Montana Elk Hunting Tips: Rifle, bow, black powder, guided, and more tips for one of the best hunting experiences of your life!
Every big game hunter wants to travel to the west and hunt a giant bull elk.
I have been hunting elk in the west for 20 years. I have learned so much from my first journey to the mountains of Colorado or gutting my first bull on the mountain slopes of Montana.
Many lessons are learned by first-hand experience but learning from those before you can save time and money. No matter what, always remember you go for an experience… and making a kill is just a bonus.
Montana Elk Hunting Tips
Here are 7 tips on making your best possible experience hunting elk in Montana.
1. Know What Type of Hunting You Prefer
So what will it be? Rifle, black powder, or bowhunting?
Knowing a few of these things will help you make that decision.
Bow Elk Hunting
Typically bow hunting will begin in the fall. If you want an up-close and personal experience with a giant elk, bow hunting will force you to get close.
During this time of year, you can expect to “hear” the bulls. The best way to explain that is you will hear the shrill of a bull’s bugle and it will make the hair raise on the back of your neck.
My most fond memories in the mountains are early in the morning waiting in anticipation and hearing the bugle from a bull cut through the silence like a knife.
I love bow hunting but it can also be extremely difficult for your first time. Be prepared to hike, stand or sit still for long periods of time… working the wind where it is always hitting your face, so you don’t blow your cover.
Black Powder Elk Hunting
Black powder usually comes in play during bow season. It is a great way to cover distance with a shot with the benefits of locating the bull with calling.
I will say black powder comes with its own challenges, like loading quick enough to get off another shot. It’s usually not as easy as a one-shot kill. Very seldom do I see anyone make that happen.
A bull elk, once shot, can travel miles and even go on a death run that makes reloading and getting off that final shot, challenging. It does make it fun to have a bull in your sights and giving you enough distance to make a decision.
Rifle Elk Hunting
Rifle, for many beginners, works well. You have to think about making yourself familiar with the terrain and how you will make the kill.
Rifle hunting has many more opportunities. Once you see a bull you can take the shot to which you are comfortable with the distance.
I have killed a few amazing bulls with my rifle. But I have also had many opportunities that I passed up because I could see from a distance what I had, and it was not what I wanted.
I have also taken shots at over 400 yards that would have never killed the bulls that I have killed with a bow, in that amount of time and effort. My suggestion is… for the first time, unless you are super passionate about bow hunting, take a rifle hunting trip.
2. Guided Elk Hunt or Unguided?
First, guided will more than likely give you the best edge to get in front of a bull.
Typically, you will see real professionals that live and breathe elk hunting. They did the homework and you will pay to see what they know.
I really believe if you can afford it, go with a guide first and as you become experienced and understand the area and terrain then you can transition into your own guide.
I have spent years wandering the woods looking for those giant bull elk with no idea what I was doing. Simply going by yourself on your first hunt it will look like a calf at a new gate.
3. Public Ground or Not?
Public ground or private ground simply depends on what type of experience you want. Are you camping or lodging? I see many guys play the hard card and want to outfit a tent and pack a pile of crap across the country to set up camp.
I did that for many years but as I got older, I realized I needed my day pack, my bow and I could pick the rest up at Walmart when I got there.
I like a cabin or lodge to stay in these days, but I used to spend an entire day setting up an outfitters tent and a cook camp.
Today I have a saying:
Pack light, pack right.
I do not need the next new thing. Elk hunting has been around for a while…. and I have watched guys with $5,000 in gear, never even see an animal.
I have killed bulls in a pair of Carhartt pants and a flannel shirt. I’m not saying these things to brag… everyone is starting the journey from a point. Just pick the point you are at and make informed decisions about your hunt!
4. Set your Budget
I’ve often sat around the campfire discussing hunts and I start to hear the I “wish” and “if” stories…
“Well if I would have had another $1,000” or “If I would have had this gear, I could have had a better result” or my favorite… the trip was only $1,500 but I didn’t see anything.
I get you want to hurry up and go… but if you could save maybe one more season and plan accordingly, it may be more worth it.
I can’t think of anything worse than saying, “I can only spend X amount” and it be an unrealistic number.
I have a very close friend of mine, Mike. He takes a portion of his income and sets himself up to hunt every year. He started this in his teens and every year he looks at the opportunity and sets a budget after reviewing the area.
“I don’t want to skip out on something because of a few hundred dollars.”
5. Elk Hunting Gear
Ahhh the most important part, right? Not really…. here is what you need, in a nutshell. But here is my BIG elk hunting packing list in case you find it helpful too!
- Appropriate clothes for any weather condition.
- The best possible binoculars you can afford. I like these!
- The weapon of your choice.
- A small medical kit.
- If this is your first time, have a good GPS and quit thinking of the best survival strategy you are not going into the arctic circle! If you have a guide, they should have the shortlist for you if you are going solo, see the link here.
Remember, keep it simple pack light pack right.
6. When you Arrive.
Oh boy, you finally made it to camp or the cabin or wherever you are going!
- First thing first, is getting ready for a great time.
- Get your day pack ready (see what’s in my day pack).
- Time to get your killing weapon sighted in or checked for accuracy.
- Put your signed tag in your bag.
- Make sure you have a game plan… who cares if it’s not 100%…I’ve killed more bull elk unexpected than I have expected. Elk are funny. They can show up when you are thinking about that crappy golf game last week or what a buddy is doing at work while you’re on this badass trip. Have a clear head opening morning get your mind right! You seriously could have a bull down today!
7. To Kill or Not to Kill?
First time? Ah…that is like being a white belt in jujitsu….. don’t let there be any pressure!
If it’s legal, make the kill! It is a great start to your journey as a hunter and to get one under the belt. Go ahead, get some meat in the freezer!
Elk hunting can drive you at times to be competitive with yourself, just remember to have fun with it!
Also keep in mind that not every area you hunt in will be easy to get the bull out when you make the kill, so be prepared.
In some areas, you can have hired help. If you are roughing it, have game bags at the ready along with plenty of rope. I usually carry 50’.
Watch this video below on how to field dress a bull elk. This will get you where you need to go.
Also, have a camera or phone ready to take pictures. Once you begin cleaning the bull elk you will not have time to take many photos.
Keep your surroundings aware if you are rifle hunting and do not underestimate a bear showing up. The goal is to get the elk quartered and be in and out as fast and safely as possible.
Be aware of where you are placing the kill. If the bull goes on a death run, he could cover some distance. At this point, I have to mention something… if you want to kill a cow elk for meat…. go for it. That is just as satisfying on the grill as a bull… sometimes better!
8. Packaging, Processing, and Plans
If you make the big kill, enjoy the moment… Celebrate.
Then go find a packing company or go get supplies to have it frozen, shipped back to your doorstep or get some dry ice and buy some coolers and haul it yourself!
Have a plan ahead of time on who will be your taxidermist and call them ahead of time to see how they want it.
Be ready for the best time of your life. It’s the most addicting hunting I can think of. Follow along I will have many hunts coming up this year!
Have you been elk hunting or planning on going? Let me know in the comments below!