Gearing Up for Elk Hunting

People hunt elk for many different reasons. Some love the thrill of taking down such an enormous animal. Others enjoy providing their families with elk meat, which is often bountiful enough to last for months if one knows how to properly use a hunting knife and a deep freezer.

But elk hunting is more than just a fun way for hunters to use their guns and knives – it’s also an important way for fish and wildlife departments to balance our ecological and societal needs. As many farmers would be happy to tell you, elk hunting protects crops.

Elk forage during the autumn, looking for plants to bulk them up for the cold winter ahead. Often moving in large herds, elk seek out rich pastures where they can watch for predators as they feed. In the agricultural valleys of Washington and Oregon, elk find a veritable breadbasket of delicious crops to munch on. Indeed, the State of Oregon has stated that its main purpose in opening antlerless elk hunting late in the year is to protect farmers from elk-induced property damage.

If you’re considering taking up elk hunting, it’s important to educate yourself on the state regulations, gear requirements and general etiquette surrounding this exhilarating pastime.

Basic Elk Hunting Rules

In most states, elk hunting season takes place in the fall and is guided by certain rules. Here are a few common state regulations on elk hunting:

Kill only antlerless elk. To preserve breeding potential, many states allow hunters to take only antlerless (female) elk during the fall hunting season. This means you cannot bag male elk, even if they have recently shed their antlers. Be sure you understand the sex of the animal you’re shooting at if this law is in place in your state.

Spike-only seasons. Some areas allow hunters to kill male (bull) elk, as long as they don’t have well-developed antlers. In such cases, “spike” refers to the shape of the antlers. Spike antlers don’t have many diverting branches and are they are associated with younger elk. For more details, review your state’s elk hunting brochure, which should include clear illustrations of legal and illegal antler shapes.

Tag applications. To distribute elk hunting across their lands, states often determine ranges of dates where elk may be shot within different areas. A limited number of hunting tags are sold to restrict the number of elk taken from each zone. Once a hunter has a tag, he or she may kill a stipulated number of elk within the specified date range. For instance, the State of Oregon allows elk hunting around the Upper Nehalem River between Dec. 1 and March 15; 46 tags are sold for this zone. Each tag entitles the hunter to bag one antlerless elk during that period. Before you can go elk hunting, you must have a state-approved tag.

Elk Hunting Gear

Before setting out on an elk hunt, you should be equipped with a few items, including:

A hunter orange ensemble. Wear hunter orange to make yourself more visible to other hunters. If you’re decked out in hunter orange, you are less likely to be mistaken for an elk – and less likely to be mistakenly shot.

An LED headlamp. Once you take down a cow, you’ll need to dress it and prepare it for transport back to your vehicle. An LED headlamp is a remarkably handy tool for dressing game; it gives you the light you need to make precise cuts with your hunting knife, while keeping your hands free. An LED headlamp is also a basic survival tool you should always take with you into the wilderness.

Hunting knives, guns, and archery kits. All of these weapons may be used to hunt elk. Guns are the most popular choice. If you choose to hunt with a gun, keep in mind that there may be additional regulations guiding the types of firearms that may be used to hunt elk. Every elk hunter needs a good hunting knife for dressing game, as well; some knives are specially designed to “unzip” an animal’s belly and remove cuts of meat.

A guide. If you’re new to elk hunting, it’s wise to enlist the help of a friend or a professional elk hunting guide.

A way to remove meat. If you are successful enough to take down an elk, you will need a way to carry it back to your car. After you’ve used your hunting knives to field dress the game , you may use a sled, game removal cart, ATV or even a bicycle to remove your win from the field.

Finally, keep in mind that you may need to track an animal after it’s been shot. Like most large game, elk will often keep running after being hit. In addition to excellent skills with wielding a gun and a hunting knife, elk hunting requires strong tracking abilities. To develop these skills, tag along with several experienced hunters until you feel confident about bagging an elk on your own.

[ Photo by: USFS Region 5 on Flickr ]

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