Bow Hunting Elk
Make a Date with a Bull!

Will you be bow hunting elk or rifle elk hunting? Deciding on good places to hunt will depend on what season you choose. Elk might be in the same places during both seasons, but more often they move as food supply changes with the seasons and hunting pressure increases.

Archery season is a good time to learn the habits of elk and where they go because you usually see more of them during the early fall. The weather is much more pleasant during that time of year as well.

Bulls are Looking for a Date, and You Could be It!

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When bow hunting elk during archery season, there’s a good chance of calling a bull to you. Many states allow either sex for bow hunters. If you're willing to kill a cow, your chances of success are increased.

When it comes to rifle season, bulls aren't as willing to “come-a-courting” in response to calls. All elk are more wary once rifle hunters start stomping the mountains, so even a cow becomes harder to hunt.

Archery season gets you in the game while the “game” is still calm and unaffected by the hordes and noise of rifle hunters. The weather is warmer and you tend to see more during an elk rut hunt, but you do have to get in close to kill one. Without lots of shooting practice and a well tuned bow, you’d be better off leaving your bow at home, rather than risking a poor shot.

Rifle season allows longer shots. However, you will not always find elk in rifle season in the same places they were when bow hunting elk or during summer scouting trips. If you have the endurance and tenacity to get away from the crowds, you can still see plenty of animals during rifle season. Big game hunts are demanding and rewarding, regardless of which tool you use.

Hunting with a gun still requires practice in order to avoid wounding animals with poor shots. The time required to become good enough to shoot an elk in the vitals with today’s high-powered rifles is less than with a bow. (See our page on sighting in a rifle and practice.)

Game Wounded by Arrows?

More big game animals are wounded with rifles than are wounded by people bow hunting elk. The perception is the opposite because no one sees an animal with a bullet sticking out, as is sometimes discovered after a poor arrow placement. Besides, odds of getting a shot are slimmer when bow hunting elk. There are fewer bow hunters than rifle hunters, and only a small percentage can get a shot at an elusive elk.

More Stealth Skills Required

During rifle hunting season, an elk hunter is not as dependent on camouflage, scent control and stealth as someone bow hunting elk is. (See our discussion of scent control here.) So many things can go wrong while hunting with a bow. You might spend all spring and summer practicing, only to take one of the many “opportunities” to blow the chance at a shot with a bow. All it takes is one false move, even drawing your bow at the wrong time to cause an elk to turn on a dime and flee.

You might get your bow drawn without being seen, but the elk might not step into a shooting window. As the seconds tick by while you are at full draw, the ability to shoot straight slowly dissolves. Or, perhaps everything goes well for an hour long stalk, crawling on your hands and knees to get closer, only to find they moved away when you had your head down.

These scenarios repeat themselves each year among hunters who get close to elk. If it hasn’t happened to you, you probably haven’t been archery hunting for elk.

A good big game rifle allows elk hunters to effectively shoot out to about 200 yards with practice. Perhaps farther, with more practice.

Bulls are Harder to Find During Rifle Season

The larger bulls usually separate from the cows after the rut is over. If nothing but a bull will satisfy you during rifle season, just be realistic and prepared to have many “dry” seasons. If you stick with it and continue to add to your research and experience, it is possible to expend the considerable effort needed to regularly get into bulls each rifle season.

If you are willing to hunt with a bow and arrow, archery season opens up a whole new world to bull elk! If you really want to hunt bulls, seriously consider archery. During archery season, it can sometimes be much more feasible to get close to bulls than to cows.

On the other hand, if you have never hunted during archery season, take that with a big grain of salt. Elk don’t follow a set of rules. I have been frustrated by many a cow while trying to get close to bulls on the other side of them. While you’re focused on a screaming bull, those cows can “bust you” in a hurry! Game over. See "Elk Habits" here.

Bow Hunting Elk is Frustrating!

Related topics available:
Tuning a Bow
How to Make Elk Sounds
Learning Elk Talk
Product Review of Elk Calls
Recordings of Elk in the Wild
Calling Elk In Close
Predicting and Hunting the Elk Rut

If you want to avoid the repetitive frustration that will happen when bow hunting elk, wait for rifle season. If you enjoy mixing it up with noisy elk during the rut and are willing to put the time in to practice and endure being frustrated repeatedly by these smart animals, invest in some decent archery equipment. The archery adventure is truly a hoot!

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Forum Topic Discussions:

How often should I use my cow call?, I am new to the sport of bow hunting elk and my question is how often should I use my cow calls?

295 yard kill with a Kimber Montana 325 WSM, by Don from Dallas: My ELk did not even twitch once. He was dead when he hit the ground.

325 WSM is worth considering, Palmer Lake,CO: I believe that the .325 WSM is the ultimate elk caliber...

30-30 for Elk? : I have a 30 30 with 170 grain round nose bullet. Will this work to shoot an elk ?

(More comments about Best Elk Rifle below)


Unique Elk Talk by Idaho Steve (Hailey, Id ), In the middle of the night, a herd of elk came traveling through the drainage and right past my tent...

Smelly Elk Areas? by Jimmy (New Mexico), I've come across many areas that just stink of elk, literally. I have heard two somewhat contradictory stories...

DIY Gear List Must Have's! by Craig (Florida) "Here are some of the items I use on my DIY hunts in the CO backcountry..."

