September 28, 2021, 08:22:05 AM

Author Topic: Early Archery Morning Hunt Scenario from 2018 - WWYD Differently?  (Read 2121 times)

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Offline BuckyHunter13

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A lot of guys, myself included, don’t get to hunt elk often enough to maximize the education elk so readily provide. Elk hunting for 10-12 days straight always leave me with tons of questions and not enough time to answer them from one day to the next. I can sometimes answer my own questions while reflecting on a day or a sequence of encounters. I thought it might be beneficial (for me or anyone else newer to elk hunting) to share a sequence of hunts from this past year. I will post 3 specific days that fit together neatly along with relevant information from other days.

August 31 (Day 3) –

Weather: 40 overnight, 70 by 10AM, Wind: 15mph, NE-> NW
Elevation: 9600 to 10,200
Conditions/Background: No bugling, dry conditions, warm. Heavily pressured OTC Unit. It’s the Friday heading into Labor Day weekend. With the holiday came a noticeable increase in hunting pressure/generators/trucks on the forest roads. We spent part of the day before hunting to the north and west of “Bedded Bulls” but the sign was very light. We’ve had early encounters in this area in the past and I know there’s cow bedding in the same general area as the “Bedded Bulls” waypoint.

The Hunt: We began our morning downhill from “Bedded Bulls”. My thinking was that they may be working their way up from some of the smaller parks as they had in previous years. With us approaching from the North with a NE wind, I thought it was better to approach further down the mountain and work our way uphill as we tried to locate elk to the South (or wherever we found them). This entry spot felt like a location most guys wouldn’t use due to the terrain which appealed to me. We finally reached the open draw (not exactly a park but for all intents and purposes, a park) around 7:30. We began working our way back up the hill slowly, lightly calling occasionally and looking for fresh sign in the various pockets of pines. At one point I heard what sounded like glunking from above us (North of the X). I called a few times and heard what sounded almost like a nervous grunt but not quite. I tried to turn up the urgency of the calling but stuck mainly to cow calls. After a while it was clear my calling had been dismissed. Giving chase was not an option due to the terrain. (Very steep, a mix of areas of loose rock and open mature dark timber… Open/loud/steep to the point of unsafe.) We continued up the edge of the open draw until there was an area to cross to the South under some cover. Sign was decent in spots but nothing overwhelming. We worked our way south then up the hill west. We smelled elk in spots and found sign that looked comparatively fresh, but nothing said “there’s an elk around the corner.” Continued calling and moving up. At this point I figured the elk would be above us, but nothing turned up.

We decided to start hunting our way back to the truck around 10:15. I thought it would be worth detouring through a bedding area from prior years. We worked our way back north, crossed the open draw working our way up hill. We were 10 yards inside the dark timber on the north side of the draw when we hit really fresh sign (shiny fresh poop). We stopped for a second before continuing on at a crawling pace. We had gone another 10 yards when a really nice bull exploded out of his bed 25-30 yards in front of us. He was tucked in to a thickly screened area. I could make him out from the shoulders up as he crashed away. I immediately let out a nervous grunt and he stopped out of sight about 50-60 yards away. I did some light cow calling and transitioned to more urgent pleading calls and turned away to let a bugle rip. I could hear him pacing out of sight, maybe 70 yards away? About this point I saw a smaller bull skirting us 25 yards to the west, headed south. I was pretty sure he was trying to catch our wind. By this point my dad had dropped 20-30 yards south of me, so I thought that bull could be in play (if he was legal, which I think he was). After 5-10 minutes we both lost sight of him (it was really thick in spots). I’m pretty sure he left to the South. I re-focused on the bigger bull once I lost sight of him. I alternated between quiet spells and calling though I wasn’t sure if he was still there. I eventually resorted to the kitchen sink method of calling. Within 10 minutes of going quiet I heard the big bull trotting up the hill to the West. Excitement over.
At this point part of me felt vindicated for "my area" because we basically did find the bulls. Another part of me felt like I just blew our best chance for the entire trip. One of these was more accurate than the other.

My takeaways…
One of the biggest errors was that my mindset had shifted to “hunting’s over, back to the truck”. Even though I consciously told myself to hunt hard all the way through, it was difficult to shift all the way back to the deliberate I’ve-got-all-day mindset necessary for the situation. If I had been better focused I might have put the puzzle together before taking another step past the fresh poop. Elk heading this way hours earlier… historical bedding location… fresh poop. In retrospect it shouldn’t have been a surprise that I damn near stepped on them.
A second takeaway was the impact of overall attitude. Hunting quiet elk is hard. It's hard to maintain the confidence and behave with the expectation that elk really are 30 yards ahead. Especially when you're hot, exhausted, and getting frustrated at the overall lack of sign. You're wondering what's changed... is it the people pressure, the heat, the dry weather?
Last observation... I know a lot of guys think they have to go 2-4 miles deep before it even counts as hunting. The loop we made this morning was roughly 4 miles. We've had as many encounters within a half mile of the road as we have 4 miles deep. Maybe it's dumb luck, but sometimes it's finding the right corridor, pocket, or unconventional access point. This is probably more applicable to early season before the bugling starts in earnest. I can't imagine the elk survival handbook says bugling near a road makes for easy living.

