Random Thoughts on Long Range Elk Hunting

Discussion in 'Long Range Hunting & Shooting' started by Roadrunner, Jan 20, 2005.

  1. Roadrunner

    Roadrunner Well-Known Member

    Jul 10, 2001
    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.
  2. Dave King

    Dave King Well-Known Member

    May 3, 2001
    Random away...

    Thanks for your thoughts.
  3. CAM

    CAM Well-Known Member

    Jan 2, 2002

    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

  4. wapiti13

    wapiti13 Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    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??
  5. Ballistic64

    Ballistic64 Well-Known Member

    Dec 21, 2004
    Never used duct tape on my muzzle,but I have used a saran wrap held in place with a rubber band.
  6. rost495

    rost495 Well-Known Member

    Nov 11, 2003
    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....

  7. victor

    victor Well-Known Member

    Dec 16, 2004

    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
  8. Roadrunner

    Roadrunner Well-Known Member

    Jul 10, 2001
    Hey guys, thanks for all the great thoughts!

    Cam - You sound exactly like what my first guide said, or rather what he said his father said. Hunt the area where you're presently at, not where you wish you were somewhere else. Yes, you've pegged me good. I like to really cover a lot of territory.

    wapiti13 You're right, I don't need a 18# rifle to shoot long range. However, I sure can shoot a whole lot better and a whole lot more accurately with a heavier rifle. Actually my "target" rifle was indeed designed to hunt with on foot. I know this because AI's have a beautifully designed biathalon strap. It works so incredibly well that I can carry my 18# AWM for literaly miles and I forget it's even there. The absolutely best way to carry a rifle that I've seen in my entire life of hunting.
    You're right, that wool does absorb a lot of water. Wool Isn't great in a massive downpour, Goretex is much better. Wool is great, however, for those "Seattle Days" when it's just kinda leakin rain in a sort of blowing fog. The problem I have with fleece is that it has absolutely no wind resistance what-so-ever. Man I feel like I'm naked in a blowing wind with fleece on; hence the need for a goretex cover and hence all the associated noise that goes with goretex.
    No I didn't get an elk

    rost495 Yes, yes, I'll try REALLY hard to sit still, it's just hard for me ya know. I've found that gaiters and rain pants are really noisy; especially when they get kinda frozen with snow and ice around your boots. Looks like yer shore carrying a lot of clothing: wool as a backup, under armour, fleece, suede set of rain gear, gaiters. Heck yer just a walking REI store of clothing. Again, the thing I like about wool is that I don't need to take an REI store's worth of clothing with me for every different weather condition that I can encounter in a day. I just throw on the wool in the morning, and maybe take off or put on and extra piece - depending upon termperature changes - and I'm good to go for just about any situation except a truly heavy rain.
    Maybe if I were to have a caddy with a golf cart full of guns: AI for long range, 375 HH for brush, a 12guage with 00 buck for those running shots. My caddy would just hand me the right gun for the shot I'm presented with.
    I'd change that number to 99% of elk in 1% of woods. My guide told me of some little "groups" of elk where he'd find something like 100 elk lying really close to each other in about the space of a 4000 square foot house.

    Victor - great story. Don't feel bad that you didn't get the big one. I was in your exact same situation where I had shots on cows this past season, and DIDN'T take the shot. And I came home with NOTHING. So don't feel too bad, your story could easily have gone the other way.
  9. sscoyote

    sscoyote Well-Known Member

    Feb 26, 2003
    Hey Jim-- good talking to u this last yr. at ITRC.

    Why not switch to a custom single shot pistol? It's not the longest range rig in the world but it'll get u across some canyons/valleys, and is pretty portable for sure.

    We've learned over the years now to spot west and north-facing slopes even in mid-day, as they often produce bedded animals that are always passed up by other hunters. This is how we got our elk 2 yrs. ago.

    Hey what's the story on those biathalon slings-- where do u get them??
  10. harvey

    harvey Member

    Jan 27, 2005
    Maybe you need sportsmanship classes, ever heard of catch and release.

