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Things to Know Before Hunting Elk & Muleys Day 5: Understand the Distance to Elk or Muleys

Rifle hunter
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Editor’s Note: An elk hunt, especially a mountain elk hunt, is the hunt of a lifetime for many folks. Nothing’s more beautiful than getting above the clouds and looking at the beauty of a mountain range for as far as you can see. However, I wish I had known several things before I went on my first elk hunt that will help you if you’re hiking and/or climbing mountains to reach your elk or mule deer to hunt.


Here’s what I’ve learned about the importance of distances to take elk and mule deer.



  • Bowhunters: Most bowhunters in the East will take whitetails at 30 yards or less. Therefore, when they’re getting ready for a hunt, they’ll usually shoot at targets at 30 or 40 yards. However, when you go on a western hunt for an elk or a mule deer, you may have to shoot out to 100 yards. One guide told me, “We ask our bowhunters to practice shooting out to 100 yards. At that distance, any problem that an archer has with his form or his shooting style will be amplified. We like for our bowhunters to be able to put a group of three arrows in a target about the size of a pie plate at 100 yards. Most of our elk will be anywhere between 30 to 50 yards away before the archer takes a shot. However, if he’s practiced at 100 yards and knows he can put three arrows in a pie plate at that distance, if he has to shoot at 30 or 50 yards, he’ll have confidence that he can make the shot. Also, if the hunter makes a shot at 30 or 40 yards or less and has a chance to put a second arrow in that elk at 50 or 60 yards, more than likely he’ll get that second arrow in that elk at those distances because he’s confident he can make that, since he’s shot successfully at 100 yards.

Rifle hunting

  • Gun Hunters: In the East, most white-tailed bucks are taken at 100 yards or less. However, on an elk hunt, most guides want their elk hunters to be able to shoot accurately at 500 yards. One of the guides I hunted with explained, “Very rarely will a hunter have to shoot a big bull out to 500 yards. However, it can happen. If he has to take that 500-yard shoot on the bull of a lifetime, and if he’s confident that he can make that shot, then any shot he has to take from 500 yards or less should be easy for him. Also, a big bull elk is tough to take down. Even though a hunter thinks he’s made a really-good shot on a bull elk, that bull may walk off and stand at 200 – 300 yards away, trying to decide what’s happened. Then the hunter may have time to make a second shot to put the bull down.”

Hunter with binoculars

Once again, knowing how to make a shot with your rifle at 500 yards can be the difference in taking a bull versus having to track him down for a mile or two or even missing the bull. Let’s be honest, in the East, a gun hunter never may think of taking a shot of more than 200 yards. However, when you’re hunting in the western mountains, longer shots aren’t extraordinary shots. So, if you’re going on an elk or a mule deer hunt, whether on a guided hunt or with a bunch of friends, you should practice at these distances. Remember the height of the terrain and the mountains in the West. Generally, too, the elk and mule deer in the West are much bigger than the whitetails in the East. In the East, hunters hunt whitetails in heavily-timbered terrain. However, in the West, you’ll often hunt elk and mule deer in more-open terrain.

Elk in the wild

This week’s elk and mule deer tips are some I wish I had been told before I went on my first Western hunts. Two other tips to make your trip much more successful and pleasurable are to have a physical checkup from your family doctor. Tell him what you’ll be doing, and ask him for his advice. Also, have your eyes checked because if you can’t see well enough to identify a bull elk or a mule deer at 100 yards or possibly at 300 – 400 yards with your binoculars, then you’ll have a hard time seeing the critters you want to take.


To learn more about mule-deer hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ book, “Mule Deer Hunter’s Bible,” available in Kindle, print and Audible at https://amzn.to/2Kg62w5. Also, see “Bowhunting Deer: The Secrets of the PSE Pros,” now available as of mid-October, 2022, in Kindle, print and Audible at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0BKBKKM9T/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taud_p3_i2. “Elk: Keys to 25 Hunters’ Success” is available in Kindle, print and Audible at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07F3CNTX2/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p3_i10

You may have to copy and paste these clicks into your browser. Cover: Elk: Keys to 25 Hunters SuccessWhen you click on the books, notice on the left where Amazon allows you to read and hear 10% of the books for free. On the right side of the page and below the offer for a free Audible trial, you can click on Buy the Audible with one click.Cover - Bowhunting Deer: The Secrets of the PSE Pros

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