North Dakota Elk Hunting

February 19, 2009 by  

By Jason DuBord

When a person thinks about elk, the states that often first come to mind are Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, or Arizona. What a lot of people do not know is that North Dakota has “world class” elk right out its back door in the beautiful badlands. The 2nd biggest elk killed in the “world” was killed here in North Dakota by a gentleman named Kevin Fugere. If you’ve got time, Kevin’s elk sits in the Great Plains National Bank in Belfield, ND. It’s definitely worth the stop.

Of course knowing that North Dakota has tremendous elk hunting and being able to hunt elk in North Dakota are two very different things. An elk tag in North Dakota is a “Once In A Lifetime” tag. If you want a shot at a North Dakota elk hunt, you have to put your name in a hat with thousands of other eager Dakotan’s, but only few are drawn. Some people apply their whole life for a North Dakota elk license and never get one.

This year I was blessed with being drawn for the illustrious North Dakota elk tag and in the process got to learn first hand of the great elk hunting opportunities North Dakota has to offer.

When I first got word that I drew a North Dakota elk license, the first thing I did was got on the phone and started retrieving as much info as I could. I spoke to landowners, Game and Fish employees, past elk license holders and everybody under the sun who have hunted elk. The one fact that they all shared was that elk hunting is tough work.

I’ve heard people compare elk to “ghosts.” Its not often you see elk out and about like deer. Elk are hidden creatures. They find sheltered places, far from roads and any human activity. With this knowledge I decided to do some hiking. At first I had planned to make three trips out to my elk unit in the off season; in the end I made eight. In the final five weekends before my elk season, I logged over 30 miles of hiking. Thank God I have an understanding wife, because I drug her along with me for most of the way. To get her to come with me I would tell her, “Honey, if I get bit by a rattle snake, no one will be around to run for help.” I think by the end she wished that darn rattlesnake would just bite me and save her the misery of another butte-filled hike.

Two weekends before the start of my season, the hiking paid off, because we finally came across our first elk. He was a nice 6×6. The sore legs and empty water bottles seemed to disappear as we watched the big bull. The spot where he stood was a 5 ½ mile hike from the nearest road and would set the stage for my first and final hunting spot for my elk season.

A day before the season started, my dad and I filled our frame packs with camping gear and set up on a five mile hike to the area where we had seen that beautiful elk. Hiking buttes for miles in 80 to 90 degree August heat with 60 pounds of camping gear on your back makes a guy want to rethink his plan, but we knew that if we wanted to add a trophy to this memory, we had to work hard. That evening, with shoulders sore and sweat filled shirts, we arrived at our camp spot. Shortly after setting up camp and a quick bite to eat, we set out to do some scouting. That evening we sat one ridge west of where I had seen the 6×6. A couple deer was all we saw that night. As we hiked back to camp, I started to second guess myself.

“What if we weren’t in the right spot? What happens if we come up empty after all this work?” I had been on unsuccessful hunts before. I love the outdoors and am usually happy just being out there, but this was a “Once in a Lifetime” hunt, no do-overs or a next year. It’s easy for people to put a lot of pressure on themselves with a “Once in a Lifetime” tag and I was no exception. I said a quick prayer as I laid down for the night. Little did I know that in the morning, all the hard work and prayers would pay off and a North Dakota memory to last a lifetime was hours away!

We got up about 5 a.m. It would take us about 25 minutes to walk to the ridge where we would set up shop for the morning. As we walked, I couldn’t help but think that the defining moment was upon us. All the hiking, all the practice shooting, all the research, and all the preparation was coming to a head. It didn’t matter if I hiked 1,000 miles or got advice from a thousand elk hunters, there will be a moment that I look through my scope at a trophy elk and I was going to have to perform. It was hard to imagine what that moment was going to feel like. I had no idea that moment was less than an hour away.

Through the dark we made our way to our ridge of choice. To give you an idea of where we sat, we were sitting on the north side of the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Our ridge over looked the final low spot on the west side of the Little Missouri River. The low spot runs east and west and the south wall of the low spot was the park fence. From our high vantage point, we looked strait east and could see the river at the end of the bottom.

As we finished our climb to the tip of the ridge, the eastern sky had filled red. We were a bit behind schedule, so I quickly found a spot to set up. It took me a couple of tries to find just the right spot, but finally I was able to find a little tree cover to break up my sky line. My dad and I sat about 15 yards apart. With binoculars in hand, we glassed the low spot, waiting for one of those ghosts to show itself.

