Ask just about any experienced elk hunter what the greatest challenge to elk hunting is and many will offer, “finding the elk.”
Why is that? As herd animals that are trying to store up as much fat as possible to survive the oncoming winter, elk are continually on the move seeking good sources of nourishment. When we add to that the pressure that hunters apply during that critical time of the year, the result begins to resemble a very large game of musical chairs. The only difference is that for the elk, the music never stops. The herd moves from one food resource to another and on to another. This process continues throughout the fall with every herd. This continual movement and lack of any discernible pattern to the hunter who spends only 5-7 days a years in elk country makes locating and successfully hunting elk one of the toughest hunts in the West.
Locals and outfitters who live in elk country become very familiar with these patterns of movement and as a result have a significant advantage that the non-local or nonresident hunter will not have unless he takes the time to return to his hunting ground year after year to study and learn these patterns.
All that being said, what steps can the hunter who does not have the time to dedicate to scouting and hunting year after year take to increase his chances for success. Here are a few tips:
- Look for New Growth: this is the real green grasses that are not more than 12 inches in height. New growth is rich in minerals and nutrients that the elk need. Elk favor this new growth over forage that has been growing since green up in the early summer.
- Avoid hunting above a recent Frost Line. Frost burns the grasses making them bitter and less tasty to the elk. It takes about two weeks for grasses that were burned by frost to cure, after which the elk will return.
- Look for Water Sources that are actively being used by the elk. Actively used water sources are usually muddy where the elk are drinking. The may be a cutback in a stream, a seep or spring in the forest floor, or a water hole with nearby cover. When elk drink, they will stay in or as close to cover as possible because the realize that predators stalk water holes looking for them.
- Look for areas that provide elk with Security. These can be out of the way places like the bottom of a deep ravine, difficult to access drainage heads, secluded spots deep in the dark timber surrounded by blow-downs, or small benches on steep slopes.
- Spend large amount s of time glassing opposite slopes with quality binoculars looking for sign of elk or elk travel. Most hunters do not give adequate time to this effort. Glassing can save you hours and miles of walking.
- Elk Bedding Areas are often found in dark timber (spelled forests) on Northern and Eastern slopes. Elk seek bedding areas that offer security and close proximity to water, usually within thirty to fifty yards. Water is a required element in the digestive process for elk. Elk bedding areas are often very small flat spots on a slope called benches. I’ve seem elk bed down on benches that were not much more than eight feet across, so keep a keen eye out when scouting or hunting.
- Using an elk call as a locator call can help the hunter narrow down his search in unfamiliar elk country. Judicious use of a cow call or bugle may generate a vocalization by elk that will tip you off on which direction to head.
- Glassing is the most commonly accepted method of scouting out a lot of country. Glassing mean finding a comfy seat, pulling out your quality binoculars, and taking the time to look under, around and behind every single tree, rock, deadfall, whatever is out there in search of elk or sign of elk. Keep this in mind when you think you have glassed it all. The one place the you failed to look may be the hidey-hole of the next record book bull. Winston Churchhill said it best, “Never...ever...give up.”
For more meat and potatoes information and great tips on elk hunting, check out our Top-Selling Books, click here.