Professional Tips When Hunting For Elk

Every year thousands from all across the country travel to the Western United States when Hunting for Elk.  Be prepared by listening to experts.  Yet for the cost, a small percentage of hunters are actually rewarded.  Few hunters have ever studied the really good maps of the unit for which they are hunting and invariable, someone will use a national forest map provided by various map stores. The right map is the starting point to get a feel for the unit you are planning to hunt. When Hunting for Elk, surveying your unit prior to the hunt gives you the edge during the actual hunt.  Not everyone can do this but your odds increase if you make the effort.  Forest maps will give you boundaries and most roads in a general way and you can then determine more specific areas that you want when Hunting for Elk in the fall.

Using Quadrant or Topographical Maps to Elk Hunt

Western Bull Elk (SRT Photography)Then, head for a map store or online service (USGS maps)where you can purchase a quadrant map.  Quadrant maps are all named and they each have a listing of the names of the surrounding quadrants that offer a tremendous look at the elevation changes, the water tanks the roads and distances that you need to be really familiar with when Hunting for Elk.

Elk can sometimes lead you on a long chase as they head back to bed. Many times elk will cover several miles while heading back from their nightly feedings and watering. During the rut, bulls will be constantly pushed and challenged and the lead cow will keep moving as long as the bulls are screaming all around them. Knowing mentally in your head where you are at is critical! There is nothing more depressing then to look around and say to yourself “Where the hell am I?” You’re no longer Hunting for Elk but scrambling for survival.  It happens and it happens a lot. But by knowing roughly where you are and having a good idea of where the roads are, you can always get back to camp even if it requires a long hike out. Many hunters will look at a map and not understand that all those tight lines mean significant drop-offs or elevation changes. Remember, what goes up must come down and there is nothing as depressing as looking at a canyon and understanding that your bull is now climbing out the far side of that canyon.

Using Your Cell Phone or Electronic Device to Hunt for Elk

John Koleszar extracting rack in 2012The recent versions of quadrant maps are on material that is not made of exclusively paper but of materials that can take a beating, can be rolled and not torn and will remain visible after many uses. Carrying these quadrant maps or a mobile version of them is absolutely critical. Here is where the old-fashioned way works better than the newer technology of using your phone with an app for maps. Poor reception is your enemy and there are many locations that do not have ANY reception for phones. Stories abound about FAILURES of mechanical devises that were either out of range or had batteries that went dead are frequent.  There is something very comforting about using a map that tucks in easily to your backpack for quick reference. Don’t be that guy who needs to be rescued from a canyon area where he ventured too far and ran out of food, water or worse, had no clue where he was.

How To Discover Where The Elk Roam (or Where Have All the Humans Gone)

The really great thing about mapping your hunt is that you can generally find those long fingers of thick areas where the big bulls like to hang out. These are not by quad trails and no, you can’t drive up to them and watch them head to bed. The map that I have attached shows some really interesting terrain. The “Mailbox” area is fairly large and relatively flat.  Look at the surrounding area however. There are some significant changes in elevation just to the south and west of that flat area.

1.    Take a look at the vegetation in that area.
2.    Where would you hide if you were a really tired bull?
3.    Hike onto these flat areas and walk the terrain do you see any game trails heading in or out of the area?
4.    Is there any water that seems readily available?
5.    Are there big Ponderosa trees with heavy cover or is it an area that has had recent fires and is as wide open and lacking hiding spots?

Once you have answered all of these questions you begin to have a feel for what the unit you are hunting has in store. A general rule of thumb is that the more difficult the terrain, the fewer hunters that will be there. Big bulls don’t get to be really big by offering roadside views. Those nasty canyons are like a luxury resort to the bulls seeking peace and quiet.

What Do I Need To Successfully Pre-Hunt A Elk Area

JK and son Justin in 2014, unit 4A. Bull scored 336 5/8Along with a good map, buy quality binoculars or spotting scope to glass as much of the area as you can. Get to the highest point possible and get another view of the terrain through glassing. Prior to the hunt, get up high and view form first light to see what non-threatened animals will do on a given morning. Certainly as the rut gets closer, the activity will change, but any late August scouting trip will pay huge dividends when the hunt is on. Looking at a great topographical or quadrant map will let you know just where you can get a long-range view of the land and it gets you familiar with all the little creeks and drainages that exist and how wildlife use them in their travels to and from food and water. A quote from the best hunter I have ever known was “It is far better to wear out the seat of your pants than the soles of your shoes.” Spend those early morning hours at first light to watch the unsuspecting animals from a distance that is out of their visual and scent zones. The end result is that you tip the scales of Hunting for Elk in your favor. Map it out!

Reference Links

Tips And Tricks When Hunting Elk (Why You Sit A lot)

Bugling ElkIt’s easy to be in a rush when Hunting Elk and to beat the brush and get into where those big bulls are located. The operative word here is “ARE

You soon learn that by bushwhacking you are nicely moving any living creature that you are hunting into the next canyon or worse to the next zip code. After a few years of glassing for elk you begin to realize one of the most profound moments you will ever had.

“I was glassing for a friend along hillside with a valley beneath me.  It was first light and I saw a vehicle pull up and park next to a dirt road. There were two hunters and it was rifle season. They wore the obligatory orange hats and proceeded to stalk into the drainage and up the hillside.  I have to admit they took their time, were relatively quiet and had the wind in their face. These were all positive moves on their part. As a silent observer a quarter of a mile away and above them I also witnessed three bulls get up out of their beds and slink away over the little cut in the drainage that was as thick as could be. They had seen the movement of the hunters and quietly moved out without the hunters even knowing that they had been there. That confirmed that sitting on my butt was a good thing.”

Once you decide to sit on your butt, you’ll find out fairly quickly the value in doing so. Holding binoculars by hand is great for a quick glance. Holding them for over an hour becomes a shaky proposition…. Yeah, that’s a pun. Invest in a great tri-pod with a locking mechanism for your binoculars with a smooth turning handle to pan over the area you are glassing. It makes the process of dividing up a hillside so much easier and will make you a better viewer of wildlife.

You may find the impact of weather ~in region~ so the next lesson was the profound effects of wet snow, cold ground, sharp rocks and cactus where it may imprint your backside.  Investing in $7.00 butt pad could allow you to glass for hours uninterrupted.  They are on sale at almost every sporting goods store and will allow you to stay in the field when many will be heading back to warmth or dry clothes.  If you really want to go for the gold, get a folding chair that allows comfort, a place to hold your coffee and a slightly more elevated spot to glass from.

Key Aspects of Glassing for Elk

•    Stealth is important
•    Sit and watch, buy a nice cushion
•    Use good binoculars and a tripod
•    Be comfortable and warm

The Patience of Being Patient Pays Off For The Elk Hunt

John Koleszar extracting a kill in Arizona Mogollon Rim CountryA lot of people ask me what I look for. With elk, I find it incredible easy to pick them off a hillside. Those white butts just seem to stick out to me all the time. When they are moving, I tend to catch the movement more than anything else. During the rut, I look for the pale coats of really big bulls. Their coats seem to be almost white, unless they have been rolling in a mud pit. I usually like seeing them out over 800 yards. They are content to move along during the rut and it is awesome to watch them rake trees, bugle until they are hoarse and if lucky you can watch a couple of dandy fights. The best time to pick them up is at first or last light. Watch for movement and look for multiple animals moving around an area. Once you have found them, sit back, enjoy the show and learn all you can about where they are headed. The best hunting bonus in the world is to watch them bed down for the day. You know where to stalk to and how to get there. All of this of course because you sat on your butt!