About 15 minutes after sunrise, just as the full sun was staring us right in the face, they appeared. About 600 yards away, two big bulls were making their way up the low spot, right to us! My dad and I spotted the giants at the same time, turned to one another with big eyes, and both yelled a whisper, “Two Bulls!” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Walking in plain view up a grass strip that followed the entire bottom where two giants, walking like majestic soldiers. They looked like two kings, commanding attention from every eye in the audience with their massive horns. I am used to looking at whitetails, so those massive horns swaying back and forth was enough to keep from blinking.

Soon the two bulls where followed by another. Never did I dream that my defining moment would involve a 6×6, a 5×5, and a 4×4 walking right toward us. The bulls slowly made their way up the bottom. Soon they were 500 yards away, then 400. Many times I was temped to take a 400+ shot. Along side the grass strip, there was a thick grove of trees that ran along the entire bottom. At any moment, the elk could duck into the trees and never be seen again. I’m not used to shooting 400 yards and I would hate to wound such a magnificent animal, so I decided to wait until they got in range and prayed that they would stay out of the trees. Just then, the 6×6 went into the trees. You win some, you lose some…that’s why they call it hunting.

I switched my attention to the 5×5. He stood in the middle of the grass and raked a tree with his antlers. I decided that I would take the 5×5 if he presented me with a good shot. The 5×5 raked the tree for about 3 minutes and then continued up the trail towards us. Suddenly, the 6×6 popped out of the trees and took the lead of the three bulls. I couldn’t believe the size of the body of the 6×6. His antlers were slightly bigger than the 5×5, but his body dwarfed the size of the other two animals.

The grass strip that the bulls were walking on moved all the way up the draw, but because of the tree cover in front of me, there was a point where the bulls would drop out of sight. I knew that I had to shoot before they reached that point. The 6×6 reached it first and then stopped to feed. This was it, the defining moment. I stared through my scope for a couple seconds at the animal. I couldn’t believe that it was finally time to pull the trigger. I put the cross hairs on the top of its back and pulled. The loud shot filled the silent air.

The bulls had no idea what happened, they all put their heads up in wonder of what that noise was. They didn’t run or walk. They stood still, waiting for me to jack another shell. To our advantage, we were a good distance away, the wind was in our favor and we were hidden. The bulls had no idea we were there.

I jacked in another shell and pulled up on the animal for a second shot, except for this time the trigger would not pull. My safety had jammed. I jacked in and out another shell, pulled up on the animal, and again the trigger wouldn’t pull. I frantically jacked in and out shells and banged on the gun to try to get my safely to release. Finally I was able to slam the safety out of the fire position, into safe, and back into the fire position. That was the ticket, because the next pull sent a killing shot right behind the shoulder of the 6×6.

I  ended up shooting two more times. Even after my last shot the 6×6 stayed standing. He swayed back and forth, back and forth. It was amazing to watch the elk go from being wild, to becoming a memory that I could physically show my kids someday. Not until the 6×6 fell over did the other two bulls jog away. The defining moment had passed. The result of that moment was a “Once in a Lifetime” North Dakota trophy bull elk.

It made it even better to be able to share this experience with my dad. My dad is the one who instilled an interest in hunting in me and there is no way I could appreciate this North Dakota elk hunt without his teaching.

The elk was harvested in the true spirit of the North Dakota hunting heritage. Besides paying for equipment and gas, there was no money paid to harvest this animal. No landowners were paid for access. My trophy 6×6 was killed on public land. It was a completely “Fair Chase” hunt. The elk that we hunted were wild and free to elude my every effort.

To compliment this hunt, the landowners that I did work with or visited were extremely helpful and inviting. One landowner was even nice enough to take three hours of his Saturday to drive me around my elk unit. He gave me priceless advice on where the elk travel, successful ways to hunt them and he showed me where he and others have harvested elk. Even though I harvested my elk on public land, I had permission to hunt quite a bit of private land. A couple landowners I spoke to chose not to grant me access, but they were very polite about it. This hunt has elevated my impression of North Dakota landowners.

So, to sum things up, my “Once in a Lifetime” North Dakota elk hunt, proved to be just that, a once in a lifetime hunt. Answered prayers, hard work, a forgiving wife, a good dad, helpful sportsmen and generous landowners made this North Dakota elk hunt a success.

By no means am I an expert, but for those of you who are reading this who draw an E4 North Dakota elk tag in the future, please feel free to look me up. I would be happy to share the information I collected. Getting tapped into the knowledge of the sportsmen and landowners of North Dakota will be the key to your hunt. I know it was the key to mine.


