Elk Hunting With a Bow in Extreme Conditions | Darren Choate
Elk Hunting With a Bow in Extreme Conditions
When temperatures rise, affecting rutting activity negatively, there is always one sure tactic to try — flank ‘em.
By Darren Choate
I turned off the vehicle, opened the door, and then walked a few feet away and listened. In the same location, the morning before, the air was filled with the vibrant sounds of elk rutting in the distance. However, this morning was different — complete silence.
Knowing I didn’t have a choice, I grabbed my gear, and prepared for the hunt. As I prepared, a bull sounded a bugle to the north. As I headed that direction, I checked my onX maps app to pinpoint its location. I was sure that the bull was nearby one of the few water sources that held water on this extremely dry year in Arizona. Hurriedly, I set off to the cattle tank, which was about a half-mile away.
Still, I was able to keep a location on the bull.
I closed the distance quickly. The bull was bugling regularly; however, its message was not returned by satellite bulls like the morning before. Still, I was able to keep a location on the bull. When I arrived at the tank, I was still approximately a quarter-mile behind the elk, based on the bull’s, now consistent, bugles. I continued my pursuit.
Elk Hunting With a Bow in Tow
The elk followed a ridge from the tank leading to bedding grounds on a steep slope about two miles north. Now, I was within a few hundred yards of the small herd of cows and herd bull. The group has slowed its pace, and I was closing fast. Although I had various Rocky Mountain elk calls at my disposal, I remained silent and ghost-like. Unfortunately, traversing the hot, dry terrain was noisy, and I inadvertently bumped the elk. Not entirely spooked, but moving quickly, they left the ridgeline, crossed a small ravine, and continued their intended course on the next ridge over.
As the elk topped the opposing ridgetop, I was able to get my first good look at the bull I was following. It wasn’t a “giant,” but the bull appeared to be mature with heavy mass and a few long tines. At this point, having just alerted the herd to my presence, I was faced with a dilemma. My choices were to go after one of the few bugles nearby or continue my pursuit. I turned back in the direction I had come.
Now, my goal was to get ahead of and intercept the elk.
I had only taken a few steps when I crossed a trail that I remembered being on the previous day. I knew the trail zigged down the ridge I was on and then zagged up the hill to where the bull was. Quickly, I readjusted my course, taking the zig to the bottom of the ravine. Once at the bottom, instead of taking the zag to the small group of elk, I turned and went up the drainage. Now, my goal was to get ahead of and intercept the elk.
I thought to myself, “Wow, elk hunting with a bow is tough!” I followed the small drainage for a few hundred yards and then cut to my right to get to the top of the ridge that I hoped the elk were now traveling. As I approached the crest of the ridge, the bull sounded a bugle. I was on the right track. Quickly, I topped out and set up for a shot opportunity. The bull continued to bugle, and I knew the elk were too far off the backside of the ridge for my ambush to work. I turned to my left and followed the ridgeline for another 100 yards. As I turned to my right to get to the far side of the ridgetop, I saw the lead cow in my periphery.
Taking a Shot
Although I don’t remember aiming, I heard the definitive “THWACK” of the arrow impacting the bull’s body.
Panting and unaware of my presence, the bull’s harem passed in front of me at 20 yards. The bull, bugling frenziedly, followed behind. I eyed a small circular opening in the thick vegetation that the cows were passing through. I waited for the bull to go behind the last bit of brush before entering the opening. As the bull faded into the brush, I drew and waited. When the bull passed through the opening, I released the arrow.
Although I don’t remember aiming, I heard the definitive “THWACK” of the arrow impacting the bull’s body. Luckily, in the adrenaline-packed moment, muscle memory had taken over, allowing me to make the shot. Immediately, the bull struggled to keep its legs beneath it. The bull staggered, moving to my left. I saw the impact of the arrow; it was tucked right behind the bull’s left shoulder. The bull was only able to make a few steps, falling and perishing within sight. I had successfully taken on the challenge of elk hunting with a bow, harvesting a 335-inch bull.
Tips for Elk Hunting With a Bow in Extreme Conditions
Elk hunting with a bow in tow is challenging. Take advantage of these tips to help level the playing field.
- Water: In drought conditions, water sources dry up quickly. A cattle tank of the beaten path is a great place to take ambush and wait out a thirsty bull. On this hunt, I sat water several times, passing opportunities on smaller bulls.
- Wallows: Even when the rut is suppressed, bulls are likely to visit a wallow to cool off and get a quick drink. Hunting near a wallow, especially in the afternoon, provides a definite advantage. I set a trail camera near a hub of wallows to monitor elk activity nearby.
- Calling: Elk may still be vocal in extreme conditions; however, it may be limited to early morning and late evening. For best results, while elk hunting with a bow, get in front of traveling elk with the wind to your advantage. I utilized calling tactics mainly in the early mornings when bulls were most vocal during this hunt.
- Spot-and-Stalk: Keeping quiet in dry conditions is challenging. Still, your best chance to harvest a bull in extreme conditions is to locate, follow, and flank an unsuspecting herd with a trophy bull. This tactic turned out to be the one that worked for me, taking a great bull on the ninth day of the hunt.
Get It Done Gear
Great gear choices for elk hunting with a bow.
Prime Archery Black 3
Gold Tip Air Strike
SEVR 1.5 Titanium
Darren is the Founder of Western&Whitetail. Prior to his career in the outdoors, Darren served as an Airman in the US Air Force. As a freelancer, his articles have been published online and featured in magazines such as Western Whitetail, Western Hunter, Quality Whitetails, Cabela’s Outfitter Journal, Fur-Fish-Game, and Rocky Mountain Game & Fish Magazine. Additionally, Darren spent time as the Editor In Chief of Whitetail Journal, Bowhunting World, Predator Xtreme, Archery Business and Hunting Retailer magazines with Grand View Outdoors. He is a voting member and supporter of the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA). Although he lives in elk and Coues country, Darren enjoys hunting across the country and writing about his experiences.