Scouting for Elk in Colorado
Much of the elk hunting literature is just too general. It is written to cover the entire United States. However, there are several subspecies elk which live in different environments and under markedly varying human- changed living conditions. The human influences change seasonally with ranching, recreation, and several hunting seasons. Consider whether you would hunt white tail deer in Texas scrub land the same as in a Vermont forest. You should not expect to hunt elk in a wilderness where elk rarely see people in the summer the same as on a working Wyoming ranch where elk become accustomed to horse riders and activity? Animal studies disclose that mechanized hunting affects elk movement far from disturbances. Ignoring the hunting environment in published articles is paramont to setting eager hunters off on a wild goose chase. The following discussions supplement the elk scouting section in my book. Big Bull Lair Found While Scouting (2014) Everybody wants to luck into a big Bull, but few want to do arduous, time-consuming scouting. I green, first growth grass to more dry, fibrous second-growth grass. The branches the bull raked from the scrape tree had hardened, butfound an excellent site this year largely by using my nose. It was not hard to identify where the bull had been, nor why he was there. The location was NEAR the top of a large broad funnel-shaped eastern facing slope void of trees. From there the the bull to see bear and lion predators who may have followed his scent trail up the survival instinct-made diagonal elk path up the hill (called a "J” turn maneuver). The branches the bull raked from the scrape tree had hardened, Any rogue elk bulls trying to cut out cows could be immediately seen by the master bull. The location gave the herd bull the advantage of charging down slope and conserving energy for any fight. The high observation post also permitted the bull to see bear and lion predators who may have followed him up the survival instinct-made diagonal elk path up the hill (called a "J- Path). Big Daddy's Scrape. The location of the scrape tree was ideal. It was located on one side of a bench overlooking not only the down slope, but also along an upper bench grazing and bedding area for the herd cows he wished to monitor. The scrape's five clumped trees gave the bull shade for cool lingering. Shade is critical to a bull. Because bulls have a greater body mass, it is harder for them than cows to keep cool. The trees also gave cover from predators. Elk Treats.Have you ever noticed in hospitals the food tends to be salty? Remember the doctors advising you to drink lots of water when sick? A herd bull spends a lot of energy taking care of the cows that choose him, and running off interloper bulls. He sweats much, and this eliminates water and salt from his body. He needs to replenish both. Fifty feet from the scape/stand trees was a recently well used sheep herder salt lick. What a nice place to wait out the day, get a few salt licks now and then, cuddle with a cow in estrus, spar with the boys if necessary, and see his cow bevy also come to his claimed salt lick. Sort of like an iced beer cooler on a tailgate on a football Sunday! There are substitutes for wet meadow wallows. In friable dirt just a few yards from the salt lick was a bull urine pit. Bulls like to "scent mark" themselves so all of creation to identify themsel and mark their territory against intruders. They usually dig new wallows in marshes with their antlers to urinate in and then roll in, or use old wallows left from previous years. However, where there is insufficient water they urinate in the same place. Soon the soil is soft and urine-saturated. The bull then stomps in it and mish- mashes the mud like an ancient brick maker. The first urine pit photo shows the pit at this location with large bull elk hoof prints. The second photo is a urine pit on a Wyoming mountain where the lack of water makes wallowing unfeasible without using the urine pit technique. The urine pit was dead-ugly rank! At least 100 times more offensive than a clogged urinal at the worst truck stop. I smelled it perhaps 500- 700 down-wind yards away and "nosed in" on the site. I have no doubt keen smelling elk could smell it a mile away. I absentmindedly placed my backpack near the pit for photo scale and could smell the odor for several days. Why do I learn so slowly!? When Was the Bull at the Scrape? Many well-formed "pit and cone" fecal pellets littered the ground around the scrape tree. (My observation is that elk do not usually defecate immediately in their beds.) This pellet type forms late in the summer when elk transition from tender, green, first growth grass to more dry, fibrous second-growth grass. The branches the bull raked from the scrape tree had hardened, but still had pliable pitch, and their needles were green but beginning to yellow. The tree scars were still slightly bleeding