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How do you scout for elk?

Old 07-21-2005, 10:54 AM
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Default How do you scout for elk?

I am going in a week to scout a new area to bowhunt elk. I was wondering what eveyone recommended about scouting the area. Should I sit on a mountain top and watch the area and if elk are present, dont enter the area. Or should I walk through the area to learn it even though this will spook the elk? I have spent several hours scouting it by topo map, but I have never been in this area before. Bow season opens in about 5 weeks.
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Old 07-21-2005, 11:45 AM
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Default RE: How do you scout for elk?

You need to hike the area you are going to hunt. Look for old rubs & water holes. Hike as much of this area as you can in one day. Even if you spook some elk don't worry about it. The elk will be back before season opens.
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Old 07-21-2005, 12:06 PM
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Default RE: How do you scout for elk?

I usaly go about a month and a 1/2 befor I hunt,I walk the area and glass near by areas.I look for sign,elk if present,try and see what is out there.Look for old scrapes and water holes,forage and grasses.I try to spend a few days looking and just getting a feel for the land.
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Old 07-21-2005, 12:50 PM
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Default RE: How do you scout for elk?

Good advice from the posts above. Elk are creatures of habit until disturbed. They bed down generally by mid morning and become active again in the afternoon. They generally move from feeding and watering areas to bedding areas and repeat that trek beginning in the late afternoon. They are thick skinned animals that like cooler places to bed, i.e north facing ridges with dark timber. Hunting the rut will be to your advantage.

First scouring your topo map was exactly the right thing to do. May want to take a yellow highlighter and trace on your map the drainages from known or assumed watering areas (probably would be grass for food also) up into the higher elevations paying particular attention to horizontal benches and areas of heavy timber. Elk won't necessarily travel long distances from feeding to bedding areas. Locate the suspected feeding/watering areas, then follow natural lines of drift toward the possible bedding areas. Do this for as much area as you think you will have time to scout.

Once on the ground start the process of elimination by checking out the areas highlighted on the map. Make notes on the map or in a notebook you carry with you. Check wind drift for future reference and make note of it. I carry a squeeze bottle of unscented talc and periodically squirt it a bit. Found mine at an archery shop. Also note on the map changes to the topography, i.e. map shows timber but it's clear on the ground, etc. Draw in trails you find that are not on the map.

Clear indicators of elk will include actually seeing them, presence of sign, i.e. tracks, droppings, wallows, rubs on trees, etc.

Look for saddles and escape routes between drainages. This may come in handy if you go to the "hot spot" and nothing is there come opening day.

May also want to take and use a cow call while scouting just to be sociable in their neighborhood.

Follow on task may include locating possible stand locations. A GPS would come in handy here.

I think of the whole scouting challenge like it was a military operation (I'm retired Infantry). Work up the "Intelligence prep of the battlefield" on your map, then set out to confirm or deny precence of the "enemy" in the targeted hunting areas.

Got most of this from the school of hard knocks and studying what the experts have written, including forums like this one. Any of Jim Zumbo's elk books are excellent, "Hunt Elk" and "Calling All Elk."

Good luck.
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Old 07-21-2005, 01:14 PM
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Default RE: How do you scout for elk?

Oh yeah I forgot one thing,USE YOUR NOSE.Elk smell and you can smell where they have been.If they frequent a area you will know.

Also you probally wanna start high,elk are useally on thier summer/fall range by now.
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Old 07-21-2005, 01:36 PM
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Default RE: How do you scout for elk?

Not that I'm saying I disagree completely but in my experience elk can at times get in habits in certain areas at certain times of the year however I don't think I would call them creatures of habit like say a muley or whitetail. It's said that 80% of the elk live in 20% of elk country at any one time meaning they are little bit nomadic. Scouting elk I've found can be difficult at times.

Many things influence elk movement. Elk need a very large quantity food and since they hang out in herds that multiplies that need. They will travel sometimes many miles a day to find good feeding grounds. Water is obviously an issue.

Alot of times bulls have a summer area wherethey hang by themselves and then establish a pecking order before the rut then later join the herd. You can scout an area where the bulls have been hanging out all summer and you'll find rubs, thrashed trees, beds, dung and track but the elk will be long gone because those bulls have gone to join the herd.

Elk also sometimes have staging areas where they like to rut that may differ from their summer home. This would also cause you to find a ton of sign but no hair in sight.

And obviously predators or pressure can move them miles away.

These things can make scouting feel pointless and frustrating so when you scout elk make sure you have severals areas scouted. Don't concentrate on just one or two areas. Cover a lot of ground. Make no mistake elk can be very nomadic. Try and determine escapes routes or travel routes where the elk will likely go if pushed out of the area. I really try to avoid going into bedding areas. This will blow elk into the next county. I try the long distance approach as much asI can and glass from high ridges. Just because you find elk in an area in July there is a decent chance they won't be there come hunting season. So lots of ground is the key. Good luck!
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Old 07-21-2005, 02:47 PM
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Default RE: How do you scout for elk?

Scout all you want. But don't lock yourself down to one plan based on your scouting. By hunting season more likely than not their patterns will be different.
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Old 07-21-2005, 06:11 PM
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Default RE: How do you scout for elk?

No matter how you do it, you need to familiarize yourself with the terrain/area. The topo map is a great start (as mentioned), but I'm a big fan to just the hit ground and enjoy yourself. Who really knows where they will be when the hunt actually starts, but if it's Elk country, they will be there or in next canyon or the next, etc.

Get used to the spots with water, the dark timber, the meadows, the aspen patches that mix to pinenear meadows, the possible escape routes, everything you can sink into your brain. Take a notebook or GPS (even better) and mark down everything. If you see some Elk, watch them for a long time. Watch them work across or through a canyon feeding, watch were they bed or water. Just take in as much as you can. This is also a good safety thing if you are new to the area.

Overall, take in all you can and get used to the land. Nothing beats knowing your areas you hunt, upside down and inside out.
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Old 07-25-2005, 07:11 PM
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Default RE: How do you scout for elk?

I am going to be under the gun so to speak for my first elk hunt. A buddy has some experience in the area but he plans on scouting about a day and a half before season opens. Me? I think I am going to get acclimated to the air and surroundings, move slow and do some glassing. I would rather do my scouting while hunting since we live too far away and don't have the time to do any pre-season scouting in advance.
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