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How To/Pro-Tips

Get A Map

Getting a map of the hunting area is a basic step for elk hunters on their own and for the occupants of a drop camp. However, even a guided hunter needs a map to enhance success and safety.
On many guided operations, the standard deal is two hunters per guide. In this situation, the guide will alternately put one hunter on stand and ride with the other. Sometimes the lone hunter will be asked to meet somewhere else later, or he may see a better opportunity in another place. In a worst case scenario, your guide might be incapacitated and you have to get out alone.
Well before your hunt, ask your outfitter for the map quadrangle names that cover his hunting territory. You can order these maps from the U.S. Geological Service by calling 1-888-ASK-USGS or online at
These maps, along with knowing how to read them, a compass and perhaps a GPS unit can be worth their weight in gold if you happen to need them.

Hunting the Rut

The peak of the rut offers both great opportunity and great challenge for deer hunters focusing on a trophy buck. The deer herd is in upheaval. Bucks are actively pursuing does and all deer movement is increased. Daytime movement increases and this is a great time to stay on stand all day.
Big bucks don't lose all their caution, but they are distracted by does and that's a big help for the hunter. Also, they often pursue does outside their home territories and don't enjoy their usual home-field advantage.

At the same time they are considerably off their normal pattern. If you have really patterned a particular buck, your hunting plan may suffer. I try to hunt near doe-use areas, picking areas of thick cover attractive to bucks. Buck trails, where they intersect or come close to main deer trails, are another good bet during the rut.

The main thing is to be in the woods and stay sharp. When you see a doe, watch for what's behind her.

Get In Shape For Elk

High-altitude elk habitat can be harsh. Since it is frequently steep and rocky, elk country can test a hunter's stamina. In these days of high-pressure hunting, the best chance for a bull is often found where other hunters are unwilling to go due either to distance or difficulty of terrain.
Make no mistake about it, the hunter who can "go the extra mile" will be more frequently rewarded.
As with all things physical, start easy and increase your pace gradually. Lots of walking is better than just a bit of jogging. To get your "mountain legs," go to a local sports stadium and walk up and down the rows of seats. Take the stairs, rather than the elevator at work. As you get toned up, strap on a loaded backpack and keep walking and climbing.
All this will pay off when you hear that big bull bugling up on the ridge and you have to get up there fast to cut him off.

Snowbird Bucks

Many northern hunters look forward to a tracking snow. This is a light snow that allows hunters to cut a fresh track and actually trail the deer that made it. This sounds like duck soup, but it really isn't. Tracking is a real art built by experience.
First, the hunter must be reasonably certain that it's a buck's trail. Large tracks, particularly with drag marks, are a good sign. So is the trail bypassing low-hanging limbs that might catch on a buck's antlers.
Pressured deer seem to be aware they are leaving a highly visible trail and they check their backtrail frequently. Sometimes they stop or even circle back to see if something is following them. The expert snow tracker moves slowly and spends more time looking far up the trail and to the sides than looking down at the tracks.
Southern deer, unused to snow, generally won't move much at first. North or south, a truly heavy snow depresses deer movement for a few days.

Elk Success

Over the past century we have witnessed a remarkable wildlife turnaround. When the 20th century was young, it was estimated there were fewer than 50,000 elk left in the U.S. We are entering the new millenium with an estimated population of 800,000 elk. Hunting is allowed over much of elk country and some states have surplus populations.
Elk are the second most popular big game animal in the country and a recent survey showed that 750,000 hunters consider themselves elk hunters.
Who do we have to thank for this wildlife management success story? Mostly ourselves. Sportsmen rallied behind far-sighted conservationists such as Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and George Bird Grinnell to demand protection for the nation's natural resources. Hunting license dollars financed game law enforcement and management.
Today, these forces are still at work and volunteer non-profit organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are adding to what is being accomplished. If you call yourself an elk hunter, you should also call yourself a member of the RMEF.

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