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Three tips for whitetail hunters who dream of chasing elk

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By Staff Writer

MISSOULA – Elk: The official daydream of whitetail hunters everywhere. But hunting deer and hunting elk are two distinct disciplines within North American big game hunting requiring different skill sets and expectations are required.

Brandon Bates grew up in southern Louisiana chasing white-tailed deer with gun and bow. Like thousands of his counterparts across the country, Bates spent many quiet hours in low-country tree stands while imagining snowy peaks, alpine meadows, dark timber basins, and giant bulls.

Today, Bates hunts elk or accompanies other elk hunters in several states each fall while hosting and producing “RMEF Team Elk,” a television show now reigning as the ‘Fan Favorite Best New Series’ on the Outdoor Channel.

“Elk still represent the best opportunity for an average hunter to get out, all on his own or with an affordable outfitter, and experience a classic Western big-game hunt,” Bates said. “But elk are also the toughest animal for a newcomer to hunt successfully. Elk hunting humbles lots of folks who, like me, had become pretty good at taking whitetails and had assumed that body of work would carry over.”

Often, it doesn’t. Here, Bates shares three tips he learned during his first few years as an elk hunter:

“It took me three to four years to understand that you don’t just pick up a bow and go out to the mountains and take a big bull. When I was strictly a whitetail hunter, I scoffed at the guys who claimed they hunted because they liked to be outside and see the flowers and hear the birds. Man, I hunted because I liked to kill deer. But hunting elk made me appreciate what those guys were talking about. It really is about the place, the elements, your ability to adapt and the overall experience. The happiest elk hunters I know are the ones who approach their sport simply as a campout or hike with an elk tag. They just enjoy it for what it is. There’s no great expectation of a kill, and if it happens, it’s considered a bonus.”

“All whitetail hunters know that elk hunting will demand better physical conditioning, more mobility in altitude and steep terrain, and better preparedness for harsh and changing weather. They understand that elk hunters literally live on what they can carry on their backs. But I think a lot of newbies are completely surprised and unprepared for the wind. In most whitetail country, winds are usually fairly directional. You just adjust and keep hunting. But in elk country, the wind swirls. It’s in your face, then at your back, then in your face again, all day long. It’s hard to cope with, and it really throws off hunters who aren’t used to it.”

“Going from whitetail hunting to elk hunting is like going from pond fishing to lake fishing. Your world suddenly gets a lot bigger, and it’s much less forgiving. You go from hunting an animal that patterns within a square mile or so, to an animal that could be anywhere on the landscape at any given time. Finding elk, especially a particular bull, is really an incredible proposition. You have to take it day by day. Learn what you can about the country and how elk use it, and then use that knowledge to your advantage tomorrow. You’ll develop more patience than you ever thought possible.”

The Outlaw Partners is a creative marketing, media and events company based in Big Sky, Montana.

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