Better Elk Hunting: Start Prepping Now For Your Next Public-Land Hunt

For elk hunters who seek a realistic chance for success in 2020, the future is now. If you're among the procrastinators, fear not—this proven plan can help.

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

For elk hunters who seek a realistic chance for success in 2020, the future is now. If you’re among the procrastinators, fear not—this proven plan can help.


Elk season is just six months away for bowhunters and the starting point for some early rifle seasons. Are you ready? Are you really ready? Test your readiness as you read through some of the prep you need to consider overcoming the challenges of hunting elk on public lands, with do-it-yourself determination.

THE REALITY OF ELK HUNTING. Unless you have applied for bonus points for 10 or more years, and fortuitously drew a premium tag in a limited-draw unit, you’ll be facing one of hunting’s toughest challenges. Even limited units brimming with elk can be demanding depending on the ruggedness of the terrain. Add in hundreds or more hunters in a landscape that oozes with “oh s**t!” roadblocks while hunting a long-legged marathon champion, and you have a true test of your grit ahead.

By the opener, most public-land elk have an escape plan in place, or have already trekked to a remote canyon for seclusion. To follow, you should be able to hike 10 miles per day with gear. Sound daunting? Stay with me. Some of those miles will include ascents of more than 1,000 feet in boulders, scree and downed timber. Now for the hard part. If you are successful, you are responsible for packing out, most likely on your back, nearly 300 pounds of deboned meat and gear. That’s the brutal reality.

ElkPrep8 900DOCTOR’S ORDERS. If you’re in your 20s, lean and mean, you might be able to skip this section. For the rest of you who have a proud set of love handles, your first step should be to meet with a physician. Have them advise you on how to start, expand and continue a physical fitness routine. You don’t necessarily have to bring Marie Osmond into the meeting for weight loss, but you do need to tone your muscles. When elk season arrives, you need to be toned and ready for five to 10 days of taxing, physical activity. ElkPrep4 900WALK THIS WAY. Once your doctor green-lights you with guidance on how to begin training, my advice is to start easy. Take plenty of walks. You will be walking a lot during an elk hunt. In the morning you’ll likely be hustling across slopes to catch herds headed to bedding cover. Most afternoons you’ll likely be in the same chase, following herds on their way to grazing opportunities. While prepping invite your spouse, your hunting partner and leash the dog. You can walk four miles or more in an hour after dinner, instead of watching “Wheel of Fortune.” After a couple of weeks include a weighted pack to your walk for added realism. Remember, your legs will be taking you to the elk and back.

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HIT THE GYM WITH USAIN BOLT. Leg day at the gym is important. Set aside several hours a week for this discipline. Remember that all of your hunting miles will include ascents and descents. Your physician may have offered some exercise ideas, and I also recommend consulting with a personal trainer at the gym before beginning. Squats, with or without weights, and leg lunges are two good movements to consider. Squat and thigh machines aid you in avoiding injury and maximizing your sweat equity. Don’t forget to incorporate stair climber or elliptical machines, plus treadmills into your regular workout time; do so and your legs will slowly begin to carry you further on walks between gym visits.

ElkPrep7 900HIT THE GYM WITH DWAYNE JOHNSON. Upper-body strength is also important in the elk woods. In addition to carrying and drawing a bow or toting a rifle, you’ll use your arms to claw up canyons and hopefully, disassemble an elk. Again, consult with a physician or trainer, but you can go basic and still benefit, with pull-ups and push-ups between cardio. A simple set of dumbbells for curls while at the gym, or watching “Wheel of Fortune” is quick, and easy for lifting sequences. Barbells and dumbbell exercises also aid in back, and core strengthening. That’s important for backpacking loads without injury. Ask your trainer for beneficial bodybuilding routines and take a couple laps around your local gym’s weight-lifting machines.

ElkPrep1 900REAL-WORLD WORKOUTS. Even though my basement is set up as a redneck fitness center I’ll admit that I dislike “gym” workouts. To ease that pain, throughout the year I balance time in the gym with time in elk country, but I’m lucky enough to be able to access that type of extreme habitat with a short drive. In the winter I don my predator-gear-filled backpack, together with a heavy rifle, and trod through the snow after coyotes, sometimes on

ElkPrep9 900snowshoes. In the spring I chase gobblers in the foothills and rock-climb canyons looking for dropped elk antlers. Summer finds me continuing the search for antlers while scouting elk patterns for the season ahead. And yes, I live in the backcountry for most of elk season. If you’re lucky enough, include this type of routine in your workout—minus the elevation if you live east of the Mississippi.

ElkPrep10 900TAKE A BREAK AND APPLY. Hopefully you have one or more elk applications in the pipeline already. If not, your choices are limited to leftover cow/calf tags, or over-the-counter units in Colorado. Between bouts of sweat-inducing workouts, stay abreast of all license opportunities. Now is the time to research if you can acquire an OTC, leftover or landowner tag for the coming season if unsuccessful earlier. Some states, like my home state of Wyoming and neighboring Montana, offer the opportunity to purchase preference or bonus points outside of the drawing window—without applying. Other states make you purchase the point before the application deadline. Review those options and brush up on all license requirements so you don’t miss the elk boat. I use (and recommend) Worldwide Trophy Adventures to help me stay organized with my various elk applications.

ElkPrep11 900TAKE ANOTHER BREAK AND SCOUT. Do you want to check to see if your gym membership (and hunt unit consideration) have merit? Schedule a summer vacation to the area for a firsthand look. Plan a camping trip, maybe a visit to a national park, and take in the area’s historic sites. In between, visit the elk area you’ve targeted to understand its intricacies. You can garner loads of information by “virtually scouting” with your HuntStand app from home. The bonus benefit of being on site is to test trails, review habitat hotspots, and make helpful notes in your HuntStand app of significant discoveries. Topographical lines on an image may look steep, but

ElkPrep13 900actually seeing and experiencing a slope gives you a true understanding if the route is actually doable. It’s also wise to pack along a couple of trail cameras to scout in your absence until hunting season—maybe trained on a wallow like the one above. And after a couple of hikes you’ll know if it’s appropriate to slap yourself on the back for setting up a great fitness program—or kick yourself in the butt to step it up a notch during your final pre-hunt weeks. ElkPrep5 900TAKE A FINAL BREAK AND PLAN. A final consideration is to get critical gear organized. Your firsthand on-site visit will give you some of that prep. Did your tent have enough space? Did you get blisters from your boots? Did you successfully navigate with your HuntStand app; even under the cover of darkness?

Prepare a detailed gear list and test everything. Understand how your water filter works, along with your Camp Chef Stryker portable stove. Go through your first aid and survival needs. Acquire backcountry solar-charging equipment, and smart backup navigation gear such as a map, and compass. HuntStand will even print a detailed waterproof map of your specific hunting area, to minimize map clutter.

Prep yourself for the elk adventure ahead of you now. Public-land elk hunting includes many trials and tribulations, but with smart, thoughtful planning and preparation, you can meet (and beat!) the odds for a successful elk ending.



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