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A Guide’s Strategies for Taking Elk Day 5: The Attributes of a Good Elk Guide

Elk hunter with his trophy
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Editor’s Note: Elk outfitter Tom McReynolds ([email protected]) (Phone: 602-705-4297) says, “I played baseball in college, and I needed a way to make some extra money. I had a friend older than me who was guiding for elk and mule deer. He asked me if I wanted to start guiding hunters when I wasn’t playing baseball for a part-time job while in college. During the fall, we weren’t practicing or playing baseball. Then, when I graduated from college, I started Black Mountain Outfitters. During this time, I guided in an area where I knew some of the owners of the land and started negotiating with them to lease the private property they owned for elk and mule deer.

Elk hunters with their trophy

“My primary area at that time was west/central New Mexico because it was only 4.5 hours away from where I lived. There weren’t many outfitters in that area, but currently, we have over 1 million acres of private land that we can hunt, as well as quite a bit of public land. I have been guiding for over 20 years now, and Black Mountain Outfitters operates four different camps – our main camp is located in western New Mexico, South Dakota, Mexico, and Arizona. Although we primarily guide for elk, we also have several mule deer, longhorn, and whitetails in South Dakota and Coues deer in Mexico.”

“On the hunts I guide, I’m not only trying to put a bull elk in front of my hunter, but I’m also teaching my hunter how to hunt and call during the time I spend with them,” McReynolds explains. “I can’t be right with my hunter all day, every day when we’re elk hunting if we’re going to be productive. If we contact the bull, I have several things I must do: 

  • “Set up my hunter where he has shooting lanes and can take a shot at the elk with a bow or gun; 
  • “Get 50-100 yards away from my hunter; 
  • “Call the elk, and when he answers me, determine his direction of travel and where I should move and call to get the bull to walk in front of my hunter.

“Then I’m probably going to be 75-100 yards away. My hunter needs to know what to do when he sees the elk, how to stop it, how to get the shot, and how to calm down a satellite or a cow that gets spooked by him, as well as many other scenarios that may happen when he’s alone, and the elk are coming into him. I must give my hunters the tools to take a bull elk when I’m not right there with him. 

“That’s the difference in being a good or a bad guide. If I’ve done my job well, my hunter should know exactly what to do and how to do it when he sees a bull. How successful I am in teaching my hunter how to deal with different scenarios when the elk are coming in is often what causes the hunter to take the bull or not.”

John E. Phillips: One problem that guides and hunters often have is that the hunter will tell the guide, “I’ve been running football stadium steps, 5 miles a day, been working in the weight room, and am in a great condition to take a bull elk.” But, on the first hunt, you’ll learn if the hunter has lied to you, isn’t in as good of shape as you’ve thought, or is in good shape but isn’t accustomed to the altitude and can’t physically do what you’ve thought.


Tom McReynolds: We’re fortunate to have the properties we lease to hunt on because they’re some of the most accessible properties available to walk and climb. We don’t have as much of a problem with this as the outfitters and guides who may have to take their hunters up to 5,000, 7,000, or even 10,000 feet of elevation. However, if on the first day of the hunt we see that our hunter is having a hard time physically, we know immediately that we must change the hunt to an area that we can get closer to where the elk are likely to be in a vehicle. We have some regions to hunt that are much flatter and closer to access roads. We’re not going to take the hunter with physical problems on a 5-mile hike with no access roads to get a vehicle that can bring the hunter and his elk out.

As an elk guide, I always have options available because I need land where I know some bulls will be easier for my hunter to get to if I see him struggling on the first morning out. We always have backup locations to take our hunters to and make sure that they not only have a successful but also enjoyable hunt. In the places we hunt, we have numbers of bulls that stay close to highways and county roads. They always rut around those areas – accessible places to take a hunter to if he’s having difficulty dealing with the terrain we’re hunting on the first day. Every time I get a new hunter, I have plans A, B, C, and D to be able to help my hunter find and take the elk that he physically can reach. If a guide has several plans on where he wants to hunt, then he can take care of that hunter who may be having difficulty physically on the first day.

Expert Guidebooks on Elk Hunting: Best Sellers

Secrets for Hunting Elk
The quickest, easiest (if there is an easy way), and safest way to find and take that bull elk of a lifetime will be to hunt with a guide.

