Packing For An Elk Hunt
What To Pack For An Elk Hunt
Editor's Note: This week Jack Brittingham will tell us what he carries in the different packs he hunts with and how this equipment helps him to be one of the nation’s most-successful elk hunters.
If I’m bowhunting for elk, I carry my BowTech – Tech 29 bow. I have the bow set at 72 pounds. I also use Carbon Express arrows by Game Tracker. The finished weight of my arrows with the broadhead is 450 grams. My broadhead is a Wasp Jackhammer, with 1-3/4-inch cutting diameter. I’ll take 24 arrows and 24 broadheads on my trips. Many times I may have an opportunity to take a coyote or a grouse. Sometimes, I may lose or damage some arrows. I also carry a Scott’s Rhino release, and a Tru-Glow Revolution quiver. I carry a fishing tackle box to put my broadheads, extra rests, extra sights, extra knocks, extra strings and all the equipment I will need to rebuild my bow with the equipment I have while I am in the field. I even carry a bow press. I will also carry two Leika range finders.
One of the reasons I prefer the Bow Tech – Tech 29 is because I can pack it in my duffel bag and not carry a bow case. I like a hard-bottom duffel bag with roller wheels that was a handle to pull the duffel bag around with, made by Cabela’s. I pack a soft-sided bow case in the bottom of my duffel bag. Next, I lay my bow on top of it and then pack all my clothes around the bow. I usually pack four sets of clothing to hunt. I wear a camouflage t-shirt, a camouflage shirt and camouflage pants. I like sweat clothes because they are easy to move in while hunting. And if the weather is unusually cold, I can wear two pair of sweat pants, and two sweat shirts and still be comfortable and mobile. I pack my underwear, a Polar Fleece jacket and a Polar Fleece vest. I can wear the Polar Fleece vest by itself or I can wear the Polar Fleece jacket over it. I carry two different pairs of gloves. I also pack a hat with a face-mask on it and my boots. All my elk calls will already be packed in my backpack. I pack the tackle box with all my extra bow gear. Next, I finally pack my arrows. I put a PVC cup over the end of each of the arrows to protect them and pack them last at the top of my duffel bag.
The Airport Hassles
I don’t really have any hassles when I go through the airports when I have this equipment. Bows are not inspected like firearms are. I always declare I have a bow in my luggage, and I have never had a problem at the ticket counter. I carry my backpack with all my hunting gear. When you travel as much as I do, often as much as 250 days a year, you’ll learn that the less luggage that you carry, the easier your trip is. I found that I’m better off if I don’t carry a bow case or a second bag but keeps everything in one bag or my backpack. Unless I’m hunting in extremely cold weather, everything I need for a week-long hunt can go in my duffel bag. Now I may have to wash clothes in the middle of the week in a creek or a stream, but I’ve found that less clothes and less equipment are better if you are going to be a traveling hunter.
I know most hunters would be concerned with the way their luggage is handled and the possibility that their bow may be destroyed if it’s packed in a duffel bag. However, I have hunted all over the world, and the only problem that I’ve ever had is that I have had a few nocks messed-up on one hunt. Although I don’t carry a back-up bow, on most hunts that I go on, there will be three or four bowhunters, so if I feel I am in trouble and my bow is too badly damaged that I can’t repair it, I can borrow a bow. On one hunt, I arrived, but my bags didn’t. So, I borrowed a bow from a friend of mine who was on the hunt and was still able to hunt.
When I get to camp, I put my sight back on my bow, my broadheads and field points on my arrows and go to the range to shoot. I also take an Allen wrench and go through and make sure everything is tightened down. When I go to the range, I shoot my bow at every distance that I think I may take a shot -- from 2 to 60 yards. If you’ve sighted your bow at sea level and you’re hunting elk at 9,000 feet, then all of your arrows that you shoot past 20 yards are going to hit high because of the density of the air at that altitude. The further out past 20 yards that you shoot, the higher your arrows will hit, the more likely you are to hit a bull elk. Many times you’ll have to re-sight in your bow when you hunt elk at different altitudes.
You have got to sight your bow in when you get into camp. If I get into camp after dark, and I am expected to go hunting the next morning, before daylight, I will at least sight my bow in at 30 yards using car headlights or whatever type of lights I can find. Then when I leave the next morning I make the decision that I won’t shoot past 30 yards. In the middle of the day, I will sight in my other pins in out to 60 yards. I check all my equipment out, make sure I know where everything is at and check out everything in my pack before I am ready to go afield. I have learned often, that the one piece of equipment that you haven’t checked will be the one piece of equipment causes you to miss or not perform at your best.