Elk and Deer Hunting and Mountain Bikes, by Skip Shepherd (Tucson, AZ)~ At 67 I am thinking a lot about investing in a mountain bike to get back into remote areas...

Solo archery hunting -- tips for calling/set up?, by Idaho Steve (Hailey, ID )~ I hunt by myself a lot...I'd love to hear your thoughts on strategic set-ups when solo hunting and calling.

Non- Lead Bullets for Elk?, by Dave, Elk Hunting Tips.Net (Garrison, MT)~ What do you ballistics guys think about the use of non-lead bullets for elk? According to this story...

Rage Broadheads by Chris, buddy gave me a rage practice tip and when I shot it you could not pick out the broadhead from the field points. I was sold...

Recent Submissions:

Finally filled the freezer..., Colorado Rockies~ "I was bummed when I got to the property and no elk, nor any hoof prints in the snow. ...I pulled each of the elk into shade then started gutting..."

Wounded Veteran Elk hunts, by Joshua FL), I am a disabled veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and have always dreamed of hunting elk. I am posting this to see if anyone would know of any elk hunts free to disabled vets....

First Elk with a Bow, by Ryan H. (Colorado), ...Finally after many years of hunting with a bow "I got er did"!

First Elk!, by Tater (Sheridan, Arkansas) I took the advice I received from this website and was successful…I wanted to Thank You and Your Forum and the folks that share on here for the knowledge and information that helped me find an elk I was quite happy with.


Any success in Unit 14?, by: Dave (MI), "I'm planning on doing a DIY in Unit 14 for 2012..."

Share Elk Hunting Secrets

Bugle in Herd bulls, by Swiltbank (Az) The key to calling in a herd bull is to get into his bedding grounds and threaten his herd. Start off sounding like…

Best Big Game Rifle?

Best Rifle Caliber?, by Buglemup (Superior, MT), "I've been reading what people have been writing about rifle calibers and here is what 16 years of guiding elk has taught me."

7mm Remington Magnum, by Dean (Helena, MT. USA) I use my Liberty Ruger M77, 7mm Rem. Mag. for antelope, deer, elk... Comment: "What do you guys think about the idea of hunting elk with a 270? I also know a guy who kills elk with a 243."

338 Marlin Express, "Light, fast shooting, hard hitting, manageable recoil, and for a lever gun - very accurate."

Guns I like for Elk, by Mountain Walker (Kootenays east B.C. Canada),"I think the gun you shoot Elk with should be one you shoot a lot with... "

.35 Remington, by Bill Smith " .35 Rem appears to have dropped a medium deer flawlessly, but I now have serious doubts as to its capability to take an elk."

Arizona Elk Hunting

Where to hunt in Az unit 3B?, by Cliffjumper (Tucson, Az) ~ I got a late bull muzzle loader hunt in Arizona unit 3b. Does anyone know how to hunt bulls in the late season?...

First time elk hunter hunting Arizona unit 6A , by Rob Marchio (Omaha, Ne)~ I'm a first time elk hunter hunting Arizona's unit 6A. I'm planning on staying in the Pine Grove campground...

Elk Hunting Colorado

Help needed for 1st DIY Hunt w/Son, by Patrick (Parker, CO), "I was looking for some advice on my 1st DIY hunt for 2014 in CO with my 13 yr old son. I have countless hrs going over stats, topo maps & Google Earth"

Elk Hunting Colorado in 2013, By William (Midland, TX) "I am planning an elk hunt next year in Colorado and I wanted to know if hunting Gunnison National Forest..."

Unit 60 Elk 4th Rifle Season Nov 13-17 Either Sex 2013, By Chester "...Any general advice about the unit would be appreciated!"

Idaho Elk Hunting

Elk Hunting Idaho Unit 8 8A 11, This is my first year seriously trying to track down some elk. Is there anyone that has hunted in any of these units and can give me some friendly advice? Mitchell, Moscow Idaho

Elk Hunting Pocatello by Cameron (Pocatello) Where is the best place to elk hunt around Pocatello, Idaho? I'm a student at ISU and I'm looking for somewhere around here to hunt next season.

How is the elk hunting in unit 30A in Idaho?, by Terry (Richland Center, WI) Has anyone archery elk hunted in unit 30A in Idaho? What can you tell me about the area?

Elk Hunting In Montana

Hunting in Western Montana, by Mike A. (Alabama)

I did not draw a tag for Missouri breaks where I have hunted in the past. Having to start over and try western Montana.

New Mexico Elk Hunting

New Mexico Unit 49, by Silas (Los Alamos, NM)

If anyone has tips on areas to start scouting, I'd really appreciate it.

First Elk Hunt First Elk Hunt, by Big "R" (NM)

I finally got drawn for a late elk hunt in Unit 28, north of Road 506 and south of the boundary line of the Lincoln National Forest...

Elk Hunting Nevada

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"Any good places known in unit 222?"

Northeast Nevada Early Elk hunt, by John (Carson City,NV)

"Any suggestions on what areas I may see some signs of elk?"

Questions from Novice Hunters

Retired USMC MSgt Needs Advice, by Ken Wing USMCRET (Bealeton, Va)

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Corned Elk Recipe You can easily make corned venison and elk, moose or corned beef from these instructions...