My questions…
Did I bump them out of the area? If so, when will they be back? How far did they go? Why is there so little sign in areas that have held elk in the past? What would you have done differently? Where are the rest of the elk?

About the map...
Yellow is roughly where I heard the glunking. Red dotted line is assumed route of travel. Map has been photoshopped to obscure the location.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2019, 12:27:53 PM by BuckyHunter13 »

Offline cohunter14

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Re: Early Archery Morning Hunt Scenario from 2018 - WWYD Differently?
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2019, 03:20:14 PM »
My takeaways…
One of the biggest errors was that my mindset had shifted to “hunting’s over, back to the truck”. Even though I consciously told myself to hunt hard all the way through, it was difficult to shift all the way back to the deliberate I’ve-got-all-day mindset necessary for the situation. If I had been better focused I might have put the puzzle together before taking another step past the fresh poop. Elk heading this way hours earlier… historical bedding location… fresh poop. In retrospect it shouldn’t have been a surprise that I damn near stepped on them.
A second takeaway was the impact of overall attitude. Hunting quiet elk is hard. It's hard to maintain the confidence and behave with the expectation that elk really are 30 yards ahead. Especially when you're hot, exhausted, and getting frustrated at the overall lack of sign. You're wondering what's changed... is it the people pressure, the heat, the dry weather?

Excellent point! An elk hunt can change in a matter of seconds and trying to stay positive and focused and realize that truth can be very difficult.

My questions…
Did I bump them out of the area? If so, when will they be back? How far did they go? Why is there so little sign in areas that have held elk in the past? What would you have done differently? Where are the rest of the elk?

Yes, you definitely bumped them. When they will be back is difficult to know. I would think a lot would depend on if they ever heard or smelled you. How far they went probably has a bit to do with the same thing.

Why is there so little sign? That also relates to your question of where are the rest of the elk. The answer is that there aren't a lot of elk in that area. It's early season and the bulls and cows are not together yet. You stumbled on an area that holds bachelor bulls, which is great for early season!

What would I have done different? If I stumbled on fresh sign, I would have setup and called. At that time of the year, I probably would have just used some cow calls. Try to spur the curiosity of the bull and get him to meander over to see what's going on. In addition, if I bumped him like you did, I wouldn't have thrown the kitchen sink at him. I think you did it right with the grunt and some cow calls, but throwing the bugle in at him probably wasn't going to help. Keep in mind it's early season. The bull you just jumped was not chasing after cows, he was solo and on his own. So trying to get aggressive with him probably wasn't going to work. I'd have done the cow calls and if that didn't work, I would have gone quiet and waited to get an idea where he was at before trying a new game plan.

My two cents, and it's probably not even worth that much!

Offline BuckyHunter13

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Re: Early Archery Morning Hunt Scenario from 2018 - WWYD Differently?
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2019, 04:08:02 PM »
Yes, you definitely bumped them. When they will be back is difficult to know. I would think a lot would depend on if they ever heard or smelled you. How far they went probably has a bit to do with the same thing.
This was my biggest question that night. I had sort of boiled it down to did I BUMP them, or did I bump them. The fact that he reacted to my call had me thinking it was a soft bump.


Why is there so little sign? That also relates to your question of where are the rest of the elk. The answer is that there aren't a lot of elk in that area. It's early season and the bulls and cows are not together yet. You stumbled on an area that holds bachelor bulls, which is great for early season!

This is a perfect example of how hunting every other year disrupts the learning curve.
I learned quicker this season but maybe not quick enough. A couple years ago we had 3 days of bugling and interaction in this area before they disappeared. It was the first 3 days of our hunt. That year I had no idea where they went so it was back to the drawing board. We went to an adjacent area at a higher elevation and found the area was dried up and covered with old summer sign. Given that this year was much dryer overall, I took that as a hint to go the other way or at the very least rule out that adjacent area.


What would I have done different? If I stumbled on fresh sign, I would have setup and called. At that time of the year, I probably would have just used some cow calls. Try to spur the curiosity of the bull and get him to meander over to see what's going on. In addition, if I bumped him like you did, I wouldn't have thrown the kitchen sink at him. I think you did it right with the grunt and some cow calls, but throwing the bugle in at him probably wasn't going to help. Keep in mind it's early season. The bull you just jumped was not chasing after cows, he was solo and on his own. So trying to get aggressive with him probably wasn't going to work. I'd have done the cow calls and if that didn't work, I would have gone quiet and waited to get an idea where he was at before trying a new game plan.

Panic and desperation made me do it.  :lol:  But seriously, I don't know that I've considered how out of place that bugle might have been. I typically don't like bugling anyhow because it seems to start the clock for when other hunters show up in that spot. (See: my comment about bulls along the road.) Elk behavior transitions very quickly that time of year and I need to be more aware of taking my cues from the elk.

