I met Jay several years ago in my attempt to become a world class outfitter. I sought out Jay Houston to come in and hunt with our team and offer me as much advise as humanly possible to help us become one of the best in the industry. Jay worked with me and got to go on a great hunt and we have talked on and off for the last several years. I have the utmost respect for him.
Jay has written the book on Elk Hunting literally three of them(Elk Hunting 101, Elk Hunting 201, & Elk Hunting 301). We hear there may be another one on the way here in the near future (We are excitedly awaiting its arrival). His website ElkCamp.com is one of the first places I would check out when looking to do an elk hunt.
Without Further wait…
This interview was completed in 2007.
20 QUESTIONS FOR JAY HOUSTON
1. What did you do before you got involved in the outdoors industry?
I was a Weapons Systems Officer in the Air Force and Air National Guard
flying F4 Phantoms.
2. How did you get introduced to the outdoors?
My father introduced my brother and I to bowhunting when we were about 12. When I look back on some of those early hunting trips in the hardwood
forests of western Tennessee and Arkansas, I think it was more like taking
our shinny white bows for a walk in the woods. We didn’t kill any deer, but
the memories of those times with my father and brother are some of the best I can recall.
3. What led you to seek out a career in the outdoor industry?
When I began elk hunting in Colorado back in the late 80s, I didn’t have any
idea what I was doing. I thought that it should be a lot like deer hunting
so I applied tactics that had worked well for me as a deer hunter. I didn’t
see an elk for four years. I made up my mind, that if I ever figured out
this great adventure we call elk hunting that I would do my best to make
sure that I would make it easier for those who came after me to learn about
what it takes to become more successful in their elk hunting pursuits.
I have always been a pretty respectable writer having done some freelance
work over the years and serving as the editor for a trade journal for about
6 years. I have to give the credit to my wife Rae Ann for giving me the
courage and encouragement to jump into writing as a full time pursuit in
2003. Now, three highly successful books later it appears that she knew what she was talking about.
4. How did you come up with the idea for your Elk Hunting Series?
I wanted to write to the average guy or gal. As an avid reader, I had read
many books on all types of hunting and found many to be written at a level
above that of the average reader. The pros will tell you that the target
reading level for a successful book in an 8th grade reading level. While I
have a college degree, I think that when I read, an 8th grade level is very
comfortable for me as well. I also wanted to break the information down into what we call “manageable bites.” I.e. small tidbits of information that the average reader can hold onto thereby becoming something that they can add to their elk hunting arsenal. The “101”, “201”, and “301” concept was designed to sell the reader on our “how to” focus. While I use a lot of stories to help make a point, I am really in the how to business.
5. How long did it take to get your book written and then published?
Writing a book is really not all that time consuming once you set your mind
to and establish a timeline for the project. On average it takes be about 60
days to actually write 144 book size pages of copy. We spend another 30 days or do in the editorial and photo placement process. After a number of
discussions with some fairly successful authors in the outdoor industry, we
self published our first three books for a number of reasons. The book
publishing industry is very competitive. Breaking into it can take years.
One of my advisors gave me the best advice I could ever have received. He
said to go ahead and try the self-publishing route and if the book was any
good that the publishing houses would come to us. Well, it actually took
three years and three self published books but we were finally signed by a
national publisher for our forth book which is due out in June 2008.
6. Your website ElkCamp.com is one of the most popular hunting sites on the internet, tell us about that site?
We started ElkCamp.com in 1996 with a few WebPages where I could share some of the tips that I had learned along the way about elk hunting. I never even looked at things like traffic count until someone asked me about it in 2002. When I checked and saw that we had around 4 million page visits, I was amazed. Our focus at ElkCamp.com is to provide free information for folks who either want to learn about elk hunting or learn how to become better at it. We do not claim to be experts by any means. We just want to share the information. We also have a Hunter’s Forum. Here anyone can sign on and ask or answer questions. This has become one of the most active assets of the website. In 2007 we expect to surpass the 10 million page visit mark.
7. What is your favorite animal to hunt and why?
As my daughters would say…Duh! Elk Hunting. I don’t think there is any
more challenging animal to hunt or a more challenging environment to hunt in, in the lower 48. I thrive on challenges and would rather be high in the Rockies than just about anywhere else on earth.
8. What is your dream hunt?
Bowhunting bull elk in late September during high point of the elk rut.
