Poor Man's Hunting Guide: DIY Hunting Tips For Elk

There are benefits to hunting deep in the backcountry, penetrating remote wilderness and creeping into barren deserts. The advantages are psychological, strategic and financial. Off the grid, there’s still a place for the guy who likes to earn his trophy, rather than pay for it.

In this article, we provide tips on the best decoys to pack, and how and where to use them. Hunting in the backcountry can be physically and mentally taxing, and most of your time will be spent huffing up and down mountains in search of elk. Packing the right gear is crucial to make the trip worthwhile.

Public Land Hot Spots for Elk

Elk hunting is often the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Western hunts. Easterners, most of which are “flatlanders,” are sometimes happy for the opportunity to see a bull, while residents are on the prowl for a trophy elk. Here’s the deal: If you are a non-resident looking for a trophy bull, be prepared to wait many years to build enough points to draw a tag in an area where they are plentiful. Then you can either spend a lot of money paying an outfitter or plan a DIY elk hunt on public land. The latter option requires work, but only makes the reward so much sweeter. Prepare yourself to trek into terrain that will make others turn around.

A sound knowledge of the area you are planning to hunt is paramount. It will take research, scouting and backup plans for the backup plan. Here’s a primer on the best areas where over-the-counter (OTC) elk tags are easy to come by, terrain is harsh enough to allow bulls to grow big and hunting pressure remains low.

Colorado Public Land OTC Elk Hunting

The elk population continues to thrive in Colorado, and OTC elk tags are available in 93 game management units beginning mid July. With unlimited tags being sold over the counter in many areas, overcoming the hunting pressure is a challenge many bowhunters thrive on.

Before you even start researching, you have to be honest with yourself. Are you ready for a Colorado backcountry elk hunt? Do you have the basic gear? Are you physically fit? Do you have the mental toughness? These answers will help you determine where to plan a Colorado DIY elk hunt, and where to focus your research. Once you know the answers to these questions, read our article on the best OTC Colorado elk hunting units

Oregon Public Land OTC Elk Hunting

Oregon’s Pacific Coast offers a large amount of public land to hunt Roosevelt’s elk, and tags are available over the counter in most units. Take a look at the Siuslaw and Alsea units in the Siuslaw National Forest. There is a good population there that hole up in the dense timber and steep mountains there, making it prime Roosevelt’s elk country.

Unlike Colorado, planning the best DIY elk hunt in Oregon relies less on research and more on strategy. A Roosevelt’s demeanor is more like a whitetail – they are less nomadic than their Rocky Mountain cousins and need to be located by patterning the herd. Fresh sign can be all around you, but the presence of elk can be nil. It can be frustrating, but for the DIY bowhunter looking to hunt a different breed of elk in a coastal terrain, the legwork and hard work can pay off mightily. Put less time into research (there is not much information out there anyhow) and more into scouting. Learn about the Oregon’s archery elk season and licenses here.

Idaho Public Land OTC Elk Hunting

Take the population of elk and hunters in Colorado, flip them over, and you get something resembling the OTC elk hunting experience in Idaho – fewer bulls but fewer hunters too. However, the definition of “fewer hunters” is relative to the unit you are hunting. Unit 66A, for example, gets its fair share of nonresident hunters and predation from wolves, but the elk hunting success numbers are hard to argue with. The amount of tags elk tags filled in 66A ranks among the best OTC Idaho elk hunting units. More impressive is the size of the bulls harvested. Forty percent had six points or more or during the last five years and that number is trending higher with some 46 percent of bulls harvested last year with six or more points. Unit 66A is either feast or famine. Always have an elk decoy close because hunters willing to put up with days of seeing no elk can suddenly stumble upon a canyon full of bulls.  

Other notable public elk hunting areas in Idaho include Unit 30, where one in four hunters filled a tag in 2012. Trophy potential is good in the timbered areas of Unit 30. With easy access, getting away from the unit’s crowds can be challenging, so if you are looking for a more remote hunt, check out neighboring Unit 29. Catch their eye with a cow elk decoy. To find other honey holes, use the resources here.

Elk Decoys to Pack

Decoying elk has become vital to success for the DIY elk hunters in the states above. Whether it’s the hunting pressure in Colorado, the thick timber in Oregon or the wolves in Idaho, calling elk is tough. The Eichler Elk decoy is perfect for public land bowhunters chasing bulls in hard-hunted country and demanding terrain. Other elk decoys you will want in your pack include Miss September, RMEF Cow Elk, and the Elk Rump.

Public Land Bowhunting Elk Decoy Tactics

Bulls will begin to round up cows, whether they’re in heat or not, in mid-August. He's hoping that she'll pick him as a breeding partner once she’s ready to breed. It is a perfect time for elk decoying tactics.

To appeal to all the senses of a mature bull, combine calling, scents and decoying tactics. In the early season, use cow elk scent, though not cow-in-heat because it is used in a limited period during the rut. Also, keep handy a cow call and one of Montana Decoy’s three elk decoys.

Your setup will vary on whether you are hunting timber or meadows, but the basic idea is to lure the elk past your shooting lane while he is focused on the decoy and not you. What decoy you use is personal preference, but some may work better in certain situations.

If you are covering a lot of ground, the features of the new Eichler Elk decoy make it even easier to carry and setup when time is a concern. In dense cover, the broadside pose of the RMEF Cow Elk increases the chance a bull will see it among patches of thick timber. The relaxed and confident feeding pose of Montana Decoy’s Miss September can work to your advantage on public land where hunting pressure is high and the elk are call shy. And even though all the decoys in our elk herd are lightweight and packable, Miss September is the lightest at 33 ounces. For bivy hunters going deep into the backcountry, shaving a few ounces off your pack load may be important.  

Appealing to all five senses of a mature bull in the early season will help you get the shot of a lifetime. Realistic calls, scents and decoys will cover hearing, smell and sight. When you get the bull of your dreams in range, the impact of the arrow and a mouthful of dirt will cover feel and taste.

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