woman Hunter
Elk hunting in Jackson Hole, riding on the elk refuge in the cold winter dawn, watching the sky lighten and hoping the sun will hurry up to take the chill off the morning are some other great memories as well as seeing the elk lying on the refuge, their breath wafting upward in misty clouds as they chew their cuds, watching the sunset over the towering Teton Peaks, and watching the sunlight stream down the slopes in the early morning.

Hunting News

Tri-state effort bodes well for wolf delisting

threatening Grizzly Bear
Threatening Grizzly Bear

YELLOWSTONE - News that some Wyoming lawmakers have begun meeting with their colleagues from Montana and Idaho to talk about wolf delisting is an encouraging first step toward resolving the long-running controversy over wolf management in the northern Rockies.
The fact that Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is sounding more and more like Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal on the wolf issue is a less consequential development that shouldn't affect the lawmakers' work. The Star-Tribune first reported last week that some key legislators from Wyoming, Idaho and Montana met recently in Salt Lake City with an objective of getting wolves removed from federal protection and put under state control. The group -- unofficially named the Tri-State Wolf Compact Commission -- is scheduled to meet again today, along with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official. The lawmakers' efforts may be the best hope for crafting a wolf delisting plan that can withstand court challenges.
Meanwhile, Otter announced Monday....................rest of article

Hunter kills attacking grizzly

CODY WYOMING - This grizzly bear was photographed near Cub Creek in Yellowstone National Park Oct. 19. There are a record number of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and some are getting into trouble, possibly because the bears are exceeding their carrying capacity in grizzly habitat. Courtesy photo/Neale Blank A deer hunter in the South Fork area killed a grizzly bear sow Oct. 27 when the bear attacked him. The lone hunter was in the Aldrich Creek drainage in the upper South Fork of the Shoshone River when he encountered a 10 to 12-year-old sow, a news release from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said. The sow had two yearling cubs in tow and thought her offspring were threatened, said Mark Bruscino, Game and Fish bear management program supervisor in Cody. The hunter received at least two serious bites to his thigh in the attack and shot the bear several times, eventually killing it, Bruscino said. ....................rest of article

 

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