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Random Thoughts on Long Range Elk Hunting

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Unread 01-20-2005, 03:15 PM
Silver Member
Join Date: Jul 2001
Posts: 107
Random Thoughts on Long Range Elk Hunting

The following are some random thought I had regarding my recent Montana elk hunt. In no particular order they are as follow:

There is a difficult tradeoff between a good long range hunting rifle and one that's good at close range in the woods. My AWM in 338 LM is good on elk out to about 1000 yrds (+/- depending upon variables like temp and altitude)and weighs about 18#. It is superb for long-range shots. However, when stalking elk in dense snowy woods it's a little difficult. First off holding a 18# gun in your hands mile after mile grows tiring for your arms. Second off shooting off-hand with a 18# gun is a bit difficult as compared to a nice light 7 or 8 lb rifle. I guess the answer is that you need to carry two rifles with you for hunting, kinda like golf clubs.

Having a guide-only Montana elk license has it's downsides; namely that you always have to hunt with a guide. Having hiked two guides to the point of exhaustion on my last hunt, it would have been nice to have been able to leave them and go off hunting on my own. There was one point where my second guide actually refused to walk any further after I had dragged him over the mountains for about six hours. Additionally, all of my guides insisted that I carry my rifle without a round in the chamber. This was very difficult for me to do as I carry loaded firearms very frequently (I legally have a permit to do so). I always shoot with loaded firearms and carry them that way. I have been on hunts where I and the guide "forget" that my chamber was unloaded, this leads to a very embarrasing "click" when you're finally trying to take a shot at the giant buck or bull. At times when we were hot on the tail of elk they'd have me load my rifle, and then sometime a bit later they'd have me unload my rifle. Followed later by reloading my rifle followed by ... well you get the idea. At one point my first guide asked me "is your rifle loaded or not?" It would just be simpler if I could hunt alone. Additionally being raised as a whitetail hunter, I had must better noise discipline then guides raised in the wide-open spaces of the West.

My first guide had me cover my muzzle with duck tape to keep snow and rain out of the barrel. They said that they had been doing it for years and it had had no effect on accuracy. I wonder what effect duct tape would have on long range accuracy. I do think that it was a good idea as at the end of one non-snowy day, when I hadn't had the barrel covered with tape (because it wasn't snowing), when I opened my action to clean it out at the end of the day a pine needle fell out.

Traveling light cross country is the only way to go. My first day out I took all the basics plus a bunch of survival stuff. I felt in much greater danger of falling and injuring my self while carrying all that survival junk, then I did when I left it all at home. Being light on your feet enables you to walk more safely cross country, makes you more sure footed and therefore safer on your feet. Also it much less tiring. Carrying tons of survival junk just becomes a self fulling prophecy.

Wool truly is an amazing material for hunting. It's warm, waterproof, sweat-proof, windproof, wearproof and very importantly it QUIET. None of the so-called modern fibers and materials can add up to have all of the same qualities and advantages. Good three-layer Goretex is certainly more waterproof, but it's noisy as heck (especially when walking in snow with Goretex pants, when they freeze they just rub together making an incredible amount of noise), wears poorly, looses it waterproofness when dirty. My last guide told me that there's something in horse sweat that just destroys the waterproofness of Goretex.

The ideal way to hunt elk in the mountains, would be to show up at your hunting lodge or camp about 3-5 days before the start of the season, and then spend those days hiking and getting used to the altitude, while scouting out the local area.

Well that's all I have for now, I may have somemore "random" thoughts later.
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Unread 01-20-2005, 03:53 PM
Platinum Member
Join Date: May 2001
Posts: 2,369
Re: Random Thoughts on Long Range Elk Hunting

Random away...

Thanks for your thoughts.
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Unread 01-20-2005, 03:56 PM
CAM CAM is offline
Silver Member
Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: Utah
Posts: 385
Re: Random Thoughts on Long Range Elk Hunting


I'll only post this because you said longrange ELK hunting.

Keep the heavy gun and drive a nail into your shoe if that dosen't slow you down drive some in the other shoe!!

Its not a race! its hunting!

With elk its not how much ground you hunt its how you hunt the ground! If there is Elk sign in the area and you are hunting long range stay out of the area and get a vantage point, drive the nails into your shoe and enjoy the senery!!

Hope this helps I know the older I get the better I like the plan.

I hunt with my father-in-law one year I hiked all over He!! and back and shot a small bull down in the nastest canyon around I came back all happy to find out he shot his on the dirt road I said how do you shot an Elk on the road? he said only look on the road for Elk!! He was about 62 years old.

One other point I wish you were hunting my area we need more young guys moving the Elk to us point hunters so we can get in some LONG RANGE HUNTING

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Unread 01-20-2005, 06:39 PM
Gold Member
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Spokane, WA
Posts: 521
Re: Random Thoughts on Long Range Elk Hunting

Just some random replies! You don't have to have a 18# rifle to shoot long range. Your "target" rifle was not designed to hunt with on foot (I think it is too heavy to even be legal in Idaho). Wool absorbs 60-70% of it weight in water when wet. Try the best quality fleece and absorb very little water. Just as quiet and much lighter in bad weather. I agree that on foot I always carry with a loaded chamber. The problem with guides is that 90% of their clients are not gun people and can barely shoot! Did you get your elk after all that??
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Unread 01-20-2005, 09:10 PM
Gold Member
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Black Hills,South Dakota
Posts: 669
Re: Random Thoughts on Long Range Elk Hunting

Never used duct tape on my muzzle,but I have used a saran wrap held in place with a rubber band.
The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms -Samuel Adams
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Unread 01-21-2005, 10:34 AM
Silver Member
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: La Grange, TX
Posts: 222
Re: Random Thoughts on Long Range Elk Hunting

What one finds heavy for offhand another likes. My match rifles are around 16-18 depending. I can't hold a lighter rifle as still as the heavy ones in offhand. But in a hunting rifle I agree, I"m trying to keep all mine under 10 for sure.

