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Trophy Elk Unit Scouting Question
I drew one of the "Big 3" trophy unit tags this year after a 21 year wait. I'm retired and have ample opportunity to scout from now until the season opens. As much as I want to get up there and start watching elk immediately, I'm thinking it would be mostly wasted time, since their patterns are likely to change by September, but I'm not sure.
For those of you who have been lucky enough to hunt one of these units, how useful was your mid-summer scouting? Did you find that patterns changed significantly over the course of the summer? I'm inclined to focus my efforts on getting in shape thru July, then scout most of August. What say you?
You are retired, Go! Take your fishing pole. Set up trail cams, get your access points down. Hike for the excercise, elk are heavy!
When I drew 10, I think I saw 50 bulls in one day. Worth the trip!
What else are you going to do? Cut the grass? Catch a virus at the stores?
No scouting time is wasted if you have it. You can get an idea of the lay of the land and access, as well as elk sign that is around. While elk may be in different areas during the season, you can gage the amount of sign in areas. Elk make a lot of sign where they hang out, and you can find areas that have a lot of sign, even of it's older sign (ie: from the fall???). Also, in those areas especially, water is key. Only one way to find out if there actually is water in a place as indicated on a map - go there! August scouting is a great idea. Good luck!
Steve, I hear you, but I have plenty of hobbies to keep me busy and active until August. Rowing my drift boat down rivers, and using my e-bike to shuttle vehicles, is one of them.
I already know the unit pretty well, but I suppose there's always more to learn. I'm not a fan of trail cameras, as they always seemed a bit like cheating, to me, so I probably won't use them.
More than anything, I was just wondering how different the mid-summer patterns are compared to Sept. I have a friend who hunted the unit last year. One of his most promising mid-summer hot spots was a water hole that the elk were hitting every day. By the time the season started the water hole had dried up, and the elk were no longer in the area.
We cammed all summer and the bulls definitely changed patterns as waterholes dried up and vegetation changed throughout the summer. The bulls we ended up hunting were never captured on the cams we had up. The two we shot, we had never seen before until just few minutes before we killed them. The other three candidates were found while glassing. As the season got closer, human activity in the area seemed to pick up and many of the bulls started watering in the night.
Its fun to run cameras, but from our experience, the best "scouting" will happen when it's time to hunt.
The best maps are the BLM maps. They show springs that other maps do not. Bulls will be hanging out within a mile or two of the springs, and will easily travel over a mile in the afternoons to drink.
If I were doing it again, I'd spend more time figuring out how to quickly and efficiently get from point A to point B, because you may have a short time to ambush them before they get into the PJs to bed. Once in there, it's pretty much over.
I recall that about your hunt, Lou. You both killed monsters that you'd never seen during extensive scouting. You also reiterated what I learned long ago about these units...it's all about the water.
Knowing myself, I probably won't be able to resist the urge to get up there soon. I'm just not sure how useful that time will be in the grand scheme. If anything, I should be able to pattern the other hunters as much as the elk.
All good advice here. No time is wasted. The more thoroughly you know the unit the better you will be able to react and make plans during your hunt. The BLM maps are very useful, but I would definitely get the National Geographic map as well. I used them both a lot. Scouting is as good a way to work on fitness as any other because you'll be walking the same terrain you'll be hunting and learning how to get from point A to point B while your exercising. I had almost no issues with other hunters on my hunt. This was due to two things. There are not a lot of tags in those units and I learned so many places that I always had choices. You won't believe how many elk are in that unit.
Good points, Jim.
Do the BLM and Nat Geo maps contain more info than the various layers on the OnX Hunt app? I think I have the BLM map laying around here somewhere, but my printed maps haven't gotten much use since I discovered OnX.
The biggest value I found with the BLM map was showing the specific springs. I havent had OnX so cant say for sure what they show
Lou, what I like about OnX is the base layer is a high resolution satellite image that they keep fairly current updates on. It may even be Google Earth licensed images, dunno, they look identical to me. If you know what to look for terrain and vegetation-wise, you can see almost every water source, right down to the game trails to and from them. Then you can "layer" various other maps over that image that will show things like private/public land boundaries, landowner names, topos etc.... And, it has the usual navigation features found on regular GPS units, like tracking and waypoints. It's the best $29 I spend each year. It's made my GPS and printed maps mostly obsolete.
