The crisp October air exploded with the unmistakable shrill of a bull elk. He was close, and he was hot. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear that sound – its impact is immediate, and blood-curdling. However, when you hear it that close, and you have a Wyoming OTC elk tag in your back pocket and a rifle in the scabbard attached to the saddle you’re seated in the impact is downright – profound.
Purchasing an over the counter elk tag in Wyoming – or hunting her general season as a non-resident hunter has its challenges. There is a stigma that a general season tag is somehow far inferior to limited quota draw. While the limited quota has its definite advantages – hunting the general season can be as successful with preparation and understanding of the environment and terrain the elk travel and their tendencies and movement patterns.
First and foremost, to hunt elk, you need to understand and anticipate them. You need to understand their challenges and what makes them behave the way they do. The top three things that impact elk are weather, predation and food/water sources.
Because of predation, primarily the reintroduction of wolves to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, elk (in a perfect world) would prefer high elevation thick timber as their sole residency – with the caveat of minimal travel to access food, water, and necessary shelter and arrangement.
Weather makes this modern elk utopia unrealistic. High volumes of snowfall and continuous freezing temperatures require elk to move to lower elevations as food is covered by thick crusted snow and water sources freeze. The colder it gets, the lower elk have to move, the lower they move to find open water sources the more travel in open areas they have to endure regularly. Understanding these patterns and the impacts of weather can put you at a significant advantage.
There was nothing cold about this day, and we were over 10,000 feet of elevation about to maneuver a horse trail through a long patch of thick timber. In all honesty, the initial plans of the night ride were to simply gain elevation and glass for the morning hunt. To our surprise and dare I say, delight, the elk were still vocal.
The rut of any animal is the prime time to hunt them. The elk runt is primarily during the archery season. There are special archery seasons for general tags in most Wyoming general areas. If archery is your preferred method of harvest – your odds increase exponentially.
Occasionally, one does get lucky as we did on this day – bulls still chatty the first day of rifle season. However, once the first shots are fired, they tend to go dormant.
That does not mean, however, that you can’t still call a bull in. If when scouting you locate a herd of elk and the bulls are still with the cows – setting up and calling can work in your favor. Drawing a herd bull out may be tough duty during this phase of the rut, but a quality satellite bull is not out of the realm of possibility. Just remember, they will be coming in quiet, still doing their best to circle your location so they can use the wind to identify what you are. Fortunately, these big dudes are incapable of complete silence – you’ll hear them walking in. Just keep your head on a swivel.
Elevation and optics are a hunter’s best friend on an elk hunt. Wyoming is big country, with vast mountain slopes to glass and observe. It is your job to know where elk are most likely to travel and bed – then patiently sit and glass. Elk generally prefer north-facing slopes – with the understanding not everything is an exact science and there are indeed exceptions to every rule.
A mistake a number of folks will make when glassing – after finding the herd, they will immediately go in after them. Elk bedding on the edge of timber on cold mornings present an excellent opportunity for this approach – but elk that bed deep in the timber are elk best left alone.
When finding elk that make their beds in deep timber pockets, your best bet is to wait them out. They will come back out to feed, be patient. The timber is their living room, bedroom and office space all rolled into one. They are definitive masters of their turf and chances are – if you go into their area you have a low probability of even seeing them and you probably succeeded in blowing them out of the country.
Know who’s in charge. This is a point that cannot be overemphasized. Your quest is a bull elk when you find the one you want – you get a degree of tunnel vision with an emphasis on the animal in your sites. But, he’s not in charge – and he’s not the one you need to concern yourself with. The lead cow elk is your rival. If she winds you, if she sees you – she will blow out of the area with the herd in tow.
On this particular day, there were no cows involved. After tying horses to trees, we set up in a batch of timber with some open clearings around. The scene played out immediately, a couple of cow calls and a quality six-point 300 class satellite bull came calling. He would turn broadside at 50 yards, with the bark of the .300 WSM the bull would fall to the ground. Daylight was fading quickly, and we had some decisions to make.
When hunting a Wyoming OTC tag, chances are – you will be hunting in grizzly country. Elk move in the early morning hours, and in the hours just before the twilight of the day. This means an evening hunt will more than likely require you to leave your elk overnight.
It is imperative you plan for this possibility. Your safest measure is to quarter the animal, moving the edible quarters several hundred yards from the gut pile. Hang the quarters and leave them in an area where you can glass the kill site. From a distance, you can watch for bear activity.
Of course, this is the proverbial tip of the iceberg approach to harvesting a Wyoming OTC elk. As stated, your responsibility is doing the groundwork. Early preparation increases your odds of success substantially.
Elk hunting is not easy – if it were, everyone would do it. Elk hunting during a general season where hunter numbers are up, make the degree of difficulty much greater. However, there are few greater challenges. Fewer trophies to be more proud of, than a quality bull elk harvested with your Wyoming OTC tag.