Scouting for Elk with HuntStand Pro

Draw that long-awaited elk tag? Ready to make the most of an OTC adventure? Scouting for elk with HuntStand Pro will get you started down the right path to elk-season success

by Mark Kayser

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

By now you likely have received the good news. Did you draw that elk tag or not? For those of you with “SUCCESSFUL” proudly displayed on a state wildlife agency e-mail, set aside the yardwork and begin scouting for your upcoming hunt with help from the many-featured HuntStand Pro upgrade. Begin right now you say? Yes, e-scouting before your hunt—as soon as you can begin—is that important. But know that HuntStand Pro makes it easy. Here’s how.

Pinpoint The Basics: Start With Food

Elk live simplistically. They do not require Wi-Fi, Grubhub or electric scooters in their lifestyle. They require the basics: Food, water and shelter. Pinpoint these three requirements and you have the start to your elk scouting. Look at food first, since it could be the single-best element to help you zero-in on elk in a seemingly endless landscape. Although elk do browse like deer and moose, they are primarily grazers. Think of them as cows to help you look for grazing opportunities.

Bull elk bachelor herd

Nothing gets you amped for elk season like the sight of velvet bachelor bulls.

Elk are big—400 to more than 800 pounds in weight for adults—and that means they need lots of grass, especially for a herd. Search for openings, parks, meadows and nearby agricultural offerings that could supply the required grass demand. The HuntStand Map Editor gives you a detailed satellite image of your hunting area, but for more help consider the Tree Cover layer to exploit available treeless areas for possible grazing. Looking for grazing options in heavily forested regions fast-tracks you to likely elk hangouts. In many regions, a glance at south slopes also reveals food options.

Traditionally, north slopes exhibit dense cover characterized by dark stands of timber. South slopes often include more openness to allow grass growth, even in more-arid climates. Even clumps of grass on vertical slopes receive elk attention—where elk have the ability to dart quickly back into steep, timbered slopes for escape.

Elk map showing water

Next Up Is Water

Along with a hearty diet of lawn offerings, elk require loads of water, particularly in the early fall and rutting season. They perform like athletes, and without a Gatorade sponsor they must go to the source directly for hydration. It is near impossible to measure an elk’s intake while watching it, but from captive elk research it is assumed they consume 3 to 4 gallons per day. In lush environments that moisture may arrive with vegetation, and in frigid climates they transition to snow instantly.

HuntStand 3D Elk ScreenOf course, in many habitat regions, water is as easy to find as high fuel prices today. Mountains contain a plethora of water sources, and valleys traditionally come fully equipped with a flowing stream or river. That does not mean you should ignore water. An isolated source near a north-slope refuge could see regular use during the rut—or even from a group of bachelor bulls after the rut slows down. Arid environments, rain-shadow terrain and droughts all lead to create limited water availability. In those situations, mark every source and visit for signs of elk use.

Fresh Elk Droppings

Pay attention to all forms of elk sign and keep tabs in HuntStand.

Take A Virtual Flyover

In addition, you may be able to spot water sources simply using the 3D map layer and doing a “virtual flyover” of your hunting area. The Hybrid layer also adds in the names of creeks, rivers, springs and reservoirs. Some of the HuntStand features I jump between while looking for water are the Natural Atlas and the Hybrid layers. The Natural Atlas layer uses blue lettering and markings to signify these various water sources. That delineation, along with topographical overlays, illustrates if the sources are in steep country, rushing off the mountain or in a bowl, captured by terrain.

Marking An Elk Wallow

Identify potential water sources with satellite imagery, but always make sure to ground check them to make sure water is present.

Regardless, mark all water sources and consider a firsthand, boots-on-the-ground visit to confirm if the well is overflowing—or as dry as the Mojave Desert. During the rut pay special attention to pooled water sources, which invite wallowing activity. These small water sources (like the one pictured above) may see regular, repeat visits. I like to spray a dose of any of Wildlife Research Center’s elk scents, to help keep the interest going. Wallows offer an ideal location to spend the midday—and possibly ambush a visiting bull.

