Bowhunting 101 From an Amateur Hunter

In my 4 years of bowhunting I have gone hunting with people of all different experience levels. I have gone with first time hunter as well as people in their 40’s who have been hunting since they were 12. Bowhunting is an exciting experience as you get up close and personal with large animals such as Elk. I will be providing tips on how to become a better elk hunter from my personal experiences while in the mountains of Montana.

Early Season

Elk are all over the place in Montana.  Finding a good hunting spot is not challenging as long as you are familiar with an area. Things like On X are great resources in order to find public land to hunt on. Once you find a nice piece of public land you need to start hiking. Elk are very quiet early season for they have not began to rut yet.  Finding out where elk like to hang out is important in order to settle down to take a shot. Mainly female “cow” elk like to spend their days on south facing slopes. This is because these slopes get lots of sunlight and is good for grazing. On the flip side bull elk like rouged north facing slopes. This is because the terrain is nasty because of the lack of sunlight it receives. The bulls do not like to be bothered unless they are in the rut. Shooting a nice bull before the rut is hard but some people enjoy the extra challenge. In order to do this most hunter will spend hours hiking looking for bulls feeding or cooling off in a wallow. Once they locate a bull they may get close without them noticing and use a cow call. Using this cow call bulls will become curious and see if the cow is alone and stay near her until the rut begins. Understanding the which direction the wind is blowing is very important in the process of calling in any elk. They do not have great eye sight but they have an outstanding sense of smell.

Late Season

Once temperature begin to drop elk go into a process call the “rut”. During this mating season bull elk becoming very active in trying to find cows. Often bulls will become careless in their actions and this is when hunters are able to strike.  The most common way to hunt bull elk during this time is to locate and pursue. Many times when I go out with buddies we will hike to the top of a ridge or canyon and let out a loud bugle. Then we stop and listen for a bone tickling response. Once we hear what we came looking for we understand where the bull is at and we answer back. Speaking their language we bugle back and forth and try to decide which direction the bull is heading. Once we come up with a plan we make our move towards an opening in order to get a clean shot. We then position the shooter in front of the caller in order for the bull to walk in front of the hunter while the caller has his attention in the distance.


It is important to be very prepared when going out to bow hunt. Not only with your gear but with your preparation. You need to practice shooting your bow every night weeks before the season. The last thing you want to do is place a bad shot and force an animal to suffer for hours. A well placed shot will only force you to wait 30-60 minutes before following a blood trail. A bad placed shot could force you to wait up to 6 hours for your elk to finally die. You also need to practice using your elk calls. This may be annoying to anyone you live with but it is so vital to sound like an actual elk rather than a squeaky call. Elk hear humans calls all hunting season, if you sound like the real deal they will come running in every time.

Trevor Welnel

University of Montana