Tagging an elk can be a challenging affair, one that requires every piece of your kit to function flawlessly. After all, herds roam the high peaks of western states like New Mexico and Colorado, where the weather can be as unpredictable as the terrain is demanding. The land, and the herds, can require hunters to spend days hiking, glassing and stalking. We recently tapped two pros who are no strangers to the west’s mountainous landscape to find out what the choose to bring into the backcountry. Below: their picks for the best gear for elk bowhunting season.
Montana Decoy RMEF Cow Elk
Elk decoys are best used for cover rather than drawing an animal in, says Trevon Stoltzfus, Outback Outdoors founder and executive producer. “There are times when I need to move to a new spot, and maybe there are other cows there,” he says. “I can use the decoy for cover, stop to make a few calls, then move forward.” Stoltzfus’s go-to is the Montana Decoy RMEF Cow Elk. It’s comprised of a foldable fabric that weighs less than three pounds and packs down to 17×15 inches but extends to more than four feet wide.
Phelps E-Z Estrus
There are a lot of calls on the market. Ben O’Brien, the host of The Hunting Collective podcast and MeatEater’s editorial director, opts for the Phelps E-Z Estrus, saying that its ease of use is perfect for both beginners and seasoned hunters. “You can really make realistic sounds,” he says. “It’s a good option.” The call is well-suited for early fall in the high country when elk are rutting and the weather is unpredictable — it’s weatherproof, and its nasally sound mimics a cow in heat.
The onX Hunt app provides detailed maps on your smartphone that include topographic information as well as private and public land boundaries. “It changed the way I scout,” Stoltzfus says, noting that he uses it by searching for a glassing point and marking the spot on the app. During hunting season, you can use waypoints to track down elk, mark campsites and navigate the backcountry.
Kifaru 22 Mag
The 22 Mag is equipped with the Kifaru Duplex Frame, which is specially fitted to your torso to ensure the best comfort. Although its volume is only 3,000 cubic inches, Stoltzfus says there’s plenty of room for multiple days in the backcountry. “I’ve packed out an elk with it,” he says, adding that there are more than enough easily-accessible storage areas, as well as expandable ones. “It’s comfortable, rugged and lasts.”
La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX
The Nucleo High GTX offers incredible ankle support that easily handles the heavy loads commonly lugged on an elk excursion in the backcountry. Its Gore-Tex outer breathes well yet keeps your feet dry, a must for long days stalking elk. “It has a Vibram Nano sole with the stickiest traction I’ve ever experienced,” O’Brien says.
Sitka Big Game Apparel
Perhaps there’s no better early-season combination than the Sitka Ascent Pant and Core Lightweight Hoody, built with ventilation and moisture-wicking fabric to keep you cool. “I’ll also have the Mountain Jacket with me,” Stoltzfus says, for those cooler days in the high country to repel rain and snow, as well as block wind. Sitka’s unique camouflage system — based on algorithms and an arrangement of digital pixels — is guaranteed to conceal. Choose the Big Game pattern for the high country or the Big Game: Open Country for lower elevations.
First Lite Seak Stormtight Rain Jacket
Built for hunters and anglers in the stormy Pacific Northwest and Alaska, the Seak Stormtight jacket’s outer shell will handle any moisture you can throw at it — sleet, rain or snow. “If you’re running and gunning like we do in Montana, you need the durability aspect, but you really need the packability,” O’Brien says. Extras like pit zips allow for maximum ventilation, and the 3D Turret hood doesn’t feel restrictive and offers an excellent field of view.
Stone Glacier Skyscraper 2P
At five pounds, the Stone Glacier 2P tent isn’t ultralight, but it is a sufficiently durable option for early season hunting. The four-season, double wall tent is roomy, boasting 32 square feet of floor space. Two large vestibules keep your gear dry, even in the harshest mountain weather. “I’ve had that thing in 40 mile-per-hour wind gusts and it holds up tight,” O’Brien says.
Stone Glacier Chilkoot 15°
In early fall, the weather can change in an instant at elevation. For that reason, O’Brien recommends the mummy-style Stone Glacier Chilkoot 15 sleeping bag, which has several features to keep you warm, even if it gets wet. The 850+ Power HyperDRY grey goose down filling is treated to be water-resistant, and there’s an extra layer of protection thanks to a DWR-treated shell exterior. That shell is also windproof, and yet, for all that protection, the whole thing weighs just two pounds.
Vortex Fury HD 5000 10×42
The Vortex Fury HD 5000 combines two necessities for every elk hunter: a binocular and rangefinder. “It’s compact and easy to use the controls with one hand,” O’Brien says. “I’ve ranged out to a mile with it.” The Fury incorporates angle compensation, a necessity when hunting in mountainous terrain, so you’ll know exactly how far an elk is regardless of the elevation difference.
Old Timer 152OT Sharpfinger
The no-frills Old Timer 152OT Sharpfinger knife gets the job done without a hefty price tag. “It’s not going to have the craftsmanship of a handmade knife, but for the bang-for-the-buck, all I want it to do is be sharp and breakdown an elk,” Stoltzfus says. The stainless steel, full-tang blade makes quick work on the hide and meat, while the concave handle creates a finger rest for better control.
G5 Outdoors Striker
When it comes to harvesting big game like elk, opt for a fixed-blade broadhead over a mechanical one, which has folded blades during flight that deploy upon impact. The Striker by G5 Outdoors has a durable steel construction; “The fixed blade is simple, cut-on-contact and sharp,” O’Brien says, who shoots a 125-grain head. The blades are replaceable, so in the backcountry, you can easily change out dull ones. Each head is 100 percent spin-tested to ensure accuracy right out of the box.
Spot Hogg Fast Eddie XL
The Fast Eddie XL is a beefed-up version of the already durable Fast Eddie sight from Spot Hogg. It has a solid aluminum, lightweight construction, and the pin guard features Multi-Ring Technology, a bright housing that increases visibility and offers superior protection to the sight’s fiber optics. Stoltzfus uses a five-pin version, enabling shots from 20 yards to 60. Although he likes to keep shots within 40 yards, Stoltzfus says if he already has an arrow in a wounded animal, he likes having the option to shoot farther to dispatch it humanely.
Hoyt Carbon RX-3
“The bow outshoots me every day of the week,” Stoltzfus says. “I’ll never be better than that bow. It’s me I spend the majority of the time working on.” The beauty of the RX-3 lies in its carbon construction, which decreases vibration and noise and keeps its weight under four pounds. The Zero-Torque Cam and Split-Cable System increases accuracy and enables a lightning 342 feet-per-second arrow speed.