Throughout the summer I spend hours sitting on the couch with a gazetteer and Google Maps searching for hunting spots. I use satellite imagery and topos to locate potential hunting camps. But, I don’t stop looking at contour lines once the hunt begins. Instead, I constantly check a few hundred yards ahead on my GPS to predict when I’m closing in on quality habitat. This blog focuses on how to utilize topos while hunting elk. I hope these tips help you find more bulls this season.
Defining a Fold
Inside the yellow circle on the map above I bumped a bedded bull on two separate evenings. In the red circle I found elk on three different mornings, the last being when I shot my bull. Though one location sits on the east and the other on the west side of the drainage, they resemble one another, and I would categorize each spot as a “fold.”
A fold is essentially a small drainage without obvious finger ridges on either side. These areas provide shade and often hold water. Folds will lead down to a major drainage with a larger stream and more open, grassy meadows. Other hunters may not notice these smaller drainages and that’s exactly why bulls choose to bed in them. Similar to how trophy whitetail will live in small overlooked patches of cover. The timber in the area may appear darker, but for the most part folds blend in on satellite images. That’s why GPS topo maps come in handy.
Whenever I am approaching a fold I slow down and look for any rubs or wallows. If I see sign, I’ll cow call for a few minutes and may even bugle before walking across. Solitary bulls will bed in folds, especially early on in the season. If you find elk in these drainages, mark the spot on your GPS and focus on other features at similar elevations.
Try walking up a fold in the morning with the thermals flowing downwards. There’s a chance you’ll run into a herd migrating from feeding to bedding. Follow the larger ridge for a few hours. Then, after the thermals have switched upwards around 10 a.m., walk down a different fold. At this point the elk will have bedded. Take your time and keep noise to a minimum.
One last example: Last fall I was bugling along a ridge in the morning without hearing any responses. I noticed a fold on my GPS and followed it downwards toward the main drainage. A few hundred yards later I found good habitat and let out a few cow calls. A bull showed up five minutes later.
Folds get overlooked. For that reason, they hold elk. Don’t forget about north facing slopes, finger ridges and basins, but keep an eye out for folds this season and you may just find a bull sanctuary nobody else noticed.