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Elk hunting tips

Old 02-23-2011, 10:31 AM
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Default Elk hunting tips

My question is simple and limited. What tips can you share about getting within shooting distance of an elk during legal shooting hours?

I have hunted elk before and have successfully taken an elk. My elk hunting goals are modest: take an elk -- cow, bull, it doesn't matter because I'm not mounting the head, in fact a cow is probably preferred as it likely eats better and leaves a bull to grow more mature for those who DO want a more mature bull.

I don't want to know an area to hunt -- I've got an area t hunt, and it typically has elk in it. But its a big area, and finding those elk may be difficult. I hunt first rifle season in Colorado about 500 foot below treeline -- about 11,500'. I don't need to know what cartridge to use, what clothes to wear, how to get conditioned, how to camp, how to field dress the elk, how to get the elk meat out, how to butcher the elk, or how to cook the elk.

What is the best way to find elk when you are out hunting? I guess one answer is just scout until you find the elk. Maybe I should refine my question to what is the best place to scout first? I assume you don't just go out into a rectangle of land and scout randomly -- what considerations do you follow to selectively scout, to go here and look first. What features of the land do you look at and then experience an involuntary "Oh boy! That looks promising!" Is there special vegetation you like to see? Is there a certain disposition of the hills, trees, slopes, water courses that you like to see? What do you key on? What are the parameters of interest that you analyze?

It seems to me this is the most critical information related to hunting elk but the information that most rarely finds its way into books about hunting elk. It also seems to me that probably experienced elk hunters have a lot of valuable information on this topic that they may be willing to share. I'm not asking for a honey hole, I'm asking how does one go about discovering a honey hole?
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Old 02-23-2011, 02:06 PM
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First and foremost is understanding the basic needs of elk and how it relates to the time of year you are hunting, and the area you are hunting in. Elk like thick bedding cover and cooler temperatures, however, their bedding areas can change when winter temps start to push the mercury down.
Biologically elk try to preserve calories and limit the buring of fat reserves. Winter is a serious time for elk and if to many reserves are burned, they will die, and they know it. As a hunter, you want to look for bedding area that are closer to food sources as the temperatures start to drop, however, cover is still important to escape predators during the hunting season.

In general, there are some basic observations that can be useful. I like long ridges with multiple fingers coming of of them. The main ridge is typically a great crossing and traveling route for elk. Additionally, they can find water sources along these micro drainages between fingers and thick cover for hiding out. Also, the top 1/3 of the mountain will hold the most elk. Understand too, that after the rut the bigger bulls are gone, they leave the herd and get out of there. I have seen many guys chasing a herd around only to discover there is not a legal bull in the bunch. So it is good to know before hand what you intend to hunt, cows or bulls. All of this, of course, depends on the time of year.

If I were scouting I would capture a long ridge with multiple fingers on my map work. Hopefully this ridge is away from the roads at least a little bit. I would walk down the ridge looking for fresh sign, old sign does no good. Too many hunters spend too much time in areas that "had" elk in it, or looks like "good elk habitat". If you are not finding fresh sign, you are hunting were they elk are not, big mistake. Lets say you see fresh tracks, fresh dropping etc. Ok, now you know they elk are in here. From this point on, it is really a matter of spotting the elk. You need to uncover their bedding areas and feeding areas. Feeding areas will contain nipped of grass and beds out in the open. Remember, elk also bed at night, so finding beds in open grassy areas is a good indication that they are feeding in this area. Once you have uncovered bedding areas and feeding areas, the next step is too route transition zones. These transition zones give you your best chance to harvest an elk during rifle season. These are the areas the elk move through enroute to feeding/bedding. Also, you need to establish at what time of day they are moving. If they are in their bedding areas before light, you'll need to get there first and wait, if not, get closer to the bedding area to take advantage of early movement.

As humans we have a tendacy to glass open areas, however, while it is in our nature, it isn't the most effective way. Lets say you are setting up next to a bedding area in a transition route in the evening. You glass work needs to be focused on the thick stuff were you expect the elk to come out. Really look hard into these areas and pick up the elk instead of glassing the more open country. Elk like to bed on north slopes toward the top of the ridge. They can catch thermals coming up, see danger below as well. If spooked they can and will roll right over the ridge and get quickly out of sight. So if glassing for bedded elk, look hard towards the upper portions of the ridges. Often time you will find an old bull in a thick clump of stuff with open lanes for watching below, use this to your advantage. While they like to have some visual lanes, they rarely lay out in the open unless it is cold. However, these lanes also provide you the glasser with an opportunity to catch them. Generally, the colder it is, the more elk like to be out in the open catching the suns rays.

Last edited by TwoBear; 02-23-2011 at 05:36 PM.
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Old 02-23-2011, 02:09 PM
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Hunt the same area every year, for several years, and finding them will get easier each year. There are places in every area that they generally like, and you can usually find them in those same spots year to year.
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Old 02-23-2011, 07:08 PM
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TwoBear: Thanks. That is precisely the sort of information I was looking for.

Howler: I do try to hunt the same area every time I hunt. At the same time, I would like to be skilled enough to adapt to hunting in a different place should the need arise. Sometimes hunting grounds change.

Last edited by Alsatian; 02-23-2011 at 07:19 PM.
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Old 02-23-2011, 08:04 PM
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There are several different methods on hunting the Rocky Mountain Elk. My website goes over the basics and has good information, the answer to finding a good honney hole is as follows. First find an area that has no hunting pressure, and steep grade where elk can dissapear quikly. Look at a map and simply know where the pressure areas are and look for the least presured spot it will be the furthest from trails and hard to get to. If there is elk in the area you hunt every year then learn where they are hiding like I said know one has the guts to go in that far or the want.
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Old 02-23-2011, 08:04 PM
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Oh website is www.publiclandforthepoorman.com
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Old 02-23-2011, 08:54 PM
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What Howler said....I hunt the same piece of sage brush every year!!!!!
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Old 02-23-2011, 11:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Alsatian View Post
TwoBear: Thanks. That is precisely the sort of information I was looking for.

Howler: I do try to hunt the same area every time I hunt. At the same time, I would like to be skilled enough to adapt to hunting in a different place should the need arise. Sometimes hunting grounds change.
Your welcome, I have no problem ever discussing elk I also should have mentioned benches as excellent areas toward the top of ridges to find bedded elk. Remember, in colder temperatures you can easily find them on southern and western exposures also.

Last edited by TwoBear; 02-24-2011 at 10:02 AM.
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Old 02-24-2011, 06:18 AM
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Originally Posted by TwoBear View Post
Your welcome, I have no problem every discussing elk I also should have mentioned benches as excellent areas toward the top of ridges to find bedded elk. Remember, in colder temperatures you can easily find them on southern and western exposures also.
What do you mean by a bench? Just a generally flat area? For example, as a ridge goes upwards, maybe it levels out and spreads out a bit at one point (almost like someone cut out a notch on the rib of the mountain with a big knife), and then continues to be narrow and slope more steeply upwards on the other end of the bench? Is that what you mean?
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Old 02-24-2011, 06:42 AM
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A bench is a flat, or at least flatter, section of ground along the side of a steep ridge line or hill.

(still trying to figure out how to properly post photos...)
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