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Elk Hunting


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 for re-introduction.


Pack Horses

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.

Spotting Scope

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 archers.


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