Editor's Note: Hunter's Specialties' Pro Matt Morrett of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, usually hunts the entire elk season, either with his bow, a blackpowder rifle or a conventional rifle. Last week, Morrett told us how to get ready to take a bull elk, and this week he'll tell us how he gets close enough to take the bulls with his bow.
Question: Matt, last week we talked about how to get ready for elk hunting. Now you're ready to go. When you get to elk camp, usually you'll have a piece of property you're planning to hunt. How do you scout that property to find the bull you want?
Morrett: I hunt elk just like I hunt turkeys. I go to an area that I want to hunt, and I try to cover a lot of ground and listen for elk to bugle. On many days you may not even hear an elk. On those days, you've just got to put in the legwork and go looking for them.
Hunting elk isn't any different than hunting any other animal. You need to learn where the elk feed, water and bed. In arid country, I concentrate on areas where elk can get water, and where they have wallows. Water is critical to an elk. They've got to have it. So many times, if you can find an isolated water hole, you'll see lots of elk there. If you don't know the land you're hunting on or the elk's movement patterns, the easiest place to see an elk is where he drinks, and where he wallows. A bull's going to mark his territory with his wallows, and he'll frequent them on a regular basis. So, if you don't know where to hunt, find water, and search for a bull.
Question: Plenty of hunters can find a bull, but they have an extremely difficult time getting close to that bull. How do you do it? How do you get close enough to take a shot with a bow?
Morrett: There are two critical keys to taking a bull from the ground with a bow. First, you can't let the bull smell you. Second, don't chase the bulls - let the elk come to you. Of all the animals I've hunted, elk are by far the most difficult for getting close to them.
Elk have two advantages in their favor. They have really big noses, and they can smell an awful lot of odor from a very long way off. The second advantage they have is long legs. They can cover in one step the ground that it takes you five steps to cover. So, they can cover a lot of ground very quickly. To get in close, you've got to prevent an elk from smelling you. Always hunt into the wind, and always use the Hunter's Specialties Scent-A-Way scent-elimination system. Wash your body and clothes, and spray-down all your gear with Scent-A-Way. Keep your clothes as scent-free as possible by placing them in a Scent-Safe bag when you take them out of the dryer. Don't put on your hunting clothes until you get to the woods.
Once you're scent-free and hunting into the wind, the next secret to getting close to elk is to let the elk come to you - don't try to go to them. Try and get to a vantage point where you can see the bull you want to take. Observe him with binoculars, and try to determine the direction he's headed. Once you decide the direction he's going, get in front of him, and let him come to you. I've been far more successful in letting bulls come to me, instead of my going after them. When you try to predict where an animal will go, you're going to guess wrong quite a few times. But when you guess right, you can have a big bull in your lap.
You can't rush an elk hunt. You can't hurry-up and take that bull. You've got to use the terrain to your advantage and let the bull come to you on his schedule, not your schedule. When you've done everything right, you're set-up correctly and the bull's coming to you, then you have to know you're scent-free, just in case the wind changes direction. Elk calling, like turkey calling, can be really simple. If you're where the turkey or bull wants to go anyway, then the calling just gives him a little extra incentive to come to you. If you're trying to call a bull to a place he doesn't want to be, regardless of how good you are at calling, you're probably not going to get a shot at that bull elk.
Question: Matt, what kinds of calls are you giving when you've got an elk in close and you want to draw him into bow range?
Morrett: I have a really difficult time calling when elk are in-close. My knees start shaking, and I get so excited I can hardly breathe or blow an elk call. My biggest problem when an elk's in close is my nerves. If the elk's coming to me, I'm not going to say anything to him at all. But if he stops and hangs-up, I'll cup my hand over my call and turn my hand and call behind me, off to my left or off to my right. I want to the bull to hear me, but I want him to come in and not be certain of the exact spot he's heard that cow call. When he's in close, I'm going to give him really soft cow and calf talk.
Many people say elk can't see very well, but I don't believe that. I've had them come in, look straight at me and wheel and run. So I don't want them to know for sure exactly where I am. That's the reason I believe learning how to throw your call can be critically important when you're hunting elk. This is when I'll often use the Squeeze Me call, because I can point that call in any direction, squeeze the bulb and get a perfect cow call. When you're hunting by yourself, you need to be able to throw your call, but if you have someone calling for you, they can use their calls to move that bull right in front of you.
Question: Do you believe that buddy hunting is the best way to take elk?
Morrett: Absolutely. You increase your odds 100% when one hunter does the calling, and the other hunter does the shooting. The caller can get behind you and move to the left or right and throw his calls. Then the elk's looking for the cow that's making the call, not looking for you. So all you as a hunter have to do is look for the spot to take the shot. If you've got a buddy you can hunt with, let your buddy be the caller one day, and you be the shooter. The next day you be the caller and let him be the shooter. You'll both get your bulls quicker and easier by using this buddy-hunting tactic.