Editor’s Note: Randy Ulmer grew up in Arizona with hunting as his passion. He graduated from Oregon State University summa cum laude and received his doctorate from Washington State University, but probably is best known for his competitive archery achievements, winning world and national titles in different areas. An avid bowhunter for many years, Ulmer is known for his outdoor writing and the monster elk and mule deer he bags regularly on public lands, including eight bull elk in the Boone and Crockett record book (https://www.boone-crockett.org/).
The way I elk hunt is probably not the best way for a new elk hunter or an elk hunter that doesn’t live in elk country to hunt because I’m hunting for specific bulls that I’ve found before the season that usually don’t travel with the herd or bugle a lot. At about three or four years old, an elk can be very big. However, to be mature, they need to be about eight or nine years old. A mature bull has been around for a while, has seen elk hunters, heard elk hunters calling and pretty much has a PhD on elk hunters. I’ve even watched some mature bulls walk away from an elk hunter calling to them on heavily-hunted land. Although those bulls may not know for sure that the calls they are hearing are coming from an elk hunter, they still won’t come in because they don’t think it’s worth the chance. Even if you’re highly skilled at calling, mature bulls still may walk away. That’s why I rarely ever call. You’re hardly going to fool mature older-age-class bulls with a call.
Most people who hunt elk and call are trying to call in a bull that’s two to four years old, but that’s not the way I hunt. This way may not be as much fun for someone who’s trying to catch a nice bull. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen a lot of very-big bulls called in and taken by hunters on TV, but most of the time those are on private lands or Indian reservation land. When you’re hunting on public lands, the game is much different. I don’t try to make a bull come to me; I attempt to sneak up on him. I don’t want the bulls that I take to ever know that I’m even alive.
Something I know for sure about older-age-class bull elk is that they aren’t stupid. They may get a little stupid during the rut, and I may be off my rocker with this assumption, but what I’ve observed is that they don’t tend to be with cows. Mature bulls believe in efficiency of effort, so they’re not going to try an d maintain a harem of cows, while fighting and chasing satellite bulls all day long. Instead, they’ll go into that herd late at night a find a cow to breed. I’ve learned that I have a greater chance of taking a mature bull by finding him and staying up with him, until he makes a mistake. If you’d like to take an older-age-class bull, listen to the herd for that one bull that wanders off by himself as daylight approaches. Having the discipline to go after that one bull that’s moving away from the herd is tough, but that’s what I’ve learned to do.
To learn more about elk hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ book, “How to Find Your Elk and Get Him in Close,” available in Kindle, print and Audible versions at http://amzn.to/17ENNqK, or you may copy and paste it into your browser.