Elk hunting is full-out adventure, and healthy populations of animals in most Western states make this quest a must-do in any hunter’s life. Most rifle seasons begin when elk are still high in the mountains, which means that getting to them, carrying a camp, and getting your game out can be an extremely physical feat. One answer is to hire an outfitter to do most of that work, but be prepared to pay a minimum of $5,000, with most hunts closer to five figures. Since the late 1970s, my family and friends have been spike camping, which has made hunts affordable and productive. Even hunting on our own, success has been at least twice the state’s average. Here are six reasons for that:
We spike in elk country: Our camps have ranged from wall tents to old ranch houses, yet each one had elk outside the tent flap. Although we must be more careful about camp noise and commotion, we have actually shot elk from camp.
Planning is paramount: After our first hunt, we quickly learned which gear was most important, how much food to bring, and the importance of pitching in. Pick your buddies carefully and be sure that everyone helps with camp chores, cooking, dishes, etc.
Take a guided hunt first: None of our group had hunted elk before, so we booked a guided hunt to learn the ropes. Once we realized the importance of scouting, covering lots of ground, glassing intently, and other elk skills, success followed. So did learning the country. Elk often use the same trails, saddles, and dark timber as deer for their travel corridors. Concentrate on these spots and your success will soar.
Shoot straight: Hunting elk on your own requires a .30-06 or larger caliber rifle and the skill to shoot it well out to 300 yards. Master shooting sticks and use your best ammo, scopes, and binoculars.
Select an outfitter carefully: Use the upcoming show season to meet outfitters in person and use your network of friends to find the best outfits. Our outfitter guides hunters from our spike camp late in the year, so we know it’s in a good spot. Make sure you know what the outfitter supplies (ask for a list) and how your game will be packed out.
Finally, plan to have fun: I’ve spike camped for elk at least 20 times, and I still can’t sleep the week before the hunt. Put on your best Jeremiah Johnson attitude (and see the movie if you never have). Bring your favorite foods, drinks, and snacks, and have fun out there. Also, get in shape before elk season. The mountains are much more fun when you can breathe.