Considered one of the most majestic animals on the continent, the Rocky Mountain elk is emblematic of western hunting. From the bugling of herd bull monarchs keeping their harems of cows in line to the breathtaking vistas and, oh!, those towering tiers of antlers, this is a prized experience for anyone with the patience to hike the miles and put in the hours behind a binocular to plan a stalk. Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah are always top destinations, but reintroduced populations in states like Kansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and even Arkansas, with others in the planning, are offering fresh opportunities.
Elk tags are most often acquired through lottery tag draws, but there are states that offer over-the-counter tags, even for non-residents. You can hunt them DIY on public land if you like to camp and are map-savvy. If you’d prefer a helping hand, there are dozens of reputable hunting guides who can get you where you’re going via horseback or llama and tent camp if you like roughing it, or with a wake-up call in a five-star lodge, whichever you prefer.
For more information, see our friends at Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Choose the Right BulletOne big, often ignored factor in making long-range shots on big game is terminal ballistics. Far too many hunters pick a cartridge and bullet that are designed for long-range target shooting. The problem in that is that the goal in target shooting is simply to hit the target. When hunting, you must also be able to also dispatch the animal humanely.Long-range target bullets are designed for accuracy and a high ballistic coefficient, which is a measure of atmospheric drag on the bullet in flight. They are not designed for predictable expansion on animals the size of deer and elk. For that you need a hunting bullet, and most hunting bullets will have a minimum impact velocity required to guarantee expansion. Usually, it’s somewhere around 2,000 fps (feet per second), although that can vary from bullet to bullet.Some of my favorite bullet choices for long-range hunting include the Barnes LRX, Nosler Accubond Long Range and the Hornady ELD-X. They are accurate, provide a high ballistic coefficient to retain energy, and will expand and penetrate at long range.
Best Caliber ChoicesThe cartridge must also have sufficient power. The long-accepted rule for hunting cartridges is that the bullet should deliver a minimum of 1,000 foot-pounds (ft-lbs) of energy to the target for deer-size game. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but none apply to long-range hunting.Many of the popular long-range target cartridges drop below both of these thresholds at far shorter distances than you might expect — often at 500 yards or less. The solution is to either pick a more powerful cartridge that can deliver a well-designed bullet with sufficient energy to the target or limit the distance of your shots.
At what distance does long-range shooting begin? In this video, Bryan Litz, Founder and President of Applied Ballistics, LLC, Chief Ballistician at Berger Bullets and champion rifle shooter, defines long-range and extended long-range shooting.
The Shooter's ResponsibilityAnother huge factor in successful long-range hunting is the hunter’s ability to hit the animal’s kill zone every single time. The dirty little secret that many who are promoting long-range hunting keep hidden is how difficult that can be under hunting conditions.Rifles, optics and ammo have improved vastly over the years, and that has extended the ethical distance for shooting at game. What has not changed, however, is the cold, hard truth that you can’t buy skill; you must earn it. Before considering long-range hunting, you should burn a lot of powder to build the skills needed and to determine your MED (maximum ethical distance) to attempt a shot.[caption id="attachment_2594" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Learning to shoot accurately at long range takes practice. Spend time at the range learning to shoot off your pack or shooting sticks to simulate hunting conditions.[/caption]My method is biased to the animal being hunted and sets a tough standard for the shooter. The first step is to determine the distance at which you can hit an eight-inch target every single time you pull the trigger. That means under any weather conditions and from any field position, and not just on a good day or most of the time, but every time. It also means that you can do it when you are cold, wet, miserable, tired, out of breath and stressed.You find your MED number by shooting a lot and by pushing yourself. Go to the shooting range on those nasty days when you would rather stay home. Shoot from the positions you don’t like rather than just practicing what you do well. Try running 50 yards to your rifle, then make the shot when you are breathing hard. It takes a lot of shooting to develop the required skills. The upside is that long-range shooting is a lot of fun.There is a huge difference between a shooter’s ability to hit a target at the range and their ability to humanely dispatch a big-game animal at far distances. Most experienced hunters have learned to control their emotions enough to make the shot, but it’s never 100 percent. Nobody is that stone cold. Once you find the distance at which you can make the shot every single time, subtract 20 percent to allow for the adrenalin and other stress factors when hunting.Long-range shooting is both a physical and a mental game and requires a mastery of rifle shooting skills. Every error you make will be magnified as the distance increases. A wobble of one inch at 100 yards becomes 10 inches at 1,000 yards.[caption id="attachment_2595" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Practice at the range until you find the distance at which you can put all of your shots into an 8-inch group, then subtract 20% of that distance to allow for factors that can affect your shot in the field such as adrenalin or being out of breath.[/caption]It’s important that you be honest with yourself in the evaluation. Your MED will likely be much shorter than you probably expected and no doubt closer than the shots you see other hunters bragging about on the web and TV. Remember, your obligation is to be ethical with the game you are hunting. You are taking a life, and that means something. At least do it right. If you want to test your skill at longer ranges, do it on targets. There is far less heartbreak with a miss on a steel target than if you wound an animal.
