Last Updated on
Section 5 (Continued from Elk Hunting – Ultimate Big Game Hunting)
What Elk Eat
Washington State Elk Hunting: The trees and plants that elk eat or eat from are going to vary based on what is growing in a particular region. In Washington State (the Cascade Mountains and foothills and the Olympic Mountains, for example) elk have a number of choices for food — trees, shrubs and groundcover, forbs, ferns, and legumes.
Trees that elk eat: Aspen, Cottonwood, Red alder, Vine maple, Willow.
Shrubs and groundcover: Blackberry, Huckleberry, Oregon-grape, Salal, Salmonberry, Thimbleberry, Wild rose.
Forbs, ferns, legumes: Bear grass, Cat’s ear, Clover, Cow-parsnip, Fireweed, Foamflower, Oregon oxalis, Pearly everlasting, Sword fern.
Rocky Mountain Elk Hunting: The Rockies have a few different plants than what are in Washington State. In fact, other areas that have a decent elk population from Kentucky to Oregon to New Mexico and a few neighboring states are going to have different trees and plants that elk feed on. In the Rockies elk feed on:
Trees that Rocky Mountain elk eat: Aspen, Chokecherry, Cottonwood, Rocky mountain maple, Willow.
Shrubs and groundcover: Bitterbrush, Currant, Deer brush, Elderberry, Huckleberry, Oceanspray, Red-twig dogwood, Serviceberry, Snowberry, Sumac, Wild rose.
Forbs, ferns, legumes: Alfalfa, Clover, Dandelion, Fireweed, Sweet clover, Yellow salsify.
From provinces of Canada to a number of places in the United States, you’ll find elk in many wilderness areas, though due to over-hunting and lack of responsible game management in earlier decades, elk are either no where to be found in certain areas, or there are simply low numbers of elk that make actual hunting of elk next to impossible due to their scarcity. Several states like Colorado, New Mexico, Washington, Montana, Idaho and Oregon have high populations of elk. Kentucky has a decent elk population but Tennessee a neighboring state has very little.
Here’s a link to a map that shows actual range areas of U.S. elk populations. You’ll see that most elk are found in western states though there are pockets of elk in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania, in addition to a decent elk population in Kentucky.
Detailed facts about elk – Specs on size, body language, behavior, and links to recorded elk calls — hear what elk (cows and bulls) sound like in the wild.
Field Dressing And Quartering An Elk
Once you’ve taken an elk down, now you need to field dress it — turn the body so that the head points up hill with the tail end pointing down. This allows the blood to flow out of the animal when you make your first cuts down at the rectum area and over the intestines (be careful not to cut the intestines as you can contaminate the meat). An entire article can be written on the process of field dressing an elk. Read further instructions on field dressing at this link.
Knowing how to field dress and quarter an elk are important due to the sheer size and weight of these animals — it will be a necessity to only carry out what you’re actually going to eat, leaving the remaining scraps for predators. See: Deboning Elk in the Field: Drop the Weight of the Bones. You may have too much good meat and you have may have to leave some behind for later retrieval — be sure to bag it and tie it high up in a tree. If you leave it on the ground and plan to retrieve it later that day or the next, there’s a good chance a pack of coyotes will beat you to it (or worse, a pack of wolves, cougar, or a grizzly). Incidentally, in case you’re dealing with a coyote problem, check out our article about the best coyote traps right here.
Prepare To Migrate With Elk – In A Time Of Collapse
Most hunters today go out for a few days, stay in one area, and then return to their homes. In a time of collapse though you can have a new strategy for hunting elk –that is to migrate with the elk, a lot like the Plains Indians migrated with bison herds. They lived in tipis which were easily set up and moved as the entire camp followed bison across the landscape with the changing seasons; you can consider that with elk also — though you’re not likely to find much information on it as this is more theory than actual proven fact. The fact is — if elk migrate in certain areas on a map, along lowland drainage basins in the winter months and then moving to higher elevations and alpine areas (as high as 10,000 feet in some ranges) in the summer and early fall — your camp can trail these migrating elk, always staying far enough away that they feel minimal or no pressure at all from your camp.
Another method the Plains Indians used for hunting bison were to funnel them off cliffs — using rocks and brush for example, and then place these for a mile across the landscape to both sides of a herd. That’s not likely to work with elk though so one way to herd elk — involving a large number of hunters — perhaps 20 or 30 — would be to circle a large area (perhaps five square miles) and then close in quietly on an elk herd. At some point the herd is going to catch the scent of hunters, and it’s going to then move in another direction — right in the direction of other hunters that are closing in.
At this point there is the danger of crossfire — you would need a strategy (such as an elk call that sounded 3 times in 3 short blasts — something clearly un-natural) to alert other hunters that one group of them were taking aim at elk and would soon be firing. Hunters within range would want to hide behind trees or lay down in the brush as shots rang out to avoid being shot by any missed shots as bullets and / or arrows streak across the landscape).
If you have circled a herd with 30 – 50 elk in it, there’s a good chance that this could result in the death of 4 – 5 bulls — enough meat to feed your camp for several weeks.
Like I said though — this method is all theory and it applies to a time of hunting following a collapse of government and it may break several game laws that exist today — it’s your entire camp migrating over many weeks and months with migrating elk. The first time your group tries to circle in on 30-50 elk could be a complete failure. Or it might be a success.
Wind will be a factor, noise and each hunter’s ability to move quietly will be a factor, terrain, camouflage and scent will all be a factor.
