By Robert Hanneman, September 2015
Usually the idea of archery elk hunting evokes thoughts of bugling bulls. Nothing can compare to the rush of a screaming bull charging in to your call. There is something so raw and primal about observing elk during the rut. It’s so amazing to be able to interact with them and to witness the fervor and great lengths a bull will go to find a cow and to protect the ones he’s with. Participating in an intense archery elk hunt with a bugling bull coming within range is every hunter’s dream and should be something every hunter experiences at least once!
I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to have over-the-counter elk tags in Idaho and Montana each year. Once September rolls around, I disappear to chase bulls with my bow. Like many of you, I use just about every tactic there is to put bulls on the ground. I have been lucky enough to harvest bulls by calling, by spot and stalk, and by getting in front of them and ambushing them. I have never harvested a bull over water, out of a blind, or out of a treestand. I do not have that kind of patience, and I truly enjoy hunting them on foot.
There can be a lot of hunting pressure when hunting on public land with over-the-counter tags. Many guys I run into really enjoy blowing on their bugle every few minutes and have educated the elk by calling too much. As a result, it can be much harder to get a bull to come in to a call, so I have adapted my technique so that the majority of my archery elk hunting is spot and stalk. I still carry calls but will sometimes go the whole hunt without using them. Truthfully, my favorite way to archery hunt elk is to spot and stalk them.
In 2006, I drew an archery elk tag near Ely, Nevada. While scouting, I found a bull that I really wanted to harvest. It was still August and he was not responding to any calls, so I decided to hunt him like a Mule deer. The plan was that I would glass him from a high point and then wait for him to bed in a stalkable position. On the second night, I found him feeding on the edge of some timber and decided to stalk within a couple hundred yards of him and wait to see what his next move was. I made it to the ridge 200 yards above him and waited. After 20 minutes, he made his way to a small pine tree and proceeded to demolish it with his antlers. I took that as a sign and took off on a run toward him. I made it about 100 yards before he took a break and I hid behind some cover. Once he started again, I was able to cover the next 65 yards. I stopped, nocked an arrow, and waited for him to stop raking the tree. Once he stopped, my arrow was on its way and I collected one of my best bulls to date.
After that day, I started thinking that with all the other hunters calling so much I would concentrate more on spotting and stalking bulls. I truly believe it has made me a better hunter because even when the bulls are silent I am still in the game. Now I mainly hunt areas that are more open and will work well for this type of hunting. In Montana, the Missouri River Breaks and most of eastern Montana are perfect places to spot and stalk bulls. Two years ago, I took my best Montana bull using these same tactics in early October. This year, I drew an archery tag in the Missouri Breaks and I am looking forward to chasing bulls in that broken country.
What hunting elk spot and stalk style means to me:
- Getting to a highpoint, glassing up a bull, and then bedding him and stalking into range and waiting for him to stand.
- Having a bull bugling and then slipping into range while he continues to call.
- Ghosting a herd as they travel from feeding area to bedding area. Most bulls will continue to hook around to the back of the herd to keep the cows moving. I have found that by staying within range of the last cows I can usually get an opportunity at the bull.
- Hearing a bull raking a tree or fighting with another bull and then running in on them.
- Glassing a herd traveling to their bedding area and trying to get in front of them to ambush them.
- Getting an early snow and tracking a bull to his bed.
There are many tactics that can work well during archery season. I will always carry my calls, and if I find a bull that is responsive, I don’t hesitate to call him in. This article is just to give elk hunters a few more tools for hunting bulls with a bow. The best way to become a better archery elk hunter is to go on as many archery elk hunts as possible, even if they’re not your own. Any legal elk is a trophy when taken with a bow! I take a lot of phone calls every year from Huntin’ Fool members who have a lot of points in Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada and are looking to draw an archery elk tag but have never hunted elk with their bow. My advice is always the same, and I tell them they need to get one or two archery elk hunts under their belt before they draw that big bull tag. Can you imagine having an Arizona tag that took 15 years to draw and you have never archery hunted elk? It is just like everything else in life, you need practice to be good. Go to Idaho, Montana, or Colorado and get some practice before you draw that big bull tag.
So many things can go wrong when you are close to elk, so remember to take the first good shot that a bull gives you. Good luck this season!