Put Boots On the Ground 
in Elk Habitat

The Key to Finding Elk

Once you find reasonably good elk habitat in an area that meets your needs, spend the time to get know it well. Do some satellite hunts in other areas to put feelers out for something better. But eventually, stake a few claims and stick to them, if you can. The areas will be more productive if you know them well, even if the herds are not huge.

Take notes about where and when the elk move and you will begin to see patterns and habits the elk repeat occasionally. Click here for a discussion about patterning elk habits.

There is good elk habitat near my home with higher elk populations than the areas I choose to hunt, but I like to hunt the closest areas that I am familiar with and where fewer hunters go. My sons and I have been regularly successful around here because we are familiar with several reasonably good places to hunt. Familiarity makes them the best places to hunt for us. If the elk are not in one specific area, we hunt another place. We move around until we see elk or fresh sign. Then we hunt it as long as we are getting into elk or until we find that they have moved on. We return there later in the year or the following year.

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Hunting Experience Snowballs into Success

Finding elk improves as you get to know an area and as you get to know elk, personally. Spending time in a specific elk habitat will go a long way toward repeated success in years to come. “Where to hunt” will become a decision between several places on your “getting to know” list.

In 1989, my first elk hunting season, I had decades of successful deer hunts under my belt. I never even saw an elk that first season! I had scouted a specific elk habitat all summer and had seen lots of elk, but I had gotten sparse local advice. I was told later, “Yeah, those elk leave right before archery season starts.” Elk don’t stay put like deer do.

The next year I asked my old friend and well-known knife maker, the late Jim Sasser, to help me find the best places to hunt for my first elk. He got the Colorado regulations out and helped me narrow a spot down to a depredation hunt on a private ranch.

With permit in hand, I talked to the rancher and he told me of a place to hunt and when to go. I arrived before daybreak and slept through a blizzard in my pick-up. I then went out in the afternoon after the wind died down (which usually happens at sunrise or sunset). All the other hunters had been driven out by the storm. I killed a nice cow, right where the rancher said to hunt. After I quartered it, the rancher hauled it to my pickup for me on his snow mobile.

On my third elk season a friend took me to a private Montana ranch where he had permission to hunt. He told me I could go anywhere but “that way”, as he pointed in the dark to his preferred location. I respectfully went the other direction. At daylight I found myself in the only drainage around with trees. I killed my second elk. My host partner had gotten turned around in the dark and inadvertently pointed me toward his favorite place to hunt. “You killed my elk”, he lamely proclaimed as we hauled it out.

Document What You See and Hear

I had started finding elk because I was learning to find and document good elk habitat. Maps began to become more vital in my planning than asking others for advice, because I was learning how to find places to hunt in elk habitat from the geography. Pre-hunt cyber-scouting online or with hard copy topos and aerial photos helps hone your area down to increase odds of “close encounters of the herd kind”. (See the Hunting Maps page here.)

We have lived in the same place in Montana for many years now. I hunted the first two years in our current area without killing an elk, but I was learning the area and finding elk.

Since then I have killed an elk every year. Because of time spent with stealthy boots on the ground. I know where to go to find elk because I spend the time hunting or scouting elk habitat. I don’t see elk every day that I hunt, mind you. Some days feel like I’m just hiking with my bow or gun. Elk do move long distances for many reasons.

My family doesn’t hunt areas that are high in elk numbers. Patience and time spent hunting elk habitat produces inevitable opportunities, even in areas with smaller elk populations.

Start a list for your “best places to hunt” based on your pre-hunt research and on-the-ground scouting. Then tailor it to your hunting style preferences. Keep copious notes each year about what you see and learn. The data will add up and make finding elk more effective each year.

Once you find reasonably good elk habitat in an area that meets your needs, spend the time to get know it well. Do some satellite hunts in other areas to put feelers out for something better. But eventually, stake a few claims and stick to them, if you can. The areas will be more productive if you know them well, even if the herds are not huge.

Take notes about where and when the elk move and you will begin to see patterns and habits the elk repeat occasionally. 

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Forum Topic Discussions:

How often should I use my cow call?, I am new to the sport of bow hunting elk and my question is how often should I use my cow calls?

295 yard kill with a Kimber Montana 325 WSM, by Don from Dallas: My ELk did not even twitch once. He was dead when he hit the ground.