USGS Maps Reveal Elk Territory
Outdoor Life reports that a study of United States Geological Survey maps reveals a great way to determine elk locations, based on the landscape. See: Finding and Scouting Elk
Elk Population In Canada And United States (By Province And State)
Final Points About Elk Hunting
** What makes good elk hunting? When there is little pressure from other hunters in the land. Human activity will push elk (and deer) out of the area or they’ll simply start eating at night and bedding down all day. Expert hunters talk about huge bulls — deer and elk — that they know are in the land, but say have a strong survival sense and are able to avoid hunters. The reason they’re so large is because no one has been able to kill them. So what would it take to land one of these large bulls? You might need night vision goggles and a willingness to apply everything you’ve learned about hunting to the late evening hours and well after dark.
** In the early days of a widespread disaster and the collapse of government — if you have to live off the land the national parks may have the best hunting. But only for a short period of time. The reason is this — elk (and deer) and even antelope (in some areas) and big-horn sheep and other wildlife are not accustomed to being hunted, though they may be familiar with the smell of hikers. This means that you may be able to take down an animal without having to worry about being downwind as much — initially that is. Once animals in the national parks have associated the scent of humans with “danger”, then that will be the end of that.
** Remote areas that have no roads, that back up to a national park, for example Yellowstone, could become great areas for hunting. If you’re going to live in the land though care for your hunting areas in the same way that professional guides do. Provide food (feed and pellets for example) for elk / deer around the area well before you’ll be doing any hunting there. Don’t hunt the same area. Move around. Let some areas have no activity for weeks or months at a time. Scout multiple areas well in advance and get those treestands set — if that is how you plan to hunt elk.
** Research and know elk migration routes. A number of professional hunting guides hunt areas known for elk migration. Some of these guides boast a 100% success rate.
** Elk are sensitive to warmer temperatures and will seek out cooler areas during the late spring and summer months — typically why they’ll climb to higher elevations. Elk in the lowlands and foothills may simply bed down during the heat of the day and on a north facing slope — which is cooler than a south facing slope — a north facing slope sits in the shadows of the mid-day sun. When elk emerge to eat in the dawn and dusk hours they may stay on the north facing slope during periods of sunshine and warm weather.
** Elk like to stay near cover, which for most is dense trees and sometimes brush. As grass is a major staple (in addition to some trees and brush), you can sometimes spot them eating grass along side a dense stand of trees. Two areas to hunt are along the edges of meadows and grasslands, as well as forested areas with grass among the trees.
** Consider going hunting with a professional guide early in your hunting career. Ask your guide(s) questions about hunting and prepare to take notes. Find out what the best methods for hunting and tracking elk are for your area. Many guides will be glad to share what they’ve learned over the years and what makes them successful hunters.
** Elk hunting can be highly successful during the “rut” — when female elk (cows) are ready to mate, they’ll call out. This is where a good elk call can draw in bulls that are then easily taken down — sometimes elk even come running — that’s how effective an elk call can be during the rut.
** Some hunters say don’t hunt from the same treestand more than a couple times per year — or you’re bringing too much activity to an area, resulting in “hunting pressure”. Instead leave as little presence as possible and have many areas that you can hunt, that way you’re never in the same place twice in a short time period. Space out your locations and location times — lots of space.
** Be ready to track the elk after it’s been shot. Bright pink, frothy bloods means that your shot struck lungs; typically this is a quick death. If blood loss is more of a normal red color this means you’ve struck the heart or other muscle group.
Once Shot, Give An Elk 30 Minutes To Flee, Bleed Out
Give the animal 30 minutes before you track it down from where it’s been shot — if you go after it too soon you may drive it a lot farther out of the area and you may never find it. By giving it 30 minutes you put the elk at ease that you’re not on its tail and it’s likely to bed down and slowly bleed out. If the blood is a dark red or brown then this is a “paunch shot” and hasn’t wounded the elk that severely. Wait a couple hours before going after this elk. If not, and you pursue him too soon, he may take off many miles out of the area and you’ll never see him again.
** When carrying a quartered bull on your back and hiking out of the area, tie orange (called “hunter orange”) to your pack / elk so that other hunters don’t mistake you for an elk. Hunter orange will help you avoid being shot in the wilderness by other hunters.
** Elk can be taken with a rifle, shot gun, compound bow, long bow, and a crossbow. The more effective you are as a hunter with minimal hunting pressure, the better you’ll do with a rifle if the time comes you have to live off the land to support yourself and your camp. Too many gun shots though in a general area is likely to pressure game animals and spook them out of the area. When hunting in a time of collapse — and having to live off the land for the long term — seriously consider using a compound bow, survival bow, or crossbow; as long as you’re a skilled shot this would be a smarter move as each of these weapons offers much quieter hunting. But you also have to be closer to the animal than you need to be with a rifle; which means that you need to be great at camouflage, scent concealment, reading weather and wind conditions, spotting and stalking, and finally rotating the areas you hunt in over greater distances to minimize your presence and avoid at all costs elk feeling any hunting pressure.
When The Hunter Becomes The Hunted
** Carry a powerful rifle for self-defense (even a semi-automatic if you have the means) and be alert for any predators — you might be just fine with a crossbow but it’s not likely to offer you much protection when a grizzly bear or pack of wolves closes in (a rare event today though wildlife may become a lot more dangerous during a time of collapse).
** In a time of collapse, don’t become the hunted — depending on how much danger is in the area from predators, consider traveling in pairs. While you scout the land for game animals your partner can stand a few feet away, surveying the land around you, his or her weapon raised, making sure that nothing dangerous is prowling nearby and closing in to strike.
* Conclusion — You’ve just finished Section 5.