Choose the Right RifleThe equipment you choose is important as well. Your rifle must be accurate. The rule of thumb is that a hunting rifle is considered to be very accurate if it can put all the bullets fired into one minute of angle (MOA) which, for practical purposes, equals one inch at 100 yards.For the record, I have tested a lot of factory rifles over 36 years as a professional gun writer. Few can achieve this accuracy mark. For serious long-range hunting, you most likely will need to hire a gunsmith to tune your rifle for accuracy.[caption id="attachment_2596" align="aligncenter" width="650"] An accurate rifle, chambered for a long-range cartridge like the .300 Win. Mag., is critical for long-range hunting. In the author’s opinion, such rifles should be capable of placing all five shots into 1 MOA or one inch at 100 yards every time.[/caption]MOA expands its width with distance. It roughly corresponds to adding an inch for every 100 yards of additional distance. So, at 1,000 yards, one MOA equals 10 inches. That means if your rifle is well tuned and you break the shot with perfect precision, you are only guaranteed to hit a five-inch target at 500 yards. That does not yet include any of the multitude of variables, which can open the group up even more when shooting in hunting conditions.That does not yet include any of the multitude of variables that can open the group up even more when shooting in hunting conditions. For example, if you factor in that one-inch wobble we mentioned, you are now only going to hit a 10-inch target at 500 yards. That’s larger than our eight-inch kill-zone standard for deer (and we have not yet talked about wind or other environmental factors that can affect the shot). In this circumstance, with a one-MOA rifle and allowing for one inch of shooter error, the distance to keep all the shots on an eight-inch target is 400 yards. Already much closer than you expected, right?Better skills and a more accurate rifle can extend that. But, it’s not easy. The alternative is to try the following.
In this video, Former Army Ranger sniper team leader Ryan Cleckner explains the measurement term "minute of angle" (MOA) and how to use MOA adjustments on your scope for sighting in and to compensate for bullet drop at varying distances.
The Long-Range ShortcutIf you shoot a rifle with a modern, high-velocity cartridge and pointed hunting bullets, set your zero for 200 yards and don’t worry about the math.Depending on the cartridge, the bullet will impact one to two inches high at 100 yards and five to eight inches low at 300 yards.For any shot from 100 to 300 yards, simply hold on the critter, perhaps a bit higher for the longer distance, but always on hair (not air), and you will hit the deer.Past 300 yards, it becomes necessary to either hold over or dial up the elevation on your scope. Better yet, simply limit your shots at big game to 300 yards and you’ll be doing the right thing.About the Author Bryce M. Towsley has been writing about guns for 36 years and has published thousands of articles in most of the major firearms magazines. He has hunted all over the world and is a competition shooter in several disciplines. Towsley has several books available on guns, shooting and hunting as well as an adventure novel, "The 14th Reinstated." Signed books are available on his website.Special thanks to StepOutside.org for providing this insightful content.
