Elk Hunting by Hart

Elk Hunting by Hart

Dehmer, Kurt
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I’ve often wondered what it takes to be a truly great hunter. After hunting for a little over 18 years and guiding for five, I feel that at my best I’m still only pretty good. Master status is decades off, if ever. But I’ve realized that a big old bull elk and a master hunter are partners in a drama as old as their species. Both have to earn their status through a divine combination of tenacity, cunning, patience, and most importantly, grit.

None of these ingredients can be bought at a sporting goods store. Trust me, I’ve checked. Master status must be earned, and earning it takes time. Time was on my mind when I visited Lee Hart, the most experienced elk-hunting master I know. As it was, my only chance to gather some grit and wisdom was to help Lee gather stock for a trail ride later that morning at the Broken Hart Ranch, which he runs with his wife Sandy. During our visit, Lee dispensed the following bits of wisdom.


Experience

OB:
How long have you been hunting elk?
Lee: Well, I’m 66 now. Shot my first bull when I was about twelve.

OB: How long have you been outfitting and guiding?
Lee: Thirty-seven years give or take, little over half my life I guess.


Trophies and Where to Hunt for Them

OB:
What’s the biggest Boone & Crocket-scored bull to your credit?
Lee: I guided an old boy onto one that scored 408, and if I remember right my personal best was around 373.
OB: Where did you harvest those two?
Lee: Well, in the hills of course.


Hunting Tactics

OB:
What would you say the most successful method of harvesting an elk is?
Lee: I recommend using a weapon of some sort.


Pre-Season Preparation

OB:
What preparation advice would you give hunters to improve their chances this season?
Lee: Sight in… a lot, and not just from the bench. Guy should shoot off hand, from all sorts of different positions—prone, kneeling, standing, anything that might happen in the field. Take shots at the range like you would in the field. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve never seen a bench rest handy when it was time to take the shot that counted. You should probably hike and ride the area you plan to hunt a lot before the season starts too. It gets the horse and rider in shape for the season, and you get to know the country.


Calibers

OB:
What caliber do you recommend for an elk rifle?
Lee: The biggest you can shoot comfortably. I had some guys bring these giant rifles out when they’d have been better off with rocks. If you’re scared of your gun, you can’t make the shot when it matters.


Success

OB:
What separates the successful hunter from the unsuccessful one?
Lee: Sometimes just dumb luck, but a guy on his own will always do better if he puts in the time. Getting an elk takes time, lots of time, patience, and preparation. Some elk are migratory, some more residential. Know which kind you’re hunting. I recommend hiring a guide just to learn the ropes, and because we put in the preseason time for guys that can’t or don’t have the time.


Filling the Freezer

OB:
So where should I start my elk hunt this year?
Lee: Where the elk live, kid. You gotta hunt elk where they live.

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