Randy Newberg is the host and producer of Federal Premium’s Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg, making him the voice of self-guided public land hunters in America; where he shows the common hunter uncommon experiences available on our western public lands. You can catch his show on Thursday nights, only on Sportsman Channel and you can get more details about his hunts on his forum www.HuntTalk.com
Our show has many elk hunts this season, so I want to give more insight as to how we consistently find elk on public land. Most people will contact me asking why they are good at finding deer back home, but they struggle to find elk out west.
Most often, they lack a system for finding elk. They have a system for deer patterning in their home grounds. They know where to find lots of deer so they kill lots of deer.
To kill an elk, you need to find an elk. To find an elk, you need to know where they live while you are hunting them. Yeah, it’s that easy. Develop a system based on where elk will be at the season you are hunting. Implement a plan around that and you will find more elk, more consistently. Pretty simple, eh?
For the TV show, I’ve got five days in a new area to, analyze the landscape, find elk, and get it on camera. Those who have hunted public land elk realize the challenge that represents. Here’s my system for doing it; probably similar to the system these frustrated deer hunters use.
My system is predicated on one thing – Know your elk. In other words, know an elk biological needs during the season you’ll be hunting.
Don’t go any further until you understand this point. All the calling, scents, tactics, and other snake oil sold by TV guys won’t do you a lick of good if you can’t find elk.
Bulls locations differ from late August, to the rut peak in late September, to the winter range migration of December. Why? Because their needs change seasonally. Changing needs mean changing locations.
Build your system around knowing what bull elk are looking for at certain times of the year. If you know what he’s looking for, you know where to find him. Only when you find him, can you kill him. I know that sounds overly simplified, but that is really how it works. Don’t overcomplicate it.
Come late August bulls rub their velvet. As the calendar rolls into September, the rut controls their every breath. They look for one thing – females. Food is about number forty-seven down their list of concerns. Water is right after the urge to breed.
Most hunters can find bulls in September. They’re with cows, they’re vocal, and they’re active all day long. Don’t get too confident; it gets progressively more difficult from here on out.
By mid-October, the rut is waning, possibly having ended. Bulls change their focus to escaping hunters; finding places where they can recover body fat to survive the winter, without exposing themselves to bullets.
By November, the rut is long past and bulls are in bachelor groups, hanging out in time-tested sanctuaries; places hunters don’t want to go. Think rocks, ice, steep, maybe dark timber. History has taught them the best locations; hidey holes where food and water are only a few hundred yards away. This is when an elk hunter earns his stripes, not only in finding these bull nests, but tagging a bull who lives there.
The good news is that if you find post-rut bachelor bulls, those are historical areas they will use year after year. I don’t mind sharing my locations for rutting bulls, but my lips are sealed if you ask me for those hard-found late season locations. The investment to find those spots is significant, but the returns are well worth the effort made.
I know this sounds too simple. Elk are not spread evenly across the landscape at all times. Rather, they are congregated based on what their biological needs are. That’s why biologists are usually really good elk hunters.
If you remember one paragraph, let it be this – To tag an elk, you need to find them. To find them, you need to understand their needs and how those needs drive their locations at different times. Don’t waste time where the elk aren’t; hard to tag one that isn’t there. Make that the core of your system for finding elk.
In the next blog, we’ll talk about how hunting pressure affects the location of bulls. And, how you can use that to your advantage.