These five classic Western hunts are all on public land, so you can go on your own for elk, mule deer, upland birds and waterfowl.Is there a greater gift — or a more appealing challenge — for an American hunter than chasing game across public land, using only your instincts, gear and grit to fill your tag?For many Western hunters, this challenge is literally part of the landscape. West of Nebraska, public land is abundant and accessible. Hunting opportunities are varied and plentiful. And while outfitters do good business, most hunts are open to anyone with a tag and a willingness to learn the country and the animals, and who can take care of themselves in landscapes with few signs of human development.But a Western hunting trip is seldom as easy as loading up the Suburban and pointing it toward the sunset. Many big-game tags require years of going through the application process before you draw. Season dates, bag limits, and hunting unit boundaries often change from year to year. And then there’s the scale of the country. It’s big and wild, and often requires specialized gear. Sound intimidating? It is, but don’t let that scare you away from an awesome adventure. Here’s a way to get started.These five hunts represent classic Western public-land adventures, but they don’t require years of planning and license preference-point accumulation. And all are easily accomplished with basic gear. Best of all, you can do them right now!
Wyoming Sage GrouseThe clock is ticking on the largest native upland bird of the West. Sage grouse are a perennial candidate for listing as an endangered species, mainly because of habitat loss. Hunting opportunities for “bombers,” as sage grouse are often called for their ponderous flight, have been restricted over the years. Currently, only a couple of states offer sage grouse hunting.[caption id="attachment_2548" align="aligncenter" width="650"] A Wyoming sage grouse hunter admires the wingspan of a mature grouse. Much of the best hunting takes place on public land in Wyoming.[/caption]Wyoming has the most abundant sage grouse population in the West, but the season runs for only a fortnight in the best area, called Hunt Area 1, which basically covers the western half of the state. The season runs Sept. 16-30 this year, and hunters can bag two sage grouse a day and keep four in possession. Nonresident hunting licenses cost $74 for the season (allowing you to also hunt sharptail grouse, partridge, and pheasants), or $22 per day. There’s also a nonresident youth license, which costs $40 per season and is a good incentive to bring young hunters on this classic Western bird hunt.GO HERE: The Cowboy State’s best sage grouse area is the expansive sagebrush sea along the historic Mormon and Oregon trails, from Casper west to South Pass. Almost all this land is public (managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and you can camp and fish on much of these federal properties. During late September, hike riparian washes and areas with tall, shady sagebrush, where the birds will seek shade and bugs on hot autumn afternoons.
Great Salt Lake DucksSky-darkening flocks of waterfowl, abundant public access and one of the most varied bags in the West are all within sight of metropolitan Salt Lake City. Waterfowling Utah’s Great Salt Lake is one of the most accessible and productive hunts in the West.[caption id="attachment_2549" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Late-season Great Salt Lake ducks don’t require many decoys, but weather can bring snow and freezing fog.[/caption]Even better, it doesn’t take a lot of planning or gear to bag ducks here in this sprawling inland sea, surrounded with abundant public marshland. For good pass-shooting and decoying with small spreads, head to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on the northeast shore of Great Salt Lake.GO HERE: Set up on dikes on Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, where a small boat will get you away from the crowds and allow you to decoy diving species like redheads, buffleheads, ringnecks, and even the mighty canvasback, the trophy bird of American waterfowlers.For season rules, license fees, and open (and closed) hunting areas, check out the annual Utah Waterfowl Guidebook.
Montana Black BearDrawing a Montana nonresident deer or elk tag can take years of preference-point accumulation or you can buy a bear tag over the counter and hunt the same public areas as you would for antlered game.[caption id="attachment_2550" align="aligncenter" width="650"] A Montana black bear works down a side-slope in the Helena National Forest.[/caption]There is a catch; you have to take a simple bear-ID test to prove that you can tell the difference between black and grizzly bears, which often share the same habitats in western Montana. The other thing you should know is that bear hunting in Montana is entirely spot-and-stalk. Neither baiting nor hound hunting is legal in Montana. Those restrictions actually improve the hunt; black bear hunting is so similar in locale and style to deer and elk hunting that a bear hunt is a great primer for hunting antlered game.GO HERE: National forests and wilderness areas from Bozeman to Kalispell offer the best bear hunting. Specific forests include the Lewis & Clark, Flathead, and Lolo. For a directory of each forest, as well as maps showing public-land boundaries, contact the Region 1 office in Missoula, Montana.
