Last Updated on March 20, 2023
The truth is, having the best elk hunting gear of 2023 isn’t going to guarantee you success. The stats are in, and they aren’t exactly in your favor. On average, Colorado elk hunters are only victorious about 12% of the time. We’d imagine the numbers look similar in other states.
But success rate stats don’t tell the whole story. Certain wapiti hunters harvest elk year after year after year. What sets them apart? Are they just lucky?
The one common denominator among consistently successful hunters is that they prepare well and leave nothing to chance. Luck is a product of preparation, so they spend countless hours getting to know their gear and scouting their locations.
They make their shots count.
Do successful hunters own all the must-have gear for elk hunting that 2023 has to offer? Well, not always; the gear doesn’t make the hunter. But, take a look inside their pack and you’ll likely find a fine-tuned setup that works for their style of hunting.
Keep reading for all of the top-rated elk hunting gear we recommend for a successful 2023 season and beyond. Also, be sure to use the DIY checklist towards the end of this post as you pack for your backcountry elk hunting trip. Doing so will ensure you never leave a single piece of essential gear behind.
Because, with such success rates so low, we hunters will take all the help we can get.
Table of Contents: Best Elk Hunting Gear of 2023 [Show/Hide]
- Weapon of Choice
- Navigation & Communication
- Calling, Attracting & Decoying
- Viewing & Tracking
- Skinning, Butchering & Hauling
- Backcountry Kitchen
- Scent Elimination
- Other Must-Have Elk Hunting Essentials
- Complete DIY Backcountry Elk Hunting Checklist
- Gear-Buying Tips for Elk Hunting
- Final Thoughts: 2023’s Best Elk Hunting Gear
- More Hunting Gear & Resources
Weapon of Choice
Compound Bow: Diamond Archery
Archery season starts and ends with your bow, and we think the Diamond Archery Infinity Edge Pro Package is a great option. This bow has an easy drawback, and its draw weight can be adjusted from 5-70 pounds. It can shoot arrows at 310 fps is very fairly priced. This is a great package for an entry-level bowhunter that doesn’t want to skimp on performance.
Arrows: Our Top Picks
You can have the best bow setup in the world, but you’re dead in the water if you’re shooting crummy arrows. For our configuration, we’re using the Easton Axis 5mm arrows. We like to shoot a stiff spine within the 300-350 range for elk, which lets you put enough oomph behind your shaft without it flexing a bunch.
Broadheads: Our Top Picks
No elk bowhunting gear list is complete without top-quality broadheads. Just last season, a local meat processor showed me a dozen or so cheap broadheads that he pulled out of elk. They didn’t penetrate enough to kill the animal, but were lodged in the beast just enough to hurt it. If you’re going to get a clean shot, don’t waste it with inferior broadheads.
Rifle: Savage 110 High Country Bolt Action
The best elk hunting gear in the world means poppy-cock if you don’t have a reliable weapon that consistently performs. I know my pick might ruffle some of the 6.5 Creedmoor guys’ feathers here, but it’s my opinion that the Savage 110 Chambered in 30-6 is the best elk hunting rifle in terms of reliability, consistency, and affordability.
Scope: Leupold VX-Freedom Firedot
No matter what caliber you choose, combine your Savage rifle (or any other hunting rifle, for that matter) with this high-powered Leupold Scope. Do so, and you’ll have a lethal setup on your hands. Its 3-9×50 magnification plus built-in Firedot technology ensures that you’ll have a crystal clear picture and a crisp aiming point, even in the low light of dawn and dusk.
I could write an entire book about the ins and outs of ammo selection, but I know you don’t have that much time on your hands. We use a 165-180 gr bullet for elk, specifically the Remington CoreLoft. Why? because they’re easier to find and provide stellar consistency for how affordable they are. We also love Hornady and Nosler, but they cost significantly more.
Shooting Stick: Primos Hunting Trigger Stick
The competition doesn’t hold a candle to this shooting stick from Primos; I love their sticks and have used them for several years. I know you’re not supposed to use shooting sticks as walking sticks, but I did once when my knee was aching, and it held up to the abuse. My favorite stick is this fast-deploying tripod that sets up at a moment’s notice for a quick shot.
