If you are hunting elk in the early season, you always start with water, Steve says. If you know where they are drinking, you can begin to pattern them from that point. Find the water, follow their tracks, and then you can figure out where they are going to bed. When it’s hot, animals will go up high seeking out the coolest bedding areas possible. Often, water and the cool bedding locations aren’t that far apart, Steve says. The water may be at the bottom of the mountain and bedding areas on the north or east facing slope. This creates a steady travel pattern, up and down the mountain, as they feed back and forth between the two. Steve says as long as hunters can find the water source and pinpoint the bedding areas, they can then pattern and hunt the elk in their travel corridors.
Early season elk hunting also likely means you’ll be hunting in warmer weather. One of the big challenges of warm weather hunting is getting your meat out of the backcountry before it spoils. You likely aren’t going to pack an elk out by yourself, Steve says. The reality is, for most hunters if you don’t have 2 or 3 friends hunting the backcountry with you, you won’t have enough hands to get the work done before the meat goes bad. Heat and insects are obvious problems that accelerate the growth of bacteria and speed up spoilage. Immediately after the shot, Steve says it’s important that hunters open up their elk as soon as possible, gut them and get the quarters off to begin the cooling process. In addition, Steve explains why hunters should also make a deep cut in each quarter along the bone so the heat can escape to avoid bone sour. After getting the quarters off, mesh game bags are important for holding and protecting your meat. Plastic bags are a terrible idea as they retain heat, Steve says. Instead, mesh game bags allow air to circulate which gives your meat the opportunity to breath while also keeping insects off of it. Once in bags, you can then hoist your meat up in the air which helps to further cool it. The nighttime air blowing and circulating helps cool meat thoroughly and keeps it from spoiling before you can get it out of the backcountry. In addition to heat and bugs, hunters also have to think about bears as a threat to their meat. Just the scent of meat in the air is enough to bring them in, Steve says. Beyond cooling, that’s why it’s so important to get your meat and hang it high, 10-12 feet off the ground, beyond the reach of a grizzly. Left in an easily accessible location, Steve says many would be surprised at how easy it is for a bear to make off with an elk. After field processing, it’s important to pack out your first load of meat as soon as possible and subsequent loads quickly as well. Remember, Steve says, antlers and the cape come out in the last load. If you are going to shoot, the meat comes out first and foremost. Because meat spoilage is a real threat in the early warm months, it’s also important to think about how deep in the backcountry you go. Ask yourself: what am I going to do when the animal hits the ground, and am I prepared to get it out before it spoils?
When it comes to rifles, Steve says that many common deer calibers can be successfully used to tag an elk. However, when you are shooting mid range calibers, bullet selection becomes very important. His first piece of advice for elk hunters, Steve says, is don’t feel like you need to purchase a magnum or ultra magnum in order to be successful. There have been more elk killed with a .270, .30-06 and .308. than all the ultra magnums combined. The popular 6.5 Creedmoor can also be effective if paired with the right bullet, Steve notes. The 140 grain ELD-X bullet from Hornady is what he would select for hunting elk in that particular caliber noting that he’s had success with this combination, killing a New Mexico bull at 400 yards. The bullet selection is incredibly important, as is shot placement. There are a lot of different capable calibers for elk hunting, however the real deciding factor on effectiveness is pairing that caliber with the right ammunition for maximum performance. All bullets are not created equal, Steve says. There are a lot of bullets out there that are just fine for whitetails, muleys or antelope. However, when you get into an animal the size of an elk you need to look at really high quality, controlled expansion, bullets. Steve talks about a service offered through Steve’s Outdoor Adventures in conjunction with Adventure Armory and Pendleton Ammunition in which hunters can send their rifles to them and the team will do a load development on that rifle. They will shoot a lot of different ammunition through it and then tweak the load to fit that particular gun. What that gives the hunter is premium accuracy and terminal performance in one package, he says. Don’t be the guy that reaches in the closet a couple days before the hunt, pulls the gun out, goes to the range, fires one round, checks the zero and then leaves. In this scenario you will never fully understand where your bullet is hitting at different ranges and animals deserve better than that, Steve says. Putting in the time at the range enables hunters to know exactly where that bullet will hit consistently.
Listen in as Steve West drops by with early season elk hunting tactics, tips for avoiding warm weather meat spoilage, selecting the right caliber/bullet combination for the game you are pursuing and much more. Watch “Steve’s Outdoor Adventures”, Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. ET on Sportsman Channel. You can also check out previous seasons and episodes with the MyOutdoorTV app, watch anytime!
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