The last several years elk hunting in most western states has become a lot tougher. Our big game herds are forced to winter in less than ideal wintering grounds because in many cases suburbs and strip malls now blanket their historical winter range. Increased predation (especially from wolves) have forced elk to change their habits and have contributed to an overall decline in elk herds.
No matter the cause, elk have become a more difficult animal to hunt over the last decade. However, in my experience one aspect of elk hunting remains the same, the majority of successful elk hunters hunt 1 mile farther from the road and 1,000 vertical feet higher than where the majority of hunters are willing go.
Elk equate altitude and distance with safety. Elk that are being pressured by hunters or other predators typically retreat to areas where the altitude and terrain make it very difficult to reach and hunt effectively. Year after year elk herds have seen hunters hunt and congregate near the roads cutting across their habitat. Having seen this behaviour by hunters every year, elk are soon aware of the correlation between roads and hunters. And as such avoid roads and other areas of high hunter densities as much as possible.
Whenever I'm hunting elk in a new area, I browse through maps looking for areas that offer elk bedding cover, good feeding areas, and water, that require several miles of hiking from the road to access. I often pack in some of my gear for a spike camp and cache it so I can hunt even farther from the road.
Of course, in addition to making plans and arrangements so you can hike into your hunting area, you'll also need to remember to make arrangements to transport any animal you shoot out of the area. For that I recommend bringing along a good bone saw in addition to your hunting knife so you can field butcher your animal, and then transport it out via horse or by backpack. Even a large bull elk that looks impossible to transport can be reduced to 200 pounds of meat plus the antlers and cape in just a few hours.
Planning how to access remote hunting areas like this takes extra time, effort and planning. However, hunters that put in the time and effort to hunt hard to access areas will see a dramatic improvement in their success rate and in the percentage of trophy class animals they are seeing.
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