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Spotting Scope: Our Top Picks
A quality spotting scope will probably be one of the most expensive pieces of elk hunting gear that you own, but it’ll also be one of the most important items you bring along. We wrote this complete guide on the best spotting scopes for hunting for anyone who knows they can’t afford to get this purchase wrong. I swear by the Vortex Viper HD.
Binoculars: Our Top Picks
Being able to spot elk can be challenging, as these crafty beasts know how to blend in really well. If you want a better chance at keeping track of them, you’ll want some high-quality binos at the ready while chasing them through the wilderness. A great set of binoculars are a cornerstone of any excellent elk hunting gear list.
Rangefinder: Our Top Picks
Another piece of must-have gear for backcountry elk hunting is a rangefinder with on-the-fly angle-compensation ability. Elk often present themselves at steep angles, and much of the time will be up or downhill from you. Being able to accurately range their distance at an angle increases the chances of making a perfect shot.
Navigation & Communication
Handheld GPS: Garmin inReach Explorer+
It’s true. The more distance you put between yourself and civilization, the better chance you have of getting into the elk. Just don’t forget about backcountry navigation and survival when you’re out there in the sticks. Make sure you have a good handheld GPS because you never know when you might get into a sticky situation and need help getting out.
onX Maps: State-Specific onX Hunt Chip
OnX Maps has to be one of the most valuable tech tools created by the hunting industry this generation. If you haven’t heard, onX provides up-to-date maps for your GPS unit that give you all the necessary info for hunting public land in any state. This includes way-points, topography, boundary lines, you name it.
Two-Way Radio: Rocky Talkie
If you’re elk hunting with others, you must include some long-range walkie-talkies on your checklist. This season, my group will use a set from Rocky Talkie to chat when we’re deep in the woods searching for bulls. These bad boys are lightweight and compact, which is perfect for our minimalist style of backcountry hunting.
Hunting Watch: Our Top Picks
When we talk about hunting watches, we aren’t referring to your grandpappy’s old relic. Modern hunting watches have some seriously elite tech that can give professional and serious hunters an unreal advantage in the woods. Many of these watches can do it all, from GPS tracking to monitoring your steps and heart rate. Check them out our up-to-date guide!
Compass: Suunto M3 D Leader
If you’re a traditional hunter who stays away from cell phones and OnX maps, grab an old-fashioned compass for your elk trip. Use this compass in conjunction with a topo map, and you’re sure to navigate your way through elk country with ease. This Suunto is good enough for mapmakers and rings in at a very reasonable price.
Water Filter: Sawyer Products SP160
Avoiding giardia and Cryptosporidium on your backcountry elk hunt is vital, which is why a filter like the Sawyer SP160 is a must-have piece of gear. Built for effortless use, its one-gallon pouch can hang from a tree branch while gravity pushes dirty water through the filter and purifies it directly into your container below.
First-Aid Kit: EMT Pouch
A first-aid kit is one of the most essential items on your DIY backcountry elk hunting gear list, because you never know when you’ll be the one bleeding (and not the elk). It’s important to have a small trauma kit at the ready if something terrible happens and you’re far from civilization. This particular pouch has a tourniquet, flashlight, space for medications, and more.
Calling, Attracting & Decoying
Elk Calls: Our Top Picks
Early-season elk hunts often require the use of a cow call or bugle tube to help lure one of these magnificent creatures within range. Being able to speak the elk language starts with choosing a high-quality elk call. After you get one, you’re going to need TONS of practice. Grab a couple of calls from this list and start perfecting your calls now.
Elk Urine: Bull in Rut or Cow Estrus
I use cow estrus sparingly on my hunts but don’t just go spraying it all willy-nilly. The issue for me is that Bull elk tend to focus on that smell and nothing else. They come in on a b-line to that scent and expect to see a cow in heat. I deploy this when I know I am ready to take a shot, as it will likely swirl in the wind and get those bulls all hot and bothered.
Scent Wafer: Hunters Cow Elk
An elk can hear you three times and stay put. They can see you twice and won’t be too bothered. But smell you once? See ya later. These wafers work great to mask your scent while walking into your hunting area. Attach these estrus wafers to your bag, and they’ll naturally mask your smell with the distinct smell of a cow in heat. In elk hunting, scent is everything.
