When hunting most animals, the hunter is concerned with the
habitat needs for individual animals or small groups. With elk, the
hunter needs to think in terms of the herd. This may be one bull and
four to as many as 25 cows. These are much larger animals than
other game species that are hunted in Kentucky. The food and water
requirements, therefore, are considerably more than those required
by deer, for example.
Elk are known as a grazing animal. Most of their food will be
grass, but they do include some tender shoots or forbs in their diet.
To use feeding habits in hunting elk, a hunter might look for an area
with several large grassy areas with heavy cover and water nearby.
A running stream or a pond will give an elk herd plenty of water.
However, they will not be able to use a small source such as a
spring, like individual deer may. Hunters can use this to their advantage
by knowing the primary watering hole for the herd in question
and waiting near that water for a shot.
When using a spotting scope to locate a bedded herd, the hunter
should concentrate his or her spotting efforts in reasonably heavy
cover. The animals will lay down on north facing slopes during
warm days or south facing slopes on cold days. When searching for elk, look for the light colored rump patch. This patch of hair around
the tail can be visible at long distances. Early in the morning on cold
days, hunters can search heavily wooded areas for clouds of steam,
produced as elk exhale.
An individual herd of elk may stay within one square mile area
for several weeks if undisturbed. They may also move 15 miles
overnight without warning or disturbance. In Kentucky, elk have not
displayed the winter migration that is seen in western states, however,
individual animals have been found far from the intended area
Elk are large animals. A field dressed bull can weigh over 600
pounds, and a cow over 400. The antlers alone, without the head,
can weigh over 50 pounds. Horses are to elk hunters as the bird
dog is to quail hunters. The plan would be to skin and quarter the
elk, remove the head, and load all parts onto horses. If horses are
not available, hunters should plan on making several trips with a device
like a modified wheelbarrow. Backpacks can be used, but again
the number of trips is increased.
Elk hunting is a matter of selecting the animal you want to harvest.
To be selective, a spotting scope will allow you to observe elk
at a great distance and not disturb one herd if you want to seek a
better bull. Once you locate the animal you want to hunt, an appropriate
stalk can be planned.
Field Judging Elk
Hunters can readily judge the trophy quality of bulls with a little
practice using a spotting scope or good binoculars. First, a mature
bull will have at least five points on one side of his rack. To judge
the length of his antlers, compare them to the length of his face.
A mature bull’s face is approximately 18 inches from the tip of his
nose to the base of his antlers. A trophy bull will have main beams
that are about three times the length of his face or longer. The
fourth tine, or the dagger, is another key. This tine on large, mature
bulls is approximately equal to the length of his face or longer. Likewise,
the brow tines (two tines closest to the base of the antlers) are also equal to the length of the mature bull’s face or longer.
Heavier Loads for Sure Kill
If you are hunting elk with the same gun you use to hunt deer,
you should plan to find cartridges with heavier loads. While the
lighter load may kill the elk, you may be tracking the animal a greater
distance. The desire is a quick and efficient kill, and a heavier bullet
will do more damage at the point of impact.
Think of Travel Routes
Elk do not migrate in Kentucky as they do in western states.
However, they do have daily habit patterns and through scouting, a
hunter can establish points on the travel routes where he or she can
intercept the herd. The travel route will include the primary feeding
location, source of water, and bedding area.
Listening for bugling bulls in early morning and late evening
hours is one of the best ways to locate bulls during the rut period. A
bull elk bugles to establish and maintain his harem of cows. When
you have the opportunity to observe or hunt elk during bugling season,
it is indeed one of the most exciting moments you will experience.
Many hunters use the aggressiveness of the bull by calling to
him. The bull then attempts to find the “bugler”, considering him an
“invader” upon his harem. If you are well hidden, he may be “clearing
out trees” within 15 yards before you get a clear shot.
Another calling option is to use a cow call. Cow elk have vocal
calls throughout the year, and they are especially vocal during
breeding season. Cow calls are highly effective for calling in shy
bulls and cows. A combination of cow calls and bugling may prove
even better. Using these calling methods is one of the best ways
to bring elk into shooting range for a killing shot, particularly for
To field dress an elk, you will need help. It can be accomplished
with one person, but moving the animal will be difficult if you do
not at least have some simple tools, like a “block and tackle”. As with
deer, there are volumes written and many videos available to show
you how to field dress an elk. In addition to the tips on deer, the hazards a hunter faces with elk are physical exhaustion, pulled muscles,
or back problems.
Field dressing, skinning, quartering an elk, and loading it onto
pack horses can take three people several hours. Depending on the
time of year, you will want to get the meat cooled as quickly as possible.
While most deer can be quartered and placed in a large cooler,
you will need several coolers, with ice for an elk.
The same methods described for deer will work for elk if you desire
to wrap and freeze it yourself. Plan time according to the amount
of meat you have to work on. There is approximately three times
more meat on an elk than a deer, so the time planned should be at
least three times what it takes you for a deer. As with deer, that area
on the body where the animal was shot can be discarded. This can
be done before it is removed from the field, decreasing the amount
to be transported.
In several references, people refer to “Venison” as the meat from
animals including deer and elk. Therefore, your favorite deer recipe
would also work for elk.
Ken’s Woodsman Stew
Kenneth Kirby, Danville, KY
- 11⁄2 Pound elk meat,cut in 3⁄4 inch pieces
- 3 Carrots, chopped
- 6 Potatoes
- 3 Stalks chopped celery
- 2 Large onions, coarsely diced
- 3 Cloves garlic, chopped 1 15
- 1⁄2 Ounce can yellow hominy
- 1 Tsp oregano
- 1 Tsp basil
- 1 Tsp seasoned salt
- 1 Tsp cumin
- 3 Cups water
- 1⁄2 Tsp black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 1 Can beer
- 1⁄4 Tsp red pepper (optional)
- 1 Cup wine
In an iron pot, brown meat in 2 tablespoons of oil. When
browned, drain liquid. Add all other ingredients and seasonings.
Simmer 2 hours or until the elk meat is tender.
Rex’s Steamboat Elk
Rex Burkhead, Wildlife and Boating Officer.
- 10 Pound elk roast
- 1 Cup coarse white salt
- 1 Cup brown sugar
- 5 Tbs. black pepper
- 4 Tbs. red pepper
- 3 Tbs. minced garlic
- 1 Can of cola
- 1⁄2 Bottle (4 oz) Worcestershire sauce
Roll and tie your roast and place in a large baking dish. Mix the
salt, brown sugar, both peppers, and garlic and stir or shake thoroughly.
Rub this mixture into the roast for several minutes, bringing
the mixture from the dish back onto the meat. The mixture that isn’t
absorbed in the meat should be caked onto the roast. Cover with
foil and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the smoker or cooker to 250 degrees. Take meat out
of refrigerator and place in a disposable, aluminum turkey cooker.
Gently pour can of cola and Worcestershire sauce over the meat.
Soak a disposable cotton towel in the juices in the pan and lay the
towel over the roast. Plan to cook for 6-8 hours at 250-300 degrees.
Periodically ladle the juices from the pan onto the towel. At 6 hours
begin testing your meat with a meat thermometer for desired degree
of cooking.elk hunting