Arizona Mule DeerA trophy mule deer buck tag for Arizona is one of the most coveted permits in America. But the Grand Canyon state offers abundant hunting opportunities for both mule and Coues deer for hunters who use archery gear.[caption id="attachment_2551" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Late-season Arizona mule deer are widespread on public land.[/caption]Many units are open for late-season bowhunting on over-the-counter tags (OTC). And there are few better ways to escape the winter blues in the rest of the nation than spending late December and January in Arizona’s deer country. Both mule deer and Coues deer are huntable on these OTC tags, and because the season corresponds with the Coues deer rut, this is one of the best times to see a number of the gray ghosts in the desert mountains.Tags are reasonably priced — $160 for the nonresident hunting license plus the $300 deer tag (resident prices are $45 and $57, respectively) — and units are as varied as Arizona’s terrain. Arizona’s online hunt planner is a great way to identify open units and plan for the mix of terrain and season types that each offer for deer hunters.GO HERE: For Coues deer, hunt the southern mountains, especially units east of Tucson and near the New Mexico border. Mule deer and Coues deer roam the units along the Mexican border east of Nogales.
Colorado ElkWith the largest elk herd in the nation, over-the-counter tags and abundant public land, Colorado is an elk-hunters’ destination. Problem is, all that opportunity can lead to frustration unless you do some solid homework and plan to hoof it to get away from access roads and the crowds they attract.[caption id="attachment_2552" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Colorado has the most elk of any Western state with over 300,000 animals; many on public land.[/caption]Plan on either the 2nd or 3rd rifle seasons, which run Oct. 20-28 and Nov. 3-11 this year. During these periods, snowfall isn’t too extensive, and elk are still fairly well distributed on public lands. The tough thing is that a big high-country snowfall could certainly change your plans overnight.GO HERE: For planning, a great starting point is the state’s digital hunting atlas, which shows unit boundaries and game-management unit designations. Cross-reference that information with harvest statistics from Colorado’s Craig region, available from the Division of Parks & Wildlife’s excellent hunting guides, and you should have a good idea of where to find both public land and huntable elk.The rest is up to you, and your gear. People assume that with over 300,000 head of elk, there’s a wapiti behind every tree. The reality is that to have consistent success in Colorado, you need the ability to hike hard, spend long days in the field, and have the flexibility to move up or down in elevation, or deeper in the backcountry, as conditions dictate.About the Author Andrew McKean is a longtime outdoor writer and the former editor-in-chief of Outdoor Life. He lives in northeast Montana with his family and yellow Lab. You can follow his adventures on Instagram @aemckean or on Facebook @andrew.mckean.Special thanks to StepOutside.org for providing this insightful content.
https://youtu.be/tMrOId2RQEE?t=10In this video, Connecticut Hunter Education Instructor Dieter Bromkamp explains the importance of having and maintaining a solid scent control regimen and offers many tips that you can implement before your next hunt.
- Mirage, which refers to the way light rays are bent due to the heat difference of the ground and the air, can be used, if they’re moving, to help illustrate wind direction and intensity. Read the full article to get a better understanding of how to use Mirage to assess the wind.
- Grass, leaves, tree branches and other flora are good indicators of wind speed and direction. Read the full article to learn how to use these natural clues.
- If you’re hunting in a foreign environment, use a windmeter to measure values and their effects on flora; then, you can estimate wind values at range based on the amount of movement of that particular plant. Read the full article for the benefits of a windmeter.
- Canyons can prove particularly challenging, especially if compound winds are present. Make sure you understand how canyon walls affect wind currents.
Read the full article at GunDigest.com for a more detailed explanation of how to use these environmental elementsSpecial thanks to GunDigest.com for providing this insightful content. GunDigest.com is a shooter’s opportunity to keep up with what’s going on in the world of the gun.In this video, former Army Ranger sniper team leader Ryan Cleckner explains how to estimate wind speed, shares a formula for calculating wind drift, and explains how ballistic charts and empirical data gathered at the range can help hunters and target shooters properly compensate for the effects of wind.