Early season NM elk strategiesContributors to this thread:
Mike Castillo 25-Jun-20
MT Livin' 25-Jun-20
Unit 9er 28-Jun-20
Mike Castillo 30-Jun-20
From: Mike Castillo
Hey guys, drew a unit 36 early archery tag...will be heading to NM and be there on August 31st, and can hunt through the 13th if necessary. I am looking for your top 2 or 3 strategies to kill a decent bull during the early hunt...spot and stalk, calling, sitting water, etc. I have never been in the unit but all research says there are lots and lots of elk to hunt. Thanks for your help.
From: MT Livin'
Call early, call often ;) they may or may not respond vocally, but they will respond ;)
Since you have not hunted the area, get up early, really early, like 3:00 am and go out and bugle from a couple of places to see where the elk are located. If you can't do that easily, then use GE or get intel from others who have hunted the area. You can kill big bulls the first week, but they will most often come in silent so you kind of have to know elk are in the area. The other watch out is to not burn out too early. It's super hot that time of year and don't try to be a hero and burnout the first few days. We quit by 10am in southern NM as too damn hot and bulls don't move mid day to get water in NM! They hid under juniper trees on west facing slopes in am and jump to easy and north facing slopes by 1pm. NM is a great place to hunt, just get ready for the heat.
They talk, but probably won't respond aggressively. They're hunted hard. I grew up chasing them in 36. As mentioned above, get out early and stay out late. If you're leaving your truck/camp in the dark and returning in the dark, you're doing it right. You can nap, play cards, or whatever during the middle of the day. They're pretty visible in the summer if you can get over there and do some early glassing. Will help you find them in Sep.
Water is by FAR the best strategy. Stay around water sources all day long. WHen you take your mid day break, do it near a water source. Don't believe for a minute NM elk dont hit water mid day. First season is always about the water sources. Don't be fooled.
edit-gave away too much info
I play the call game in the a.m. and have killed every one of my bulls Calling them in. A lot depends on which unit you are in. 36 the elk will be vocal in the mornings at least. As stated above when the bugles go silent I retreat to the nearest wallow . In the unit I hunt most there are intermittent springs and rivers through out but they will hit those wallows . Good luck
Wasting your energy and time sitting on water mid day unless the place you are hunting is in a drought and/or has very, very few select waterholes. Find them in the dark and they will be close by in am and if you don't score in am and you don't spook them, you will have a chance on PM hunts. Good luck.
From: Unit 9er
Have seen many a BIG bull come to water mid day... Waste of time? Depends on the conditions. Last year, we had 75 elk coming to water mid-day, led by an impressive 8X7. Bugle early, locate and still hunt, then get on the thickest nastiest north facing slopes after 9am for those big bulls laying down. They will likely come in silent early and usually hang up out of bow range, all factors you must deal with.
I was in 36 dick’n around August 31st and stumbled upon a bull who already had at least 6 cows. He’d bugle when I raked. Plenty of elk and plenty of competition can lead to early action, or it could be slow... gonna have to play it by ear. Hard to go wrong near water.
Elk will go to water all day and night whenever they feel like a drink. To say they only go to water at certain times is ridiculous. The last bull I killed was 7:30 in the morning when he came in to get a drink. I would call and hunt slow in the morning around water, feeding, or bedding areas. When it gets slow then pick an area with good sign, trail, water, feed, or close to a bedding area and just hang out in the area. When you get bored then move a little ways moving slow and settle in again. If elk are or were in the area and you didn’t spook them earlier, they usually will still be close by. Call and still hunt or run and gun works great in the mornings and evenings. Water, food, sleep are keys to finding and patterning animals. Good luck!
Best thing you can do in that unit is get a horse. 36 is a rough one !!
From: Mike Castillo
Thanks for the great advice guys.
Green with envy. I killed my first elk there (a cow in 92) and both my P & Y bulls. Early season is tough as the bulls there usually don't start cranking up and coming well until around the 13th though I killed my biggest bull on opening day as well as missed a monster who came on a string to a spike whistle at first light on opening morning. Get some distance between you and the road and/or trail before first light and listen. There are plenty of elk there and some nice bulls. I doubt I'll ever get to hunt it again now that I'm a NR, but I guarantee you if I had your tag, I would be there August 30th and I wouldn't leave until my tag was filled or expired as it just gets better with each passing day that time of the year.