Cow Elk Decoy: Montana Decoy RMEF
As mentioned above, a good strategy for luring in big bull elk is usually by tricking them with a call or scent into thinking a cow is nearby. Pair that strategy with a decoy to fool one of these lovestruck bulls into charging right into shooting range. Just be sure to hide behind this decoy to ensure that bull doesn’t see your ugly mug and head for the hills.
Viewing & Tracking
Trail Camera: Bushnell Trophy
Scouting the unit you plan to hunt may just be as important as the hunt itself. Setting up a few motion sensor trail cameras where you pulled your tag will give you a glimpse of what’s walking through. We love the Bushnell Trophy Trail Camera, which has a reliable sensor, takes crisp video, and even has night vision.
Tree Stand: Our Top Picks
Truth is, you might not agree that a tree stand is an essential piece of gear for your personal backcountry elk hunting checklist. Many hunters swear by tree stands, though, and love the advantage hunting from above provides. Check out our list of favorites, from climbers to hang-ons to ladder stands.
Hunting Blind: Primos Double Bull
Maybe sitting in a tree stand all day isn’t exactly your idea of fun. If you’d rather have a little more freedom, invest in a camo hunting blind. The Primos Double Bull will let you stalk your prey from the ground level with the option to move around, stretch your legs, and pursue that elk on foot at the drop of a hat.
Blood Light: Our Top Picks
What’s your plan after you hit a buck from 30 yards and he takes off crashing through the woods right at dusk? You’d best bring along a trusty blood-tracking light like the Bloodhunter from Primos. It uses a 600-lumen purple phosphorescent light to highlight the blood trail as you follow it through the night. Check out our in-depth buyer’s guide.
Headlamp: Our Top Picks
A powerful headlamp with red, blue, or green light settings (or any combination of the three) will greatly benefit you on your next backcountry hunt. These useful colors help you stay stealth when you don’t want to be seen, reliably track blood trails, and even go night fishing when there are no elk to be seen.
Skinning, Butchering & Hauling
Skinning & Processing Knives: Our Top Picks
You’ve taken down a buck, and he’s a big one. Now it’s time to get down to business. You’ll need a tool that can help you break down and section off your kill, and a razor-sharp skinning knife will do just that. We recommend pairing your skinning knife with a more rugged fixed-blade hunting knife for a complete field-dressing setup.
Game Bags: Our Top Picks
Once you’ve pieced your elk down into quarters, you’ll need a way to stash and haul it out before it spoils. We prefer lightweight bags that take up little room in your pack but can still cool our meet down properly while keeping dirt, debris, and bacteria at bay.
Electric Hunting Bike: Our Top Picks
You can haul your harvest out with game bags and sheer determination, or you can let a cutting edge camo eBike to do all the work. We use the Bakcou Mule Elite for elk and deer season and love how powerful, quiet, and stealthy it is in the field. It helps us get deeper into the backcountry with minimal effort.
Truck Hitch Game Hoist: HME Products
If you’re lucky enough to take down an elk within a stone’s throw of your truck and you brought along a game hoist, you’re doing it right. This sturdy hunk of aluminum will anchor to your truck hitch and help you raise your kill off the dirt while you get to work gutting, dressing, and loading it into your truck bed.
Backpack: Sitka Mountain Hauler 6200
You’ll need a spacious backpack to lug around all of your backcountry elk hunting gear, but what about a pack that can haul out a quarter of meat as well? Look no further than the Sitka Mountain Hauler 6200. This high-capacity pack will keep your gear and harvest separate while carrying it all comfortably.
Tent: Storm Star 2 Person
Backcountry elk hunting will expose you to unforgiving weather conditions, especially in the late seasons. When you hunker down at night, you’ll want a tent that can withstand everything Mother Nature hurls at you. For that job, we opt for the Storm Star 2 by KUIU, which stands tall in the roughest of conditions.
We have a full list of the best tents for hunting here.
