3 Keys to Scouting Elk


I spent the last week in Idaho scouting a unit I plan to hunt this fall. The trip was a success. Not only did I find a good number of rubs, I also received advice from locals on September conditions and jumped multiple herds of cows. I will have another blog out within a week describing how I selected the unit and specific areas. For now, here are three things you need to get right to have an effective scouting trip.


There are two places where nobody else will hunt: the spot nobody else is willing to go and the spot everyone else overlooks. Don’t immediately drive to the end of a Forest Service road without examining the topography on either side along the way. There’s a reason some guys shoot animals close to the highway year after year. Though it is easier to predict the areas in which nobody else wants to hike, it may be more rewarding to locate a couple places you may think get overlooked. If there is a long stretch of road on the way to the trailhead with ridges on either side, check for water drainages on the other side, it may be a sanctuary for a trophy.

Hike up High

When I first get to an area I like to hike up high on a ridge to develop a mental picture. While topos provide useful insights on benches and saddles, nothing compares to seeing the land in person. Once you find this spot, you can determine whether glassing will be effective during the season. Viewing the land will help if I am to get lost, and at times I see washes and gullies that look much more promising in person than on Google Maps. Lastly, don’t overlook snow covered drainages. Though you can’t currently scout them, the snow will melt in the summer, and they will be the coolest spots come September.


Finding elk in May doesn’t mean they will be there in September. Think of elk as an old high school girlfriend that you would like to think will hang out in the same dumpy town and wait for you to return for two weeks out of the year. Unfortunately, they almost never do. In either case they are probably going to head for greener pastures and by the time you return will have a plethora of bugling bulls surrounding them. Without a doubt it’s better to find cows than bulls, as bulls are either in bachelor groups or flying solo in the spring. When the rut kicks off the bulls will come out of hiding to find the cows. However, snow melt during the summer will lead to greater vegetation on the tops, and the hotter temps will likely cause the cows to head for higher ground.

Talking with someone in the area about what elevation they find elk at can be helpful. But, beware this can vary widely from range to range. I hunted elk at 8500 last year in Colorado, but my friend hunting Idaho found 6500 to be the magic number for them. This week I was able to find rubs that proved bull elk had rutted there in years past. During the season I will repeatedly check if the sap has been rubbed off. Once the sap is gone, I’ll know there is an active bull in the area. Different bulls prefer different ridge lines , but if you mark each rub on your GPS and check them regularly, you are bound to stumble upon elk eventually.

Best of luck finding elk,


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