Bowhunting Elk For Beginners—Everything You Need To Know

Bowhunting Elk For Beginners
Bowhunting Elk For Beginners

I’ll be honest, hunting for elk is difficult, and if you plan on trying your hand at it without the slightest clue of what to do, then you will find out pretty quickly that it isn’t the hunt that you were hoping for before heading out into the field.

If you’ve been hunting other wildlife, such as deer or any other game, then you might think that hunting elk will be a little something like that, but, unfortunately for a beginner, this is usually not the case. 

There are many mistakes that you can make, intentional or not, that can ruin the outcome of your very first elk hunting trip, so coming in with a good idea of what you should be doing will help out a lot if you’ve never done this before.

Some game is smarter, more aggressive, and more alert than other wildlife, like the elk, so keep in mind that for your hunt you will have to be more cautious, strategic, and confident than you normally would during a hunt for deer, for example.

The tips I’m about to share with you are the same tips that I use and have been using for many years when hunting elk and feel like they will help you too so that you can get the upper hand on your elk when you finally decide to go and make that trip.

With that being said, here are 13 useful and effective tips that will raise your chances of hunting down your first elk

1) You’ll Need A Heavier Draw Weight

Not to say that the bow or weight you use for hunting deer and other smaller games isn’t good enough, but when you’re messing with elk, you’ll need to use something a little heavier. Elk are very large animals, so having as much draw weight as possible is always recommended when hunting them. It is recommended to use a weight anywhere from 65-70 pounds. This can be difficult to draw if you’re not experienced with hunting larger game but is something that you will need to get used to beforehand so that you are ready for your hunt.

Elk are tough and very hard to take down compared to what you might be used to, so when hunting them you’ll want to make sure that you are going for the kill shot the first time around.

If you notice that your accuracy suffers at higher poundages, then elk hunting is probably not something you should tackle until you are ready. Hunting elk is difficult so you want to make sure you’re getting this aspect of your hunt down before anything so that you don’t blow possibly the only shot you’ll have that trip at killing an elk.

Typically, children and women will shoot bows that have lighter draw weights, so if you’re hunting and want to bring your kids or wife along, then using a bow with less poundage then you can maybe work if your bow setup is good.

2) Don’t Call Excessively

As a beginner when you don’t see elk, you might think that calling a bunch will be the solution to this, but typically, it’s not. Elk are very shy when it comes to answering calls and will not respond to one as easily as they used to. This is because elk have gotten used to inauthentic calls over time and can usually tell the difference between what a real one is and what’s not.

Calling will work if you keep it to a minimum and space your calls out between each call, but just remember to not overdo it as this will end up being ineffective and will actually scare the elk away. If you’ve spotted an elk or feel like there might be one nearby your location, then break out a cow call so that you can keep them at ease while you sneak up on them.

Using a cow call can buy you time by swaying the elk’s attention toward the call and less toward the noises you will be making as you try to get closer to them.

Calls are very effective if used properly, but there is truly no better way, in my opinion, to hunt elk than by using a lot of stealth and patience instead. Remember to stay calm and use your call only if you absolutely have to.

3) Choose The Right Broadheads

I know it can sometimes be a pain, but before hunting elk, you’ll probably want to invest in some low-friction broadheads. The reason being is that high-friction heads can actually lose a ton of their force upon impact. These heads might be okay if you’re hunting deer, for example, but when hunting elk you’ll need all the force you can get it.

When making your shot you’ll want to make sure your head is carrying enough power to easily pass right through. Elk have a ton of blood and can handle a lot more damage than a lot of other games so creating two spots for the elk to bleed out of is important for getting them to go down a lot quicker.

If you already have low-friction heads, then you are in luck, but if not, then picking up ones with sharp noses and streamlined shapes should get the job done.

4) Determining Distance Is Critical

Accuracy is everything when it comes to hunting elk, so bringing along a rangefinder will help you out greatly in determining exactly how far the elk is from you and where exactly you should be aiming when preparing for your shot.

No matter how good an arrow is, it can and will arch in the air after you take your shot, and unfortunately, this can throw your shot off just enough to miss a vital organ needed to take down an elk. A lot of elk that are shot are usually shot from uneven grounds and can mess a shot up if the distance is not measured correctly.

So, it is recommended to use a rangefinder that can help with determining where your bow needs to be placed by taking the angle of your bow into consideration. Also, to really ensure accuracy, using a sight with sight pins that light up can really help when hunting for elk in conditions with low light.

In some states, there are restrictions when it comes to using certain types of equipment that light up, so do a little research on whether your state bans this or not before purchasing or hunting with one.

5) Utilizing A Stand

I love working the ground when hunting for deer, but if you want to take it a step further and be extra sneaky, then setting up a tree stand or ground blind near a food source, such as a field or meadow, can be very rewarding for you if done correctly.

Before setting up a shot by any area where you feel that elk might go, use a store-bought odor neutralizer or homemade scent eliminator so that you don’t accidentally end up getting spotted and losing your elk.

It might be a while until an elk responds to one of your calls or gets hungry enough to head in your direction toward a food source, so making sure you have padding in your shoes, tree stand, or ground blind is very important. It would suck to finally have an elk walk past just to lose it due to too much moving around trying to find a comfortable position to settle in.

