Elk Hunting for Seniors
Do you feel like you are too old for adventure?
Don’t give up until you consider these 7 tips to plan your hunt.
“Where are we going?” My father asked this logical question as I turned the truck around. Instead of driving back toward camp, I was taking the old logging road back up the mountain. “I’m taking you to find some elk.” I had a confident tone in my voice.
It was late afternoon on the last day of our first elk hunt. I had killed a small bull that morning, and drove my dad to the top of a ridge that afternoon. The plan was for him to hunt downhill, hoping that he would also get an opportunity to fill his tag. My father was 61 years old, and was in average shape for a man of his age. The short hunt down the ridge was chosen since it was not physically difficult. He was already tired from 5 days of hunting and from helping me haul out my elk.
While my dad was hunting, I followed the old road to the next ridge. I hiked a short distance while glassing across the small valley. Several elk were bedded under the trees about 500 yards away. I didn’t see any bulls, but I knew that there was a good chance that there was a legal bull with the cows.
By the time I picked up my father, there was a little more than an hour of daylight left. One last chance. Finding a spot to hide the truck at the top of the ridge, we closed the doors as quietly as possible. Just then, I thought I heard a distant bugle. We began to move in the direction of the elk and we heard the bugle again. There was no question about it this time. The sound was coming from the area I had seen the elk. There was a bull with them. He bugled every few minutes, allowing us to zero in on his location.
I noted the direction of the wind and decided to chart a path ahead of the bull. I suspected that the bull and his cows would be feeding into the wind. As long as the wind held steady, we would be downwind or at least have a good crosswind. The valley where the elk were feeding was dotted with small clumps of pine and juniper trees. It was open enough for us to keep an eye on the elk, but also allowed us to be seen if we weren’t careful.
Moving from tree to tree with all of the stealth we could muster, we finally crawled the last 30 yards to a thick group of scrub oak and junipers. This natural blind put us within 50 yards of the elk as they fed even closer. The sun was down and the shadows had faded into a darkening gray. There was a cow elk about 20 yards to our left, blissfully unaware of the predators lurking nearby. The bull was directly in front of us, but wasn’t presenting my dad with a good shot. He had cows in front of him, or behind him, or was turned directly away from us.
“I’m afraid it’s going to get too dark” my father whispered his worry out loud. “We are still OK” I tried to encourage him. My heart was pounding, and I was sure he felt the same. Finally the cow moved from in front of the bull and there it was clear behind him. Dad squeezed the trigger as the bull stood feeding 50 yards away. The click of the firing pin slamming into an empty chamber was like an explosion in my mind. What had happened? I realized that he had forgotten to chamber a cartridge.
The cow nearby popped her head up and stared in our direction. Amazingly, she didn’t run. Even more amazing, the rest of the herd didn’t seem to notice the metallic sound. We waited for what seemed like an incredibly long time as the light continued to fade. Eventually the cow decided that there was no threat and began to feed away from us. As quietly as possible, Dad chambered a live round, and none of the elk seemed to notice. But now, the feeding cows were again around the bull preventing a clear shot.
With only a handful of minutes left in legal shooting light, the bull was finally standing broadside with nothing before or behind. The small 6X6 dropped with a single shot from the 30.06. Although he had harvested many mule deer in his day, this was his first elk. Ultimately, it was also his last. Two years later Dad was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. The insidious predator was probably stalking him at the same time we were stalking the elk. It eventually took his life at age 67, but his demise was much more difficult than the bull’s.
I will always treasure the memory of that hunt. I’m so glad that I got to share the bloom of my hunting passion with my dad. I’m also glad that he didn’t consider himself too old to go elk hunting.
It won’t be long until I will be the age my dad was for his first elk hunt. Aches and pains are a way of life. Minor injuries don’t heal as quickly. Strength and stamina aren’t what they used to be. But in my chest still beats the heart of an excited young hunter. I have hunted elk 26 out of the last 34 years, and I’m going again this fall. But I must admit I try to hunt smarter and not harder these days.
Elk Hunting for Seniors – 7 Things to Consider
If you love to read elk hunting stories and watch elk hunting videos, but feel that your elk hunting opportunities are in the past, think again. None of us wants to get to our golden years and think “I wish I would have…”. The real life experience is worth the effort, and the memories created will last a lifetime. Here are some things you might want to consider, and maybe you’ll decide to go for it.
