Get ready for elk in the off-season

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Karen Newman of IDFG sold controlled hunt permits Wednesday at the Panhandle Office in Coeur d’Alene. Applying for controlled hunts is one way to get ready for elk hunting in the off-season. Although the application period for controlled hunt applications ended Wednesday, applications for left-over tags will start again in August. RALPH BARTHOLDT/Press

Mike Lapinski has a passion for elk and it shows in his writing and his life’s work.

Much of his adult years since moving to western Montana in 1969 have been spent hunting elk with a rifle, bow or camera.

The author of more than a dozen books, most of them about elk hunting, was among the original crew at Stoney-Wolf Productions — a hunting video company that started in 1984. The job required Lapinski to stay in elk-hunting shape year round, because elk hunters are made in the off-season, he said.

Summer is a good time to prepare for elk hunts and successful hunters often follow a workout and scouting regime to ensure they are among cows and bulls in the fall, when the green light turns on and the hunting games begin.

“It’s kind of like running the Coeur d’Alene marathon,” Lapinski, now 72, said. “You have to train to do it, build yourself up to do it.”

Running or hiking on flat ground or trails is good maintenance, Lapinski said, but it’s not the same as elk hunting.

“If you go up and down in the dark for three miles to get into elk, and then chase them all day, it’s not going to cut it,” he said.

Lapinski, who lives in Superior, stayed in shape by felling trees for logging companies when he wasn’t making films or writing, but it was his passion for elk and being in the mountains of Idaho and Montana where elk live that fueled his inner fire.

So, he stayed fit all the time.

“I still am,” he said.

As part of their off-season preparation, hunters can scout at home at their leisure using a laptop and the satellite imagery provided by Google Earth, or websites including the Idaho

Fish and Game hunting page, or apps such as onX. Contour maps and satellite pictures can show hunters where to find the watering holes, cover, food and timber that elk like.

Feeding areas might include open, south-facing slopes, meadows, and shady woods. A dark, north-facing slope that is heavily timbered and provides a good bedding area with water and food nearby is often a meat-hole — or a place where hunters have a good opportunity to fill a tag. Terrain that is the farthest away from roads and the most difficult to hike into, often requiring old-fashioned sweat, grit and leg work is a better place to hunt than places that can be easily accessed by off-road vehicles.

There are however, a couple things to keep in mind. Hunters who don’t physically inspect an area before opening day, may be surprised to find changes on the land when they get on site. Road building, logging or recent fires can change the landscape and some online maps don’t keep up with changes.

Also, wolves affect elk movements. A pack in the area may silent elk, or chase them over the horizon as the elk try to avoid the big predators, so the elk that were there a few weeks ago may be gone when a hunter arrives.

A hunter’s stamina, however, is the foundation of a hunt.

“A lot of elk hunting is vertical hunting,” Coeur d’Alene native Jake Twardowski, a hunter and fishing guide who works at North 40 Outfitters, said.

Twardowski stays in shape all year to make elk hunting easier. He recommends adding a few hundred feet of elevation to summer hikes until climbing is comfortable and 1,500 feet is no longer a challenge.

“Try increasing your elevation every time you hike,” he said.

Do it slowly and methodically by hiking 500 feet or 1,000 feet a half dozen times before jumping to the next level.

“Slowly increase your ability to get to higher elevations,” Twardowski said.

Stay away from junk food and focus on high protein, moderate carbohydrate meals.

Meat and potatoes, is Twardowski’s go-to food.

“It’s my sole supplement,” he said. “A lot of protein and a little bit of starch.”

Stuff a pack with a few essentials in the off-season so it doesn’t take a search party to find essential gear the last time it was stashed away in the garage.

An emergency blanket, a sharp knife, fire starters and a first-aid kit are a good start.

“Trail mix is amazing to have in a backpack,” he said.

Twardowski shoots his bow regularly each week.

“So you’re more confident and more consistent when it’s time to make the shot,” he said.

But the bottom line, Twardowski and Lapinski agree, is keeping healthy and ready to roll.

“Hydration, nutrition and exercise,” Twardowski said.

Making those long mountain hikes fun by having an end-goal helps, Lapinski said.

“Hike to a new mountain top, or on a trail you always wanted to hike, or look for sheds,” Lapinski said. “We’re all lazy, basically, and by doing that, it makes getting in shape more fun.”

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