This list is intended for hunters who are planning an elk hunt with us and are wondering what kind of equipment to bring and how to prepare for the hunt. Based on my years of experience, the following list is what I believe you will need:
I recommend in-line, scoped muzzleloaders in either .50 or .54 caliber for hunting elk. Many reputable manufacturers have good muzzleloaders on the current market at reasonable prices. Muzzleloaders from makers such as Knight and Thompson/Center are standard. The newest models are much better in foul weather due to innovations such as a sealed breach. If you are looking for the next generation of muzzleloaders, look at the ones being made by Ultimate Firearms. www.ultimatefirearms.com. Wow!
The synthetic powders, such as 777 and Pyrodex, are used almost exclusively in today’s world over traditional black powder. The sulfur-free synthetic powders are the way to go. Many hunters prefer using powder in pellet form as it offers convenience. The pellet charges are pre measured and easier to handle in the heat of battle. The biggest complaint is the pellets don’t burn as completely as an equal weight of granulated powder. Depending on the muzzleloader, this complaint is probably true. Granulated powder is preferred by some hunters because it seems to burn more uniformly, giving more consistent performance. You can’t go wrong either way.
When hunting elk, use only premium, muzzleloader bullets which can consistently retain over 90% of their weight. The newest muzzleloader bullets are now being designed with higher ballistic coefficients trying to achieve rifle-like performance. Bullets such as the Thompson/Center Shock Wave Bonded and Barnes Spitfire TMZ or T-EZ are much more streamlined and offer better downrange potential and also hold their integrity upon encountering heavy bone. Use 250 to 300 grain bullets for .50 caliber and 300 to 350 grain bullets for .54 caliber. Most of today’s muzzleloader hunters shoot smaller-than-bore diameter bullets with a sabot.
Scopes will increase your shooting accuracy and overall chances of successfully killing a bull elk. Spend as much on your scope as you do your muzzleloader. I prefer Leupold scopes for their quality and “reasonable” prices. Get a low-power variable scope in the 2x-7x range. It will work well in the timber and open country.
If you don’t have a ballistic-style reticle, you should zero your scope at 125 yards. Most muzzleloader shots will be under 125 yards, but sometimes 150 to 200 yard shots are what is presented. Know where your bullet hits out to 300 yards.
The 10x40mm glass is probably the best overall binocular for most elk hunting. The 10-power magnification is adequate and the 40mm objective, is bright enough in low-light conditions, yet the weight is reasonable. You can possibly get away with compacts for archery season if the binoculars are of high quality.
Look for multicoated lenses exclusively. Beware of glasses that say “coated lenses” That means one coat. Also if you are looking at roof-prism binoculars, make sure they have “phase-corrected” prisms. If not, you are looking at an inferior glass.
Upper tier models from Swarovski, Leica, Zeiss and other reputable companies are all good. Do your research and find one you like.
I currently use the Leica Geovid 10x42mm range-finding binocular. It is the best thing I’ve bought. I cannot tell you how convenient it is to have the rangefinder in the binocular. It is expensive, but if I added up what I have spent on the binocular-upgrade ride over the last 25 years, I would have already had a pair. Spend the money one time, the first time, and you have a worthwhile investment that will last your lifetime.
Probably the biggest advancement in hunting over the last 30 years, is the evolution of the laser rangefinder. It should be a vital piece of equipment to all hunters. From bow hunting to rifle hunting, they are essential for accuracy in range estimation.
There are top optics companies making compact, yet powerful rangefinders. Leica and Swarovski are two of the best. I had used Leica rangefinders for years prior to getting my Geovids.
The newer models have angle corrections built in when it gives you a distance reading. But from what I have seen so far, most are limited to 60 yards or so. They’ll get better.
I have long relied on lightweight, loose-fitting, long-sleeve, camo cotton shirts during warm days. They are inexpensive, yet functional. The long-sleeves provide concealment and protection from the elements. Cotton is a terrible insulator, but it provides excellent breathability and evaporative cooling, which helps on hot, dry days.
I’ve tried the lightweight synthetics designed for hot weather and have mixed feelings. If it’s really hot and dry, the synthetics seem to make it worse, especially if there is no breeze. The cotton is better in the extreme heat in my opinion. And when you rip a $10 cotton t-shirt it doesn’t feel nearly as bad as ripping a $50 designer camo synthetic shirt.
If the weather is cool or wet, synthetic tops are the base layer of choice. Patagonia Capilene 3 is the best synthetic, base-layer shirt I’ve found.
For elk hunting, look for lighter camo patterns with gray as the dominant color. Most camo on the market is too dark. The Open Country-type patterns are good.
