Western States Elk Scouting
Want to up your success rate for your upcoming hunts?
Try these scouting tips to help you find that buck or bull this fall, this is a tried and true methodology for us year after
1. Location Preparation: If it’s a new location that you haven’t hunted before and you aren’t familiar with, make sure you do as much pre-scouting from home as possible in the months before your hunt. There’s a lot of resources you can use and we will cover some of those here. Probably the easiest and most convenient is your phone. Call the local fish and game department and talk to the biologist in charge of the area you plan on hunting. If you know someone who lives in the area or has hunted it before call them and ask for their expert opinion too. Study the hunting regulations for the state and area you will be in as well as the number of tags for the area, this will give you an idea of the expected hunting pressure by other hunters. There could be special rules around vehicle travel, closed areas, closed days etc. as well so make sure you have these identified. Familiarize yourself with the area by studying topographical maps, use applications such as Google Earth for a general idea of what the country looks like, ONX maps for land ownership information and hunting info subscriptions like goHUNT to learn as much as you can about your area. Keep notes on the places you think look promising. Mark places that have water, open areas with feed, thicker cover for bedding and seclusion and transition areas where cover meets open. Also take note of the roads, trails and access points. We advise you to look for areas that the average hunter will not likely want to go mostly because it’s a long walk. All of this can be done before you put boots on the ground and save you valuable time in the long run. Also, make sure you get in good hiking shape and prepare for having a pack on your back while training.
2. The Real Thing – Scouting Boots On the Ground: Now that you have some background knowledge of the area you plan on hunting, it’s time to get some firsthand knowledge of your area. Schedule a trip to get out there and see what your area really looks like. Google Earth is great, but it doesn’t replace immersing yourself in the actual country. Take some time to drive the unit and look for possible camping areas, trailheads and access points. Remember to watch your phone and see where you may or may not have service. This could be invaluable knowledge in an emergency. It will also help you know if you need to save maps offline into your phone. Talk to any folks you run into while out there to get info about weather and hunting pressure etc. Next thing to do is lace up those hiking boots and get out there early in the morning and go check out the areas you marked in your pre-scouting. Don’t forget your notebook! Make sure you take notes on animal locations, directions of travel and times for possible patterns, wind directions, numbers of animals, daily temperatures (for your comfort). On your way in look for animal sign such as scat, tracks, rubs and beds. Seek out vantage points that you can glass from. Your binoculars are your best friend and you can’t over use them. Also, take your spotting scope (if you have one) to get a real close look at the area and animals. Mark your locations with your GPS and map routes for the hunt. If you have the time and you’re in a state that allows it, set your trail cameras up. Take a bunch of pics too. It’s amazing what your notes and pictures will do for your memory later on.
3. Now for More Research: Once you’re back home and pouring over your notes and pics that you took on your scouting trip it’s time to make a plan! Using the information you have gathered from all your research make a plan A, B, C, D and so on. All this hard work will pay huge dividends, but remember to stay flexible and adapt as necessary. “Leave time for the unexpected”.
4. One Last Thing: Make sure your stuff is all operating the way it should. Check your weapon, your pack, your vehicle, your camping gear and electronics. You don’t want to be dealing with a problem that could have been easily prevented. And last but not least HAVE FUN!
The above process was put into action when Brandon drew a mature bull archery tag in Nevada back in 2014. The challenge for us was we could only scout for 5 days on two separate trips. Both of us were brand new to the unit and knew we only had 7 days to hunt and our hunting days would be split into two separate weekends because of that pesky thing called work! Kent is amazing at e-scouting and he took it to heart and did all the on-line scouting back then. Brandon on the other hand, called the Nevada Division of Wildlife Resources and talked to a few biologists, friends, and friends of friends who have hunted that area. We did everything in Location Preparation (above) we could. It paid great dividends because we only had 5 scouting days. Brandon then took to the hills, went on a day trip and drove most of the roads he could in his truck. He found camping areas and all access roads and atv trails that Kent had found on-line. Brandon ran into other people in the mountains on his day trip and asked many people their opinion of the area. Some were helpful and some were not, that’s the way it goes, but you don’t know unless you ask. Next we started our scouting trips. We took atv’s and we found more areas and access points. We found good spotting vantage points and took notes. We found only a small number of elk in some areas and no elk in others – both equal in information. Remember no animals in an area is also great information. We scouted both early mornings and evenings until dark. We found elk sign, water, and some elk patterns. Our GPS was valuable to us in the new area. We covered a lot of ground thanks to our spotting scopes and binoculars. With only 5 days of scouting, we had to make the most of our little time in the new area. We took all of our limited information (because there were many other areas we wanted to scout but didn’t have time) and made plans for the hunt. We had our camp spots picked out, paths of travel into the hunt areas, time to get to the hunting areas and all our back up plans. It did not disappoint. Also, don’t forget that while hunting, be scouting at the same time. Information is always there if you’re looking for it! We stalked elk every day of the hunt and had great success getting close. By the last 3 days of the hunt we had a heard of elk patterned and had a heard bull in our sights. But its archery hunting and you have to be 100% right and hope the elk makes one mistake. Well they didn’t make a mistake and Brandon didn’t get a shot at the bull he was after. He ate tag soup but was happy with the results of the hunt. We believe that the hunt is the fun, filling the tag is just extra icing on the cake. We were in elk every day of our split hunt and Brandon had numerous chances at shooting a bull elk. We have absolutely no regrets on that hunt!
- Kent Beckstead and Brandon Potts from Make It Happen Outdoors Podcast.