Kristy Titus is an avid sportswoman with a passion for elk hunting. Along with being an ambassador for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), she is also a featured member on Team Elk, RMEF’s television show. I recently caught up with Kristy to talk about all things elk hunting.
Britney: Please tell us a little about your background in hunting. Have you been doing it for your entire life?
Kristy: From the time I was two years old, I started riding with my dad, on his saddle, while packing into the backcountry. I had my own mule by the age of four, and still have a horse and a mule today. The mountain has always been my second home, a place that I always loved being whether we were trail riding our mules, camping, fishing, or hunting.
Learning how to handle, ride, and pack mules, call elk, and successfully hunt public land from the time that I can remember has made my life what it is today. I can’t imagine living any other way. My parents have always been RMEF members, and elk hunting has been a big part of my household.
Over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to hunt around the globe, in places I never dreamt I would travel. [I’ve climbed] some of the steepest, roughest mountains in the world. But, for me, there is nothing that compares to the sound of a bull’s bugle as it echoes across a canyon.
Making sure there are wild places for everyone to experience that thrill is my life’s mission. That’s why I’m so honored to serve the RMEF, Cabela’s, Swarovski Optik, and Wounded Warrior Outdoors. Together, we’re working to ensure the future for the next generation of elk and elk hunters. There’s nothing better, and it’s my childhood dream come true.
Britney: What is the most difficult aspect of elk hunting?
Kristy: The way that the herd behaves and what a bull will react to can change each day depending on the rut phase, weather patterns, or time of year. Learning to judge elk behavior and plan a strategy to hunt them around that particular elk’s behavior is the most difficult aspect of success.
Luck has a lot to do with it, and sometimes I get lucky. The rest is time spent in the woods trying to figure them out. But, that’s the very reason hunters return year-after-year—reliving those moments on the mountain, imagining what you would do different next time, and dreaming about the next time you get to pursue your dream bull. It’s addicting.
Britney: What is the best method of training for elk hunting?
Kristy: You can never physically overtrain for an elk hunt. Elk can live in some steep, rough country and your body needs to be able to handle the rigors of the terrain for extended periods of time with little sleep and potentially heavy packs.
You should train physically year-round. I do a lot of resistance training, so my muscles are well conditioned to carry my gear, and when I’m home I run with my dog at least four to six miles per day for cardiovascular endurance. Lately, I have been taking CrossFit classes that give me a challenging bit of both worlds.
I shoot my bow at least twice a week, but during the summer I’ll shoot daily. When it comes to shooting my rifle, I train at home monthly and at least once a year with Magpul Dynamics.
I truly believe when the moment of truth comes, we don’t rise up to the occasion, but simply fall back on our level of training. When the moment of truth arrives, I want to know I have trained myself and done everything possible, so I’m comfortable and competent to take that shot.
There are some really amazing sportsmen and women with extensive knowledge and in-field skills I really look up to, so I learn as much as I can from them. Rockie Jacobsen, the inventor of the palate plate diaphragm call and owner of Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls, and wildlife biologist John Caide, who managed the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation for 35 years and is now managing the Express UU Bar Ranches, are two men who I continue to look up to when it comes to elk communication and behavior.
I try to always learn something new and have an open mind. You never know who might teach you a new method that will make you a more successful hunter.
Britney: Do you shoot a rifle or a bow, or both? Which is your favorite and why?
Kristy: When it comes to hunting, it’s all in the experience. I like getting in close and having intense encounters, especially with elk. Typically, the heat is turned up during archery season, but I’ve been on some rifle hunts that have been every bit as thrilling as an archery hunt.
When it comes to recreational shooting, I am a gun lover and I love training with my rifle, practicing hasty resting positions, learning how to read the wind direction and speed, practicing precision marksmanship beyond 800 meters, and measuring distance and target size with my [rifle scope’s] reticle. It’s all fun. This past July alone, I fired roughly 700 rounds with Magpul Dynamics training.
Britney: Do you hunt solo? If so, do you pack it out alone, too?
Kristy: Yes, I hunt solo quite a bit, especially in my home state of Oregon. I have a horse and a mule that afford me a lot of freedom to do things I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do, including packing minerals for backcountry trail cameras or packing out meat.
This year specifically my Yamaha Viking saved us on a hunt [in which] we had a bull expire in a two-foot-deep mud wallow. It was a huge relief to be able to hook up to the elk and tow him out.
There’s so many great products out there that give the solo hunter the ability to be confident in the woods—whether it’s a good packhorse or mule, ATV, GPS with OnXmaps landowner information, or SPOT emergency locators. When you couple all of the resources on the market today, there really isn’t a place you can’t get communication or help if you need it.
Britney: Ever have a scary moment out in the woods or a close encounter with an elk that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up?
Kristy: Sure, I’ve been nervous or scared a time or two in the woods like hunting solo and walking into the woods in the dark and coming face-to-face with a black bear or mountain lion that isn’t afraid of you, grizzly bears that get too close for comfort, or a cow moose that chases you. It happens.
There is nothing better than calling in a screaming bull elk. That will make the hair on your neck stand up and your heart pound and from that moment on, you will be hooked. There’s nothing more exciting.
Britney: What are five things that you always carry with you in your pack?
Kristy: Funny you should ask that, because I carry a lot of stuff. My dad always makes fun of me for packing so much “junk,” but I feel that it’s necessary and I don’t mind a heavy pack. I could make a list that’s a mile long of what I put into my pack, but I will keep it to a few.
I always have a GPS with me, because I’m terrible at navigation, and I’m a waypoint-marking junkie. I like to use my GPS as a diary of sorts, documenting everything so I can monitor trends in behavior over years, and so on.
I have several knives that I carry. A multi-tool, a Havalon, a folding knife, a fixed-blade knife, and a handheld bone saw.
Other items in my pack include a wind checker, lip balm, a headlamp, extra batteries, warm clothes, gloves, a beanie, and a neck gator.
Britney: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new elk hunter, what would it be?
Kristy: You can’t predict what’s going to happen on the mountain, and each hunt will have its own unique experiences, but learning to be patient is one of the most powerful tools that you can have. Stay positive and don’t get discouraged. Pay attention to the small stuff. Bulls can be big and loud animals, but also very quiet, slipping almost silently through the woods. Read as much as you can about elk and elk hunting before your hunt, then get out there try out some of the techniques you read about and see how they work for you. Most importantly, don’t forget why you’re out there. Make memories with your friends and family and have a good time. This is the best time in the history of the world to be an elk hunter.
Britney: Do you have any superstitions or rituals when it comes to elk hunting?
Kristy: No, I just get out there and make the best decisions I can, based off of what the elk are telling me at the time. I’m always sure to laugh a lot along the way.
Images courtesy Kristy Titus