Preparing for Your Elk Hunt Part 2
I don’t like to pre-scout too early in the summer because when the rut hits the bulls will be looking for the cows and those bulls you saw above timber line probably won’t be there come opening morning. Now depending on the weather, a heard bull may take his harem up high if it’s too hot, or there’s a lot of hunting pressure, or he’s trying to get away from other bulls, but like I said, at the beginning of the rut (not pre-rut) those bulls will come looking for cows. It’s nice to see elk during that time so you can get somewhat of an idea of the antlers they are growing and how many elk may be in the area. But don’t expect them to be there when the rut hits, or during a rifle season.
I like to try and get out about 2 to 3 weeks before the season starts and that’s when I get real serious about what I’m finding or seeing. Some bulls could still be above timber line but their antlers are pretty much done growing so what you see is what you get. Going later also shows me what the moisture level is closer to the season. During June it could be lush and green but by the end of August it could be dry as a bone or a foot of snow late October. There is no right or wrong time to pre-scout as long as you can get out and have fun. If you’re hunting in a different state and you don’t have the time to pre-scout, you’re going to have to do a lot of research and looking over maps. This is where hiring an outfitter may be your best option.
After you have put all this together, now you are ready to go out and look the area over. Even if you have hunted the same area for many years it’s still a good idea to get out and look around. You never know if a new road was put in, an old road is now closed, or the worst of all, land was sold and someone is developing it. All this will affect elk in a negative way with the exception of a road being closed. This will help the elk but it won’t help you if you used that road in the past to get from point A to a long away point B.
Elk need three things to survive; food, water, and cover, cover could be thermal cover or escape cover. When I go out pre-scouting the first thing I do is get up as high as I can early in the morning on a ridge that overlooks a large area and start looking it over with my eyes first, you have a better field of view to start with then binoculars. Once I’ve done this then I will use my binoculars and start from one side and work my way to the other side going up and down in a grid pattern. If you use a grid pattern and not just randomly looking around, you won’t miss much. Once I spot something then I’ll pull out my spotting scope to zoom in for a better look.
If you are only trophy hunting this will let you know whether you want that animal or not, but still, try figuring out a game plan on how you would get to him as if you were actually hunting. If you are meat hunting all the better, you have located them and now you can figure out how you would get to them. When you do spot elk, mark it on your map, put down the total number of elk, number of bulls, and number of cows, plus the time of day and what the weather was like. Also make a note which way they left after feeding, but don’t stop there, continue looking for them because you may get lucky and see exactly where they go to bed. If the timber is too thick that you can’t see them any more unless they go through another meadow, go back to the area you seen them last and continue looking for other elk using the grid pattern again because there could be more.
If you were to miss any other elk during your actual hunt and started after the first bunch you may get busted by one you didn’t see and then it’s over. Don’t overlook deer either, you spook them and the same could happen. When you do set up to glass an area plan on being there for quite a while, especial if you are glassing areas with oak brush. Elk blend into oak brush so well that one minute you’re looking at one spot and you see nothing, then a couple minutes later you look at that same spot and there’s elk everywhere. Trust me; it has happened to me more than once. Take your time when you’re glassing, there’s no reason to get in a hurry whether you are pre-scouting or actually hunting.
During the middle of the day I don’t like tromping around the forest where elk may be bedded. I want to keep the area as human scent free as possible, nor do I want to spook them into the next county. It doesn’t take a lot to move elk out of an area and by running around the country side it could happen. Just because elk have to bed to digest their food doesn’t mean they don’t get up to drink, wallow, or just wonder around during the middle of the day. During my walk in and out of the area is when I look for elk tracks, droppings, rubbed trees, and good game trails. I pay special attention to which way the tracks are going, if everything seems to be heading only one way I want to figure out why. If they are going both ways then I know this would be a normal travel route usually from their feeding area to their bedding area in the mornings and reversed in the late afternoon.
As long as they are fresh I know for certain there’s elk in the area, but if everything is old, they have moved for some reason. This could be a matter of not enough food or maybe water. It’s nothing for elk to travel 10 to 15 miles in a single night, and if pressured enough this could very easily happen and possibly more. Never take your elk calls with you pre-scouting, you may be tempted to use them and this is neither the time nor place to do this. You may be a great caller but just one mistake and you get busted by some elk you have just educated them. It can happen fairly easy too because you’re not in the hunting mode and you’re not paying as close of attention as if you were actually hunting. Leave your calls at home and just listen to the elk and learn.
So during midday I will drive around looking at other areas that I picked out on my maps. What I’m looking for here is where the aspen stands meet the timber, headwater drainages, and bowls. A lot of this you should already have an idea about if you studied your maps beforehand. Most of this can be seen from the road along with the use of your maps. If you are scouting fairly early in the summer you may see elk above timer line lounging around and soaking up some rays.
Now, that evening, I will go to the same place as I was that morning and watch to see if any elk come out in the same area. If they do I mark my map the same way I did that morning. Don’t forget time of day, make sure you document that any time you see elk. Elk are creatures of habit and if not disturbed they will stay in the same areas as long as their food and water source remains.
I will continue doing this in different areas until my scouting trip is over. If there’s more than just me, and some of my friends I hunt with are there too, then all the better. We will get better coverage of the area.
Now, here’s the fun part for me. When I get home I will take all my maps and notes and try to figure out a pattern from the elk I seen and then form a strategy for my opening morning hunt.
My next post we will finish up Preparing for Your Elk Hunt with Practicing, Staying Organized, and Check Off Sheets.
Hunt Hard & Shoot Straight