Black Hills of South Dakota Public Land Rifle Elk Hunt

by Tiffany McQuisten
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2017 Elk Tag Draw

After 14 years of applying, in 2017, I finally drew a tag for Black Hills South Dakota rifle elk. In our family, you don’t take this news lightly! It was decided that my dad and my husband would come along with me and we each took a week of vacation. My mom’s cousins offered to allow us to stay at their cabin and one of them would come along on our hunt to help scout.

Preparing For The Hunt

We started planning immediately and the excitement only grew in the months leading up to opening day. Since we had planned to be hiking and walking for ten plus miles a day, we decided they would carry packs filled with essentials while I would only carry the rifle. The largest rifle that I personally own is my Savage .244. It was also decided that I would borrow my dad’s trusted 30-06 Winchester model 70. He had purchased this rifle nearly 40 years before and had used on many hunts. This was also the first rifle I had learned to shoot with. 

My dad started sending my husband and I videos of elk bugling so that we could get acquainted with it. He would tell us about the smell that a bull elk puts off and how we may even smell them before seeing them. While deer hunting the years leading up to this, dad was always pointing out signs of elk such as “rubs” on trees. Because of this we already knew what to look for.

The day before opening morning, we arrived in the Black Hills. We decided that we would drive around in some of the areas that we want to hunt during the week. My dad told us to keep our eyes, ears and noses open and if we saw, smelled or heard signs in any of the areas, we knew that’s where we would start in the morning. While driving around that day, we found an area that showed all of the signs, including a small bull running around in a valley. More than likely, he had been kicked out of a herd by a larger bull. This was the area we decided to start with the next morning.

Opening Morning

Opening morning came early and, in the dark, we all loaded up in the truck to head to the area we had picked out. We strapped on our gear, laced up our boots and started our hike. From the road, we hiked up to the top of a ridge. It was there that we heard bugles in the distance, and started heading toward the direction of the bugles. We made it down off the first ridge and, just before the top of the second ridge. We could hear that the bugles were getting closer. My group prepared me to start moving quicker to get to the top of the ridge. By the time we got to the top, the sun was starting to come up. We knew it was legal hunting time. 

Walking slowly, I saw what looked to be the back of an elk so I signaled the group to stop. When I was able to catch my breath and take a harder look, it appeared to be a small herd. There were about 60 elk with one bull, a decent bull by any standards, about 150 yards away from me. I decided then and there that, even for opening morning, this would be a good bull to take.

Selecting My Elk

I shouldered the rifle, got the bull in my sights, took the safety off and had my finger on the trigger, ready to take him. Just before squeezing the trigger, I heard and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I dropped the rifle and glanced to my right quick enough to see another herd coming our way. In that herd, was the biggest bull elk I had ever seen in person. He was trotting about 65 yards right in front of us. I stated, “I’ll take him instead”. 

I quickly turned myself and the rifle around and took my shot, the heart shot, before anyone else completely realized what was happening. While only giving the bull enough time to take one or two more steps, I fired another round, the lung shot. It was only a matter of seconds and he was down. As soon as the first shot rang out, both herds began running all around us. We were surrounded by 100+ elk running, an experience I’ll never forget. 

Winding Up

Only minutes after seeing the first elk of the morning, we were walking towards the 6×6 bull I had just taken down less than an hour into opening day. There was a light fog still floating close to the ground. Combined with the sun shining through the trees, the view was something out of a dream. Laying there was the first bull elk that I had ever shot, with my dad’s rifle. My dad and my husband stood beside me Their smiles making the experience that much more memorable.

About Elk Hunting In South Dakota

If you have ever thought about elk hunting in South Dakota start applying for a tag now! South Dakota elk hunts are done on a lottery system, which can take several years to get get drawn. The lucky few may draw tags after just a few years, which is not normal. 

(Note from editor *If you are interested in lodging at the beautiful cabin that Tiffany and her guests were able to stay in please visit Beautiful Handcrafted Log Cabin in the Black Hills – Hill City (vrbo.com)) 

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