Elk are one of North America’s most majestic big game species. Unfortunately, overhunting and destruction of their habitat caused their numbers to sink to all-time lows. A few decades ago, the chances of bagging a trophy bull were so low that few hunters could even dream of doing so. Thanks to conservation efforts in nearly every region, the populations grew and returned to areas once considered void. Reintroduction programs have established huntable populations in several eastern states, including my home state of Pennsylvania. Despite the growing numbers, elk hunting is more complicated than when our forefathers carried a musket in pursuit of dinner. But don’t worry, I have a way you can even the odds.
The two popular methods of traditional elk hunting are spot & stalk or ambush. Spot & stalk involves finding an elevated observation point, locating an elk herd, and then stalking within range for a shot. The ambush method is similar to that used for whitetail deer hunting. It involves the hunter finding a location where they believe elk will pass within range, hiding in a blind or elevated stand, and waiting for an elk to walk within range. Both have advantages and work well, but also involve a bit of luck. Will you be able to stalk within range undetected? Will elk naturally walk by your preselected site?
If you have all season to hunt, your method is a personal preference and can even change from each hunt. However, you need to maximize your opportunity if you have limited time in the field. You could spend days spotting and never see an approachable herd. Or you could spend just as much time stalking nearby herds to be detected at the last minute. Likewise, you can spend countless hours on stand and even see elk every day without ever having one pass within range. So, what are you to do? How about mixing it up and conducting a spot & ambush instead?
What are a stalk and ambush? It starts like a spot and stalk in that you will glass for herds from an elevated observation point. However, once you locate a nearby herd or even single elk, you will not attempt to approach it. Instead, you will look for an ambush point ahead of it, and you can approach undetected in an area. You will then move to that point and set up your ambush. Likely ambush points can be bedding areas, wood lines, or funnel points.
This method may seem unorthodox, but if you think about it makes more sense than either of the others when hunting on a timetable. First, by locating the herd or single animal, you are not relying on luck that your ambush point will be somewhere elk go that day. Second, setting up an ambush point ahead of the target rather than stalking within range decreases the chance elk will detect you.
For more information on elk hunting and tips on making your hunt successful, check out this YouTube video.