Thursday, December 13, 2012

Early Elk - Bow Hunting

Don’t resist the chance to bowhunt elk before the rut – it’s not as challenging as you might think.
By Jason Stafford

The author's dad took his
first-ever archery elk during
 a mid-August hunting trip to Wyoming
As darkness turned into dawn, my dad and buddy Ron could see 11 velvet-clad bulls feeding on an open hillside. The elk were above several fingers of dark timber.  It was late August and two days into Wyoming’s early archery elk season. 

They had no problem finding bulls feeding out in the open during various scouting trips and for each day of the season so far. The animals were around, it was just a matter of playing cat and mouse in the woods and setting up a shot. So far that hadn’t happened, though. Dad was the shooter on this hunt, and he was hoping for a pretty slam-dunk shot on what would be his first-ever archery bull. 

As the scorching sun began to warm the hillside, three bulls broke away from the big group and headed for a patch of trees that Ron was very familiar with. It was the moment to strike, but they had to move fast in order to intercept the bulls before they got into timber too dense and noisy for quiet stalking.

The jungle-like timber was in a deep canyon along with a small spring pond. They moved in and set up near this pond and a small clearing.

Moments later, the bulls fed out in front of them, just inside dad’s effective range. Once Ron checked the distance with his Nikon rangefinder, old pop came to full draw and let ‘er rip. The arrow flew true, and the nice velvet-antlered bull was down for good.

Most guys who bowhunt elk prefer to call or chase them when they are bugling, rutting, and chasing cows around. They enjoy the excitement and thrill of hearing thunderous bull elk talk echoing through the trees and canyons.

There’s no doubt mid-to-late September elk hunting can be exhilarating and productive, especially for those that love to call. But I’ve found bow hunting elk earlier on to be such as effective if not more so. During the rut, bulls become rivals and separate in order to sort out their dominance and to search for cows in estrous. This makes them harder to follow at times, I believe, which can add frustration to the hunt.

Whereas, during the early season, elk follow a consistent pattern, the same one they followed during the late-summer and the weeks leading up to opening day. This means if you’ve located elk during your scouting trips, then you can find them in the same place again.    

August and early September can surely bring warmer temperatures, but sometimes this can actually make animals more concentrated near water sources. This can make for more hunting action.

Also, in most western states, such as New Mexico, earlier hunts are much easier to draw. This could make them even more attractive if you know how to approach this kind of hunting. 

In this article I would like to offer a few tips for harvesting early-season elk. Each one has been proven to work well for me and my close hunting buddies. 

Pattern & Ambush
Like early whitetails, early elk are easy to pattern. Their daily rituals are straightforward -- they bed in heavy cover during the heat of the day, and then they move to feed, usually along open hillsides.

In the evenings, when they first start moving, they often prefer to water. They also like to water just prior to bedding in the morning.

Understanding these basic patterns will allow you to take an effective ambush somewhere along their travel routes – to and from feed or water. It’s that simple.

Another great thing about early elk is that they are still in summer bachelor groups. During August bowhunts, mature bulls are commonly seen in groups of three to ten, all feeding together. They are easier to locate this way, and more bulls in one spot means a high chance for shooting opportunity.

Be Patient & Aggressive
Depending on the terrain, early elk are ideal for employing spot and stalk. If you can glass them, then you should be able to move on them. The key is glassing them up early enough in the day so you can catch them in a vulnerable spot.

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