Wayne Carlton On Elk Hunting

Editor’s Note: Wayne Carlton of Montrose, Colorado, the creator of Carlton’s Calls, part of Hunter’s Specialties fine call line, has been known as an expert elk hunter/turkey hunter for many years. This week we’ll learn some of Carlton’s elk tactics.

Question: Wayne, one of the biggest problems in shooting a bull with a bow is following him. When do you start looking for your elk after you’ve arrowed him, and how do you go about finding him?
Carlton: I go back to calling again. If you have an opportunity for a shot, as soon as you release, and the arrow hits that animal, start calling. Too, if the arrow misses the animal, start calling. It calms everything down and can make your life much simpler than when you shoot an animal, and it takes off running. Calling to an elk the moment the arrow hits calms things down, and on many occasions, I’ve seen an elk actually tip over and fall down with an arrow stuck in him.

Simply because you’re calling, the elk doesn’t know what has stopped him. They don’t know whether another elk has come up and gored him or if there’s a limb stuck in his chest. The elk doesn’t realize someone has just shot him, and, when you call, it calms everybody down. In some cases, I’ve even mortally wounded an elk had it run away from me, and then turn and come back. Then I’ve shot him again, just to make sure I’ve got him and I don’t have to track him. Once you shoot an animal with a gun or a bow, as long as it’s standing, you’d better keep shooting. Rig one arrow after the other.

Your initial question was how long to wait before retrieving an elk you’ve shot. Knowing the anatomy of an elk, if you’ve shot one in the liver, it takes the elk about 45 minutes to expire. On a gut shot, many times the hardest thing for hunters to do is wait to return the next day. Mark the spot on your GPS, or flag it, but don’t start chasing because you will be waiting.

If you shoot an elk in the gut, you can mark the area where the elk is and then come back the next day. Chances are the elk will still be alive, but he won’t get up and you’ll be able to finish him off.

Question: How far will a gut-shot elk usually go?
Carlton: They will lie down at the first opportunity, and that’s where calling can help. It calms them down, even though they’ve been shot in the gut. They usually lie down within a few hundred yards, if the vegetation is right.

Question: Wayne, if you feel you’ve got a good shot on an elk, how long do you wait before you follow him?
Carlton: If I think I got a good shot, I’ll wait until I hear it fall down. Then I’ll begin to look within 5 to 10 minutes, but only if I heard the elk fall. I also listen for the elk’s last gasp or groan. After hearing that, I’ll wait 5 or 10 minutes and slip to where he is. If there’s a monster-sized blood trail, then you know you’ve got that elk; you just have to retrieve him. If it’s only a little bit of blood, and you didn’t make a double lung shot, as soon as the blood trail gets light, you need to question yourself and maybe wait another 30 minutes to an hour.

Question: Let’s talk about getting the elk out of the woods. Once you’ve got your elk, how do you get him out?
Carlton: Elk live in rough places. It can be a real chore to get an entire carcass out of the woods. Most times we take the hams, the backstrap, the tenderloins, the shoulders, the neck meat and leave all the heavy bones. When we pack out the meat on our backs, it weighs several hundred pounds.

You want to get the meat out before it ruins, so skin and strip the elk, unless you’re saving the cape. If want to save the cape, run a knife right down the middle of the elk’s back, if he’s lying on his right side. Then take the hide, and fold it over to the left. Encasing or cutting around the leg bones and taking the hide off the hams and off the shoulder blade will enable you to lift the entire shoulder off and put it in a bag with hardly any hair on the meat.

I do the same thing with the ham. I’ll take the ham off at the joint, without sawing it. After taking it off at the joint, you can pick it up and put it in a game bag because the hide is lying upside down to the left side, which makes the meat easy-to-reach. Then you can take the backstrap off. It’s easy to work on then because you can reach right in front of where the hip is and, before the ribcage starts, make an incision there to go into the body cavity. After doing it a couple of times, it’s not that hard to do. Then you can take out the tenderloins without removing the innards.

Once you’ve got all that done, you simply turn the animal over, get the backstrap across the back and take the tenderloin out from the inside. The tenderloin is lying on the opposite side of those bones. So, now we’ve got half the elk done. You don’t have to take the guts out, you simply roll him around on the other side and do the same thing, and you’ve got all your edible meat with the exception of the ribcage, which some people use for jerky.