August 29, 2012
All you elk hunters out there are no doubt rearing to go, spending every spare moment and weekend investing in preseason scouting. But is what you learn well ahead of season really that valuable?
If the object is to better understand new country, find out where trails or logging roads lead, walk out desolate ridges never explored, assess water or feed in an area, see where cattle are being pastured, the answer's definitely yes. Knowing your elk country and how current conditions might influence movement is always a boon. Remember, too, just because elk were found in a particular area last year's no guarantee they'll be there this year.
Knowing there's a saddle over yonder can help you cut off traveling elk you're circling to accommodate wind. Knowing a waterhole's dried up allows you to spend time elsewhere once the season begins. Discovering an ATV trail previously unknown to you can help get you into a piece of country and the action faster. You can never know the lay of the land well enough when running-and-gunning elk — and poring over maps seldom gives you the complete picture.
The problem with hanging hopes on scouting conducted well before season — even a week before opener — is elk are highly mobile and things generally change in a hurry once festivities begin. This is especially true of bulls discovered before season — particularly in places where they're easily observed by others (meadows, farm fields and clear-cuts). Hunting pressure's mostly responsible. A group of bachelor bulls observed regularly during summer months on a lush meadow might seem a bonanza, but the smallest amount of hunting pressure will certainly scatter them to the winds.
Even in an area where hunting pressure's light — wilderness areas, private ground or sites otherwise proving difficult to access — remember most archery-elk season openers (September 1 nearly universal, give or take a week) also coincide with natural transition periods. Even without hunting pressure, bulls observed during late summer months soon disperse as the breeding urge grows stronger.
Ideally (especially when confident hunting pressure won't alter a situation), concentrate on locating large cow groups while scouting. Seeing big bulls is awesome, but rest assured they won't stick around long. Where there are undisturbed cows, bulls will soon follow when rutting activities kick off.
This is sound even in harder-hunted areas, locating cow concentrations, but then using your knowledge of surrounding countryside to form educated guesses as to where hunting pressure will shove them. Anticipating how hunting pressure — where it will arrive from most of all — is savvy elk hunting. A piece of ground completely vacant one weekend can transform into a hotspot as hunting pressure redistributes elk about a landscape — another reason preseason scouting sometimes proves deceiving, coaxing you to ignore otherwise productive ground.
If an area's completely new to you, preseason scouting's highly important for reasons already stated. If you're well acquainted with your elk ground, you might just be better off saving your energy for season opener€¦