With another elk season now in the rear view mirror and the new year that lies ahead, it’s the perfect time to give some thought to how the past season went and start preparing for another season. Like anyone in life who is successful in their career or hobby, those hunters who regularly harvest elk year in and year out are always looking for what they can do better and adapting their hunting strategy based on successes and failures. Frankly, that is why they continue to succeed. In the interest of helping one best prepare for another season, we’ll take a look at several areas that can help you improve your chances for success this fall!
The first step to improving with anything in life is assessing how your past performance went. For elk season, I like to start with documenting my season in terms of what I think I did well and what I would do differently. Next, I take notes on when / where I saw elk and under what conditions. Were they responding to my calls (including which calls) or not and if not, perhaps my thoughts on why or what I might do differently next time. In terms of my previous year’s hunting experience, I also consider the areas I hunted and chose not to, where I camped, did I run into other hunters and where, how did I hold up in terms of physical conditioning and the performance of my gear (noting gear that didn’t hold up or perform to my satisfaction). One last important point is assuming you harvested an elk what were the circumstances that played into your success. These notes from the previous season are key to formulating preparation plans for the following season. With the above as input to building your plan to better help ensure success next hunting season, you are now prepared to get started on your New Year’s Resolutions in support of your next Elk Hunt!
I like to start my off season planning by adding hunting notes from the season to my journal of previous hunting seasons. Within my journal, I log areas where I found elk / elk activity (i.e. wallow areas) and under what conditions especially noting weather, time within the season, time of day, hunting pressure and other variables outside of my control. I use this journal as input to build my plan for where I want to hunt next year and my strategy. Combined with preseason scouting this can play a huge role in your success. I also regularly use my journal during the season when I encounter tough hunting conditions as it can offer ideas on a change in my hunt strategy in the interest of achieving success.
Assessing your physical hunting performance
Spend some time assessing your season in terms of your physical performance. Were you prepared for the demands of the hunt in terms of your physical ability? Did you train properly? Are there things you would do differently to better prepare? If you feel you were prepared, it’s a matter of repeating your preparation. However, even if you were prepared but you are not working out year round to keep yourself in elk shape, this is certainly something you should consider rather than waiting until a few months before your hunt to start training.
If you were not physically prepared, you may not have fully enjoyed your hunt whether you were successful or not given the challenge of elk hunting. Or perhaps you need to focus more on leg strength training for powering up steep terrain or whatever the case. There is plenty of help out there for those who need advice on how to train both online or at your local gym. The key is to pursue it and make it a habit not just a month or two a year but for life. Buddying up with your hunting partner for off season workouts can be a great way to maintain commitment to it and push each other to new levels of fitness.
Most successful hunters will agree if you commit to staying in elk shape year round, you will enjoy your next hunt more, potentially have more success (as you will be able to hunt harder), and be able to hunt into your later years in life.
An honest assessment of your overall hunting skills is also important. Were you prepared both mentally and “skills wise” for a shot opportunity (i.e. did you practice enough with your weapon of choice going into the season)? Were you successful in getting elk to consistently respond to your calls? Are you satisfied with your knowledge of your hunting area and back country navigation skills? All of these factors play a role in success or not. The good news is with some commitment to improvement, all are areas one can easily improve.
Skill with your weapon of choice is certainly extremely critical. As ethical hunters we owe it to our quarry to achieve “one shot, clean, quick kills” as a goal. Regular practice during the off season is critical to achieve confidence and competence with your shooting skills. Ideally, archers hunting elk should be able to hold tight groups (i.e. 4-5 inch groups or less) out to 40 yards minimum (even 50 yards is very do-able with today’s technology and practice) and rifle hunters should be able to consistently shoot tight groups (i.e. 2” group or less) out to 300 yards. The above shooting proficiency doesn’t mean you have to take shots this far and one shouldn’t unless you have a good shot. However, it builds confidence that makes closer shots easier. Winter archery leagues offer a great way for bow hunters to improve their skill. Rifle hunters should look to practice too during the off season. Applying some pressure to yourself by competing in local gun club match can be a great way to drive improvement and also offers the opportunity to learn from others. As we get into the summer months, hunters should practice shooting in “hunting positions” and estimating distance to best prepare for shot opportunities that present themselves during the hunting season.
Elk calling skills is another area which can be improved with practice. There is an abundance of information available on YouTube and various hunting forums. The key is to seek it out and don’t get discouraged. Reed calls are very easy to learn to use. Diagram calls are tougher but with persistence one can learn to use them. A key to success is trying several manufacturers to find calls that fit your palate and you can easily / consistently get sound out of it.
Lastly, for those who can already use calls, there is always room to get better. For example, ensuring you can vary your sounds (i.e. avoid being repetitive) and you can make all the cow and bulls sounds. For those looking to really challenge themselves to improve, enter an elk calling competition. It will test your nerves and also help drive improvement.
Back country navigation is certainly another skill that plays a role in one’s hunting success. If you are concerned about getting lost or don’t know the area you hunt well enough to get in and out of elk areas the easy way, this can certainly decrease your chances for success. Once again, there’s lot of help out there for navigating both on the internet (i.e. YouTube, Forums, online maps, etc.) and through technology with different GPS solutions and Mobile Apps. The key is to do some research, pick one that provides what you need, fits your budget and then learn to use it! Spending time in the areas you plan to hunt this fall whether backpacking, fishing, scouting and just further learning the area can be fun and pay dividends this fall!
One thing we are blessed with in today’s hunting world is a wide assortment of gear! Of course we are all limited by our respective budgets but no doubt having the right gear that meets the needs of your elk hunt can make your experience more enjoyable, safer and improve your chances for success! For example, if your rain gear doesn’t keep you dry and you get wet and cold, you won’t last long in the field. Another example is if your boots give you blusters you are not going to want to hike and cover country the way you may need to, to find elk. Other examples of important gear are a good backpack and tent / camp that meets your needs. If any of your gear is not performing to acceptable standards, the off season is the time to research and make changes. Attending various sportsman’s shows when they come to your area can be one way to research and check out new gear. Forums and hunting magazines offer additional areas to do some research and of course there is Guidefitter!
One thing we all wrestle with is what we want vs what we can afford. However, new gear doesn’t always have to be a total out of pocket expense. If your existing gear is in decent shape, you can always sell it on eBay, Craigslist and other “self-selling” vehicles. A key to sale of your used gear is willingness to sell it for an attractive price to potential buyers. Keep in mind, it is better to get some money for it which can be applied to new gear vs storing gear you will never use!
Build your plan now to improve your chances for success next fall
Hopefully, this article provides some inspiration and ideas in support of driving your off season preparation for next fall! For most hunters elk season is here and gone too quickly. However, if you make it a year round passion, not only will you enjoy it all the more but you will be better prepared and potentially have more success. Improving your hunt plans, skills and physical fitness isn’t hard. It simply requires honest self-assessment of where you are and setting realistic plans to improve. Again, there is plenty of help out there to tap into one just needs to take advantage of it! Now, is the time to establish your New Year’s Elk Hunting Resolution(s) in support of improving your chances to harvest a bull next fall!