"Why do you spend so much time scouting for elk? You saw them last year, just go to that same spot?" These are often the remarks when another Instagram post goes up about an upcoming scouting trips or from friends who are headed out to BBQ for the weekend instead of the woods.
In my ears I hear, "Why try at all?"
Elk hunting is so much more to me then the days I actually have my bow in hand. It starts months before that day and in all actuality probably never ends.
There’s two ways to hunt in my eyes. Full on or half assed. There is no in between. Either you want it or you just want to be able to talk about it.
This is why I spend my free time schlepping a forty pound backpack around the wild lands of Colorado and whatever other states will let me chase their four-legged creatures. If
I’m going to do something, I’m going into it pedal to the metal with the brake lines cut.
So is scouting absolutely necessary? To me the answer is obvious, a resounding YES!
But the reasoning may not be as obvious as you might think. As with many things in life, it’s not always what you seek that ends up being the real treasure. Sometimes it’s the unseen benefits that are the true rewards to your effort.
Here are some of the reasons you need to be out there wandering the mountains and honing your skills.
You’ll Find Where the Animals Call Home
Well this one is obvious isn’t it? But hell, this is the main reason we’re out there to begin with. All that pre-scouting sitting behind your computer needs to be put to the test. It’s one thing to pour over maps online, it’s another to commit to planting yourself there on opening day.
In a world where we can scout from the comforts of our own home (why lie, I mean office) we’re becoming extremely dependent on technology to solve all our problems. It’s got its place and can give you a strong starting point as to where to begin scouting, but it’s a far cry from the real thing.
I can’t tell you how many times I thought I’d be busting the next elk kegger the upcoming weekend while cruising the maps on my computer only to walk into an elk ghost town with binoculars in hand and wobbly legs from the hike in. The translation from computer screen to real life is sometimes awfully disappointing.
So if you’re going to be lazy, expect a lazy man’s results. And “But Elk-Killa_69 from huntinglocations.com told me that it was a hotspot!” is not an excuse. It is however a direct indication to your laziness.
Get out there and see what’s producing. Then wear the buttons out on your GPS unit/phone app by placing waypoints on all pertinent information.
- Where are the cows bedding and feeding?
- Where are water sources?
- Look for escape routes like saddles and pinch points where you can set up ambushes
- Mark all wallows you come across
- Camping areas that give you a vantage point yet won’t disturb the elk
- Rub lines
- Heavily used trails
Learning Animal Behavior
You get to see first hand how these animals act in their natural environment before the camo invaders lays siege to the land. Though it is probably more important to know how they are going to act under pressure because that’s when you’ll be hunting them, it’s also invaluable to know what their natural patterns are.
Animals (including us) like routine. It makes them feel safe. They will stick to these patterns until it is absolutely necessary to deviate due to pressure. By learning when and how they like to move you’re setting yourself up for success. Even if you’re not learning the exact patterns, you’re learning how the animals like to behave in general, which could be just the information needed when you’re setting up an ambush in a few months.
Understanding How You’ll Perform Mentally and Physically in the Backcountry
I’ll preach this one all the way to my deathbed. You need to know how you’re going to perform when you’re in the backcountry. Whether that be alone or with a hunting partner this is a great time to see how you’ll perform when you’re alone or if it’s time to ditch that partner who whines every time the angle gets steeper than a parking lot.
If you’re used to the backcountry, then skip ahead as this will be preaching to the choir.
But if you’re new to this game, this little bit of advice can mean the difference of staying in and getting the job done, or tucking your tail between your legs and generating a litany of excuses as to why you bailed early.
Scouting season is your test period. Your bootcamp so to speak. You’re going to learn a lot about yourself during this time. You’re far away from the modern world and all the conveniences that comes along with it.
And it’s quiet. So very quiet.
Some love it. Some hate it. We’ve become so used to the flashing lights, honking horns and constant grab for our attention in today’s world. Not so here. Nobody is trying to sell you anything, nobody is liking your latest witty meme on Instagram and to be honest, nothing really cares about you out here. You just exist.
