How to Prepare for Backcountry Elk Hunting

Listening for Bugles
So you just booked your first archery elk hunt. You’ll be hunting with an outfitter and now the questions have started to roll around in your head. The main one being — What do I need to do to be prepared for backcountry elk hunting? That sparks more questions such as these: How good of shape do I need to be in; What equipment do I need; How far should I be prepared to shoot; What is an average day going to look like; and on and on…

I will attempt to answer some of the more common questions we get at Outdoors International as we send hundreds of elk hunters in the field every year. See our Elk Hunts »

Backcountry elk hunting can be very physical

Pysical condition is always key when chasing elk in the Rocky Mountain West. Sure, there are some easy physical hunts (and we have them) but they are far and few between. Most archery elk hunts will demand a high level of fitness for success and enjoyment of your hunt. No one likes to wake up super sore on day two! We recommend you start a fitness program at least six months before your hunt, or at a minimum, 90 days. We send most our clients to Train to Hunt. You need to train with a pack on and you need to have good cardio. It’s very likely you will be hunting at elevations of 7,000’+ if not 9,000’+, and at those elevations there just isn’t as much oxygen, and you will feel it if you’re not ready. I’ll end this section using a statement I say often. “There is no hunter ever, in the history of hunting, who has stood at 9,000’ft, chasing bulls, wishing he was in worse shape.”

    The right gear is critical for backcountry elk hunting

    Kenetrek BootsNow, lets talk equipment. You will need good boots, I recommend the Kenetrek Mountain Extreme, non-insulated. They are the best September elk hunting boot on the market in my opinion. Your feet are your most important tool to take care of on an elk hunt, don’t go cheap. For your hunting clothing, get a good layering system and plan for warm mid day temps and a wide variety of temps and conditions. I wear Kryptek’s gear, it’s made well for a great price and has been tested and proven by the military to be the best camo pattern in the high end, hunting apparel industry. For your backpack, I like Eberlstock. If you want light (which is most likely on a guided hunt) then go with the X2. If you are packing in, get the Blue Widow. I’m a Hoyt and Black Gold man on bows and for sure take along a set of T.A.G Bags. It’s always nice to have a good knife along and the new LoneRock knives by Kershaw are awesome.

    Other than that, you can find a printable gear list here.

    It’s not going to be easy, but it will be fun… if you’re prepared.

    Spotted Elk
    Be mentally prepared that you will be getting up usually at least an hour before light and going to bed at least 2 hours after light. It’s a, go to bed at 11pm and get up at 4am deal. Sleep deprivation is always a part of chasing bulls with stick and string. Slip in a nap, mid day, if you can….it will help huge by the end of the hunt. Don’t forget the importance of a good headlamp (and extra batteries) as many times you will have it on, both morning and evening on your way in and out. You will be likely hiking several miles a day. Don’t forget mole skin for blisters. Blisters can shut down a hunt. You will likely hunt hard in the morning and take a break mid day, or sit on a wallow. Hunters that want to keep going mid day are often just blowing out elk….don’t press your guide if he suggests you lay low during the heat of the day. The evening hunt will be short, everything will happen quickly…move with a purpose and error on the side of aggression. Most of the best evening hunting happens quickly. Usually in the last 45 minutes to an hour. Lastly, be ready to shoot as far as you can…sounds like common sense, but often clients limit themselves by what they practice. If guys practice out to 40, then that is all they are good at. If you practice at 80 all the time, you will be good at that too. Practice long range…it makes a 30 yard shot feel like a chip shot.

    I’m so excited for you to be getting out on the coolest hunt in the world. You will enjoy your adventure, far more, if you are prepared physically, mentally and have the right equipment with you. As a side note, if you’d like to learn more on the calling side of things, this is an excellent podcast to listen to, where I interview the 7 time world champion elk caller, Corey Jacobsen.

    by Marc Warnke

    Corey Jacobsen of Extreme Elk Magazine

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