It was a typical summer weekend, I had a great morning on the river but as the sun started to peak I traded my fly rod in for my boots and pack, it was time to hit the hills. I headed out to scout a new area I found on the map for elk. As I got closer to where the water hole was on the GPS I could hear elk talking back and fourth as they milled around. There were two smaller bulls still in velvet and about two dozen cows, some bedded some up feeding. In my mind this was the beginning of elk season, early July. This resident elk herd along with others I had found would be my concentration for the rest of the summer and on into the real hunting season. To many hunters summer is often seen as the lull time between seasons but what you do in the summer can have a dramatic impact on your elk hunting success this fall. So many elk hunters today depend on weather to be successful, waiting for storms that may not come to push migrating herds out of the backcountry. One way to bypass this is to target resident elk herds in the summer, learning their patterns so you can be successful in the early part of the fall.
Where to start-
In Montana many of the gated logging roads are open during the summer months allowing you to scout areas that are walk-in only when the season starts. This allows you to get a feel for the type of country in the area and gives you ideas of where to start looking. I always start my scouting by first looking over a topo map for area’s that have year round water. This is essential especially in the heat of the summer because the elk will need to not only drink but wallow as well. When starting in on a new area I look for areas that form a natural bowl, where there is a gradual valley or draw with water and cover off the beaten path. I look for areas where there is a large main ridge on each side with finger ridges that feed to the valley between the two main ridges. The sample map shows the main ridge highlighted with the thick orange line and the finger ridges highlighted by the thin orange line. The elk will generally bed on the timbered finger ridges above the water, about half way to the top of the bowl. If possible try to glass these areas before walking through them looking for sign. The goal is to find where the elk are without disturbing them. The less you impact their routine the more likely they are to stay in the area when the season rolls around.
Looking for those resident herds-
When summer scouting I am looking for resident elk that hold a specific area almost year round, these are often times elk the remain on the wintering range throughout the summer. I like to focus on resident elk herds because these animals will often hold the same patterns in an area from summer into the beginning part of rifle season. This makes your success not as weather dependent as hunting the migrating herds. These resident animals know the area and have formed patterns that they feel comfortable with over the years. As the season progresses migrating herds often join with these resident groups of elk falling into the same patterns. By watching resident elk herds during the summer you are able to have a better understanding of where the elk will be during the hunting season.
It is never too early to look for summer areas that hold resident elk. Last summer I watched group of elk that only had couple of rag horns in it, as the season progressed other elk moved into this area and stuck with the resident group. The summer scouting paid off when we were able to harvest a nice 5x6 bull that had joined the group during the rut and stayed through the opening week of rifle season. The summer scouting also really pays off in the fall when the weather stays hot in October. Even in the hottest October the elk had hotter temperatures during the summer. Look at the places where you had seen the elk during the hot summer days and focus your hunt there. You will be surprised at how the elk patterns are often the same as they were on your summer scouting trips.
Summer scouting can also help pay huge dividends for archery hunters. Even if the group you find consists only of cows the rut will draw bulls into that area. This will help give you the upper hand when trying to trick that bull into bow range.
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