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  • Writer's pictureChuck Adams

Elk Are The Best!

Every North American species is special for one reason or another, but nothing quite compares with a big bugling bull!

I hear it all the time. Dedicated whitetail archers swear the wily deer near their homes are the greatest animals on earth. And then they travel West for elk. Many diehard deer enthusiasts I know have become instant converts to chasing large, massive-racked bulls because these animals have so much to offer.

Please do not get me wrong. I love bowhunting big, old deer of any variety—whitetails, blacktails, or mulies. For sheer pins-and-needles spookiness and ability to hide, nothing matches a mature buck. But I especially love bowhunting elk. Here’s why.

First, an elk lives in awesome country. Whether it’s alpine heights in Colorado, steep evergreen forests in Montana, or rugged and brush-choked drylands in Arizona, elk habitat is special. It’s remote, tricky to navigate, and quickly addictive for anyone who loves wild and unspoiled places.

Second, the sounds of rutting elk will send chills up and down your spine. The bugles, grunts, squeals, and chirps provide a massive adrenaline rush for anyone who loves wild game. The sounds echo from canyon to canyon and ridge to ridge, adding a thrilling dimension never experienced with other kinds of game.

Elk might not be the most difficult critters to bowhunt, but a large and wise old bull comes close. Even during the September mating season, a mature and large-racked herd master does not drop his guard. The eyes, ears, and noses of his harem plus nearby satellite bulls make him even more difficult to approach. A big deer like a whitetail might be more wired and more edgy, but a mature elk is no slouch. This is the third reason I like elk—extreme hunting difficulty.

I love all kinds of antlers, because every set is a unique and exciting work of art. Elk antlers are especially large and thrilling to see. If you’ve been close to a bull with 50-inch main beams, 6 or 7 tines per side, and a spread well past his 750-pound body, you know exactly what I mean. The sheer size and mass of that ivory-tipped rack will take your breath away—reason number four to love this animal.

And then there’s the meat. Advantage number five for elk. Be it cow or bull, large or small, there is a freezer full of steaks, chops, roasts, stew, and burger on the hoof. Properly cared for, elk meat is absolutely impossible to beat.

There are certainly potential down sides to hunting any North American species, and elk are no exception. They are found in a limited number of places, and drawing a nonresident tag can be difficult in better elk states. If you are lucky enough to draw an elk license, your trip will be more expensive than hunting whitetail deer near home…even if you decide to DYI instead of hiring a guide.

In addition, warmish late summer and early fall weather can make meat salvage a challenging and often grueling physical experience. The remote countryside where many elk live might be peaceful and pristine, but you’d better have a carcass care plan in place before you begin your hunt…a professional meat packer on call with horses or mules at the ready, a few strong-backed buddies to share the butchering and backpacking chores, or the determination to lug out several hundred pounds in multiple trips all by yourself.

In a nutshell, an elk offers the whole bowhunting package. Awesome terrain, thrilling sounds, extreme challenge, impressive antlers, and mouth-watering meat. Getting a tag and traveling out-of-state might not be easy, and carcass salvage can be tough. All in all, though, hunting elk is upside thrills and enjoyment at its finest. That’s why I love these animals so much!

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