There are lots of good makers of hunting and outdoor pants. Sitka Gear makes the Accent pants which may be the best on the market. I personally wear lightweight synthetic pants by Patagonia. They are tough, breathable, wind-resistant, quiet and most importantly, they’re comfortable. I get them in grey and don’t worry about the lack of camo. It blends well with the upper body camo. Besides, elk see movement 100 times more than they see a stationary object.
The final layer of my hunting clothes is packable rain gear. Just make sure you get rain gear with some type of quiet outer finish. All rain gear, even “quiet” rain gear, makes noise. Some is just quieter than others.
I bought a pair of Sitka Gear’s Stormfront Lite Rain Gear this past year, but have yet to get caught out in a frog strangler to really test them. But my initial thoughts are positive. It’s light, compact, made of stretchable Gore Tex, fits well and recently passed some magazine’s gear test with flying colors. So what’s wrong with it? It’s a little noisy. Kind of crinkles when you wear it dry. More so than Sitka’s previous model the Nimbus. The good news is it quieter when it’s wet.
A quality, form-fitting, wool sock will cushion and protect your feet from the constant abrasion they will endure during the many hours of the elk-hunting season. Some people prefer synthetic socks but I like wool best. Summer or winter. It will offer good protection for your feet and contrary to what most people think, wool does not feel any hotter than any other material in warm weather.
Cotton socks quickly lose their shape, and then offer very little protection or insulation for your feet. Avoid cotton socks and most of your foot problems will disappear.
Depending on your boot fit, a single, medium-weight or heavy-weight sock is best. Avoid liners. If you use a good sock, you don’t need liners. I use the Patagonia Heavyweight Mountaineering wool sock and love them. If you need a medium-weight sock, look at the PhD line by Smart Wool. They form fit your foot and don’t slip.
Good boots are an important part of your feet being able to survive the torture of days upon days of elk hunting. Rely on Gore Tex or Dry Plus breathable, waterproof linings. Even if it doesn’t rain, heavy dews can soak through ordinary boots. Insulation is not necessary on our hunts.
Stiff, Vibram-type soles are best. Make sure you can’t flex or bend the sole easily. Side hills and rocks will tear you up if your boots have too soft of soles.
Choose anywhere from 6-inch to 8-inch heights. Lower boots typically offer less ankle support but are lighter. Higher boots offer the most support, but are heavier. I like a 6-inch, all-leather, backpacking boot by Asolo. It’s light but has good support and a stiff sole and is the most comfortable boot I have ever slipped my feet into. Another top boot maker is Kenetrec. Look at the Hardscrabble and Hardscrabble Lite.
A lightweight cap coupled with a synthetic balaclava usually covers most weather situations.
Even during warm weather, lightweight or fingerless gloves provide concealment for your hands and protection from grabbing brush. Bring a pair of waterproof, lightweight gloves too. I like to wear lightweight leather fingerless gloves in warm to cool weather. Protection and dexterity.
When expecting cold weather, I like to rely on the air-activated hand warmers in my mid-weight gloves. I retain better dexterity and my fingers stay toasty.
Some type of lightweight pack is required to carry the clothing, gear and food of a mobile elk hunter. Pick a pack with padded shoulder straps, a sternum strap, and a padded hip belt. A good suspension system is the most important feature to look for. Compression straps that keep the load tight to your back are another important feature.
The Hornhunter Mainbeam XL is the cat’s meow of hunting packs for hunters who need a pack that can comfortably carry 25 to 50 pounds. It has an internal frame. The Hornhunter Mainbeam pack is best for hunters who don’t plan on carrying more than 25 pounds of weight. It is a smaller version of the XL without the internal frame. As a result, it is a much lighter pack and will fulfill 95% of guided hunters’ expectations.
Staying hydrated is a constant struggle on these hunts. You cannot rely on consistently finding drinking water during the day, so plan on carrying what you will need for the day. You will need a minimum of 2 quarts per day.
The hydration bags such as those by Camelbak are ideal. They collapse as you use the water therefore they never slosh and the space they require diminishes as you use the water. Besides, they keep water accessible to you at all times and you will find you drink more than if you have to dig a water bottle out of your pack. This is important, because you need to drink a lot of water as dehydration seriously affects your physical performance, especially at high altitude.
Needed only on Alan Ranch hunts. A 30 to 40 degree bag is recommended for the archery season.
Put together an emergency kit consisting of an emergency space blanket, fire starter, and butane lighters. If you are forced into a situation where you have to spend an unplanned night in the woods, you will be equipped to do it.
Bring a small flashlight with enough batteries to last the week. The AAA battery LED headlight models such as those by Petzal are great.
A small digital camera will record invaluable memories of your trip. Assuming you’re successful, your guide will have a camera to take photos of your bull. However, cameras fail and two sets of photos are always better than one. So bring a camera.