Sleeping Bag: Marmot Never Summer 0°
If you’ve ever camped in the late seasons, you know how brutally cold the weather can be. And when it comes time to rest, you’ll want a sleeping bag to keep you toasty as temperatures drop toward zero. This Marmot bag will do just that, letting you catch some shut-eye before another chilly day out on the hunt.
This bag from Marmot is my top choice, but if you want to see some more top-notch options for deer and elk hunting, check out our list of 2023’s best sleeping bags for hunting here.
Sleeping Pad: Thermarest NeoAir X-Therm
Your 0-degree sleeping bag won’t do you any good if you don’t have a well-insulated pad to keep the chill of the ice-cold earth at bay. One such pad is the Thermarest NeoAir X-Therm. It boasts a 6.9 r-value, meaning it’ll bounce your body heat back towards you while insulating against the frozen dirt below.
Pillow: Nemo Fillo King
I don’t know about you, but I have a hell of a time getting any sleep if I don’t have a comfortable pillow to rest my head on, especially during backcountry hunting trips. Lucky for me, I have a Nemo Fillo King Pillow to enjoy when it’s time to hit the sack. It’s soft, cushy, easy to inflate, and perfect for side sleepers like me.
Camping Chair: Montbell Base Camp
After a long day of elk hunting, it’s time to grab a cold one, kick back, and relax by the campfire. A comfortable and well-made camping chair like the Montbell Base Camp will help you do just that. It’s equipped with a padded back, removable cup holder, and a spacious mesh pocket to stash all of your post-hunt gear.
Multi-Tool: Gerber Center Drive
If something can go wrong during an elk hunt, it probably will. Come prepared to elk camp and have the right tools to get you out of a jam if necessary. One piece of equipment that’s gotten me through many sticky situations is my Gerber Center Drive. I rocked it for a full bowhunting season and was very impressed.
Stove: MSR WindBurner Group System
Elk hunting in the backcountry or wilderness areas takes you to some of earth’s most beautiful places, but it can also expose you to treacherous weather conditions. If you’re the hunter who leaves little to chance, then make sure you have a stove that’ll hold up to the harshest conditions in the field, like the MSR Windburner Group model.
Pot: MSR Stock Pot
If you’re in the backcountry and cooking for groups, grab this pot to go with your MSR Windburner. It’ll boil water in minutes and is made from super strong titanium. This is the perfect pot for cooking stew, chili, you name it — all without the weight of a cast-iron pot. It’s ultralight, weighing in a meager 1.25 pounds.
Spork: Sea to Summit Alpha Light Long
Okay, I understand the levity of choosing the right spork, but I just want to let you know which one I prefer. This is one of the lightest sporks on the market and is made from aircraft alloys. I’m an ultralight junky, so if I have the option to spare an ounce or two, I always do. I also love its long-handle, as it’s perfect for digging deep into a Mountain House meal.
Plate: Toaks Titanium D190mm
Your elk steaks deserve a quality plate! Plop that freshly harvested and grilled backstrap on this titanium plate from Toaks, and I promise you, the meat will never have tasted better. (Because of the elk, duh)! I like this Toaks plate because it’s made from durable titanium and is as lightweight as they come. What else do you need in a plate?
Flask: Stanley Camo 8 oz
A burly jacket, a thick pair of socks, and some trusty hunting gloves will go a long way in keeping you warm, but sometimes you just need a nip of grandpa’s old cough medicine to put on that last layer. So, grab a flask, fill it with your favorite hooch, and toss it in your pack for those extra chilly nights.
Mug: YETI Hunting Tumblers
Keep your go-juice hot and your adult beverages ice-cold, and do it all with a Yeti tumbler. These tumblers are perfect for long days on the hunt because they’re durable and have excellent insulation. I like to give these as gifts because they are super helpful, and I know they’ll be used all the time.
Cooler: Yeti Tundra 250
My goodness, you did it! You took down an elk. Once you quarter that bad boy and haul it back to camp, what’s your plan to keep the meat fresh? You need to have a high-capacity cooler at the ready, like the YETI Tundra 250 or 350. Both should give you the room you need to store a properly butchered kill.
If you are looking for a cooler to keep your beers and hotdogs cold, check out our list of 2023’s best coolers for camping here.