There is nothing like hearing the bugle of bull elk echoing through the
draws and Aspen groves of the high country. There is just something about
that sound that strikes a chord within me that sends chills to every part of
my body. It is intoxicating unlike any other hunting experience that I have
9. You are known as a strong Christian hunter, please tell us about your connection between your faith and your passion for hunting.
My priorities in life are: God, my wife and family, hunting, then everything
else. I am blessed with a wife who not only loves God but loves me enough to allow me the opportunity to spend time each year in the high country. When I am standing on a rocky outcrop at 11,000 feet overlooking literally
thousands of square miles of forests, meadows, streams, and critters, I am
in awe. To me it is as if I am a part of a canvas painted by the hand of God
himself. There are those who would say, that all of this order from chaos
came about by chance. I would say take a longer and harder look.
10. What does hunting teach you about yourself?
That is easy. Hunting teaching me that I am not the center of the universe
and that life is not about me. It teaches me that I am merely a participant
in the dance and at times a caretaker of the land.
11. What conservation organizations do you work with and why?
I have a really good working relationship with the Rocky Mountain Elk
Foundation , headquartered in Missoula, MT. I found that we are pretty much on the same page when it comes to the preservation of elk and elk country. RMEF is the leading organization in the world when it comes to the
conservation of elk and elk country. I decided early on that it would be a
smart move to join forces with this great organization whenever possible and perhaps by pulling the wagon together we could achieve more that if we worked separately. I believe it has been a win-win for both of our
12. Tell us about your favorite gear that you are using currently.
Sitka Gear . Sitka Gear is a complete hunting garment system. Jason Hairston and Jonathan Hart are two die-hard bowhunters who also happen to be mountaineers. They saw a light-weight layered clothing system that
mountaineering types had been using for years and decided to adapt it to
their hunting by producing it in camo. All my life I was told to dress in
layers when heading out into weather that might be challenging. The problem was that all those layers were heavy and bulky. Sitka Gear provides all the insulation of layering without all the extra weight and bulk. I have now hunted In Sitka Gear for two seasons in weather conditions ranging from a balmy 75 degrees in September to subfreezing temps in November and have never found the gear lacking.
13. Tell us a story of the big one that got away and what you could of done differently to have been successful.
In February 2007 I was asked by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation if I would like to have one of my hunts video taped for the Outdoor Channel TV show Elk Country Journal. After giving this some thought, I decided on an archery elk hunt in northern New Mexico. So many of the shows on TV today are all about success and big bulls. Because our audience is the average elk hunter, I wanted to offer a hunt that was more what the average guy might experience. While we were able to hunt some private land, we did not have any pre scouting available to us. It was show up, find the elk, and give it my best shot.
We hunted the week of September 17-21. Unfortunately, as is the case more times than not, the elk didn’t cooperate. For the most part of the week they were very shy and elusive. While we could hear them bugling, it was too early to get them to come into our calling and we were unable to get the wind in our favor for a successful stalk. This went on for four days. On day five, the last day of our hunt however, everything changed. This is almost always how it happens. The elk rut is triggered by a certain level of testosterone in their brain. While the testosterone level begins rising in late August, elk do not actually enter what I call the full blown rut until it hits a specific level. On the last day of our hunt, it hit!
Dave, my videographer, and I were out and halfway up the mountain well before light. At first the bulls were quiet, but about 8:00 AM the cacophony began with one bull then another lighting off with bugles all over the mountain. Our dilemma was which one to go after. In my estimation we had no less than eight bulls bugling within 250 yards. We were hunting in very dense oak brush and pine which limited our line of sight to mere feet in many cases. At one time I heard what I thought was an elk moving in the oak brush, but could not see a thing. I had to get down on my knees to see under the brush from about 8 inches off the ground. I saw what I initially thought was a large grey rock about 15 feet away. It was only when that rock moved and let out a bugle that made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up that I realized my mistake. I must have inhaled or something that caught the bull’s attention because he stood up and drifted off without ever giving me a shot.