It may sound like paradise. But when you’re actually in it, it’s all consuming and it can freak some people out. This is the time to figure out if it does and also the time to find out how to combat it.
I’ve written an article on this previously that pinpoints all of these issues so I won’t be redundant here. I’ve attach a link so you can have a read.
You just spent all that hard earned coin on a backpack, tent, boots and solar powered speaker loaded up with all your favorite Justin Bieber hits right?
Well what if that backpack digs bloody holes in your back, the tent leaks like an Iraqi submarine, your filp-flops offer more support than the $350 pair of boots you were marketed into and you realize how bad Justin Bieber sucks and now you’re stuck with him on repeat?
If you’re committed to a nine day backcountry hunt you might just be walking out six hours later. Now you have to explain to your wife and friends why you couldn’t man up and make it happen.
The scouting trips are here to help you keep your man card. Two day tests of your equipment is the perfect time to suss out the winners from the losers.
If the tent sucks sell it and get something you can live with. Boots are a fickle creature, so the review you read on them being “the second best thing that has ever touched my feet” might be fine for the guy who wrote it, but then again he might have webbed feet that can handle wide boots.
You see where I’m going with this. Test everything before you decide to take it in for the real deal. You’re getting a trial run here, take advantage of it. I’d test everything if I were you, but here’s a short list of absolutes you must tests before committing:
- Water filtration
- GPS and/or map app for phone
- Power supply for electronics (I know, I know. But I’m a realist. We all use them)
- Food (this one is extremely important to test or you may need to double your TP)
Technology Has A Place
Love it or hate it, but it’s a part of all of us. There will be those that resist and that’s fine. Each his own. But I can honestly say I haven’t come across a hunter that didn’t have some form of technology on him.
And there is no denying it. It can be an extremely beneficial part of our scouting. Lets go over a few of them and how we can use them to our advantage.
Besides the obvious of keeping you pointed in the right direction, GPS unit or map apps for your phone have crazy benefits.
Coming back to a tent in the dark after a long day of hunting or scouting can feel like trying to finding my kid’s toy he decided to leave on a shelf at the grocery store. It may require grid searching and/or calling in the Navy SEALS for assistance. Drop a pin on the tent and this never again becomes an issue.
When firing up my GPS and having a look at the GMU’s I hunt you might think you were looking at Yelp map. There are pins all over it. I mark everything. Water holes, wallows, saddles, springs, bedding areas, good feed, rubs and the list goes on.
I know my memory is extremely poor if altogether non-existent. I don’t depend on it to remind me where that wallow is that I should be sitting on if the mid-day temps start to rise.
Use this technology while scouting and you’ll rarely have the “what should we do today?” issues when hunting.
Those whitetail guys where on to something when they starting using these little gadgets. Though you will be committing to a lot more when taking them into the backcountry with you. First there’s the weight issue. Also if you end up setting some up, you best be committed to hunting that spot or you’ll be making an unplanned hike in to retrieve them.
The information they give you however can be invaluable. You can potentially pattern their movements by finding high concentration areas along with times they like to use that location.
Know that and you got a good chance of putting one in the dirt.
Communication With Family
I’ve got kids and I spend a lot of time in the mountains. This one is not an option. I use a sat phone or my Garmin InReach to be able to communicate with the family.
This is a small concession to make if it means being able to live this lifestyle or not. Besides, I miss my kids’ voices and I want them to be a part of the experience even if it’s in a small way.
Give Yourself Some Time Off From the Hectic World
Remember one of the reasons your out here to begin with. To unplug.
There are those of us that still contain the urge to interact with our natural environment. Not the one that we created but rather the one created for us.
The more time you spend in it the more that primal urge feels natural coursing through you. We become closer to the animals we walk with and we refine the instincts that once was required to keep us alive.
Not all are privileged enough to do what you do and have the urge to do it. We are the last of our kind. The instinct that still courses through us is what got the human race to the place it currently resides. Without it we would have been part of the 95% of creatures that are on the extinction list.
Scouting is just an excuse to spend more time doing what has been done for hundreds of thousands of years before us. Be human.
So enjoy. Feel alive. And stay safe!
// Fred Bohm