For new archers, or long time bowhunters who will be pursing elk for the first time, a few key factors will weigh heavily on the success or failure of this maiden journey.
Granted, I could talk at great length in regard to locating prime elk country or deciphering topographical maps, but I don't think these issues are nearly as important as a few key elements that I personally focus on. This is not to say there is not a great art in learning the way of the elk and honing one's hunting stratagem for arrowing one of these regal beasts. But, in this, the age of many elk; locating your prey is simply not all that difficult. Considering the vocal nature of rutting bulls, the herds affinity for yellow grassed meadows at and above timberline early and late in the day and the reasonably easily visual characteristics of these buff colored, horse sized animals, locating elk may very well be the least of your problems.
In my opinion, a few factors, which many would consider secondary, stand in the way of most elk hunters that desire to be successful elk hunters. They are in no particular order of importance; physical condition, mental condition and desire. I wrote of this variable trifecta in great detail in my book "Bowhunting Trophy Blacktail" as they relate to the peculiarities of this species. In this medium we will focus on their effect on the elk hunt.
Make no mistake, elk hunting is always an extremely physical challenge. Typical elk hunting is a bust-your-butt, public land free-for-all, where I believe that only the hardest hunters bring home the bulls. The wilderness area I hunt is open to anyone willing to get back there. That said; I have never seen another bowhunter off the pack trails while I've been hunting. The reason, the country is too tough, too steep and too big for most guys. Other hunters could hunt back this area and be successful, if they put the time in preparing their bodies prior to the hunt. More often than not though, bow-toting hunters learn of their physical shortcoming one or two days into the hunt, and by then it is too late. The more concentration you can put on the hunt itself, and not your lack of stamina (which adversely affects desire) the greater the likelihood you will experience success.
Many elk hunters come back from their big hunting trip empty handed, spinning fables to cover foibles. They will spend the entire off-season mulling over the woulda, shoulda, coulda's and tell themselves, "Next year will be different". Next year will not be different for these guys, unless they stop just hoping it will be different and commit themselves to making it different, and ultimately knowing it will be different. This confidence in your abilities might be the single most important contributing factor to a successful hunt.
Why is having confidence so necessary? Because, to build confidence, you must first attain complete confidence in everything, beginning with your equipment and proficient use of it, on down the line to basic hunting ability.
I myself have straddled the confidence fence many times in my bowhunting career. Emphatically, I can tell you how frustrating the unenviable side of that fence is and conversely, the feeling of complete control that confidence brings. Confidence is a hard fought accomplishment, which hardly seems fair since it can so easily wane. Each of us may take different routes in an attempt to gain the self-confidence needed to be an accomplished elk hunter. Personally, the confidence embryo is born in the faith I put into my equipment. The confidence is nurtured and grows as my shooting becomes more proficient. As in hunting, tournament 3-D shooting (which is how I spend my summers) success is dictated by your ability to deal with an ungodly amount of pressure. In this arena, you must "pick a spot" while being cognizant of the fact that the thin line of success and failure is measured in inches, not yards! For me when my confidence reaches the boiling point, it becomes the driving force behind my desire to scout more during the pre-season. As the hunting season begins, I find myself hunting longer and harder, because I believe if given a shred of opportunity I will exploit it, with the end result being a big bull for the wall.
I believe that an individual prepares differently, when confident of success. You will strive for perfection in preparing for the chance at a trophy bull. From the razor sharpness of your broadheads to your own mental toughness, and everything in between. Believing success is inevitable may never be more important than when chasing bull elk, because nothing will challenge one's mental strength like a bugle screaming 6x6 at 31 yards.
Commitment, drive, desire, passion -whatever you call it- is an attribute that paves the way for all the other required components that make-up an accomplished elk hunter. Ivan Crews, of Washington state, puts it in rather simple terms, "I eat, live, breathe and sleep bowhunting". For Ivan, and most other elk hunters who succeed as often as he, bowhunting is not just a hobby. It's also a way of life.
In my case, it seems as though I am forever reading hunting magazines or writing something pertaining to the hunt. Or I may be taking photos with a hunting theme, shooting 3-D tournaments or Techno-Hunting at our local pro-shop. If not the former or the latter, I am probably mulling over new equipment, reminiscing over prior hunts or envisioning future hunts. Archery in itself is a compelling sport, but for me, the need to achieve my bowhunting vision is overwhelming.
My best hunting buddy, Roy Roth, and I coined what has come to be essentially our bowhunting mission statement, "We may not be the best shot and we may not be the best hunters, but we will outwork anyone." Whether this is true or not, I don't know, as I am sure plenty of archers out there hunt their butts off. Besides this, I guess the most important realization we grasped together is that bowhunting in general, and elk hunting in particular, may not be fun all of the time. Take for example, my annual wilderness elk hunt. I have lugged a pack with all of my camp food and gear for over twenty miles on this hunt, with feet blistered and bleeding, shoulders and back aching, hot, sweaty, tired and dirty. However, in consecutive years, I have arrowed a big 6 x 6, a cinnamon/blond black bear, and last year, a good 5 x 5 and a muley buck. The thing is, even if you are successful, 99% of the time spent in the wilderness on this hunt is not fun. Bottom line, the country is big, rugged and unforgiving. Despite all of the potential and real hardships, the thrill of the hunt and the desire to succeed consumes me and draws me back every year.
By giving credence to these, 'Elk Hunter Attributes', I have had the fortune of arrowing seven bulls in ten years of bowhunting here in Oregon. And like me, new and old bowhunters alike can experience similar success on one of bowhunting's greatest trophies, the mature bull elk, by being cognizant of these sometimes indescribable and often overlooked attributes of the successful elk hunter.
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