Elk hunting, the ultimate cat and mouse of western hunting. Preparing for another year chasing the mighty wapiti or preparing for your first endeavor shouldn’t be taken lightly. A lot of time and money has been invested into a lifestyle that seems to always yield adventure, regardless of complexity. The switch in focus must come during this time, allowing individuals to take in the gravity of the journey, whether you’re a weekend warrior or planning a 7-day trip. I have had 8 years of hunting in my state of Montana now and one aspect of my hunting has changed, deliberate preparation to all areas of my kit. From the first arrows from the bow to the execution of the hunt. Everything must have deliberate intention with focused attention to detail. This is the difference that separates the successful from the unsuccessful. In today’s article I will walk you through my process and focus on key points of detail, such as, practice, scouting, gear, and the execution.
The adage “practice makes perfect”, while can be cliché, couldn’t be more accurate. The biggest change in my practice has been intensifying my attention to detail with each arrow. Where’s my hand on the grip? Is it in a consistent spot? Is my right elbow in the same position? Is my hinge going off at the same tempo as before? Along with other questions that I ask myself to level up my training. My practice has become very serious in the last 2 years instead of just willy-nilly slinging arrows and being unsatisfied with the results downrange. I hold myself accountable for each “bad” arrow I’m not satisfied with. One thing to remember is to not get down or be too hard on yourself. Enjoy the self-humility and continue to learn from your mistakes, vowing to not repeat them on the next sets of arrows.
Come August 1 I should have everything dialed (pun). Preferably, in May and June, I’m refining my sight tape so that everything hits exactly where it needs to, whether using the supplied tape kit or the Custom Tape Builder offered on our website. At this time of the year I already know what arrow, broadhead and bow I’m using (if you have multiple). On or maybe even before August 1 I began transitioning from flat ground shooting to more technical shots. Sidehills, kneeling, positioning my target near obstacles/trees/branches etc. I want to do everything I can to replicate conditions I may see. In some sessions I will add a workout into the mix to give myself an elevated heart rate, once again replicating the conditions. Using these progressive practice techniques should condition you well for what the mountains will throw at you.
Scouting is our next topic. Traditionally in times past I haven’t put too much time into scouting. I would just look at maps, see what I thought was “elky”, then go. This was about a 50/50 success rate in actually seeing or hearing elk. Since then, I have once again, you guessed it, became more deliberate in my scouting. This topic should really perk the ears of the non-resident traveling West for a big trip. Dedicate the time to QUALITY scouting. If you don’t have the availability to get boots on the ground time, that’s okay. Digital and online mapping has come a long way from your grandads using Plat maps to decide where to hunt. Subscriptions such as OnX, GOHUNT, Basemap, etc. will help you translate the terrain. A couple things to look for as well as podcasts from successful elk hunting gurus. There is a lot of information simply at your fingertips to get you started and pointed in the right direction. The only variable that you, the hunter, needs to do is allocate time. I like to make sure if I am heading out for an extended period, I give myself at least two backup spots along with my primary, just in case there’s other hunters, no elk, weather etc. Building in contingencies for the worst case will keep you in the field instead of searching for service trying to figure it out on the fly.
Now we roll into gear! When heading into another summer, preparing for many days of field time, I begin to narrow my focus on my intent of what I want to accomplish. For me personally, I want to make sure I complete one trip, completely unsupported (everything in my pack), for 5 days. This means that I need to make sure all my gear is ready and more importantly I know how to use it. I buy and try a lot of gear, so inherently I need familiarization time with it. The last thing you want to do is use/test something for the first time while in the field just to have it perform subpar. Using the late summer, I will set up tents, blow up air pads, check seam seals, build my kill kit, check my first aid kit, check layer system, break in boots, weighing gear etc. I want to ensure everything works as designed. You could take it a step further by packing your bag as if you were about to hunt then go into your yard to do an overnighter as a test trial, probably not a terrible idea for those venturing west for their first time. It sounds like a lot, and it can be, but it’s all part of the process that is imperative to comfortable living in the mountains. Two areas I’d like to highlight are the Kill Kit and First Aid Kit. Each of these must be put together properly beforehand to ensure you don’t forget anything.
My kill kit contains the following:
- Montana Knife Company Speedgoat
- Tyto Finisher Ti Replaceable blade knife
- Marsupial Gear synthetic game bags (Elk Set)
- Marsupial Gear Meat Tarp with 4 ultralight stakes
- 2 zip ties
- 4-6 nitrile gloves
- 50-100ft of paracord
- Small amount of electrical tape
- Elk/Deer tags
All of this gets stuffed into a Marsupial Zipperoo Stretch Pouch that’s blaze orange for easy retrieval. I have had great results with these items and couldn’t recommend them enough.
As for the First aid kit, I will be carrying an Uncharted Supply Company First Aid Core. The Uncharted Supply products are very well thought out and have a few different options depending on what kind of adventure you’re seeking. I chose the Core model due to its minimalistic contents and weight savings. Due to my background in the National Guard as a Medevac aircrew member, I have access to knowledge regarding medical supplies and their uses, therefore I tailor my Core kit to align with backcountry hunting. The only item I removed from the Core kit is the scissors, only due to the fact I have at least 2 knives within reach. I will be adding a few items though, such as electrolyte packet, anti-diarrheal meds, ibuprofen, mole skin (blisters), backup fire starter, mini lighter, combat tourniquet, and a quick-clot bandage. With the additions of the items listed it shall be a very suitable backcountry kit to combat a lot of the ailments people run into such as deep cuts, diarrhea, aches, and potentially a broadhead to an extremity (we’ve seen it a few times in the past). Overall, the Uncharted Supply Kits are a very solid starting point.
The next and final step of all your hard preparation is the execution. This is where all your deliberate training and focus comes to fruition. Take everything you know about your archery skills, scouting, gear and put it to the test. For the execution phase I like to dial back how hard I am on myself and remember to enjoy the moment, that’s why we're doing this right? All the work you put into the last month or two will lead you down the trail and regardless of the outcome will still be enjoyable. During this phase I continue to take notes on my deficiencies no matter what they are. Typically, after the sun sets I'll log what could be improved from gear, fitness, terrain, etc. This will only aid you in the future for your next trip.
From the team here at Dialed Archery, good luck!! We hope that this short reading leads you into a direction that will make you successful, and if you are successful, send us your pictures. We enjoy seeing our gear being put to the test by the best customers in the archery industry.
Stay Safe and Hunt Hard!
Author: Anthony Wright