Dehydrated Meals: REI
When on the go, and you need to recharge your batteries with some tasty, warm provisions, a well-timed backpacking meal is everything. Heat water, pour it into the pouch, and it’s time to eat. I buy mine online at REI because they have the absolute best selection and prices. I prefer Mountain House, but Backpackers Pantry makes some great dehydrated meals too.
Camo Jacket: Kutana Storm Shell
Everyone’s elk hunting clothing system is different, but one thing they likely have in common is layering. I wear a thin base layer, one or two mid-layers, and an outer shell on colder hunts. Layers can often be bulky and uncomfortable, but the Kutana Outer layer won’t bef since it’s made from thin, quiet, and uncumbersome material.
Hunting Socks: Our Top Picks
Socks aren’t a big deal, right? Wrong. If you wear a poor-quality pair of socks during your elk hunt, you run the risk of blisters, clammy feet, or frozen toes. So, do your feet justice and bring a durable, well-cushioned, warm, and breathable pair of socks from our top picks and recommendations for the 2023 season.
Elk Hunting Boots: Our Top Picks
Elk hunting boots are a piece of backcountry gear you can’t afford to get wrong. Protecting your feet and ankles during your hunt isn’t optional, so lace up a trusty pair of boots that’ll stop blistered toes and sprained ankles before they ever happen. Browse through our list of favorites to find a pair that works for you.
Keep that noggin’ out of the scorching sun during warm weather and nice and toasty during the cold of the late seasons. Check out KUIU’s wide selection of hats, beanies, balaclavas, and neck gaiters from their tough and durable headwear selection. You’re bound to find something that’ll protect you during any season or weather condition you can dream up.
If this isn’t your style then that’s okay! Check out our full list of 2023’s best hunting hats here.
Pants: Sitka Stratus Pants
Sitka hit it out of the park when they created their Stratus Pants, as they’re some of the best and most versatile hunting pants on the market. Elk hunters experience a wide variety of weather, and the Statuses will keep them dry and warm in it all. All the while remaining extremely quiet, as there is minimal “swish” noise while walking through the eerily silent woods.
If you want to shop around a little for pants, make sure you take a long look at our list of 2023’s best hunting pants here.
Gloves: Sitka Coldfront GTX
Nothing puts you in a worse mood and ends your hunt faster than having cold hands. Keep your mitts super warm no matter what type of hunting you do with Sitka Coldfront GTX Gloves. Sitka has got your back, whether you’re collecting your decoys from a frozen pond or skinning an elk on a cold November morning.
Take a quick peek at our full list of hunting gloves here.
Rolling Hauling Bag: Scent Crusher Roller
So, you’re bringing along a bunch of delicious food to stash at camp for your upcoming hunting trip? That’s great, but if you don’t adequately cover up all those strong scents, you run the risk of scaring the elk away. So, stash your stuff inside a high-tech Scent Crusher roller bag that uses an Ozone generator to neutralize pesky odors.
Deodorant: Dead Down Wind ScentPrevent
I’ve you’ve ever hunted elk in the backcountry, you’re well aware how ripe your B.O. can get. The problem is that elk have a sense of smell 1,000 times more acute than humans and will head for the hills once they catch the slightest whiff of you. Use scent-eliminating deodorant multiple times a day to neutralize that stench of yours.
Laundry Detergent: Elimishield HUNT
Give yourself every advantage you can, and take care of your dang scent! Elk really, really hate the smell of humans, and this includes fragrances that are left behind by regular laundry detergents. Rather than walking into the woods smelling like “Hawaiian Breeze,” wash your hunting clothes with Elimishield and give those elk one less reason to run away.
Other Must-Have Elk Hunting Essentials
Complete DIY Backcountry Elk Hunting Checklist
Use the checklist below as you pack for your upcoming elk hunt. We made this list very extensive, and hope it covers every piece of gear you might possibly need. That said, you don’t need to take everything you see on this list along, rather just the essentials for your particular style of hunting and the weather you expect along the way.
You’ll likely need to cover a lot of distance on your hunt, which means the lighter your gear on your back is, the farther you can go. You must strike a good balance between pack weight and functionality of your setup to have a comfortable backcountry elk hunt.