Bugling for elk at dawn

Do your homework with HuntStand Pro and you'll have a wide variety of promising hunt areas to check when elk season hits.

Trail Camera on elk Wallow

Using trail cameras on elk travel routes and hotspots, like the wallow shown here, is ideal for determining elk traffic in an area.

Preferred Shelter Areas

Elk shelter in nearly any cover available, and will even park on open slopes. But generally, they prefer a canopy. One of the first places to look is on a north slope—since these typically hold the heaviest, thickest cover. Use the Contour layer to find steep north slopes with benches. Elk utilize the steepness to separate themselves from predators, and bed on the benches where a relatively flat surface exists. Again, locating these hotspots with help from a

Elk bedding site

The author used HuntStand Pro to identify this bench on a steep slope. Within minutes of accessing the site on foot, the he discovered several fresh elk beds.

HuntStand Pro upgrade takes little effort, but boots on the ground are the best determination if the location has elk residents. A great example is the image above; in it, I’m inspecting a promising bench on a steep slope found with HuntStand Pro. Within minutes of accessing the site, I had discovered several fresh elk beds.

HuntStand Contour Layer Elk

The Contour layer (shown above) also makes saddles, ravines and ridges stand out. These all attract elk for travel opportunities. Find a saddle leading to a lush meadow, and it could be the perfect locale to wait in ambush near a north slope.

Tall sagebrush species, mountain mahogany, aspen stands, Gambel oak and a multitude of shrub communities stage throughout elk country. These habitat zones provide security with a nutrition component within. Depending on the vegetation in your hunting unit, you will need to do a thorough “virtual tour” of any or all habitats to decipher where the elk may be living. Remember that a call to a local conservation officer or biologist goes a long way in whittling down elk sanctuaries before reviewing 1 million acres of national forest.

HuntStand Property Info Elk

When you do have an idea of where elk will be spending the most time, use your various HuntStand Pro layers such as the Property Info (shown above) and Natural Atlas (shown below). These two tools help navigate you to remote corners of public land—possibly bordering private ground—where elk may be living in a sanctuary setting. They also illustrate

HuntStand Natural Atlas Elk

any possible trails or roads that provide access. In prairie units, such as eastern Montana, the Tree Cover layer in HuntStand Pro quickly defines the best refuge for elk in a stark environment. In any of these situations, use the tools to identify any habitat that is far from a road—with the prospect of bordering private land.

HuntStand Pro For The Win

To give you an edge in the task of scouting the enormous volume of elk country, you really need to consider an upgrade to HuntStand Pro. The Pro upgrade will not set you back like some other hunting apps, and your scouting efforts will vault forward due to the increased technology at hand. Remember that you need HuntStand Pro for access to the crazy-helpful 3D Mapping tool, and other smart features such as Property Info. This not only illustrates boundaries to ensure you do not trespass, you will also get the edge on elk living near private properties.

Using HuntStand Pro is something I’ve come to depend on each season. Just last September, after choosing a swath of country I believed held elk, I saved a Hunt Area and began adding icons to my map detailing potential elk funnels, bedding areas, watering sources and feed. After a thorough scan of the area using the basic Map Editor, I took a 3D Map tour and discovered a high ridge above a green valley that held promise.

Bull taken with HuntStand Pro

Successful scouting lead to this beautiful public land bull.

Three days later I was on that ridge and aroused a herd bull with a favorite bugle tube. I kept him active until I crept within the herd edge. He worked the perimeter and paused too long at 43 yards—between two ponderosa pines. The G5 Montec I launched from my Prime bow took him at a quartering-away angle. A solid hit. After an arduous few hours of tracking, I came across him in an adjoining coulee. HuntStand Pro’s detailed map layers helped in both the successful ambush and the recovery. I’m happy to report my HuntStand Pro upgrade functions in whitetail or elk country with equal, outstanding performance.



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