For the next hour Dave and I were on one bull after another, but could never get the right wind for a setup. Having the wind in one’s favor is critical to success in bowhunting elk. Eventually we made our way around to the back side of the mountain. I was taking a breather leaning up against a Lodgepole pine that was about ten inches off of a game trail when two cow elk came charging up the trail from below and popped out about twenty feet in front of us with little warning. They got to within about ten feet before they saw me move and bailed off the trail. I could hear the bull that was trailing them coming up the same trail, so I went to full draw just waiting for him to show and hopefully present me with a good shot. It seemed like it was forever when I could not hold my bow any longer and had to let it down. Dave later said that I was probably at full draw for almost 45 seconds. Anyhow the bull failed to show, but I picked up movement out of the corner of my right eye. Coming down the hill right at me was another bull weaving back and forth trying to make his way through some really think oak brush. By now the adrenaline from the previous bull was running through me at full throttle. Again I came to full draw, hoping to find the right combination of angle on the bull and a clear shooting lane. At twenty yards, the bull turned in a direction that I believed would give me a good broadside shot, but my shooting lane was a small 8-inch diameter hole in the brush. I did my best to steady my 20-yard pin on the center of the circle hoping that the bull would pass by. The bull and the hole eventually lined up and I triggered my release. I was shooting a new PSE X-Force bow which is an awesome bow and the fastest bow on the market. At that range the arrow took about two-tenths of a second to center punch its way through a one-inch piece of oak brush on the edge of the 8-inch circle. Afterwards someone said that they heard the whack of my arrow striking that branch all the way back to the ranch. Well, tall tales are a part of elk hunting so I took it jabs in stride. Amazingly enough, the bull had no idea he had been shot at. He simply turned and trotted back up the hill. After it was all over with, I asked Dave, “where did that other bull finally go?” Dave had been standing to my left the whole time filming the event. He looked at me and said that the first bull had dropped of the side of the trail behind the cows and had been standing broadside in the open at thirty yards the whole time I was dealing with bull number two. Since the pine tree was blocking my view to the left, I had no idea. Well that is bowhunting for elk. Bulls 2, Hunter 0. This hunt will remain one of my fondest elk hunting memories. Such up close encounters can teach us a lot. In this case, we were patient and persistent continuing to work the wind until it was to our advantage. When your elk hunting, don’t ever forget the wind.
14. What should hunters be looking for in a great outfitter?
Integrity, a thorough knowledge of elk and how to hunt them with bow or with a rifle, a fair price, and a willingness to blend his skill with the ability
of the hunter.
15. What should beginning hunters know before heading west for their first elk adventure?
This is not a question that can be answered in short order. It took me three
books to do it the first time around, but two things that any hunter needs
to do to up his chances for success in elk hunting are: 1) get in the best
physical shape that you can. Elk hunting will require everything that you
can muster and then some physically and only those prepared physically and mentally will be able to stay the course, 2) learn all that you can about
elk. Elk hunting is not deer hunting. There are many differences and the
wanna be elk hunter who has hunted whitetail all of his life and chooses to
apply those strategies and lessons that he has used on deer to elk hunting
is going to be disappointed.
16. What is the biggest tip you can offer new hunters today?
See number 15 above.
17. Tell us about our commitment to safety and why you have this strong commitment.
Elk country is big country. For those who are not prepared and not vigilant,
it can really hurt you. Even for those who have hunted the high country as I
have for years, situations can arise that we do not expect. I won’t go into
all of the details, but on one particular hunt back in 2004, I was thrown
from a horse and broken up pretty bad, to the point of being flow out on a
Flight For Life helicopter. In this particular event, I had broken many of
my own personal rules about hunting in the high country and as a result,
caused myself a whole host of problems. Whenever you hunt the high country have a plan and hunt the plan. Make sure that you always know where you are and how to get back to camp. Never hunt alone.
18. How was your hunting season this year?
See # 13. It was great!
19. Your newest endeavor is The Outfitter Network , please tell us about what you offer in your network?
The Outfitter Network is a big game hunt consulting service. Basically we
exist to help hunters locate exactly the hunt that they are looking for
whether is a fully guided outfitted hunt or a do-it-yourself hunt. Most of
our business is helping hunters find a good and reliable outfitter or
private ranch to hunt. The majority of those who contact us just do not know where to begin this process, or who to trust. We have been helping hunters for over 10 years and are proud of the fact that we have never had a hunter come back and say that the hunt we helped them located was not what we told them it was. Unlike brokers, we do not collect money or manage contracts. We have a network of committed and quality outfitters and private land owners that have proven themselves to be some of the best in the business. We help our hunter clients get hooked up with these resources.
20. What would you like to share with hunters looking to book a hunt through The Outfitter Network?
Give us a call at 636-561-6464.