pitch. All these clues indicated the bull had been here two to three weeks ago, but generally healing pitch indicated recent disuse. Was this a Scrape and Monitoring Station of a Herd Bull? I think so. The bull-raked tree branches were from a good seven feet above the ground. I picked up a handfull of scat. They were hollow and the whole handful did not weigh anything. They were unweathered and like styrofoam balls. Obviously, this bull was in the exhausting part of the rut and in the non-eating mode. He was trying to exist on a few morsels of bad grass and water. He was basically excreting gas-filled fecal shells. However, cow pellets from the area were of typical density. I had no doubt this was a large, dominant bull's lair. A Trailside Wonder: The stack of droppings suggests a very constipated bull who was probably exhausted after defending his harem during the rut. (Why didn’t the stack tip over when it landed? Another wonder of nature, trajectory, and physics.) Did I hunt the location? I hunted this immediate area only one morning looking for a straggler cow. One important aspect of game scouting is to monitor the kills made by others. When I arrived for the second season, I heard that an outfitter client had killed a bull in the far side of the topographic funnel during the first season. No mention was made of the elk rack size, a give away that the bull had been somewhat mediocre. It certainly was not the large herd animal I expected from scouting. It must have been a smaller bachelor bull that lingered in the area after the main herd left. I deduced the bachelor bull would not have moved into the harem bull's area if the dominant bull was still there. I figured it was better to hunt elsewhere. Conclusion: So what happened this year to the herd bull and almost all of the elk we would normally encounter? his summer was very warm and had frequent rains, especially in the early (high country) fall period of August. Even by the second, late October, hunting season the weather was the warmest I've experienced in 42 years hunting this area. Some nights the ground did not frost, and never before did it actually rain at night. Although there were typical brief day sleet and snow showers, many days were shirt sleeve balmy. There was water everywhere, so elk had no reason to wander in search of it. The rut was probably early in this area. There were signs of a few single and cow-calve paired elk still present, but no signs of recently herded animals. My deduction was that the elk were agitated by the heat to the point that a few archers and muzzle loaders (and a sheep herd) triggered them to move during early seasons. The elk returned back into the back country where deep timber offered cool bedding and protection. The big fellow was smart (and he himself rut and heat beat) enough to take his harem back to elk black timber heaven. Lots of Grass, But Why No Elk? Some grassy fields look like prime elk habitat, but are not. Dense waist-high grass like this would seem to be an ideal elk forage location and a great place to hunt, but it is not. Close examination of the grass revealed that it is second growth grass. The grass tussocks were chewed close to the ground in the spring when the elk first migrated to high pastures. This is an eastern-facing steep slope where the sun would have first melted the snow and made new tender grass grow. The elk left this area and headed to the high back country for the summer. The second growth of grass thrived in the late summer rainy period. While the elk may have returned to the area with fall snows, they are not going to eat this seemingly luxurious fodder. It grew fast, is coarse and is low in nutrients. It is a last resort winter meal. Of Salt and an Obviously Hasty Retreat: We were camped south of Wood’s Landing in northern Colorado. Each night a group of cattle would stop at an elk hunter’s old campsite and ravage the fire pit. With a lot of head butting competition they eventually licked the site clean of ashes and charcoal. Then the cattle headed down slope to a spring to satiate their salty mouths. I’ll report anyone who baits game with salt. It is illegal and not “fair chase” ethical. However, I do recommend hunters become aware of all game activities and movement habits by paying attention to natural favored foods and nutrients. I check hunter camps while backpacking in the summer. I pick up any overlooked trash that may have been snow covered when the hunters left. While doing that, I’ve noticed that fire pits often don’t last more than a couple of years before stones are rolled apart and the ashes scattered. You can see an game-eaten hole where the noodle water was dumped. Buried trash is exhumed and scattered (that is why you should always carry out all rubbish). Like the cattle, game seeks mineral nutrients. Food scraps dumped in the fire leaves salts. Check fire pits for game activity when scouting. Try to determine which way the animals