OnX isn't great at showing springs. The BLM maps are better. You can also call the hydrologist at the BLM office closest to the unit, if you get a good guy sometimes they have some good programs to show springs it has worked well for me in Wyoming.
When I had unit 2 tag, BLM maps I found very handy when developing scouting and hunting strategy. Just easier, to me, to see the lay of lands, water, etc. And to mark it up for reminders of things I wanted to keep at the fore in my scheming.
And then i make marks in Onx as well while scouting from home and in the field.
All I can offer is the time spent in June and July will add substantially to your great memories of what you got out of a 20+ year wait...in addition to sage advise on value of early scouting to ensure you have everything and access locked in. Take some long azz hikes to see into remote canyons etc. and learn how to get into cool spots while you have all the time in the world without pressure of tag in pocket.
Here's a screen shot of OnX from my phone from where I sit typing this. As you can see, my duckweed covered pond is very visible, as well as the horse and deer trails leading to it. I can tell from the lack of clutter sitting around my house that it's a reasonably recent image, since I recently purged a bunch of that crap. I also have 4 springs on my place that are fairly obvious to locate on OnX based on vegetation and terrain.
Now I'm curious if my springs show up on the BLM maps.
Some of the best springs that bulls love are tucked under junipers in canyons, and may only be the size of a big bathtub. They much prefer those in daylight than open ponds. Also some are developed springs into watertanks that the BLM maps have marked.
Matt, I also used OnX a lot, mostly so I knew where private boundaries were. I still prefer a paper map when looking at a large area. I have a hard time with distances and perspective with digital maps because the scale is constantly changing as you zoom in and out. Both paper and digital are very useful and you should have everything in your arsenal. I also think KHunter's advice that scouting will enhance your total experience is sound. You don't want to get to the end of your hunt and wish you had prepared more. If you check an obscure area while scouting it could turn into a honey hole for you, if it's a bust you've gotten a work out and can check it off the list. It's hard to have that approach once the season starts.
You can't learn an entire unit, but the more roads, hikes, access points, and glassing spots you learn, the more options you will have during your hunt.
Good points, Brun. I took a flyer on an obscure area, found a little waterhole, and we both killed our bulls there.
OK, you guys convinced me. I'll be visiting the BLM office tomorrow to pick up the correct map for the area. I didn't have that one in my arsenal. Then I'll probably pack up some camping gear, my optics, and my e-bike, and make a trip up there in the next 2 weeks. I'm really looking forward to scouting on the e-bike. I think it will be the perfect combination of stealthy transportation and physical exercise.
Speaking of optics, can any of you recommend a quality smart phone holder that will work with my iPhone 11 and Swaro spotter? I want to take some good pics and videos thru my spotter with my phone.
Good idea on the ebike. In 2 they were definitely keyed in to the sound of ATVs and went on high alert. If the ATV stopped, they moved off.
I've seen it up there, Lou. Dozens of times. Guys who think their ATV's don't alert elk from miles away are fooling themselves. Even the sound of regular vehicles doesn't alarm them as much.
Have used the phone skope and I picked up an adjustable phone holder last year at cabelas. The phone skope is easier to use. Just look them up on line.
+2 on the Ebike! Those elk really move away from the side by sides and 4 wheelers.
Look into flying the unit. You will learn more in an hour than you will all year. Look up the small airports around there (vernal, meeker, or Rangely) and call them to see if someone needs flight time or is willing to make a fly over. Better than google earth by far! Take your gps and mark interesting places as you fly over then come back and figure out how to get there.
Looking forward to seeing you get a bull of a lifetime!
phone skope is fool proof, expensive, and did I say fool proof. Use one constantly. With iphone and swaro spotter.
Just ordered the Phone Skope. Thanks for the recommendation.
Grey Ghost's Link
Whenever I scout a new area, I make sure I check the time it takes me to hike/bike to Spot A and then to Spot B and so on. Then, when hunting, if I need to change locations, I'll know if I have enough time to get there.
Good idea, Cnelk.
That's another nice thing about OnX, the tracking feature gives you the elapsed time, distance, and average speed of each trip.
