I’ve spent the past few weekends scouting elk in Idaho and Montana. Though I enjoy scouting, my time mostly consists of the most boring parts of hunting: driving backroads, reading maps, and finding water. Over the past few years I have improved at using my scouting time efficiently. This blog provides a few pointers for making the most of your weekend scouting trips.
Use scouting trips to get your ducks in a row. Test new gear, and pay close attention to key factors like nutrition and sleep. Many variables within your control can derail a hunt: strained muscles, dead batteries and inaccurate maps to name a few. Mitigate these risks by treating each as a walk-through for the season. Create contingency plans. For example, keep in mind how the roads will change in the fall after rain or snow and where you’ll camp if your top choice gets claimed by another hunter.
Rub a dub dub
Water doesn’t guarantee elk, but a lack of water guarantees that elk won’t spend very much time in an area. In the fall I often hike ridges and call into valleys. However, water doesn’t travel along ridges. In the summer, I prefer to traverse about halfway down the slope to locate streams. Remember that drainages aren’t uniform up and down. Water can seep out of the rocks at seemingly random points then disappear underground again. On top of that, pay close attention to cooler meadows that may serve as bedding areas. Rubs get me more excited than almost anything else. They indicate at some point a bull was rutting in that exact spot. Find rubs and water, and you’re halfway home.
Trail cameras for whitetail and bears can cut down on the amount of time spent in a tree stand. Cameras don’t seem to benefit elk hunters quite as much. In September hunters constantly cover ground as opposed to sitting in one place. A trail camera provides evidence that an elk was in one spot at one time, but a photo does not ensure the elk will come by that point again. I have buddies that show me photos of quality bulls every summer. However, when the season starts bulls often seek out hot cows in other drainages. Setting a trail camera also means you’ll have to go back to the same drainage to check it. Personally, I don’t feel I need to scout habitat multiple times. My time would be better spent exploring new country.
Driving around late at night debating where to hunt in the morning creates unneeded stress on a hunt. Use this weekend to establish a foundation for your season. Though trail cameras may help out for opening weekend, once the rut starts the bulls will go to the cows. You don’t have to find a great bull or locate a dynamite wallow in the summertime. Find quality habitat and trust that when elk bugle you’ll hunt hard enough to find them.
Good luck this season,