My cameraman also goes through all of his equipment before the hunt. He makes sure that he has everything he needs and the equipment he may need to make any type of repair in the field that might occur. The time that you spend unpacking, checking and rechecking your equipment before you ever go hunting will be time well spent.
Hunting Alone Or With A Guide
I prefer to hunt alone. However, since I am always shooting a video, I always have a cameraman and a guide with me. One of the problems of hunting alone is that if you fly into an elk camp and you don’t know the land, and you don’t know where the elk likely to be, you can waste a lot of time trying to find where to hunt. But if you have a good guide, he should have already scouted the elk herd and know where they should be and where they want to be.
A good elk guide for me is a guide who is in really good shape and can cover a lot of country because often there will be quite a bit of difference between where they feed and where they bed. I want a guide that is in at least as good of shape as I am in, but preferably not better shape than I am. If my guide is in a whole lot better shape than I am and he wants to hunt aggressively, he can and will wear me out in a day of hunting. If you get a guide that wants to show you how tough he is and what a bad shape you are in, he can really push you past your physical capabilities. For this reason, make sure your guide understands that he needs to hunt with you, instead of staying out in front so much.
Another quality that I look for in an elk guide is that I want a guide that can call well, but doesn’t call too much. I also want my guide to be very familiar with the travel patterns of the elk in his area. Several years ago, I hunted with a guide during bugling season. At first light we never heard an elk bugle. I was supposed to be with a guide that knew how to hunt elk. I didn’t hear an elk. But an hour and one-half later, elk began to show up in front of us, where the guide had predicted they would be. The elk had been bugling before daylight, five-miles away on another ridge. But rather than make me walk the five-miles to hear a bugling elk, the guide knew where the elk would show up later during the morning. So we simply waited on the elk rather than chasing the elk.
An elk-savvy guide can save you a lot of steps and keep you from having to make a lot of climbs. Since this guide knew where these elk were going to bed, instead of climbing to where the elk were feeding, we waited for the elk to come to their bed. I want a guide I can trust to know what the elk are going to do before they do it.
Getting The Shot
To be able to take the biggest bull you can take, which will be the herd bull, you need to understand the problems that the herd bull has to deal with. When he is an old big bull, he will have collected up several cows to hold and keep in his harem. When one of the cows comes into estrus, he breeds her and carries on the life cycle of an elk. However, the herd bull has a problem. There are usually several bulls that are younger and are less dominant that will stay on the outside of the herd. They are just hoping that an estrus cow will wander away from the herd bull, and one of those satellite bulls will be hoping to have the opportunity to breed her.
Now, because there is usually more than one satellite bull with an old bull and his harem, if one of the young bulls gets the herd bull to chase after him, he leaves the harem unprotected. Often another satellite bull can sneak into the herd and breed one of those estrous cows. So the herd bull has a lot to do. He is trying to keep all of his cows together, keep the satellite bulls away from his herd, and if, he has to chase off a satellite bull, he needs to hurry back to the herd to make sure another satellite bull doesn’t move in and breed one of his cows. So when I decide to go elk hunting, I am going for that herd bull. My strategy is to...
* see the herd bull and decide if he is the bull I want to take,
* read the wind to learn how I can move to get ahead of the herd bull and possibly get him to walk by me,
* try to call the herd bull at least to my side of the herd to try and get a shot.
When I’m in a position and attempt to call to the herd bull or to let him walk by me, I try to kneel on one knee, if at all possible. The reason I prefer to kneel on one knee to get ready for the shot is that when I am kneeling, I don’t look as much like a hunter to the elk as I will if I’m standing. The lower to the ground you are, the less visible you are to the elk. I want also to make sure when I kneel down to make the shot that I have a really good cover for my back silhouette. I will never get down and try to hide from the elk. I don’t want anything in-between me and the elk when he comes in. So I never try to hide behind anything when I am bowhunting. Now if I am gun hunting for elk, I may use a log or a tree to brace against or to hide behind.
I also want to be able to move if I have to, to get a shot, and I just feel I have a better advantage by taking a knee, getting ready for the shot, having my silhouette broken up by the cover behind me, and letting the hunting unfold in front of me than if I try to hide in the bush. However, it is important to remember that when an elk is coming in, many times you have to come prepared for the shot, quickly. You may not have an opportunity to set up perfectly if you are going to get the shot off. No two elk hunts are ever the same, no two shots are ever the same, and this is what I like about elk hunting. Regardless of how many times you hunt elk, each hunt will be unique, and getting the shot will always be a challenge.