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How To/Pro-Tips

Elk Rifles

Elk are big animals and logic seems to say "Big game; big gun." However, before rushing out to buy a new magnum rifle, stop and think. "New" and "magnum" create a new shooting situation.
The new rifle (and, likely, new scope) will usually handle and perform a bit differently than your current hunting rig. You need to take the time to get used to it.
Magnum calibers produce more power and usually a flatter trajectory. However, if you don't take the time to get used to the increased recoil and muzzle blast of the magnum, your shooting ability will suffer. This means not only that you can't take advantage of the magnum's extra range, but also you will shoot poorly at shorter range.
Most outfitters and guides say they would rather have a hunter use a lesser caliber that he can shoot well than a magnum that he can't. Calibers such as the .270, .280, .308 and .30-06, with proper bullets, are entirely elk-adequate at reasonable ranges.

Hot-Weather Hunting

One of the greatest challenges in deer hunting is how to make something happen in hot, dry weather. This is a common condition during early archery seasons and in the early part of many gun seasons.

Deer are already biologically preparing for winter and a significant warm snap makes them very uncomfortable. They don't move much and try to keep cool. The later in the season the warm weather occurs, the more it depresses deer movement. Nocturnal movement increases because nighttime temperatures are cooler.

Be out early and stay out to the very end of shooting hours to take advantage of cool temperatures. Oddly enough, midday movement may be slightly enhanced if deer have moved all night long. This isn't a great deal but if you have limited hunting time it's the best deal you've got.

When movement is down, hunt near known bedding areas. However, hunt the fringes and trails leading there. Deer are easily disturbed when their actual bedding areas are invaded.

Bugling for Bulls

There is nothing as thrilling as hearing a big bull's whistling bugle, except having him answer your bugle to him.
However, there are ups and downs to bugling. It can drive away a bull with a harem of cows because he doesn't want competition. It can also chill smaller satellite bulls if you come on too strong. For these reasons, it often pays not to sound like the biggest bull in the woods. Both dominant and satellite bulls are more likely to investigate your bugling if they think they have an advantage.
Don't bugle from the obvious places such as along roads or at the end of trails. If there is much hunting pressure at all, odds are good that other hunters have been calling from these very spots and that the local bulls know about it.
As the season wears down, use bugling as a locator call. Bulls will often answer a bugle even if they have no intention of going to it.

Late-Season Lessons

You can learn a lot while hunting late in the season. With the leaves off and much ground vegetation killed back, you can see your hunting area better than at any other time of the year. Take a good look at your whole hunting area. By more fully appreciating the lay of the land and the relationships of deer trails, cover and terrain features, you can make better stand site decisions for next year.

It is now much easier to spot a buck's sanctuary. The places you hunt him now will likely be much the same next year. You will also see what the favored late-season food sources are and where they are found. This is another good lesson for next season.

The most valuable overall lesson in late-season hunting requires that you have been paying attention (and hopefully taking notes) of how the deer in general and the bucks in particular have utilized different parts of their habitat over the whole season.

Big Game in Big Country

To successfully hunt elk, you have to expand your thinking. Elk range over big chunks of the western landscape. If you are used to stay-at-home whitetails, hunt "bigger." This means elk hunting usually involves much more walking over and glassing big country looking for elk or sign.
Taking a stand over smoking hot sign is not a bad idea. A fresh wallow serves the elk something like a scrape does a deer. However, the bull uses the wallow, usually spiced with his own urine, more as a dressing table than as an actual attraction to cows. He covers his neck and shoulders with aromatic mud so as better to romance any cow he comes across.
Trails can be hotspots. Elk are more oriented to established trails due to the rugged nature of most elk country. There are only so many good places to walk. To up your odds, look for convergence points where several trails come together to get through a particularly nasty piece of real estate.

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