First, let me say that I am not a professional writer, nor do I work in the hunting industry. I am a hunter and a shooter that grew up in the sport and has had the opportunity to hunt several species of North American game from Florida where I was raised to the great Rocky Mountains, home of the American Elk. As for elk hunting, I have tried several of the methods or manners of hunting and have killed four elk to date. This by no means makes me an expert at anything, but I can tell you what has and has not worked for me. The following assumptions were made in this article:
1. Readers will have some degree of hunting experience.
2. Readers will be non-resident hunters for the most part.
What it's all about.
So you have dreamed of hunting the majestic elk. You have spent many an hour watching others hunt and kill elk on your favorite hunting shows. You have spent countless hours reading and re-reading of stories of successful hunts in the many hunting magazines available. The fever is running hot and heavy. You say to yourself, “This year I will kill an elk!” Sorry Charlie, there is a good chance it isn’t going to happen, not unless you are a resident of an elk hunting state and have a brother-in-law or a darn good friend who will take you to their special honey hole. What you have seen on television or read about are hunts that have been planned well ahead of time and promoted by a party with a vested interest in assuring that the hunt results in the killing of an elk. Remember you said this is the year you will kill an elk, not hunt for an elk or try to kill an elk. With that said let us begin.
Elk are plentiful in most western states and can be hunted on private or public land, with or without a guide service, and in pre-established drop camps or camps of your own means. Private land hunts are usually guided hunts unless you are a native to the state and area you are hunting in. Locals or people with local knowledge can gain permission to hunt elk on private land sometimes for self-guided hunts by paying a parking or day pass fee to the property owner. Hunting on public land is usually more conducive to self-guided hunts.
The rules vary from state to state on hunting in wilderness areas. Wyoming, for instance, requires that non-resident hunters be accompanied by a guide or outfitter to hunt in wilderness areas. Camping regulations also vary from state to state based on the bear activity and fire danger within the region. In many areas certified bear proof containers must be utilized for food storage and camping areas are subject to closure without notice due to bear activity.
To kill an elk takes careful planning and preparation. The rules for hunting big game in the western states vary greatly from the rules and regulations for hunting deer east of the Mississippi River or in Texas.
In most of the southeastern states hunting licenses are available over the counter, seasons run continuously for several weeks, and bag limits can be as high as a deer a day. However, regulations for hunting elk, while varying from state to state, are much more restrictive. Most states have quota hunts where you must draw for an elk tag and are limited to one or two tags a year. Applications are only accepted within a specified time period and a non-resident tag will cost somewhere between $345.00 and $1,218.00. Now that reality has started to set in, let us step back and start to look at the requirements for a successful elk hunt.
Unless you have a trusted friend or family member who has filled their elk tag regularly, it is time to get on the Internet. First, you must decide whether you want to hunt a trophy bull or just go elk hunting. If you demand a trophy bull on your first trip, get out your check book. The only way I know of that will virtually guarantee a trophy bull is to either utilize the services of one of the many reputable guides or outfitter services, or to accept a canned/high fence hunt, where you will pay based on the size and score of the bull killed. (This is not a very sporting way to claim a trophy, and if you are after meat, just go to a local ranch and buy and kill beef on the hoof.)
Even if you are not out for a trophy bull, I still highly recommend using a reputable guide or outfitter for your first elk hunt. On a guided hunt, you will have the convenience of someone else providing and preparing the hunting camp and transportation during your hunt. You can choose to either hunt from a lodge setting or a remote camp. You do not have to provide your food or prepare it. You can travel light, with only your clothing, personal hygiene, hunting gear, and maybe your sleeping bag. The area where you will be hunting will have been scouted prior to your hunt. Once you have filled your tag, you will be assisted in preparing your trophy and meat for shipment back to your home. Yes, you will pay for these services, but I guarantee it will be money very well spent.
Now that you have decided on a trophy bull hunt or just an elk hunt, you must choose the state within which you will plan your hunt. Trophy size, success rates, license fees, many other aspects of your hunt will vary from state to state. All of this information is available online. Just enter the state in question and hunting regulations in your favorite search engine and get started. As I said previously, most states require that you draw for your elk tag, and each state has a different application procedure.