Elk can be aggressive and accidents do happen so keeping your stand or blind away from a waterhole or wallow is extremely important for keeping you out of a potentially deadly situation.

6) Take More Chances

Calling and waiting doesn’t always work, so when all else fails, get out there and track them down a little more aggressively. It is important that you use good hunting strategies at all times, but sometimes getting out there and taking chances might be the only time you’ll have a shot at killing an elk.

Although more of a last resort type of approach, this can sometimes be shown to be proven effective when using stealth and patience doesn’t work.

This method of hunting has not always worked when I’ve used it, but surprisingly enough it has helped me get pretty close to some elk before being spotted. If you are good at working your way through the field and taking advantage of noises, cow calls, and other luring mechanisms, then the chances of this approach being successful are that much higher.

Being aggressive does not mean running through the woods while making as much noise as you can until you find an elk, but instead just moving a lot quicker toward your prey than you normally would. It’s better to be caught by being aggressive and more straightforward than to wait and not find an elk at all.

7) Travel A Little Further

If you’re not having a whole lot of luck spotting an elk from where you’ve been searching, then your next best move would be to go mobile. If you want to really increase your chances of scoring a bull then traveling out and preparing to put some footwork in is something you may have to be willing to do.

When walking a few miles out from where any roads are, you might notice that there is a very noticeable line where boot prints stop and elk tracks start, this is where you’ll want to be. If you see this, then you’ll know that the elk have moved more toward this area to get away from hunters.  

This can take a lot of stamina and endurance, but if you’re serious about catching an elk, you’ll have to go that extra mile. After all, hunters that do what most hunters won’t only reap the benefits of doing so.

8) Shoot While You Can

As you may know by now, hunting elk is pretty tricky, so when an opportunity arises for you to bag one, you’ll want to take it. It’s okay to try and get that perfect shot on one so that you don’t risk the chance of losing it, but waiting too long to take one can also hurt you as well.

The problem with shooting an elk is that it can be very difficult to get a clear one since they are always on the move. Elk do not stay in one spot for too long, so when you see one, take action as soon as possible.

Before taking your shot, make sure that the elk is in a relaxed state. If they are antsy and on the lookout, the chances of you blowing your shot and being spotted are very high.    

Unlike deer, you may not get another opportunity to make a shot, so take the shot as soon as you have the opportunity to line one up.

9) Hitting The Right Spot

Elk are built to take and withstand a lot of damage, so when making your shot, make sure you are hitting where it counts. If not hit in the right spot, even the fastest, most powerful heads and arrows won’t be able to penetrate cleanly through an elk.

They have very thick bones and can absorb your shot completely unscathed if one is hit, so shooting a few inches behind the back edge of their leg where the heart and lung zone extends will be a little more assured when you take your shot. Hitting almost anywhere else will leave the elk running off with just a penetration wound leaving you with a lost game.

10) Wait for A Little Longer

If you’ve ever seen an elk in person then you know how big they are. Their size mixed with their sheer will to survive can result in you waiting a little longer for it to go down than you normally would with a game that is a lot smaller, so waiting about an hour in between your shot and tracking would be the best idea before you decide to go hunt it down.

Since this is your first elk shot, I know it can be tempting to start tracking shortly after shooting one, but if you don’t wait long enough then you might catch yourself on a wild goose chase trying to hunt it down too early. A good wait time to start looking would be about an hour.

11) The Right Setup & Equipment

Bringing the right gear is important when hunting any game but when it comes to elk, it is critical. If you have a setup made for an elk and you want to hunt a rabbit or wolf, then getting away with that setup is just fine. But if it’s the other way around, then this can break your whole trip. Elk are monsters, so having the right broadheads and equipment for proper distance determination can save you a lot of headaches and frustration.

Also, bringing along the right optics and sight can help with your hunt as well. Elk can be hunted in the early morning, but sometimes when hunting them you can be out in the field until the sun goes down, so making sure you can see and assess your target properly is probably one of the most important things you could do when hunting them or any type of game for that matter. Rangefinders have gotten me out of some pretty difficult shots and I feel that all hunters should have one while hunting.

12) Proper Attire

This may be a very basic rule when it comes to hunting, but having the right clothes on the can will make your hunt for elk a lot easier. Sometimes while hunting, you can expect to be on foot for miles on end, so depending on the weather, you’ll want to wear what is appropriate so that you don’t end up getting way too cold or way too hot when you’re out there.

13) Stay Clear

Lots of hunters want to get as close as possible when first hunting elk so that they can make sure they’re getting a good shot, but little do they know that this can come with its own set of problems. Not only is recommended to stay further away from elk so that you don’t run the risk of spooking them out, but also because when agitated, they can be very dangerous and aggressive and can cause death to those inexperienced in dealing with them.

Keep your distance when hunting elk and avoid confrontation as much as possible.


Hunting elk as a beginner can be a very thrilling and exciting experience when you’re new to it, but if you don’t use the proper safety precautions or even bring the right attire or gear, you may find that your trip can turn sour quicker than you expected.

Shot distance, safety, and hunting style all play a factor when you’re hunting these beasts, so making sure you’re good in all areas weeks prior to your hunt will ensure that you’re leaving the field as a success.

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