Elk are two animals in one body. You get one version during the rut, and an entirely different beast the rest of the year.
Bob had never shot an elk with his bow. He had tried for five straight years in his home state of Montana, but bulls always gave him the slip. A few years ago, he asked me for help.
I had drawn a nonresident elk tag in the Treasure State that year, so I suggested that Bob and I hook up. We had both hunted the same public area before, so we decided to camp and bowhunt together for a few days. I hoped I could help Bob break his jinx.
The very first morning, half-a-dozen bulls were bugling as we hiked into a remote canyon. A nice 6×6 with several cows appeared in a meadow 200 yards away. Bob immediately crouched behind a bush and froze.
“Let’s go get ’em,” I suggested.
“I don’t want to scare them away,” Bob replied.
“Come on,” I insisted. “We won’t get that bull sitting behind this bush!”
The next 20 minutes were an eye-opener for my friend. With me in the lead, we scampered from tree to tree and bush to bush every time those elk dropped their heads to feed. On four occasions, cows or calves caught our movement and momentarily stared. But the bull was rutting and oblivious. He was constantly pushing females around. None of those elk ran away, because they were concentrating on mating.
Bob and I hooked past the herd in a heavy stand of trees, and crouched to one side as animals filtered past at ranges between 20 and 50 yards. A crosswind kept our scent away.
Suddenly, the herd bull bugled nearby and sauntered into view. As usually happens during the rut, he was moving non-stop to keep his girlfriends in sight and keeping a wary eye peeled for intruding bulls. The 6×6 paused 30 yards away, and Bob shot him through the chest. Ten minutes later, we were high-fiving over his first archery elk.
In my experience, many elk archers are too timid when they try to call or stalk bulls. Elk will often let you move, even when they see something suspicious.
As long as you keep the wind right—no animal doubts its nose—you are better off being overly aggressive rather than overly cautious on elk. Sure, you will blow some opportunities, but you will blow more by tiptoeing when you should be hot-footing it.
Be sure to wear camouflage that matches the vegetation, and even just as important, keep your silhouette broken by always having a bush or something just behind you. Getting busted in the open is almost as bad as getting winded.