My two cents, and it's probably not even worth that much!
Thanks for your comments. It definitely helps me to talk through these things. Even writing it out helps me connect some dots. I'll give anyone else obsessing about elk a chance to chime in (if they're around and willing to read the book I wrote) and then share the next piece of the puzzle.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2019, 04:14:48 PM by BuckyHunter13 »

Offline cohunter14

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Re: Early Archery Morning Hunt Scenario from 2018 - WWYD Differently?
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2019, 04:23:20 PM »
I agree with you that it was probably a soft bump. And not saying that an elk wouldn't be bugling that time of year, but in thinking how you want the bull to react, a bugle probably wouldn't be best given that situation? I'm no expert by any means! I'm anxious to hear others chime in as well.

Offline nclonghunter

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Re: Early Archery Morning Hunt Scenario from 2018 - WWYD Differently?
« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2019, 06:17:34 PM »
I have only been elk hunting 10 years, so I can only give 1/2 cent to this discussion.
As far as your strategy of moving down and then up is difficult to say based on terrain, wind and not being familiar with the area. You got into elk so I will say you played it right.
Being early season, hot and dry and not hearing any bugles would suggest only cow calls with an occasional locate bugle. Night time is when I would be keying in on bugle activity in those conditions.
Also not finding sign in an area where you have before can and will be affected by hot and dry conditions. Hard dry ground will not show as much sign. Droppings will dry faster and appear older. Most important is water or lack of, can change patterns. Also the fields of say alfalfa can be cut earlier or just not be good due to being dryer than previous years and not as attractive to elk. So they again may change movement patterns. If one farmer is watering his nice green fields a few miles away and another isn't, then they will go to the better grass. All this will change patterns and you will not see the sign as in previous years.
The elk you bumped was in thick brush and may have heard you and bumped, but the fact he stayed, even after the bugle indicates to me he was not sure what was happening. He obviously did not like it so he moved off. I do not think you scared him badly or caused him to leave the area. As you said there had been pressure there already and he felt safe in his bedding spot and would likely return there. The one bugle may have caused more caution and uneasiness to the event than anything. It may just not have "fit" what he knows is happening in his area. As it is said, they can hear or see you twice but will only smell you once.
I love to bow hunt elk and like you, I have new questions every day. I think that challenge is what makes it worth all the effort.
If wisdom is the reward for aging, I will always be young

Offline BuckyHunter13

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Re: Early Archery Morning Hunt Scenario from 2018 - WWYD Differently?
« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2019, 08:53:45 AM »

As far as your strategy of moving down and then up is difficult to say based on terrain, wind and not being familiar with the area. You got into elk so I will say you played it right.
Calling it a strategy is probably a stretch. Somewhere between strategy and bumbling aimlessly with a guess or two of where the elk could be. By the end of this trip I think I really started putting together the conditions that hold elk.


Being early season, hot and dry and not hearing any bugles would suggest only cow calls with an occasional locate bugle. Night time is when I would be keying in on bugle activity in those conditions.

This is harder to pull off because we stay in town. I'm also very wary of bugling near roads with the amount of pressure in the area. A response is just as likely to bring five bugle tubes to the party the next morning.

Most important is water or lack of, can change patterns. Also the fields of say alfalfa can be cut earlier or just not be good due to being dryer than previous years and not as attractive to elk. So they again may change movement patterns. If one farmer is watering his nice green fields a few miles away and another isn't, then they will go to the better grass. All this will change patterns and you will not see the sign as in previous years.
The alfalfa and field conditions had not occurred to me. I actually wouldn't have even considered that the elk were traveling to these lower areas except we actually had a herd of 7-10 elk cross the road right in front of us just before we hit the mountain one morning. The herd included one pretty nice bull and a smaller bull. That was a first, pretty cool but they were headed onto some other private and I'm not sure they were going to end up on the mountain.
The elk you bumped was in thick brush and may have heard you and bumped, but the fact he stayed, even after the bugle indicates to me he was not sure what was happening. He obviously did not like it so he moved off. I do not think you scared him badly or caused him to leave the area. As you said there had been pressure there already and he felt safe in his bedding spot and would likely return there. The one bugle may have caused more caution and uneasiness to the event than anything. It may just not have "fit" what he knows is happening in his area. As it is said, they can hear or see you twice but will only smell you once.
I agree. In the early part of our trip before the elk were bugling on their own, the few times we encountered elk (other than bumping) seemed to be from us making noise as we moved. The scuff of a boot or break of a branch was met with a nervous grunt. The next encounter I share involves another of these. It's a shorter story too.
I love to bow hunt elk and like you, I have new questions every day. I think that challenge is what makes it worth all the effort.
Yep, I love it. Piecing the puzzle together is my favorite part of hunting. I'm coming from hunting whitetail in the big woods of Wisconsin. A lot of the behavior is different but the overlap is under-acknowledged. One of the biggest obstacles I've had is recognizing the variables that don't exist with whitetails and how they change the mountain and therefore elk patterns. In this case, the way the dry year changed their patterns. Hopefully getting back out there this year will help shorten that learning curve and the elk will be right where I left them.  :lol:

Offline SamuelMan

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Re: Early Archery Morning Hunt Scenario from 2018 - WWYD Differently?
« Reply #6 on: January 29, 2019, 04:55:36 AM »
Wow, I'm impressed. Nice root

 

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