Gun Cleaning Kit
GPS Hunting Maps
Cow Elk Decoy
Blood Tracking Light
Field Dressing Gloves
Meat Storage Bags
Salt, Pepper, Spices
Tips for Backcountry Elk Hunting
Though we’ve included some of the absolute best elk hunting gear that 2023 offers on this list, it can be daunting to take on the sport as a beginner. There are so many competing voices on the internet in regard to elk hunting, so we made this list to provide you with a little more clarity when making gear selections.
Here are our best pieces of advice when assembling your ideal elk hunting setup:
Buy Good Gear
The simple idiom goes that you get what you pay for, and it’s usually true for hunting equipment. Invest in quality, top-rated gear that won’t fail you on your hunt.
Create a Budget and Stick to it
If you’re an average elk hunter, you’ll only be using this gear once or twice a year, so don’t go out and blow thousands of dollars if you’re not completely passionate about the sport. Start with a modest budget and start stepping up your gear every season. Get what you can afford now, and improve your pack over time.
Shop for Products With Outstanding Warranties
Sometimes, you must be willing to hunt elk where no one else is willing to venture, which requires you to push your gear to its limits. Make sure that you buy gear backed with excellent warranties by their manufacturer. Brands like Vortex and Leupold are shining examples of how customer service should be.
Try Out Your Gear Before You Take it on Your Elk Hunt
Investing time into your hunt months before the season starts will pay dividends. What I mean by this is simple: try your gear out and get a good feel for it before you get out into the field. Don’t wait until the last minute and haphazardly put together your pack. Try your gear out right after you purchase it, and if you’re unhappy with it, it won’t be too late to return it and try something else.
Store Your Gear in a Scent Crusher Trunk in the Offseason
Many hunters store their gear in the garage, and much of the time, it’ll get contaminated by the strong scents around it. Remember: scent is everything, so you might want to get your hands on a storage system like the Scent Crusher Trunk that’ll neutralize any unwanted odors.
Its self-contained ozone system protects your gears’ delicate scent and keeps critters away from it. Two of these totes will hold all of my gear (sans my weapon). They’re well worth the price tag.
Get a High-Quality Carrying Case for Your Optics
I’ve lost and broken more binoculars, rangefinders, and scopes than I’d like to admit. Optics like these usually cost a pretty penny, so make sure they’re well taken care of. I love this Horn Hunter Harness because it holds both my binos and rangefinder while keeping them secure and accessible.
Get 2023’s Best Elk Hunting Gear & Use a Checklist
You came for the absolute best elk hunting gear 2023 has to offer, and we hope to have steered you in the right direction. You have a willingness and a desire to be prepared, and that’s a great start.
Elk hunting success is much like a well-tuned engine. If one small part or system fails, the whole machine can be in jeopardy. That’s why the gear we’ve recommended is built to perform. We want all of your pistons to fire in synergy so you can make a clean and ethical harvest.
But hunting success doesn’t entirely hinge on having the best camo, binoculars, and tree stands. Successful hunters are the ones that come prepared and have spent the time beforehand getting to know their equipment. Hunters who take down elk season after season are the ones who put in the time to practice their skills and go the extra mile to put in the work.
We genuinely hope the all gear we’ve recommended and our extensive DIY backcountry elk hunting checklist are of help to you. Maybe, just maybe, what you’ve read in this post will give you a leg up in the upcoming season.
Because if we elk hunters want to land within that 12% success rate, we’re going to need all the help we can get.
More Hunting Gear & Resources
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- Skinning Knives for Deer, Elk & Wild Game
- Lightest & Best Tree Stands [Climbing, Ladder & Hang-On]
- Climbing Sticks [Lone Wolf, Hawk, XOP & More]
- Shooting Sticks for Rifles [Bipods, Tripods & Monopods]
- Hunting Bone Saws for Deer, Elk & Big Game
- Gun Cabinets & Lockers [Wood, Metal & Hidden]
- Gifts for Hunters: Unique, Must-Have Hunting Gifts
- Best Prime Day Deals for Hunting, Fishing & Camping