travel in the immediate area and make notes for the next hunting season. I surmise the elk hunter’s camp described above was sloppy. The hunters must have been fire-reckless and inattentive. It appeared that a fairly large forest fire started when the fire escaped the fire ring. The dudes must have made rapid retreat to avoid detection; they left things - including a lovingly made fancy latrine, tow straps and some tools. Scout Slowly: Elk can be hard to see if the wind is in your face and the elk are lounging midday. It would be easy to overlook these two fellows with a too quick binocular scan. Scout Elk as if You Were Looking for Ghosts I call elk the ghosts of the forests. You don't think they are present, then all of a sudden they silently, mystically appear. These photos illustrate how easily two bull elk can hide and then appear. They could be overlooked by a swiftly moving hunter scout as they lay midday in their wallows. Some highlights of my stay made my scouting and high altitude acclimation days happy. Two very discouraged young lads asked me where to hunt. I told them to be down to buck creek at 4 PM where a thicket of alder crosses the stream. Any remaining bulls would creep out of timber-hiding to water early in the hot weather. I was hosting a sheep wagon dinner for two veterans (one hunts on a tracked wheel chair) when there was a rapping on the widow. A very be-spattered, grinning lad said “Thank you, thank you! I was there later than you said to be. I saw that a hunter beat me, since there was a horse tied in the willows. Then it moved and some of the branches moved with it head. Thanks for the 5X5 – my first elk!” It could not get better for me to hear his enthusiastic thanks. [The young fellow will probably grow old there for the next twenty years of 4PMs.] Scout for Elk While Hunting Bear "With" Sheep Herders Bear and mountain lions are multiplying in the Flat Tops and other areas around the United States. You may want to consider scout for elk in the early fall with a bear license in hand. Ask locals about predator situations. They are often bothered by bear and are helpful in pointing out rouges. An excellent and commonly overlooked helpful bear information source is the person who makes a living all summer - the sheep herder. All summer he moves sheep through their assigned National Forest Pastures. Every day he intently watches his sheep. He is one of the few people who stand guard at first dawn and late twilight when predators are most active. Herders come to know the animal "pulses" in the wilderness. They witness the game movements over the summer as the rut develops and bears enter their hyper feeding activities. A polite inquiry may result in phenomenal hunting tips. Be patient and reserved in your approach. Keep in mind, herders are by nature quiet and many speak only limited English) September bow hunters should not overlook this combined scouting and hunting opportunity .AND HEY, think ahead about something to offer the herder in exchange for conversation. Beer an booze won't do it, since they do not or are not allowed to drink. Some fresh bread, vegetables or a flat of danish buns are more like it. Don't expect something for nothing. In life, "what goes around, should also come around"! Don't abruptly and directly approach a herder while he is attending his flock. Wave to him to get his attention, and hand signal him that you want to talk. This decorum will allow him to call off his guard dogs, or have him come toward you. The last thing a herder needs or appreciates is a scattered herd. Most herders have large guard dogs to warn of and chase off predators. Never go near a sheep herd when hiking with your dog! Entering a herd area can make you and your dog defense targets. Herders are charged with defending their sheep, and they are authorized to kill perceived threats to the sheep. In September a herder in my hunting area was forced to shoot three bears in just two days. If you know (ask/seek) a sheep rancher, ask him if he has bear problems and whether you could shadow the herd bear hunting the next year. He might appreciate you helping guard his herd a few day and arrange for the herder to work with you by giving up-to-the- minute bear information. Enjoy Scouting and Involve The Family in Exploring The Back County: Middle to late summer is a great time to combine backpacking or camping with family scouting. Challenge the children to explore and observe the outdoors. Make the most of the campfire nights with story telling, singling an remembering other outings. Increase the curiosity by bringing some trail-sized illustrated pocket references for animals, birds, astronomy and plants.
© 2019 Copyright by P. K. H. Groth, Denver, Colorado, USA All rights reserved - See contact page
Early fall is the ideal time to do final scouting. The Colorado high country is ablaze in nature’s glory. Get out and enjoy the crisp but still warm days! Live the wild!
