Tips for the Upcoming Seaon

by Craig
(Lynn Haven, FL)

Let me start by saying I am by NO MEANS an elk hunting expert. That said, I've been successful and would like to pass along some tips for the upcoming season. Last year I was blessed to kill a 300" class bull in southwest Colorado. I'll share the story and give you my $.02.

This hunt was completely unguided, DIY, first season rifle hunt in the back country-no I won't reveal the spot, as I'm headed back in October to hunt the same location. The area is accessed by either horseback or walk in ONLY. I believe this was critical to my success. In the valley a few miles below where I hunted, there were dozens of hunters on ATV's-guess what, NO ELK! We were above 10,000 feet and were in the elk from the beginning. My partner (as in my hunting buddy) and I are military fighter pilots-we live and breathe setting objectives, researching, and preparing for success. It was actually funny when we returned to our base camp after 2 days of hunting with 2 elk and talked to some of the other guys who were hunting the valley. No one had seen any elk down below and these crestfallen men were talking to us about our elk. They asked us where we hunted. We pointed to the mountains and said "Up there!" They hung their heads and left mummbling about not being able to get where the elk were. Lesson learned: Go to where the elk are!

Here are some tips (not in any sort of order).

#1: You'll read about this and ignore it. DO NOT! This is rocket science to some of you, but this is the most important tip...GET IN SHAPE. If you can't march around all day long above 9,000 feet, you simply won't be successful on a DIY hunt. Start early, push yourself, be creative, lose the weight, increase your stamina. The elk live up high, you have to go up high to find them, so you must be able to climb up steep mountains to find the elk. As a pilot, I know the air density changes the most from sea level to about 5,000 feet. Imagine what the air density is like at 10,000 feet. You are already on the bad side of the human performance curve if you aren't in top physical condition-this means cardio conditioning to the max extent possible. Listen, you can surely kill elk at lower altitudes. You can spend thousands of dollars, go to a private ranch and pick out an elk and shoot it, no big deal. I'm talking about a true DIY hunt in the backcountry. If that's what your're after, start running. 'Nuff said.

#2: Stay hydrated. I brought a Katadyn water filter backed up by iodine tabs. There were multiple streams, brooks, and seeps so I never had to pop the pills. The Katadyn was some of the best money I spent. Never had a problem and was able to fill my camelback whenever I needed it. At altitude, the humidity of the air decreases significantly. You need LOTS of water, more than you think. I drank til I was full, pissed a lot, but never got a headache or (worse) altitude sickness. Being in shape helped out, see Tip #1.

#3: Get away from other hunters. Far away. My rule of thumb is at least 2 miles from main trails, 3 miles from any roads. Hunt in areas where you can ONLY go in by horseback or by foot. You just can't believe how much this helps. All the flat-landers will be driving around in elk-free zones, making noise, spreading stink, and ultimately pushing any foolish elk to me. Most of the elk on public land are used to hikers being in their areas all year long, they are used to human scent. Don't let this fool you-when the traffic increases they will move. So, they'll be in areas where people go, just not lots of people, and certainly no vehicles. Get away from the traffic. If you are planning on camping out on the roadside from a camper and then riding an ATV around, IMO, you are destined to fail.

#4: Get a pack large enough to carry all your gear and food for the entire hunt. If you are truly going after the elk, in the rugged terrain that holds them, you must spike camp. We carried packs that weighed about 75lbs! Hard, severe, ass-whooping work, but WORTH IT. I used a GI issue Arceteryx pack and it was great. The only limiting factor was how much I could carry and for how long. I'm a small dude (good for pulling G's in a fighter, not so good for schlepping around a ruck sack in the Rockies)but I was able to take everything I needed in my ruck. Ounces count, so pare down your carry list to the stuff that is critical, leave everything else behind. Back to the theme of getting in shape.

#5: Get some walking/hiking sticks. You'll need 'em on the way up/down. Trust me. I did not use them when I was actually hunting, but some folks do. They also double as good prodding devices for your buddies when they want to quit hiking and set up camp on a road.

#6: Get gear that has multiple uses: a stainless cup can be used for eating/drinking/shaving/washing/cooking. You need 1, that's it. I only brought 2 knives: a big camp knife, and a smaller lock blade. We skinned/caped 2 elk with just our lock blades. I carried a cheap sharpener and used it, but I didn't need the entire Ginsu Erupean collection to do it. We ate dehydrated meals. There are millions of choices, whatever floats your boat. If I was going to bring more that enough of one item, it would be food. You'll burn something like 4 to 5 THOUSAND calories a day and only eat less than 2,000. Bring enough food. We would eat a good breakfast, snack on trail mix/power bars during the day, and eat a good hot meal before bed. Military Truth: Chow is morale, so take some good grub.

