I often hear it said that finding elk is super difficult, which may be true to a lot of people, especially when hunting a new area. However, if you put in the time to scout and hike, finding elk shouldn’t be anyone's problem. If you e-scout hard, understand animal behavior and hike hard during your scouting trip and hunts, you will find elk. The hardest part for me and a lot of hunters is to get within 100 yards of elk and get the opportunity to make a lethal shot with a bow. A partner is an excellent way to increase your odds and close out those last yards in order to get a shot. Here are three partner strategies that will help you put a bull on the ground during the rut and later seasons.
When most people think of partner hunting they think of a shooter and caller setup. This can be a very deadly setup when used appropriately on an receptive elk looking to either fight or obtain some cows. Typically, a shooter stands slightly towards the elk’s direction and slightly downwind in a path that a wary bull may use if checking the wind during an approach. Early in the archery season, using cow calls seems to work more frequently than bugles; however, if a bull gets fired up bugling back aggressively can work. Later on in the archery season when a bull has a harem and is concerned with protecting his cows, bugling in combination with cow calls at close range might just be the ticket to get him to come within bow or muzzleloader range. Though partner calling like this does work, there are some other strategies that partners can do to achieve success.
A lot of time, in heavily hunted areas, bulls are skeptical and do not run into your calling like you see on TV and YouTube. Often, they will stay put, bugle in return and wait for the cow or bull to come to them. This can create a stalemate of sorts where you don’t want to budge and either does he. Both of you know each other’s position, but no one is willing to give any ground. This is when a partner bugle and stalk setup works and should be a prime choice in your playbook. To do this properly, one hunter must stay back and get the bull fired up. To do this, I find good success by starting off with a wimpy bugle with some cow calls. If he bugles back, then cut him off. Then, wait for him to bugle and cut him off again. If you get the bull really fired up, then rake a tree and continue to bugle as he responds. Once it is determined that he probably is not coming into the setup, the shooter should begin a downwind stalk of the bull while the caller remains in relatively the same position. It’s the caller’s job to keep the bull talking so the shooter knows where he is. It is then the shooter's job to slowly stalk within range, keeping wind and cover between him or her and the bull. This is a very effective technique when a bull is responsive, but not willing to leave his cows or cross a barrier.
The double or even triple ambush is a great technique for killing elk. This involves strategically finding elk in their bedding or feeding areas and setting up on their travel route or near their escape routes and waiting. Of course, the wind has to be good for all of the hunters in the area; however, the more hunters covering the potential places that elk may travel, the better. One bonus is that if one hunter spooks or shoots an elk and the herd moves a different way, another hunter might get a shot. Pay attention to the elk’s elevation and try to find travel routes near that elevation heading into the wind. The herd will most likely move in that direction. The hardest part about ambushing elk is being patient and finding a spot where the wind blows consistently in a good direction.
Hunting with a partner can make elk hunting so much fun. Hiking in together and enjoying the misery of sore feet, legs and parched mouths with some good conversation can make an unsuccessful hunt feel successful. It is easy for me to think that I would rather hunt alone, find my own elk and make my own moves and mistakes without asking someone else for permission; however, more times than not, a partner keeps you honest, patient and will lead to more elk in the freezer and better memories. Try one of these partner strategies or your own on your next elk hunt and see what works for you. If you have a good partner, it won’t matter whether you kill an elk or they do since you did it together. Make memories this year or next and hunt with a good partner.