GG, I"ve been using Onx for years and have trails saved but don't seem to have distance and time saved, just the track. Am I missing something?? When doing a track, I see the time and distance, but not when I pull it up later. But then..... the length of time probably changes cuz I'm getting older every year! Hopefully the distance stays the same, that only gets longer when you tell a story!
Matt, I’m green with envy. You’re going to have one hell of an adventure! It sounds like you’re going to get your money’s worth out of the tag. It would be fun to see a semi live hunt recap with lots of pictures and stories starting with your scouting and ending with the end of the hunt.
Can I just say I laughed a little when in one breath you talked about using your electric bike, and then in the next you said you don’t use cameras because they feel like cheating? I can’t be the only one that saw the irony in that statement! ;)
Yeah, I guess we all draw our own lines with respect to hunting aids. I suppose I could ride a horse and buggy up to the unit, sleep in a cave, and try to kill my elk with a hand-made spear, too. But that seems like a lot of work. ;-)
I don't begrudge anyone who uses trail cameras, they just aren't my thing. I think seeing about a dozen cameras posted around a popular water hole up there had something to do with my negative attitude towards them.
Whocares, all the tracking data should save to the "My Contents" menu. You can also take a screen shot of your trip, with all the data included, then save that to your photos file.
I've only scratched the surface of everything OnX does, but I expect to be proficient with it by the time this hunt rolls around.
Hey Mat, I drew the corner also. I pm'd you! Dennis Howell
I know that water will be the key. Northwest did not get much mostiture this winter and its already dry.
It's funny what a difference a few months makes with respect to weather and moisture. Back in Jan-Feb we were all talking about the record snow falls, how the runoff was going to last for months, and how there should be plenty of lush green morsels for the animals to munch on. Now we're talking about droughts, fires, and animals congregating around the tiniest of mud holes for water.
If I've learned anything, it's that you can't do anything about the weather. The elk will be up there adapting to whatever Mother Nature throws at them, and so will I, with the good Lord willing.
Well, you guys were right, there is no wasted scouting time. I just spent the last 2 days, burning 2 tanks of fuel, and familiarizing myself with the unit. Based on my research, and conversations with friends who have hunted the unit, I had about a dozen spots to locate and determine the access to, which I accomplished.
I got up there the first evening at around 6PM. The very first spot I stopped to glass was a couple of water holes that were only about a mile from the road. Immediately I spotted 2 bulls feeding in the junipers nearby, slowly making their way to one of the water holes. I checked a couple of the spots that were nearby, them came back to that spot and set up my make-shift camp for the evening. It turned out to be 7 bulls that watered at that hole. The biggest was shaping up to be probably a 320-ish. I fell asleep at dark with my binoculars in hand watching those bulls.
The next morning, I was up early, made Starbucks instant coffee, and was on the road before shooting light to scout as many spots as I could get to. I had seen over 100 elk by 6:30 AM that morning. The majority were on private, but there were enough on public to get me excited. It was hot, so the animals were all bedded up by around 9 AM, so I didn't see many more elk until later that evening.
All in all, it was a very productive scout. I located all the spots I had previously noted, and even found a few others that look promising. I saw a total of around 150 elk, including a handful of bulls that would tempt all but the pickiest of trophy hunters. I didn't see any that made my jaw drop, but I have no doubt they are up there.
My plan is to do another similar trip in the near future to cover the other 25-30% of the unit that I didn't see on this trip. Then I'll narrow the spots down to a short list that I will focus on as the season nears.
P.S. My phone scope didn't arrive before I left, so I didn't take any animal pics, Sorry. I'll try to shoot a few next time.
Gonna blow the lid off that unit...
Will bump out 201 as the unit requiring the most points before we know it...
That’s OK, CPw will increase cow tags in there till you have to spend two weeks in there to find an elk. Any elk...
OK guys, after a private conversation with another member, who alerted me to the problems that coelker (Rob) had from sharing too much information on his trophy unit hunt last year, I've decided to end my documentation of my hunt. Regrettably, there seems to be no end to the extent that some hunters will go to kill a monster bull. That's sad, but I guess it's a product of the "look at me" society we live in.
I appreciate all the sage advice that you guys have given me on scouting. And I will try to post an after-season recap of my hunt. Until then, I'm going in silent mode on social media with respect to my scouting and hunting efforts. I'm sure most of you understand.
Stay safe and healthy,
I understand. Was looking forward to your posts, but I get it.