#7: WOOL. I've used all the synthetic stuff under the sun. IMO Under Armor Cold gear just can't match up to quality Marino wool garmets-from underwear to bibs/coat, nothing beats wool. When I'm walking around, I have the lightest set of gear on to remain cool-the other stuff is tethered to my day pack (I use an LL Bean Hunter's Lumbar pack). I do take a lightweight set of GoreTex rain gear. This is also a must have. The weather changes from minute to minute, so good GoreTex is a life saver. I don't worry about scent control. There's been much research de-bunking the scent control myths. I believe it is much more important to "hunt the wind" versus spending lots of cash on gear that has nebulous efficacy.

#Last: Hunt hard. Get up early, stay late. Slow down, be mentally tough. The reward is worth the effort.
Well, I've ramlbed enough. I could go on and on about prep work (calling the Game Warden, asking around), maps, GPS units, game calls, rifles, etc. But I don't want to inundate you with squeeb that's not critical. Good luck, God bless, stay safe.

Comments for Tips for the Upcoming Seaon

Click here to add your own comments

Jul 10, 2012
Away from the ATV's/Trails/Roads
by: DyeF15

Here are the exact coordinates of where I hunt:
Ha, you thought you had me! I will say it was in the GMU 75 complex.
I can't overemphasize getting away from the roads and other hunters.
Do the research: Find the walk-in/horseback only areas, there are many. This is where you start. Then find areas that have food, water, and dark timber. We hunted along a mountain ridge, would glass below into the meadows, and hunted the timber REAL SLOW.
Gear: I'll post some of my gear recommendations later. Just my $.02, and I don't get anything for my recommendations.
Good Luck

Jul 09, 2012
by: Dave in MI

Where did you say you were hunting? Just didn't want to accidentally impose on your hunting area. :-)

Good points, and reinforces the "conditioning" factor. I am planning on a DIY this fall in SW CO, and have been somewhat concerned about my physical condition. I'm not "out" of shape, but when I went out in '07, I wasn't as winded as much as I was told I'd be. Hunted around 10K-11K, but there were lots of ATV trails being used so we only saw 1 elk, and that one was pushed from a valley up to a bench I was overlooking.

Can't get away from the roads, trails and other hunters if you're not in shape to do so.

Jul 09, 2012
What does a sky-jockey know?
by: Pat Cassidy

I started out reading this and thought..."Another wordy article by someone not attached to the ground".
All I want to say now is that this a perfect recipe for hunting elk.
All the other stuff you read is good but this is the "right stuff".
As long as not too many take your advise and crowd the high country you have it made. I really don't think that is a big worry tho.
Thanks for a good read.

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Elk Hunting Secrets and Tips.

Shop Our Store

Elk Tips Outdoor Gear Logo


Newsletter Opt-in:
"I just get so excited talking about elk.." ~Tristan, CO

Search This Site Here:

Hunting Gear Reviews

ElkNut Outdoor Prod.
Bugling Bull Game Calls
HECS Stealthscreen
Montana Decoy
StringSling Bow Sling
Skull Hookers
Safari Sling Rifle Sling
Clip-Shot Mini Camera Mount


Free U.S. Shipping

Bugling Bull
Game Calls

ElkNut Productions

Free Shipping on
ElkNut Products Here

HECS Stealthscreen:
A New Type of Concealment!

HECS Stealthscreen

Including U.S. Shipping

Montana Decoy Elk/Deer
Available Here!

Montana Decoy

$59-$109.99 Free Shipping!

The StringSling:
Best Bow Sling Design!

String Sling Bow Sling

$29.95, Including U.S. Shipping

Clip-Shot: 1 oz. Camera Mount

$21.85 Free U.S. Shipping

Skull Hookers

Skull hooker

$34.99 & 59.99 Free U.S. Shipping!

The Safari Sling:
Best Rifle Sling Design!

Safari Sling Best Rifle Sling Available

$27.99 Free US Shipping

Share your elk hunting pictures and stories on our Facebook Page!

Go to Forums

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

Cow elk in Nevada's unit 222:

"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)

Big Game Recipes

Popcorn VenisonPopcorn Venison with Maple Syrup?

Elk or Venison Steaks Grilled to Perfection Here's how to turn them into steakhouse steaks!

Spice-Crusted Grilled Venison Roast Recipe This Spice-Crusted, Grilled Venison Roast recipe works great for any red meat roasts, including elk, deer or beef roast...

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