Chad Schearer, a longtime Montana guide and TV personality, told me, “My hunter is my gun. If I get to the elk, and my hunter isn’t with me, then we don’t take the elk. My job is not only to find the elk but also to help the hunter get to the elk and make the experience as enjoyable as I can for him.” That’s the kind of fella with whom I want to go elk hunting. 

An elk hunt can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be so tough that you don’t enjoy it. That’s why this elk hunting book starts with the confessions of an elk guide and with Chad Schearer’s philosophy of what the guide and the hunter’s relationship should be.

A good portion of your success will depend on your physical condition, and Matt Morrett of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania explains how an eastern hunter can get ready physically during June and July to hunt western elk, the animals he describes as, “Like deer or turkeys on steroids.”

Wayne Carlton, well-known elk hunter and TV and video personality from Montrose, Colorado, tells us what types of elk calls to use and what to say to the elk. Mike Miller of Colorado, another elk guide and Mossy Oak video personality, has tactics for the best equipment for bowhunting and gun hunting elk.

You’ll learn helpful strategies and hunting tips in this book, as well as some straightforward hunting methods that will help to make your elk hunt more successful.

“Thanks to the advice in your elk hunting books, I was able to call up a nice 6-point (6X6) bull elk! He was bugling like crazy. I called him in from about a ¼ mile away. Called him into bow range (about 40 yards away). It was a thrill!” ~Rob Brannon


Elk: Keys to 25 Hunters’ Success
Often just one tip or tactic makes the difference in whether you take an elk home to dinner or have to hike back to the truck by yourself. In John E. Phillips’ latest elk book, Elk: Keys to 25 Hunters’ Success, you’ll learn from successful elk hunters the strategies they use to find and take elk.

Many know that the technique that seems to work most often is to hunt where other elk hunters don’t and understand where the elk are before you go on a hunt by studying data from each state, visiting HuntData (see chapter 1), examining maps, and reading postings on elk forums.

This book also tells you how to get ready physically for an elk hunt, including participating in Train to Hunt Competitions, what gear you need to take, how to enjoy a successful do-it-yourself elk hunt, or how to pick the best elk guide for you. You’ll also hear about the X System and the Broken Y System of hunting elk. 

Although no one person has all the answers on how to help you find and take your elk, I’m convinced that this book’s outdoors men and women will teach you how to have satisfying elk hunts.

As my friend Karl Badger once told me, “Elk hunting doesn’t get any better than when I ride horses into the high backcountry, see two grizzly bears, hear a pack of wolves howl close to camp all night long, eat plenty of delicious food prepared on a fire and enjoy the company of good friends.”


How to Find Your Elk and Get Him in Close will teach you the tactics of 10 nationally known elk hunters, to help put that giant bull that’s been screaming at you from afar, in your lap. You’ll learn what some of the best guides, outfitters, and successful elk hunters do to find elk and get them in really close.

Also in this audiobook, you’ll notice that the majority of the experts call elk to within bow range. We selected numerous bowhunters and bowhunting guides, since the bowhunter has to get much closer to a bull than the gun hunter does – often less than 20 or 30 yards – practically in your lap.

On one elk hunt, I’d heard this bull bugle all morning. My guide had called him within 30 yards, and he was standing just inside black timber. I saw the smoke from his nose wafting out into the icy air less than 30-yards away. All the bull had to do was step out, and I could take the shot with my bow. But then, through no fault of my guide or me, the bull vanished.

The only conclusion I could come up with to understand why the bull I wanted to take with my bow hadn’t stepped out and given me a shot, was because he got raptured. He evidently had left the earth with no trace of himself.

This hunt was when I started wanting to learn more about hunting elk up close. In this book, I’ve tried to find some of the most knowledgeable, experienced, and practical elk hunters. I’ve always found that the best way to learn any outdoor skill, is to either hunt or fish with the best sportsmen in that field.

Often, in elk hunting, that means elk guides, who generally hunt every day of the season and receive a salary for every hunter they guide. So, I’ve put together a group of some of the best elk hunters I know to help us all learn how to find bull elk and get them in close.


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