Most things in life, you get out of them what you put in. The sport of hunting is no different. The time invested in researching and scouting your area prior to opening day is going to be key to a successful hunt. Whether you are looking to take down that trophy bull or just want to put meat on the table, here are some tips to help ensure a great and successful hunting season.
The first step is to decide where you are going to hunt. I am fortunate enough to live in the great state of Wyoming. I have excellent hunting options outside my back door. For those not as fortunate, this may require putting in for an out-of-state tag. Either way, State game websites can be a great tool to help decide the location of your hunt. Once this has been decided, let the fun begin!
Researching your hunting area can start at home. It is a good idea to look over national forest maps and BLM maps. The web is also a great tool and can be used to look at topo maps and Google Earth. These types of maps will help locate drainages, ridges, water sources, and trails that are often great places to find elk. Another idea that most people don’t consider is picking up the phone. It can be very helpful to put in a call to State wildlife biologists, Forest Service employees, and game wardens that work in your area on a day-to-day basis. Take notes because this will help as you prepare to head out into the field!
Speaking of heading out into the field, it is not only important to prepare mentally but also physically. It is a good idea to start training for the terrain where you will be hunting. Elk like the hard-to-reach areas and your hunt will be more enjoyable if your legs and lungs are ready for the challenge. It is recommended to train at least four days a week. Hike hills by your home with your day pack, run stairs, use a treadmill or do any other combination of strength and cardio intervals you can imagine. Scouting trips are also great ways to train your body for the upcoming hunt. So load up that pack, and get going!
Packing for your scouting trip can be just as important as packing for your actual hunting trip. It is never a good idea to take new equipment on a hunting trip without testing it first. Whether it be a new GPS, sleeping bag, tent, or even boots, try them out or break them in on your scouting trips. This is the time to learn everything you can about the elk as well as your equipment. Take advantage while you can because come hunting season, there is no room for error.
Scouting trips are a great way to get an overall feel for the land. As you head out into the field, it is important to know what you will need to access your area. Some areas may be easier to backpack into, whereas others might require pack animals. Keep in mind what the weather will be like during your hunting season and how long you plan on staying. It is a good idea to take note of potential camping spots while out as well.
Elk need three things to survive: water, food, and cover. As mentioned before, topo maps and Google Earth are great ways to locate areas that contain these necessities. Where there is a good water source, there is usually good feed. Good water sources will usually have well-used trails nearby and have signs of activity. Look for rubs and wallows from the prior year. Elk will often use the same areas to rut as long as they are not spooked and pushed out of the area. Keep an eye out for escape routes that spooked elk may use. If spooked, they will usually head for steep slopes, thick cover, and/or hidden bowls with little to no human activity.
Elk like to bed down on north and northeast-facing slopes, small draws, and drainages. A quality set of optics and a good vantage point will help locate elk as they move to and from their bedding areas. Trail cameras are a great tool to monitor elk activity once these signs have been located. Last but not least, remember to take note of prevailing winds morning, noon, and night while out on your scouting trip.
It is a good idea to get to your hunting location two to three days before the season opens. This is a great opportunity to look for fresh signs of elk, as they have probably moved throughout the summer and into the fall. This will also allow you to get the best campsite, make a plan of attack, and double-check your gear to make sure you are ready to head out come opening day. Keep in mind, if you are hunting at a higher elevation than you are used to, your body may need a couple of days to acclimate as well.
Scouting is well worth your investment and will only better your odds come hunting season. It is a key element in a successful hunt, and there is very little that can replace the knowledge gained by doing your research. Take advantage of it, and while you’re at it, pack up the family. Scouting trips can be great family camping trips as well. Good luck this fall, and happy hunting!