Elk Hunting

Elk Hunting

Elk Hunting in Kentucky - - "I can do this!"

The prospect of hunting for an animal as large as an elk can be daunting for some hunters, especially new hunters. However, hunting elk in Kentucky is a challenge that virtually any hunter can tackle. Kentucky’s elk zone provides abundant opportunities to harvest elk. Don’t be afraid to ask someone you know to help you; most hunters would love to go on an elk hunt, even if they couldn’t pull the trigger themselves! We also want you to have the information you need to have a successful hunt.  

Following are some tips for you as you prepare to elk hunt this season.   Another helpful resource is the “Basic Hunting” booklet.


Preparing for an Elk hunt can be challenging.  Don't hesitate to ask if you need something. Veteran hunters are more than willing to share their experiences, along with essential gear. When you're ready to buy or have additional questions, consult your local department store chain, sporting goods store, gun or archery shop, or online (except for modern firearms, which requires in-person purchase).

  • Weapons- https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/law/kar/301/002/132.pdf​
    • Modern firearms that are legal for elk include any center-fire (aka "high powered") rifle or pistol larger than a .270 caliber, or 20-10 gauge shotgun used with slugs. For slugs, a shotgun should have a rifled barrel designed for slugs or be "open-choked"-- cylinder, improved cylinder.  Muzzle-loading hunting guns range from centuries-old technology to cutting-edge in-line rifles that accurately shoot well beyond a hundred yards; for elk, muzzleloaders must be .50 caliber or larger.
    •  Archery equipment or crossbows are legal during the appropriate seasons if you are drawn for an archery/crossbow permit, provided your broadhead (arrow tip) is at least 7/8" wide.
  • Clothing-Many wear camouflage underneath but you can also simply wear green or brown. Avoid blue or white clothing. Consider using a scent cover/blocking wash for your clothes before you elk hunt. Dress with adequate layers so you can adapt to the weather. During firearms seasons, the most important pieces of clothing are a solid hunter orange hat and vest or jacket to cover your chest/back and head for visibility to other hunters and to comply with the hunter orange law.
    • Rubber boots don't absorb scents, but most don't provide the level of ankle support of other hunting boots; use footwear that fits the terrain you'll be hunting.  Even hiking boots can be acceptable! Either way, make sure to decide on a well broken-in pair of boots. Nothing hurts worse than sore and blistered feet on a hunt. Having a stand-by pair can come in handy in case your first pair becomes wet or damaged.
  • Day-pack- Carry along a sturdy backpack with your valid hunting license and permit, writing pen, drinking water, snacks, first-aid kit, knife and disposable gloves for field dressing, and raingear. Rope or other means (such as a game cart) for dragging a harvested deer is also helpful if you'll be far from your vehicle. Cheesecloth and ground black pepper can help keep debris and flies off the hide and exposed meat.
  • Binoculars or Spotting Scope- You can literally see for a long way on some of the Eastern Kentucky's reclaimed coal mines. Glassing from high knobs with your binoculars is an effective way to locate elk.
  • Rangefinder- Naturally hunters are accustomed to the size of deer; in turn underestimating the distance of an elk can happen. A miscalculation could result in a wounded animal, making for a very difficult retrieval or even a missed shot.
  • Optics- A scope for your rifle or slug gun is also helpful for more accurate shot placement; it is a must to sight-in or practice with a scoped firearm before taking it hunting. Bow sights will aid in an accurate shot placement for various ranges. Sighting-in and practicing in advance, again, is a must.
  • Calls - Bull and cow calls come in a variety of forms, and can be purchased fairly inexpensively.  Most are mouth calls, and require you to blow air across a reed or into a tube.  We recommend getting at least one cow and one bull call, and practice their use until you are proficient with them.  You can listen to elk calls online at http://www.rmef.org/ElkFacts.aspx