Scouting for Elk in Colorado
Much of the elk hunting literature is just too general. It is written to cover the entire United States. However, there are several subspecies elk which live in different environments and under markedly varying human-changed living conditions. The human influences change seasonally with ranching, recreation, and several hunting seasons. Consider whether you would hunt white tail deer in Texas scrub land the same as in a Vermont forest. You should not expect to hunt elk in a wilderness where elk rarely see people in the summer the same as on a working Wyoming ranch where elk become accustomed to horse riders and activity? Animal studies disclose that mechanized hunting affects elk movement far from disturbances. Ignoring the hunting environment in published articles is paramont to setting eager hunters off on a wild goose chase. The following discussions supplement the elk scouting section in my book. Big Bull Lair Found While Scouting (2014) Everybody wants to luck into a big Bull, but few want to do arduous, time-consuming scouting. I green, first growth grass to more dry, fibrous second-growth grass. The branches the bull raked from the scrape tree had hardened, butfound an excellent site this year largely by using my nose. It was not hard to identify where the bull had been, nor why he was there. The location was NEAR the top of a large broad funnel-shaped eastern facing slope void of trees. From there the the bull to see bear and lion predators who may have followed his scent trail up the survival instinct-made diagonal elk path up the hill (called a "J” turn maneuver). The branches the bull raked from the scrape tree had hardened, Any rogue elk bulls trying to cut out cows could be immediately seen by the master bull. The location gave the herd bull the advantage of charging down slope and conserving energy for any fight. The high observation post also permitted the bull to see bear and lion predators who may have followed him up the survival instinct- made diagonal elk path up the hill (called a "J-Path). Big Daddy's Scrape. The location of the scrape tree was ideal. It was located on one side of a bench overlooking not only the down slope, but also along an upper bench grazing and bedding area for the herd cows he wished to monitor. The scrape's five clumped trees gave the bull shade for cool lingering. Shade is critical to a bull. Because bulls have a greater body mass, it is harder for them than cows to keep cool. The trees also gave cover from predators. Elk Treats.Have you ever noticed in hospitals the food tends to be salty? Remember the doctors advising you to drink lots of water when sick? A herd bull spends a lot of energy taking care of the cows that choose him, and running off interloper bulls. He sweats much, and this eliminates water and salt from his body. He needs to replenish both. Fifty feet from the scape/stand trees was a recently well used sheep herder salt lick. What a nice place to wait out the day, get a few salt licks now and then, cuddle with a cow in estrus, spar with the boys if necessary, and see his cow bevy also come to his claimed salt lick. Sort of like an iced beer cooler on a tailgate on a football Sunday! There are substitutes for wet meadow wallows. In friable dirt just a few yards from the salt lick was a bull urine pit. Bulls like to "scent mark" themselves so all of creation to identify themsel and mark their territory against intruders. They usually dig new wallows in marshes with their antlers to urinate in and then roll in, or use old wallows left from previous years. However, where there is insufficient water they urinate in the same place. Soon the soil is soft and urine-saturated. The bull then stomps in it and mish-mashes the mud like an ancient brick maker. The first urine pit photo shows the pit at this location with large bull elk hoof prints. The second photo is a urine pit on a Wyoming mountain where the lack of water makes wallowing unfeasible without using the urine pit technique. The urine pit was dead-ugly rank! At least 100 times more offensive than a clogged urinal at the worst truck stop. I smelled it perhaps 500-700 down-wind yards away and "nosed in" on the site. I have no doubt keen smelling elk could smell it a mile away. I absentmindedly placed my backpack near the pit for photo scale and could smell the odor for several days. Why do I learn so slowly!? When Was the Bull at the Scrape? Many well- formed "pit and cone" fecal pellets littered the ground around the scrape tree. (My observation is that elk do not usually defecate immediately in their beds.) This pellet type forms late in the summer when elk transition from tender, green, first growth grass to more dry, fibrous second- growth grass. The branches the bull raked from the scrape tree had hardened, but still had pliable pitch, and their needles were green but beginning to yellow. The tree scars were still slightly bleeding pitch. All these clues indicated the bull had been here two to three weeks ago, but generally healing pitch indicated recent disuse. Was this a Scrape and Monitoring Station of a Herd Bull? I think so. The bull-raked tree branches were from a good seven feet above the ground. I picked up a handfull of scat. They were hollow and the whole handful did not weigh anything. They were unweathered and like styrofoam balls. Obviously, this bull was in the exhausting part of the rut and in the non-eating mode. He was trying to exist on a few morsels of bad grass and water. He was basically excreting gas-filled fecal shells. However, cow pellets from the area were of typical density. I had no doubt this was a large, dominant bull's lair. A Trailside Wonder: The stack of droppings suggests a very constipated bull who was probably exhausted after defending his harem during the rut. (Why didn’t the stack tip over when it landed? Another wonder of nature, trajectory, and physics.) Did I hunt the location? I hunted this