So, you have drawn a limited entry elk tag! Where do we go from here? Whether your hunting witha bow or a rifle, drawing an elk tag for an unfamiliar unit can be overwhelming, but here are some tips to get started.
This year, my son and I have drawn elk tags for a controlled, trophy Idaho elk hunt during rifle season. We are not familiar with the unit so this is how we got started.
I like to start from the outside in. I begin with maps. Starting with the game unit map, find the designated boundaries and mark them on your Forest Service map, or topo map, if not already marked. I then start looking for points of interest on my topo map. Large road-less drainages, or areas with less road density always peak my interest, as elk usually find comfort in solitude when pressured. Using google earth I look for areas with forest cover. These may be north facing slopes, and east facing slopes where elk seek shade and food during warmer times of the year. Taking notes, writing down hunches and areas of interest will help when you make your first visit to the area, or when talking to other hunters that have an intimate knowledge of the area.
Now that you have familiarized your self with the area on paper, its time too seek out advice from other hunters or game biologists who have been to the area and have a working knowledge. Be careful when taking advice from some individuals on sightings of “monster bulls”, some people’s idea of a trophy bull and yours may differ, or maybe they like to embellish the truth just to sound like a big shot. Whatever the case, consider the source when obtaining hunt information.
Next, with some knowledge of the area, its time to make a scouting trip. Be ready for mobility, you want to cover as much area as possible. What you may find is that some of your leads and hunches may pan out, others may not. Again, you must take notes and make marks on your map for later reference. Strap on your boots and hike out some likely areas. Are they well traveled by humans. Is there fresh elk sign? I like to search for tell tails from the previous season. I look for last years elk rubs, and I dont put too much faith into old rut sign from many years ago. Elk will change their rutting grounds due to hunter encroachment, or the presence of wolves, or depending on the time of year you are there, fresh sign may not mean that elk will be there when the hunt starts. So remember, you’re still in the information gathering period, so the more information you have, the better.
Now lets connect the dots. You must use logic when formulating ideas of where to hunt. Look at your map. Do you see any trends of fresh elk sign, or rutting grounds? Where are the areas near the known elk sign where elk will seek safety when pressured, or seeking shelter later in the fall from the approaching winter snows. Where do the elk get their food and water? Factor these things in while making your hypothesis, and again make notes. Now your ready for “Phase Two” of your pre-season scouting trip.
I will cover the next phase (Phase 2) as soon as we complete our next scouting trip. Stay tuned!