Elk hunting north Idaho doesn't always produce big bulls, but you will earn every one.
North Idaho Public Land Bull – Not my biggest, but one of my most hard earned bulls and memorable elk hunts.

Elk Hunting the Public lands of North Idaho is not for the faint of heart. The steep, thick and rugged terrain is challenging, but if you are willing to stick with it, it can be some great hunting. North Idaho was good to me once again as I was able to fill the freezer with a nice 5 point bull. But, I have to tell you this was quite possibly the hardest elk hunt I have ever been on. The elk were not talking, the country is big and steep and most of all, it is thick so glassing is almost non-existent. 

So what do you do if you are hunting this type of terrain and the Elk are not talking?

The steep and deep elk hunting country of North Idaho

You have to be creative, adapt, grind it out and most of all be oportunistic.

What do I mean by this? Don’t be afraid to try different tactics no matter how strange it may feel. Once you find something that seems to generate a response, trust that it will eventually produce and keep covering ground until a bull gives you an opening. When you get an opening, be aggressive!!! 

One of the most common elk hunting mistakes I see with guys who consistently have encounters with elk but don’t harvest, is that they are too passive. Some hunters are worried about noise and move at a snails pace trying to be completely silent, other hunters are so worried about the wind shifting they won’t even make a play for an elk or you have the hunter who is afraid the elk will see them and always find themselves without a shooting lane.

The truth is when you are elk hunting and you have a bull worked up, even if he isn’t bugling, you can get away with a lot more movement and noise than you think. You need to think and act like a bull yourself, push through brush, close the gap and force the issue.

This year, Elk hunting was very tough as the elk were very tight lipped. In 7 days of Elk hunting I probably averaged 8 miles per day and got a grand total of 4 bugles. But, in the process I discovered that if I got in close enough, the bulls would respond by raking and chuckling. So I changed up my approach and my calling style.

I shifted to hunting the edges of the elk bedding areas and did more of a slow play. I would start off doing some cow calling, then some raking and then chuckling. This method seemed to get the bulls willing to engage, but they still didn’t want to close the gap. So then I started pushing all the way in to their bedrooms. I made sure I kept the wind in my favor, but then I would push through and make noise, cow call and grunt as I went. 

What I found with Elk hunting this way, was that they didn’t necessarily talk, but they would let me work right in on top of them, until finally they got out of their beds, the moment they were out of their beds I would let loose with the biggest, baddest bugle I could, and boom, the bulls couldn’t take it and would start raking like crazy and then come to check me out.

My bull had 5-6 cows tucked away on the edge of a burn right below the sub-alpine. We had played cat and mouse with him a couple times earlier in the day before he gave us the slip. But, we were hoping they continued on their side hill traverse and that we would drop in on them. Sure enough as we were working down the ridge and pushing through heavy timber, we could hear them get up out of their beds. I immediately started bugling, and my buddy started cow calling. The bull stopped within about 30 yards of where he was bedded and started destroying a tree. I pushed in to about 35 yards, but couldn’t find any shooting lanes. So I let the most aggressive bugle I could fly, and this bull couldn’t take it, he just had to come around and try and get a clear look at me. The end result was a 19 yard shot and about a 100 yard recovery.

After I killed my bull, I proved this out again, when I called a bull in for my dad, the only reason we didn’t get that bull was that we ran out of daylight. But, that bull must have made 5-6 rubs on his way in to us, so it was fun and it was working.

Packing out my bull, about half way down an 1800 vertical ft descent.
Coming out heavy. We had to drop 1800ft to the nearest road.

My point in sharing all of this, is even when you are Elk Hunting and don’t hear elk bugling, if you know they are in the area, don’t give up, keep trying different tactics, keep covering ground and eventually you will find something that works. I know another guy who does really well being completely silent and still hunting elk in their bedding areas when they are being silent.

Thick and steep mountainside in North Idaho. Elk hunting in this country takes grit and deteremination.
The Jungles of North Idaho make you earn it, but if you are willing to grind it out, it will produce some great elk hunting as well.

Elk hunting on public land takes grit and determination, but if you are willing to grind it out, you will find it immensely rewarding. I wish you all the best of luck, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop me a line shad@sashunts.com or 509-679-0225.

Have a blessed day and happy hunting.


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