immediate area only one morning looking for a straggler cow. One important aspect of game scouting is to monitor the kills made by others. When I arrived for the second season, I heard that an outfitter client had killed a bull in the far side of the topographic funnel during the first season. No mention was made of the elk rack size, a give away that the bull had been somewhat mediocre. It certainly was not the large herd animal I expected from scouting. It must have been a smaller bachelor bull that lingered in the area after the main herd left. I deduced the bachelor bull would not have moved into the harem bull's area if the dominant bull was still there. I figured it was better to hunt elsewhere. Conclusion: So what happened this year to the herd bull and almost all of the elk we would normally encounter? his summer was very warm and had frequent rains, especially in the early (high country) fall period of August. Even by the second, late October, hunting season the weather was the warmest I've experienced in 42 years hunting this area. Some nights the ground did not frost, and never before did it actually rain at night. Although there were typical brief day sleet and snow showers, many days were shirt sleeve balmy. There was water everywhere, so elk had no reason to wander in search of it. The rut was probably early in this area. There were signs of a few single and cow-calve paired elk still present, but no signs of recently herded animals. My deduction was that the elk were agitated by the heat to the point that a few archers and muzzle loaders (and a sheep herd) triggered them to move during early seasons. The elk returned back into the back country where deep timber offered cool bedding and protection. The big fellow was smart (and he himself rut and heat beat) enough to take his harem back to elk black timber heaven. Lots of Grass, But Why No Elk? Some grassy fields look like prime elk habitat, but are not. Dense waist-high grass like this would seem to be an ideal elk forage location and a great place to hunt, but it is not. Close examination of the grass revealed that it is second growth grass. The grass tussocks were chewed close to the ground in the spring when the elk first migrated to high pastures. This is an eastern-facing steep slope where the sun would have first melted the snow and made new tender grass grow. The elk left this area and headed to the high back country for the summer. The second growth of grass thrived in the late summer rainy period. While the elk may have returned to the area with fall snows, they are not going to eat this seemingly luxurious fodder. It grew fast, is coarse and is low in nutrients. It is a last resort winter meal. Of Salt and an Obviously Hasty Retreat: We were camped south of Wood’s Landing in northern Colorado. Each night a group of cattle would stop at an elk hunter’s old campsite and ravage the fire pit. With a lot of head butting competition they eventually licked the site clean of ashes and charcoal. Then the cattle headed down slope to a spring to satiate their salty mouths. I’ll report anyone who baits game with salt. It is illegal and not “fair chase” ethical. However, I do recommend hunters become aware of all game activities and movement habits by paying attention to natural favored foods and nutrients. I check hunter camps while backpacking in the summer. I pick up any overlooked trash that may have been snow covered when the hunters left. While doing that, I’ve noticed that fire pits often don’t last more than a couple of years before stones are rolled apart and the ashes scattered. You can see an game-eaten hole where the noodle water was dumped. Buried trash is exhumed and scattered (that is why you should always carry out all rubbish). Like the cattle, game seeks mineral nutrients. Food scraps dumped in the fire leaves salts. Check fire pits for game activity when scouting. Try to determine which way the animals travel in the immediate area and make notes for the next hunting season. I surmise the elk hunter’s camp described above was sloppy. The hunters must have been fire- reckless and inattentive. It appeared that a fairly large forest fire started when the fire escaped the fire ring. The dudes must have made rapid retreat to avoid detection; they left things - including a lovingly made fancy latrine, tow straps and some tools. Scout Slowly: Elk can be hard to see if the wind is in your face and the elk are lounging midday. It would be easy to overlook these two fellows with a too quick binocular scan. Scout Elk as if You Were Looking for Ghosts I call elk the ghosts of the forests. You don't think they are present, then all of a sudden they silently, mystically appear. These photos illustrate how easily two bull elk can hide and then appear. They could be overlooked by a swiftly moving hunter scout as they lay midday in their wallows. Some highlights of my stay made my scouting and high altitude acclimation days happy. Two very discouraged young lads asked me where to hunt. I told them to be down to buck creek at 4 PM where a thicket of alder crosses the stream. Any remaining bulls would creep out of timber- hiding to water early in the hot weather. I was hosting a sheep wagon dinner for two veterans (one hunts on a tracked wheel chair) when there was a rapping on the widow. A very be-spattered, grinning lad said “Thank you, thank you! I was there later than you said to be. I saw that a hunter beat me, since there was a horse tied in the willows. Then it moved and some of the branches moved with it head. Thanks for the 5X5 – my first elk!” It could not get better for me to hear his
Early fall is the ideal time to do final scouting. The Colorado high country is ablaze in nature’s glory. Get out and enjoy the crisp but still warm days! Live the wild!
© 2016 -2017 Copyright by P. K. H. Groth, Denver, Colorado, USA All rights reserved - See contact page.
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