The western meadows are glistening with gold and the aspen white washed look makes it seem as though you’re standing in a portrait instead of glassing its beauty in search of a majestic wapiti on top a mountain in Colorado. My elk hunting adventure in Colorado this year was about as picture perfect as a hunter could ask for. My tag was for Colorado’s 1st rifle season (they have 4 general rifle seasons). I had never hunted the 1st season before, so this was a new one for me. What an experience it was! I punched my tag in the 1st 45 minutes of the hunt on an old, big, mean and nasty herd bull. What a fighter this old herd bull was! I put three slugs in him with a 338 win mag at 320 yards and he still decided to rake a tree and tear its limbs off in his last great act of defiance! Even though it was quick, it was one of the most exciting hunts I have ever been on. The bulls were still bugling and the action was hot! Seven of the eight hunters harvested good bulls. So what did we talk about over a few bourbons on the last night? Well, elk rifles of course!
Four of our eight hunters had never elk hunted before and I was happy to see that they brought their favorite deer rifles. Out of the four, one finally used his friends Weatherby Accumark 300 win mag rifle and another had scope issues. I have hunted elk in four different states and all hunts (except one archery hunt) were with an outfitter. I have more than a few miles under my boots chasing these large mountain climbers to Timbuktu. Here are some valuable tips when selecting your rifle for a chance at a range bull.
1. Pick a rifle that fits your statue
You are going to spend more time hauling this hunk of steel around than anything else. A 26” barreled 300 win mag may not fit you very well when going through blow down timber. It’s also quite annoying when traveling through snowy pine trees and knocking snow on to the back of your neck. Spend time looking for a quality sling that is easily adjustable to your day pack or pack frame. Also select a pack you can put your rifle in as an option. I use a Butler Creek Neoprene sling with 4 bullet carriers on it. A guide let me use his on a Montana hunt and a lifelong love affair is forever more. Can be leather or other material, point is it must be comfortable and not slide off your pack’s shoulder straps.
2. This is really a place for bolt action rifles
I have seen a couple of autoloaders in camp from time to time. This trip in particular, a client had brought a Browning BAR semi-auto rifle in 300 win mag. He simply couldn’t shoot it. It just did not balance well off the shooting sticks. I own a BAR and mine is a shooter, but it does not balance well while carting it around with a pack on. Also, while you certainly could use a single shot Thompson Center Encore or Pro hunter, experience has been that I’m always putting a few rounds in these big critters. A bolt action rifle is just a better choice.
3. Buy the best scope you can afford
Good glass is very important here. Optical clarity will save you a few curse words during your hunt. There are so many out there to choose from that I won’t even attempt to use brand names. If you on a tight budget go on line and try to find an older used Leupold VariXIII in a fixed 6 power. I’ve seen more than a few of these over the years on guide’s rifles. Great scope for the money. Unless you’re a current Army Ranger that can run up and over the mountains with a 100 pound pack, avoid large tactical scopes. Weight and balance should be after clarity.
4. Use premium bullets
Nothing wrong with a 30-06, 280 Remington, or even a smaller 270 Winchester (I really like the 270 Winchester Short Mag) . The key here is selecting the proper bullet. A good Nosler Partition, Swift A-frame, Barns TSX, Trophy bonded or any core bonded bullet are great choices here. If you can shoot them straight I prefer the faster 300 or 338 mags. When loaded with premium bullets they are devastating! I used a 338 win mag with a Nosler 210 grain Partition bullet and I needed every ounce of lead on this bull! He was quartering a bit and I needed all the power I could muster. It was just my choice on this hunt. Any premium bullet will work. The 270 should be at least 150 grains and the 7mm the same. Most 30 caliber hunters use the premium 180 grain bullet.
5. Practice, Practice and Practice again
This is the biggest problem I see on any elk hunting trip that I have been on. Practice should be from a bracing position on the side of tree, off of shooting sticks, or off your pack. If you’re on a horseback hunt you may want to ask the outfitter if you can use shooting sticks. Some don’t fold up enough and can’t be placed in a rifle scabbard. Last year I saw a gentleman from Washington place his sticks behind his rifle scabbard. When he turned the horse hard left it jammed the horse in the butt and he became a bronco rider in a hurry. It was not a good day for our hunter. Also you should find a range that’s at least 300 yards long and zero your rifle for 200 yards. We had hunters shoot bulls at 85 yards and I shot mine at over 320 yards. Preparation for any given shot is what your goal should be. Hopefully these simple but important pointers will help you fill your freezer this season. I wrote this blog entry after downing two elk burgers hot off the grill! Wish all you elk hunter a very successful season.

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