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How to Locate Elk

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Trophy Bull Elk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Locate Elk

Locating elk is part of the scouting process. Finding an area that has elk can be easily determined by looking for certain types of elk sign. The sign we will be discussing is as follows: 

Elk in meadow, shows antler growth
  • Elk Droppings / Scat

  • Elk Tracks

  • Elk Rubs

  • Elk Wallows

  • Travel Corridors

  • Elk Bugling

 

But before we talk about locating elk, you must have a good understanding of the behavioral characteristics of elk.  Elk may travel over two miles to  their feeding areas from bedding locations, depending on the suitability and availability of bedding cover.  Elk leave their beds in late afternoon and begin their trek to their feeding areas.  If humans don’t disturb the herd, they may move into the meadows when the sun is still up, but normally wait until almost dark to enter meadow openings. They will continue to feed on and off throughout the evening hours to just prior to sunrise.  As sunrise occurs, elk will start moving  towards their bedding grounds.  Elk normally begin walking to their bedding areas at first light, lingering somewhat if humans or predators don’t pressure them.  It may take 1 to 2 hours for elk to ultimately reach their bedding areas.  Elk seldom bed in the same places day after day, but normally remain in the same general area. 

Around Late August to early September, bulls will start to gather cows for breeding rights.  Bulls will stay with their harem trying to gather additional cows during the prime-rut. Throughout this time frame the herd bull will breed the cows as they come into estrus. As the rut starts to slow, as determined by the cows already being bred, the herd bull may start to wander looking for additional cow elk.

Prior to and extending throughout the breading season, bull elk exhibit different behavioral characteristics.  These characteristics will aid a hunter is gaining knowledge about locating elk and understanding how to pattern their movement.  For example, around mid-August in preparation for the breading season, bull elk will commonly thrash saplings and brush with their antlers (Elk Rubs).  This behavior is believed that the elk are depositing scent from the pre-orbital gland located near the front of the eye to either mark territory or express dominance.    Another behavioral characteristic to express dominance is when a bull elk wallows in a mud hole. Wallowing is a process in which a bull elk will roll in a shallow depression filled with water or mud and cake itself with mud.  The bull will usually urinate in and around the wallow before and during its frolicking. Bugling is yet another behavioral characteristic to express dominance.  During the rut, bull elk bugle primarily during early morning hours and prior to sunset, and continue to bugle throughout the evening hours.  

 

ELK DROPPINGS: Now that you have an understanding of the behavioral characteristics of elk, let take a closer look at the things that help you locate elk.  One of the easiest ways to determine if elk are in an area is to look for fresh elk droppings or scat. As you can see, the size of a mature elk dropping is about the size of an olive. Elk scat can be dropped along an elk travel corridor like pellets or bunched together in a pile. I have included pictures of both fresh elk dropping look like and one that isn't so fresh. The fresh droppings will be very green and will have a mucus covering, thus will look relatively wet. The older droppings will be dark brown in color and will look dry.

Elk DroppingsElk Scat or DroppingsElk DroppingsElk Hoof, Elk Track
















ELK TRACKS:
Elk Tracks are another way to determine if elk are in the area. Elk travel corridors are heavily
used game trails which will show sign of elk movement. These travel corridors are usually from bedding areas
which go to more open areas in which elk will feed. Elk tracks on average are generally about 3-1/2 to 5 inches
in length. We have included a picture of an actual elk hoof to examine.


ELK RUBS:
Locating elk rubs along travel corridors is a great way to determine if bull elk are using the travel corridors. Also, its a way to help determine the overall size of the antlers on the bull. Elk rubs can range in size from small rubs to large rubs that exceed 9 feet in overall height. The tall elk rubs will tell you that the bull elk exhibits long antlers. If you are a trophy hunter, this is the type of sign you are looking for. Elk rub, can be easy to spot, usually they will be small pine saplings that have been rubbed to the point the bark is stripped from the tree. This creates a shinny "fresh cut lumber" look to the tree. Also, there is often times broken limbs and stripped bark below the tree. We have included two pictures to illustrate fresh elk rubs.











Elk RubFresh Elk RubTall Elk RubElk Rub, tree bark rubbed off
ELK WALLOW:

An elk wallow is usually found on the edge of a waterhole or spring. There is usually a depression created from the elk rolling in the mud. Elk will generally urinate in the mud prior to rolling or wallowing in the mud hole.  This dominance behavior is generally associated with the rut. To identify if the depression is in fact a wallow from an elk, take a close look at the wallow. Often times with thick mud, you will see the imprint of elk hair in the mud. Also look in the mud for strike marks from antlers. You will also see elk tracks in and around the waterhole.  These wallows are a sure sign that bull elk are in the area.

TRAVEL CORRIDOR: 

As discussed earlier, elk may travel over two miles to  their feeding areas from bedding locations, depending on the suitability and availability of bedding cover.  Elk leave their beds in late afternoon and begin their trek to their feeding areas.  As sunrise occurs, elk will start moving  back towards their bedding grounds.  Elk normally begin walking to their bedding areas at first light, lingering somewhat if humans or predators don’t pressure them.  It may take 1 to 2 hours for elk to ultimately reach their bedding areas. This back and forth between bedding and feeding grounds produce travel corridors that are sometimes well worn.  These game trails can be easily seen, and often times provide all the sign that a hunter needs to see to know elk are traveling the area.

LISTENING FOR ELK BUGLES: 

Bull elk are very vocal during the rut. This behavioral characteristic is a hunters dream. This sound allows a  hunter the ability to locate the herd and move in while hunting. During the archery hunt or early rifle hunts, if a hunters knows how to use an elk call to simulate a bull elk bugling or a cow call, this can be beneficial to the hunter. If the elk are in the prime of the rutting season, these calls can coax a bull into range where an archery can get a shot. However, I've seen too many hunters try and call in an elk when they shouldn't, resulting in pushing the herd away. We recommend that if you are new to elk hunting, just use your ears and listen for bugles, then once you hear the bugle, move in on the herd.  Here's one more tip, usually hunters think the bugling elk is relatively far away once herd.  Unless the elk is in a meadow, sound doesn't travel that far in forest. When you hear a bugle, move in, but be careful, the elk is generally closer than you think...

Elk Wallow in MudElk Travel Corridor, or game trail