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Preparing for an Elk Hunt by Tim Herald

Preparing for an Elk Hunt

by Tim Herald

Although there are a few rifle hunting opportunities to hunt elk in September, the bulk of North America’s rifle seasons fall in the months of October and November. Preparation can be the difference in you filling that coveted tag or not, and all elk hunters should put in the time and effort before their hunt to make sure they are ready.

Many of us do not have the luxury of being able to buy an elk tag and leave from home and hunt locally. When we get to hunt elk, either annually, every few years, or once in a lifetime, it’s a pretty big deal—and we need to be ready.

Getting in shape is one of the biggest factors that can make a difference in your hunt. If you can’t trek or hike in the terrain you will be hunting, you will miss out on opportunities. If there is altitude involved, and you don’t live at altitude, there isn’t a lot you can do to prepare for that except to be in the best shape you can. I like to do a lot of cardio and core exercises to get ready for elk hunts.

I had been working out five days a week since turkey season and was feeling pretty darn good for an October 1st New Mexico elk hunt. Then, in late July after my March Uganda hunt, I came down with malaria and was out of commission for almost a month. Once I recovered, my body was weak; I had lost a lot of muscle and felt completely out of shape. So, I hit the gym five mornings a week doing core exercises and worked up to six miles per session of elliptical work. I like to do half in high intensity interval training (HIIT) where I sprint 30 seconds and jog for 90 seconds, and then for the last three miles, I set the elliptical or stair climber to the steepest hill setting it has. I sure wish I hadn’t of missed a month of training, but I feel a lot better about my hunt now than I did just after shaking the malaria just a short while ago.

Of course, if you live in an area with hills or mountains, you can hike with a weighted pack, that works very well, too. I just don’t have that luxury living in relatively flat land at 600 feet above sea level.

Another big part of preparation that I think a lot of people neglect, is practicing your shooting at distance. Just because your rifle and scope combo are zeroed in at 200 yards does not mean you are ready for an elk hunt. Yes, you may shoot that bull of your dreams at 75 yards, but there are many times in elk country that your one opportunity may come at 300, 400, 500 or more yards. We all have to set realistic limits on how far we can ethically shoot, but you must practice to improve your skills and then determine how far you can effectively shoot.

Practice in field positions because when you are hunting, shots come at some odd angles

The rifle I am taking on my upcoming hunt is a 338 Win Mag topped with a Trijicon AccuPoint 5-20x50 scope. I have it zeroed at 200 yards and I have a yardage tape on my turret so I can range my target, dial the turret to that distance, and shoot. I have been practicing regularly at 300, 400 and 500 yards from the bipod on my rifle to simulate actual field conditions. Shooting off a lead sled or six sandbags won’t do you much good after initial zero. You need to practice from field positions as much as possible.

I love my AccuPoint’s tiny green aiming point in the center of my crosshairs. I feel like it naturally brings my eye to the specific point I want to hit. I have shot much better with this scope than with any other I have used in the last 40 years.

If the conditions are right, I feel confident in my setup and shooting out to 500 yards on my hunt. I know there are lots of people out there who can shoot up to 1000 yards, but I’m limited to 500-yards at my local range and that is the distance that I’ve regularly trained, so that will be my limit on this hunt. I hope to shoot at 100 yards though!

If your hunt is DIY, scouting is a huge part of success. Do all the homework you can, both at home with maps and computers and in the field as much as possible. For many of us that have to travel to elk country, extensive field scouting isn’t really an option. In these cases, if you can get to your hunt area a couple days before the hunt starts, it can be very helpful. First it may really help with acclimating if altitude is an issue. Second, having boots on the ground and being able to glass and find elk can help you put together a game plan for the first day of your hunt, tipping the odds in your favor. I am headed to NM two days before my hunt to do some scouting and hopefully locate a big bull to concentrate on during my actual hunt days.

The last piece of preparation is getting the best gear you can together for your hunt. This includes quality binocular and spotting scope, boots, hunting clothing, packs, tents (if you need one), water purifier, and drink bladder, etc. I could write entire articles on each category of gear, and although the best gear will not make one into a good hunter, if a good hunter has great gear, it can definitely provide a big advantage. So, compile the best gear you can for your elk hunt.

Good gear will up your odds of tagging that trophy bull

Elk are my favorite of all the North American game animals to hunt, and during this year of COVID and four cancelled big game trips, I am chomping at the bit to get out there and chase big majestic bulls. I may or may not come home with a giant bull, but I have done all I can to get ready and tip the odds in my favor. Now I just need an opportunity to make it all come together. If you are hunting elk this fall, Good Luck! I wish you the best!

The Author with his last two bull elk. Preparation had a lot to do with success on both hunts

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