17 Comments on "North Dakota Elk Hunting"

  1. chris Heck on Wed, 24th Feb 2010 12:02 pm 

    AWESOME! Been in the same position. Great job you will remember this forever.

  2. Terry Rust on Thu, 8th Apr 2010 12:50 pm 

    I would like to contact Jason Dubord who wrote the Elk hunting article. I drew a Elk hunt in E4 and would like to contact him.

  3. Bob Rutten on Thu, 22nd Apr 2010 2:57 pm 

    awesome bull and a great story with the memories to go with it.
    I would like to contact you about contact info and more info about the area. We’ve been further north and have had great muley hunting, but haven’t seen any elk there. My hunting buddy Paul and I both got lucky on cow tags for the E3 unit and looking for any help we can get.

  4. Cory Mitzel on Sat, 1st May 2010 9:15 pm 

    Sounds awesome. I would like to contact you as I was lucky enough to draw an any tag for E3. Thanks.


  5. Shawn Wright on Tue, 11th May 2010 9:30 pm 

    GREAT ARTICLE! I would like the contact info for Jason Dubord who wrote this Elk hunting article. I drew a antlerless Elk tag in E3 and would love some advise.

  6. Dan Hoffman on Tue, 18th May 2010 7:58 pm 

    Awesome story, I drew a cow tag for E4 and any advice would be greatly appreciated, my 14yo son is going to experience this hunt with me.Please contact me Jason with any advice.

  7. Cameron Fleck on Mon, 11th Oct 2010 3:06 pm 

    Hi my name is cameron fleck from bismarck nd I am 19 years old and got drawn for my once in a lifetime elk tag. I got drawn for E4 and was wondering if you had any pointers or area’s for me to hunt in my email is [email protected] and my phone number is 701-471-2301. If you could call me just for a little chat that would be awesome. thanks

  8. evan burt on Fri, 22nd Apr 2011 1:28 pm 

    i also drew a tag in E4 and would greatly appreciate any advice you may have. I have never been in that area before

  9. Brayden Wagner on Tue, 26th Apr 2011 12:34 pm 

    I drew an E4 tag as well….for the October season. I would greatly appreciate any advice, Great story/article on your hunt.


  10. mike iszler on Sun, 1st May 2011 7:28 pm 

    Great story,drew E3 early season tag 2011.Would appreciate any advice from anyone.PLEASE E-Mail or call collect 701-424-3772 evenings.

  11. evan burt on Wed, 27th Jul 2011 12:32 pm 

    hi my name is evan burt and would really like to talk to you about your hunt. i drew a tag in e4 and could really use some advice.

  12. evan burt on Mon, 22nd Aug 2011 3:11 pm 

    evan burt 701 740 2621

  13. Earl Mills on Tue, 25th Oct 2011 10:44 am 

    Great story and glad to see you were able to fill your once in a lifetime tag. I too was drawn for 2011 and would like any advice. I have went down for 3 trips already from Minot AFB with no luck. Spent about 10 days this year so far. Pulled an E3 any elk tag and will be going back in November for the extended season. For any advice/tips, please email me at [email protected]. Thanks a bunch and congrats.

  14. steve dockter on Sun, 13th May 2012 3:40 pm 

    pls get me in contact with Jason a tele #, email or call us 701-306-8448, my son in Air Force just came home from Afganistan & was lucky enough to draw a tag for E3, so any help would be appreciated we are from Abercrombie area, thanks

  15. Brandon Smith on Fri, 20th Jul 2012 8:15 pm 

    Hey Jason, great story and great job telling it. I have an E4 tag for the 2012 fall season. I’d love any info you would be willing to give. [email protected] Thanks much!

  16. Jade LAuber on Fri, 27th Jul 2012 2:58 pm 

    Hello, I drew an E4 tag for 2012 hunting season and could really use any help or advice for this wonderful chance to hunt elk that I have been given. I am planning on hunting in October with my husband tagging along. He was happy and jealous at the same time. I am living in the JAmestown area my cell is 660-888-9957. Thanks a bunch.

  17. Kip Kunze on Wed, 6th May 2015 1:39 pm 

    Hi Chris, I drew an elk tag in E3/E4 after 14 years of entering the lottery. Your story was awesome, inspiring and definitely makes me excited to begin my “once in a lifetime” hunt. I know your hunt was nearly half a decade ago, any help or guidance would extremely appreciative. Thank you in advance for your time!

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