Elk Hunting Outfitter or DIY Elk Hunt
One of my best hunting buddies of years past was one of the hardest hunters I have known. We nicknamed him “Max” because everything he did was at the “Maximum”. Unfortunately, he developed heart disease at a young age that almost took his life. He has 13 stints in his arteries and was almost ready for the transplant list. After going through some leading edge therapy, his health has improved. He is elk hunting again, but now goes with an outfitter. For him, it is worth the money to have someone alleviate the strenuous aspects of the hunt.
But outfitters are expensive. Especially for someone in or close to the retirement phase of life. If you can afford it, there are many elk hunting outfitters that cater to seniors. But if you want to do a DIY elk hunt, do you homework and plan carefully.
I’m not a medical doctor, so please don’t misconstrue my opinion for medical advice. See your personal physician to get a professional opinion on whether or not you are healthy enough for an elk hunt.
If your doctor gives you the thumbs up, start getting in shape as soon as you can. Even though you may not be ready to run a marathon come hunting season, you’ll appreciate every minute of training when the time comes.
My thought is that if you can walk a couple of miles fairly easily, then you will probably be OK on an elk hunt. Considering that most of elk country is mountainous and at high elevations, walking will be more difficult than on flat ground at sea level. But with proper planning, an elk hunter doesn’t have to be able to climb tall mountains and walk many miles.
Even for a young fellow in good shape, quartering and packing an 800 pound animal is hard, strenuous work. Recruit some help to go with you on your hunt. It really needs to be someone relatively young, strong and healthy, because it can be difficult. I’ll mention some things to make it easier, but it is still hard. Don’t count on hiring some local cowboy with horses to pack it out for you. While it sounds good in theory, the reality is that anyone with horses in the business of packing out elk is probably already working for an outfitter. And the local outfitter does not want leave his high dollar clients to do your dirty work.
Bring your Help on your hunt with you.
Even though my personal preference for elk hunting is spot and stalk, about 1/3 of the elk I have harvested have been from a blind. One of my elk hunting buddies from the past was paralyzed from the waist down. He was able to walk on crutches with incredible effort. He knew that he was limited to hunting from a blind, but at least he got to go hunting. Most whitetail hunters are familiar with this hunting method, and will feel comfortable waiting for the elk to come to them.
Setting up a commercial ground blind, building one from natural materials nearby, or hanging a treestand are all options. The key will be to have several options to choose from, depending on where the elk happen to be frequenting.
One of the keys to elk hunting for seniors is choosing a hunting area that has ample locations to set up blinds. Reasonably easy access to those locations is also important. Many public lands in western elk country have plenty of roads that will allow you to get close to blind or treestand setups. Make sure that you do your homework through maps and Google Earth before settling on a hunting area.
The number of opportunities to harvest an elk is directly related to the amount of time spent scouting and hunting. If possible, schedule a scouting trip outside of hunting season to explore your hunting area. Get familiar with roads and camping sites. Look for water sources, open meadows, fence crossings, and ridge crossings. These are good places to set up a blind or a treestand for an ambush. Use this time to build natural ground blinds in likely areas.
Arrive several days before your hunt begins. This will allow your body time to acclimate to the altitude. You can also do some scouting to locate the elk before opening day.
Elk country is big country. A whitetail’s home turf may consist of one square mile. But an undisturbed elk may wander an area as big as 10 square miles. Once hunting season starts, he may go even further. Because of the long distances, you are going to need some type of transportation for hunting. A 2WD truck or SUV will usually work, but 4WD will get you more places, especially if the weather turns bad. An ATV or UTV will give you even more flexibility. Some hunting areas allow off-road travel to retrieve downed game. Just remember to learn and follow any vehicle regulations in your hunt area.
None of us is getting younger. You may feel like that you are too old to go elk hunting, but knowing what you are getting into, and with proper planning, it’s doable. And it’s well worth the effort. It’s all about hunting smarter, not harder. They say that wisdom comes with age. At least that’s one benefit of getting older. That, and qualifying for the senior discount at Denny’s.