  11. Ron Johnson

    Ron Johnson Active Member

    Nov 7, 2003
    When looking for a guide/outfitter to hunt longrange, we must ask questions as to their experince in this type of hunting. One post made comment that the 18# rifle was too heavy for Idaho(which it is in Idaho) but not in Montana. I have hunted several times with an outfitter in Idaho who has great success and is a great guide and hunter. He has a great area to hunt black bear in the early spring in a long range setting out to 1000 yds and more if desired. Also elk and deer in the fall. You won't be able to walk him down, and he is great company and a second generation outfitter in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness Area. The wool clothing is heavy when wet, but can save the day if things go bad. I like a rifle that 12- 14# to carry afoot. If you have an interest in hunting you can contact him at 208-756-3231 Richie Outfitting. I can send pic of the game and country.The spring hunt is good to get a first time look at the area. A 7 day hunt is about $1800.00
  12. ricka0

    ricka0 Well-Known Member

    Nov 8, 2004
    cover my muzzle with duck tape

    I've used scotch tape for the last 35 years - must confess I've never tested it at the range (I will now) - but I'm sure the air in front of the bullet rips it out and the bullet never touches it - duck tape sounds like a bad idea.

    [ QUOTE ]
    saran wrap held in place with a rubber band.

    [/ QUOTE ]
    That sounds like a better idea than scotch tape. Put a little extra on the barrel and after you shoot, you can cover it again. GREAT TIP!
    My 43 LB 50 BMG was too heavy, so I got a 32 lb 50 BMG /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/frown.gif
    I'll be hunting elk next year with my semi-custom 338 RUM (Savage/Kirby/Lilja) which will be feather weight - 18-20 lbs /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif

    I lost 60 lbs in the last year and since i've been running I just can't sympothize with the under 10 lb croud /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/grin.gif

    We almost always walk to fresh sign (need snow - usually not a problem in Mt) then split up.

    Great post VIC!

    I like to pack in the first day ( 10 - 15 miles off the road) and set up camp. I've been skunked on many elk hunts passing up spikes and cows /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/frown.gif
  13. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Re: cover my muzzle with duck tape

    [ QUOTE ]
    I lost 60 lbs in the last year and since i've been running I just can't sympothize with the under 10 lb croud /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/grin.gif

    [/ QUOTE ]

    60 lbs ?!? outstanding! The ONLY thing that gives me incentive to loose weight is to better enjoy the hunting experience.

  14. COBrad

    COBrad Well-Known Member

    Jan 4, 2004
    I gotta say I always got a kick out of the guys that paid me good money to hunt elk, then came to camp and tried to tell me or my guides how to do it. I don't use wool any more, cotton either. Too heavy, holds too much water, too bulky. Polar fleece is the only way to go. My jacket has a windstopper membrane. I ski in it on all but the worst days, then a goretex shell goes over. I use the same stuff year-round because it works. I always carry survival stuff, but it is carefully selected for its' usefullness and weight. I have learned to use ultra-light equipment and can now go out for 3 days fully equiped with a pack that weighs just under 20 lbs. My day pack weighs little, makes a good rest for my rifle, and could save my life if necessary. Rain gear is tougher, and compromises must be made. Again, I go for light weight and low bulk. My rain suit is an integral part of my layering system. I don't carry duplicate anything. I currently use a Marmot Precip shell and pants. These will soon be replaced by ultra-light goretex stuff. I have learned to move slowly and quietly in a rain suit, and to be paitent and sit still and watch when conditions make sneaking impossible. Horse back I still use an oilskin slicker and Filson oilskin type clothing over modern synthetics. I like light rifles too for chasing elk. I would suggest leaving that 18 pounder at home and check out some of the 6 - 10 lb rifles that are very capable of sub MOA accuracy. There's a time to cover a lot of ground; when you can't find elk where you expect to, but a decent guide should have a good handle on where and how to hunt his country. A whole book could be written in answer to your "random thoughts", but it sounds like you had a good time and that is what it is all about. I started looking forward to next year just as soon as I got last years' elk off the horses. I've been doing a little testing with this beautiful little french walnut stocked Kimber .300 WSM that I picked up this winter... but I guess thats another story. /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/grin.gif