Prepare for your First Elk Hunt
Extreme elk hunting is a lot of work, but it can be highly enjoyable and memorable even if you arrive back home empty handed. If you’re planning your first extreme elk hunting expedition, spend time researching the area where you will be hunting. Look online for pictures, look at maps, and if you know someone who has hunted elk in that area, talk to them about it. They can offer you valuable insight that you can’t get from maps and photos. If you have the opportunity to take a pre-hunt camping trip in late October or November to the area you plan to hunt, it can be very valuable for getting a feel for the land.
Studying the land and talking to people who know the land is a great step towards mentally preparing yourself for the hunt. But you also have to become physically prepared. Elk live in tough terrain, and extreme elk hunting is physically demanding.
As soon as you make your plans for extreme elk hunting, you should purchase a high quality backpack if you don’t have one and start hiking carrying it on your back. Increase the weight in your backpack as your stamina and strength improve. During the hunt, you’ll be hiking a few miles off-road. Walking a few miles in the mountains is much more physically demanding than walking a few miles on gentle or flat terrain. If you are able, hike the steepest hills in your area up and down, carrying your backpack. Work up to where you can carry 30 lbs. in the backpack.
You can collect your gear in the backpack and hike with it on your back, fully loaded a few times a week. Your leg muscles and back muscles will appreciate your preparation. Unless you’re already a fit athlete, if you don’t you practice carrying your gear up and down hills before your hunt, you could spend a lot of the time sitting around in your elk camp rather than actually hunting elk. Another factor that can cause problems in extreme elk hunting for those who do not live in a mountainous area is that hiking at high altitudes is physically harder than hiking at lower altitudes because the air up high is thinner. You can strengthen your lungs for the task by sometimes running sprints up hills (without your backpack) or riding a bicycle up hills as fast as you can.
As far as equipment goes, you’ll of course need your rifle and other gear specific to extreme elk hunting, but you’ll also need good quality camping equipment. A good four-season tent can be expensive, but if it is designed to keep rain and snow out of the tent, you will be glad you have it in that situation. Wet sleeping bags are not comfortable.
Speaking of sleeping bags, choose one that is rated to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and is lightweight. Again, the extra money you spend on a good, lightweight sleeping bag can be money well spent.
A collapsible wood stove or a lightweight propane stove will be necessary for cooking in the elk camp. Again, lightweight is better. A good, lightweight stove can boil water in a matter of minutes. Water will have to be purified. You can use a purifier that you dip into a stream before pumping the water through several filters. You can also purchase iodine tablets that purify water. Skipping this step can make your hunting experience very unpleasant.
Food should ideally be both lightweight and high in protein. You cannot skimp on calories when extreme elk hunting. It is a physically demanding activity. Lightweight snacks like trail mix, beef jerky, and protein bars are good to have. You should have a hot meal once a day. Oatmeal, freeze dried foods, and ramen noodles are good choices that are easy to prepare.
Other gear you’ll need includes a GPS and a compass (in case the GPS stops working), a first aid kit, and a satellite phone, which can be rented, and which can be a good thing to have in extreme elk hunting, particularly if you get hurt.
Another few words of advice on mental preparation for an extreme elk hunting: the success rate is low – sometimes 20% or less, so you may well go home without a bull, but that’s OK. You’ll increase your chances by getting into physical shape, researching the area in which you plan to hunt, practicing your calling techniques, and asking your self a few “what if” questions to prepare yourself. “What if my tent has a hole?” “What if I sprain an ankle?” and, of course, “What if I see an elk?” Mentally rehearsing various scenarios is beneficial in preparing yourself for the actual event.