Scouting the high country before the hunting seasson can pay big dividends.

Pre-Season Scouting Pays Off

F.J. Hurtak on how a little leg-work in advance of hunting season can bring big dividends

F.J. Hurtak

Since writing the books ‘Elk Hunting in the Kootenays’ and ‘Hunting the Antlered Big Game of the Kootenays’, I have been asked many questions concerning elk and elk hunting. That makes sense as elk are really one of the most popular species to hunt in our region.

In the province over 25,000 elk licenses are sold every year and I think it’s fair to say that a high percentage of them are sold in the Kootenays.

The most commonly asked question I seem to get is usually “Where do you hunt”?

Like most hunters, when that question is posed, I get that glazed look in my eyes, and I personally always answer the same way. “Where the elk are of course.”

Although it’s obvious I am being vague, there’s a distinct element of truth to my statement. My various hunting partners and I, have had a reasonable amount of success in harvesting good quality bulls for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is having good quality elk spots.

Location, location, location, as many a real estate agent has been prone to saying. The areas we hunt cover hundreds of square kms/miles as far north as the Findley, and south to the US/ Canada border. That’s an immense piece of real estate for certain, but over the years I have been able to narrow it down to a handful or two of great spots.

The other thing is, I am always in search of new areas as well.

Old hot spots can fade for a lot of reasons. These days some formerly wonderful high country elk spots are completely devoid of elk.

For instance, I had one place deep in the woods, away from road areas, that would produce some action every season. There was a small trickle of water seeping into a muddy, grassy area at the base of a hill. Bull elk would always be somewhere around this area in the early fall, and had established a small wallow at the confluence of 2 trails. A few years ago I made a pre-season trip to the area before the rifle season was to begin on September 10th. I fully expected I would see a myriad of fresh elk tracks and sign.

To my complete surprise, the area was totally barren of any sign whatsoever and the wallow was dry.

I decided to take a closer look, and part way up the hill, I noticed that a large pine tree had fallen victim to a strong wind storm sometime during the winter or spring. The tree had blown across the tiny stream and diverted the water in the opposite direction of what once was the wallow.

The elk now had little reason to spend time in this location.

Fortunately I had at least two other proven elk producing spots within 10 kms (six miles) of this area. In one of those spots which I had also pre-scouted, I located a small 6×6 bull on opening day of rifle season.

I decided to pass on that bull, because it wasn’t what I was looking for, but I knew he was there from all the sign I had found just a couple of weeks before. The bull appeared to be alone so I decided to let him be and the very next day I was about 150 kms (90 miles) away, hunting in another area where I had located some elk on another scouting trip.

This “mobile” style of hunting has been a key element in my elk hunting successes year after year. I try not to spend my entire hunting trip in areas where there are few elk, even though most of my spots have produced at times in previous seasons. It sounds so simple I know, but you’d be surprised at how many times I have talked to other hunters and heard them say, “We spent 10 days in this drainage, and saw only two cow elk and a cow moose,” or something similar.

So, you’ve probably gathered by now that I spend as much time as I can pre-scouting, searching for new areas and of course checking the old. When the bow or rifle season comes around, I already have a pretty good idea of where I’m going to start looking for my bull, and then I systematically work my spots until I locate a good representative of the species. I usually start with a proven location first, then perhaps move to one of the new spots I may have discovered while scouting.

More often than not, I do cover a lot of territory before, and IF I harvest a bull.

The system I’ve outlined works for my partners and me and yes, it demands a lot of time and effort in the field before the hunting season actually begins. I’m blessed with the good fortune of having the time to invest in my method of elk hunting which is mostly done by back-packing on foot into the wilderness.

I fully realize that many hunters, particularly non-residents of the Kootenays, cannot make the commitment of time. However, regardless of your style and method of elk hunting I think most would agree that having more than one or two good elk spots in a given region, and spending as much time as you can scouting, will certainly increase the odds for harvesting a bull this season.

F.J. Hurtak is the author of the books ‘Elk Hunting in the Kootenays’, and ‘Hunting the Antlered Big Game of the Kootenays’, available at selected retailers in B.C. and southern Alberta. All profits continue to go to habitat enhancement and land for wildlife.