  • Elk Hunting Units (EHU) - If you're drawn in the elk hunt lottery, you will be notified of the EHU you will hunt. learn everything you can about the unit. Know the boundaries, off limit areas, public and private areas and lodging or sites allowing camping nearby. Start by looking at an interactive map of the area. Notice the terrain, inclines and peaks.
  • Elk Biologists - Field staff in your elk hunting unit can be your biggest allies. These biologists and technicians study the elk year-round.  Call the biologist in your EHU for insider tips.
  • Scouting - Hunters usually increase their odds if they spend some time exploring the area(s) they will hunt before hunting season. Take a GPS, map(s), comfortable walking shoes, binoculars, and adequate food and water for your time afield!  Elk usually develop a predictable pattern in their late summer-fall habits by mid-August. Take good notes of elk sign and how many elk you observed on your map and save the GPS coordinates. Don't be afraid to scout more than once. Remember, the more you prepare and scout, the more you will become better acquainted with the elk and their habitats.
  • Practice Shooting - Elk hunting requires rigorous walking, stalking and instinctive decisions. Practicing your shot from various distances as well as different shooting positions will help ensure a confident, ethical shot. We suggest that you start practicing soon after you are initially notified that you were chosen for an elk quota hunt.
  • Learn the Language - A bugling bull sounds completely different from a grunting whitetail buck. A cow's "mew" call is surprisingly high-pitched and nasally, sounding somewhat like a whale's vocalization.  Learning to imitate their sounds using a manufactured call can greatly increase your odds of harvesting an elk.  Learn the elk language from veteran big game hunters, online and by practicing--a lot! Pick a call or two that you are comfortable with to use during your hunt.
  • Exercise - Elk hunting isn't a typical walk in the park. With the mountainous terrain of Eastern Kentucky and the weight of your pack and weapon, you will want to build your endurance as early as possible.   Some locations will allow ready access in close proximity to a vehicle, while others will be more like a backcountry trek. Your research and scouting should guide your physical training.
  • Guide and Outfitters - If you are looking for additional help, you can always contact a licenses guide or outfitter.
  • Handling Meat and Cape - An elk can weigh 600+ pounds! Unless you are close to a road to access your vehicle, more than likely you will have to quarter your elk. To prevent debris and flies, hunters should take cheesecloth or old bed sheets and ground pepper along on their hunt; exposed meat can be sprinkled with pepper to reduce insect attraction (for warmer days) then wrapped in cloth to air dry and cool. More info about this follows on the After the Harvest page.
  • Assistance - Most hunters will bring friends with them to witness and help with the hunt. Put them to work, too!  Use your assistants by having them call in your elk so you can be set and ready for a good shot when the opportunity presents itself. Use another helper to range the distance between you and the approaching elk. Have them on top of a ridge glassing while you are trying to stalk the herd from the bottoms. Your options are endless; there's no reason you have you do ALL of the work!

On the Hunt

Getting into Range

  • Spotting and stalking. Start by locating elk with your binoculars or listening for bulls bugling. Close the distance by using the contours of the land and vegetation to hide your approach. This is the most common method for elk hunting with firearms, and the way most hunters take large bulls guarding a harem of cows.
  • Calling the animal into range. Most bowhunters try to call an elk into a comfortable shooting distance. If needed, have someone else call the elk into range for you. Position them behind you 10-20 yards -- further away from the elk you're calling to.  Remember to keep the wind in your face -- downwind of your target.  Elk have an excellent sense of smell and will spook easily.

Shot Placement

All of your planning pays off when you see a legal elk within range while hunting! After you determine that the elk is within range for your weapon, you must ensure that it is safe to aim and pull the trigger or release the string. Be certain of your target and that if your bullet or arrow misses or travels through the elk that it cannot hit an unacceptable target. NEVER shoot if you have any doubts! Elk are large animals, weighing 300-700+ pounds. Regardless of the size and power of the bullet or broadhead, elk can sustain multiple hits. If the animal continues standing after the first shot, shoot again until it falls. Don't shoot another animal instead!


Essentials of How to Hunt  Elk in Kentucky - Kentucky Afield Magazine Article

After the Harvest

Following are some tips for what to do after you harvest your elk:

  • Retrieving Your Elk - Depending on where your shot hits and the condition of the elk, you may have to search for a wounded elk. The initial search begins by “reading” the signs and/or looking for signs where the elk was shot.
  • Recording Your Elk - After you recover your animal, you’ll need to record the sex, county, and date on your hunter harvest log (attached to your license/permit or some other means of recording). When you make it back to a phone, telecheck your elk online or by phone (1-800-245-4263).
  • Field Dressing - Once your elk is down, it’s important to either: 1) remove the entrails (guts or organs in the body cavity) from the carcass or 2) remove the meat from the skeleton. Either way will allow the meat to cool and air-dry.  One of these procedures should be done as soon as possible after the animal is recovered. This is critical if the temperature is above 40 degrees Farenheit to prevent meat spoilage.
    • Traditional Field Dressing:  If you remove the guts from your animal, you’ll also want to remove any food material or waste that’s left inside the body cavity, washing if necessary to remove any residue to prevent fouling of the meat. There are many good resources online; here’s our field dressing video. Field dress your elk in a discreet place, such as inside of woods, out of respect for the landowner or others using the land.
    • No-Mess (Gutless) Field Dressing/Quartering: You can leave the guts intact and remove sections of meat by skinning your animal and quartering it in place. Here’s a well-done video on this technique, in which you can quickly field dress and elk with very little mess only your hands.
  • Dragging - Mature elk can weigh 500-700 pounds!  Quartering or de-boning elk in the field are common options among experienced hunters. Thorough hunters will wrap their elk with cheesecloth or old bed sheets to keep any debris out. 
  • How to Quarter an Elk - Kentucky Afield Magazine Article 

Telechecking Your Elk

You are required by law to report your elk harvest by midnight on the day you recover the animal. You can do this by phone at 1-800-245-4263 or by Online Telecheck.

Transporting Your Elk

When you get your animal to the vehicle, if it’s above 40 degrees or if you’re putting the animal inside the car, pack 1 or more bags of ice inside the body cavity to cool the meat and help protect from spoilage. If you quartered your elk, you can keep the meat cool in multiple large coolers and ice.

For the Table

Elk meat is a very healthy and nutritious meat. There are many print and online cookbooks dedicated to elk/venison, elk specifically or wild game in general.  Following are some sites that have some good recipes:

Additional Information