How To Hunt Elk With A Bow (8+ Tips From The Expert Hunters)

By Andy Ryan


Updated at
elk in the forest

As an avid hunter that’s rearranged his whole life to bow hunt for the past 25 years, I have used many different weapons and scopes but my favorite has always been the bow, likewise my favorite hunts and species have always gone back to the elk.

There is not a sound around that can compare to that majestic sound of a roaring elk nearby. In this article ill be going through some of the best ways to hunt Elk with a bow and give you my personal tips.


What’s the Best Time to Hunt Elk?


Like many other animals, elk are the most active in the morning, and their activity declines as the day passes. You are most likely to run into an elk if you go out for a hunt at dusk.



Season-wise, the best time to hunt elk is between the beginning of fall and mid of October. However, the exact peak period depends on your geographical location.


Hunting Gear Checklist

Here’s a quick checklist for the most essential gear you will need while out on a hunt.

  • Hunting license
  • Archery equipment
  • Knives
  • Compass or compass app on your phone
  • Food
  • First-aid kit (1)
  • Water bottle
  • Medication, if you take any
  • A detailed map of the area

Note that none of the items you carry should have a strong smell as a strong smell may ward off elks.


How to Find Elk



Elk have quite a predictable lifestyle, and they prefer being in some areas more than others, depending on the terrain. However, searching for elk to hunt can be really difficult, especially for beginners. Regardless, you can make use of a natural loophole here – the basic need for water, food, and shelter. You can look at maps and geographical aerial photos to find open hillsides or north-facing slopes. Additionally, let me remind you that elks prefer living in isolated areas where there are no roads nearby. Therefore, while looking for elks, you should always search areas with restricted access. You will have to go a few miles in from the road to reach the areas where there’s a high possibility of elks grazing. 

Most hunters prefer to walk with gear to reach elk habitats, but you can also search for elks while riding on a horse, motorbike, or llama. Using a vehicle would give you a competitive advantage over other elk hunters in some areas. Elks prefer to travel a lot and have huge ranges. If they eat somewhere, they would probably rest at a place miles away from where they ate. Elks also like to travel from one area to another when the weather changes.

A great way is to track elk signs, but successful tracking requires skills that will take time to develop. These signs can include recent droppings, rubs, and track marks. If you can smell elk scent on something, you have hit the jackpot, and the elk is somewhere near!


Don’t Call Too Frequently



Like many other animals, the prime elk hunting season is the mating season. In the mating season, bull elks are very active as they search for possible cow mates. In the past, using a bull elk call alongside the bow and arrow was the most effective way to hunt elks. Bowhunters also enjoyed using a call and creating cow calls to attract big bulls.

However, this method is outdated now. The bulls on public land that have been there for a few years are able to recognize the use of calls to hunt bull elks. But, this method can work in some cases. If you’re bow hunting elks on private land or really restricted and isolated areas, you may be able to fool and hunt elks using a call. If you are on public land, this might not work, and you may need to resort to listening. If you hear a bull respond to your call, you should immediately move in the direction you heard the elk from. 


Use a Cow Call



Calls might not be effective now, but do you know what can still help? Using a cow call! Even though bulls have developed a sense of familiarity with calls, they haven’t been conditioned to cow calls. There is a wide variety of cow calls available in the market, and the great thing about them is that they can attract both cows and bulls. You can easily get your preferred cow call from an archery shop in any major elk-hunting state.

But how exactly do cow calls work? To put it simply, you should cow call and then wait patiently for around twenty minutes. Use your call to see if the elk is approaching. Once you get a hint that an elk is around and approaching you, wait silently for an hour or more. You need to wait in a secure hiding spot where the elk can’t see or hear you. Sit in a covered spot where the wind blows your scent in the opposite direction from the herd. Whenever elks are responding to a cow call, they approach very silently. Therefore, you need to be very attentive while watching or listening to signs. You might hear a branch creak or a call that is an indication of an elk approaching. 


Use the Team Calling Method



Another effective method that is used for hunting elks is team calls. The team consists of two partners: the caller and the shooter. The caller has to be forty to sixty yards behind the shooter. The shooter has to be camouflaged really well and has to choose a spot with maximum coverage and a clear shot. For this method to succeed, the elks have to gather up on the caller while ignoring the well-covered shooter. Once distracted, the shooter can use a bow and arrow to deliver a clean kill shot.


Stalk the Elk and Wait for an Opportunity



For centuries, bowhunters have been using many different techniques to hunt elks. One such technique is the spot-and-stalk technique. Compared to hunting other animals like deer, elk hunting requires a lot of stalking and following instead of waiting quietly. You might have to follow the movement of the elk all day. Start by getting to the highest ridge before dawn and following their movements throughout the day with binoculars. 

When you have spotted an elk, you need to figure out their sleeping area. Once you know the sleeping area and you are moving towards them, use the cow calling technique. Not only will the cow calling attract the elks, but it would also drown any noises that you might be making while approaching the elk.


Use Tree Stands



Another effective way to bow hunt elks is to use tree stands and ground blinds. However, to use this method, you need to do extensive research beforehand. Start by making a pattern of the elk’s movement throughout the day on a game trail or wallow. After you have done that, you can effectively hunt through the covering of those tree stands or ground blinds. Bowhunters often succeed in hunting elks once they have hung a tree stand over the wallow that they patterned. I suggest using this method in the mating season, as it is most effective during the rut. Here’s your guide on how to use a climbing tree stand.


Use Decoys



Decoys are one of the most effective ways to hunt for elk. An elk can easily be fooled using decoys. But how does using decoys work? When elks receive cow calls, they are very cautious while moving forward. Normally, they don’t move forward until they are sure that it’s another elk calling. This is where making use of the decoy technique can come in handy. If you are bow hunting without a partner, you need a decoy to draw in bulls.

Using a decoy can build curiosity and bring out an elk. If you have a decoy, you can use it to lure the elks into the range before shooting. However, you should never throw or set a decoy right out in the open. Always hide the decoy in the bushes, where the elks can just see an ear or a leg. This would spike their curiosity, and they would move closer to the range. If you placed it in the open, they might realize something is wrong and might run away.


Keep Out of Sight and Smell



Like many other game animals, elk travel in large herds. This means that there are many protective herd eyes and ears are on guard. Elk also has a powerful sense of smell, and they can easily flee away if they smell you.

To ensure that the elk can’t see or smell you, you have to dress in camouflage clothes. You need to avoid openings and take cover in bushes or trees whenever possible. When you’re following an elk herd, make sure to stay downwind so that the elk can’t smell you. Carry around a bottle of wind-indicator powder. The wind-indicator powder will help you determine the direction of the wind and allow you to stay at a distance from the herd in the same direction as the wind. This way, your smell will likely never get to them. 

Note that air does not travel in a straight line. Your smell gets dispersed through the air as it travels. Your smell spreads in a cone shape like light from an LED torch. The farther it goes, the more area it covers. (2)  



All the tips I shared with you here may be hard to remember, but the gist of it is to be smart while trying to lure the elk and to be extremely careful while trying to hide. You can always revert back to this article when you’re about to go for an elk hunt and use it as a checklist.


(1) First-aid kit –
(2) LED –