I agree with others on the walking. Just set up in a really good place and wait. You dont' see elk often, other than early and late. So just be there at the right times and wait.

If you are going to prowl the woods all day I'd pick a totally different gun. I'd have a short tubed (20 inch or so) with a 1-6 scope in something like 375 HH etc.... Thump for a close shot in the woods.

I keep wool with me for a hunt as a backup. I'm now off to using one of the base layers that wicks like under armour and then layering up with fleece. And carry a sueded type set of rain gear if I need it. I tend to wear gaiters quite a bit so I don't have to ruin rain pants in the brush. So I don't put rain pants on unless I have to.

One thing I can say for sure-- if there is no fresh elk sign, then you need to keep moving till you find it and then sit on it. While I don't really believe its such a factor with deer, it is very true about 90% of elk in 10% of the woods....

Get as close as you can, but utilize your skills as needed.
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Unread 01-21-2005, 03:58 PM
Silver Member
Join Date: Dec 2004
Posts: 139
Re: Random Thoughts on Long Range Elk Hunting


Your right on regarding everything you said. Although I would always carry a small pack of essential survival gear. Especially if your going in deep where there's a slim chance of anybody finding you. It doesn't need to be too heavy. I find water to be the heaviest thing that I carry.

I hunt on my own. Never used a guide. It just seems like all the challenge is gone with a guide.

Finding elk in unfamiliar country is the most difficult part and the only way that I know how to find them is to cover a lot of ground.

When I get lucky and am drawn for a unit, I drive to roads end and setup a main camp. From there, I look for the highest peak that looks like it may hold elk. I glass it in the eveing (and everything else within view) looking for tan color. If I don't see anything, I hike to the top early the next morning with good binoculars and spotting scope.

You want to get in past the point where most hunters go, and that means that it will probably take you 6 to 7 hours of hiking to get to your vantage point. From the Vantage point I set up my spotting scope and scan until the sun goes down. This is the time when you can still see, and the elk just start to come out. This period of time lasts for only about 15 minutes but it usually allows you to spot elk somewhere in the distance.
If you spot something, you now know where to go for tomorrow's hunt. Now pack your gear and run down hill so you can make it to a trail that you know will lead you back to camp in the dark. "Timing the fading light is the trickiest part". There's nothing worse than getting stuck after dark and still having to traverse steep downhills, with possible drop off's, dense dark timber, where its sooooo easy to lose your bearings. But if it were easy, who would want to do it year after year.

Last year I was in such a perdiciment. I hiked into a remote area and set up a spike camp. The next morning I spent all day hiking up to the spine of the tallest ridge in the area which I had spotted tan dots on. From my vantage point I saw elk as the evening approached but they were to ragged horned 3x3's and too far away still. I started heading down towards my spike camp.
As I silently passed thru some heavy timber I spotted a band of does. I glassed them for awhile and continued on. About 50 yards past the does, 2 elk burst from the trees and ran around a small rise. I ran to intercept them on the other side. As I peeked over the ridge, I saw one of the elk with his head behind a pine and his whole body exposed.

It was only a spike. I told my buddy that we should hold off shooting anything except a 6 pt bull until at least the 3rd day.

However, after experiencing that damn steep hike and not seeing anything of relative size, and this tasty elk being only 75 yards off, I just couldn't help myself and blasted him with my .300wby which was sighted in for a 300 yard zero. He went about 75yds down hill and died. A 180gr barnes triple shock bullet blew the top of his heart off and exited out the far side.

So then I thougt to myself, great, that's just great! Its getting dark and now I have to guy this damn thing.
So I got to work, gutted the bull and propped his rib cage open with a stick.

I then started running in a straight line down hill for my spike camp. A quarter of the way down the hill I spotted two 4x4 bucks. Ofcourse I had to stop and glass them for awhile. I went about 40 yards further down hill and I jumped a nice 5x5 bull. (Why did I shoot that damn little spike????) Oh well, gotta keep moving. It was getting darker and darker and the ground in that heavy timber was extremely slippery. I slid on my behind, too many times to mention. It seemed like the bottom of that mountain was never going to come.

It was full dark by the time I reached the bottom and then I had to do a spirol pattern to hone in on my spike camp.
My buddy in camp was surprised I shot a spike on the first day. Oh well.

He shot his 6x6 bull 2 days later at a range of 500 yards, in a location about a half mile from the main road to camp.

It just goes to show you, you never know where you'll find them.

I am a firm beliver in a light weight rifle, as you can go in deeper into the back country, which is where I prefer to be. I ballance out my load by carring a lightweight rifle, binoculars, spotting scope, tripod for spotting scope, layered clothing, a waterproof pancho for rain, rope, lots of waterproof matches, gps, flashlight, water & almonds. My rifle weighs 8.5 lbs, Pack with all gear about 16lbs. That would hold me for 2 emergency nights in the woods. But If I plan an overnight hunt, then I will just carry a sleeping bag with me, so I can sleep where ever I stop.

Happy Hunting,
Vic, out
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