325 WSM is worth considering, Palmer Lake,CO: I believe that the .325 WSM is the ultimate elk caliber...

30-30 for Elk? : I have a 30 30 with 170 grain round nose bullet. Will this work to shoot an elk ?

(More comments about Best Elk Rifle below)


Unique Elk Talk by Idaho Steve (Hailey, Id ), In the middle of the night, a herd of elk came traveling through the drainage and right past my tent...

Smelly Elk Areas? by Jimmy (New Mexico), I've come across many areas that just stink of elk, literally. I have heard two somewhat contradictory stories...

DIY Gear List Must Have's! by Craig (Florida) "Here are some of the items I use on my DIY hunts in the CO backcountry..."

Elk and Deer Hunting and Mountain Bikes, by Skip Shepherd (Tucson, AZ)~ At 67 I am thinking a lot about investing in a mountain bike to get back into remote areas...

Solo archery hunting -- tips for calling/set up?, by Idaho Steve (Hailey, ID )~ I hunt by myself a lot...I'd love to hear your thoughts on strategic set-ups when solo hunting and calling.

Non- Lead Bullets for Elk?, by Dave, Elk Hunting Tips.Net (Garrison, MT)~ What do you ballistics guys think about the use of non-lead bullets for elk? According to this story...

Rage Broadheads by Chris, ...my buddy gave me a rage practice tip and when I shot it you could not pick out the broadhead from the field points. I was sold...

Recent Submissions:

Finally filled the freezer..., Colorado Rockies~ "I was bummed when I got to the property and no elk, nor any hoof prints in the snow. ...I pulled each of the elk into shade then started gutting..."

Wounded Veteran Elk hunts, by Joshua FL), I am a disabled veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and have always dreamed of hunting elk. I am posting this to see if anyone would know of any elk hunts free to disabled vets....

First Elk with a Bow, by Ryan H. (Colorado), ...Finally after many years of hunting with a bow "I got er did"!

First Elk!, by Tater (Sheridan, Arkansas) I took the advice I received from this website and was successful…I wanted to Thank You and Your Forum and the folks that share on here for the knowledge and information that helped me find an elk I was quite happy with.


Any success in Unit 14?, by: Dave (MI), "I'm planning on doing a DIY in Unit 14 for 2012..."

Share Elk Hunting Secrets

Bugle in Herd bulls, by Swiltbank (Az) The key to calling in a herd bull is to get into his bedding grounds and threaten his herd. Start off sounding like…

Best Big Game Rifle?

Best Rifle Caliber?, by Buglemup (Superior, MT), "I've been reading what people have been writing about rifle calibers and here is what 16 years of guiding elk has taught me."

7mm Remington Magnum, by Dean (Helena, MT. USA) I use my Liberty Ruger M77, 7mm Rem. Mag. for antelope, deer, elk... Comment: "What do you guys think about the idea of hunting elk with a 270? I also know a guy who kills elk with a 243."

338 Marlin Express, "Light, fast shooting, hard hitting, manageable recoil, and for a lever gun - very accurate."

Guns I like for Elk, by Mountain Walker (Kootenays east B.C. Canada),"I think the gun you shoot Elk with should be one you shoot a lot with... "

.35 Remington, by Bill Smith "...my .35 Rem appears to have dropped a medium deer flawlessly, but I now have serious doubts as to its capability to take an elk."

Arizona Elk Hunting

Where to hunt in Az unit 3B?, by Cliffjumper (Tucson, Az) ~ I got a late bull muzzle loader hunt in Arizona unit 3b. Does anyone know how to hunt bulls in the late season?...

First time elk hunter hunting Arizona unit 6A , by Rob Marchio (Omaha, Ne)~ I'm a first time elk hunter hunting Arizona's unit 6A. I'm planning on staying in the Pine Grove campground...

Elk Hunting Colorado

Help needed for 1st DIY Hunt w/Son, by Patrick (Parker, CO), "I was looking for some advice on my 1st DIY hunt for 2014 in CO with my 13 yr old son. I have countless hrs going over stats, topo maps & Google Earth"

Elk Hunting Colorado in 2013, By William (Midland, TX) "I am planning an elk hunt next year in Colorado and I wanted to know if hunting Gunnison National Forest..."

Unit 60 Elk 4th Rifle Season Nov 13-17 Either Sex 2013, By Chester "...Any general advice about the unit would be appreciated!"

Idaho Elk Hunting

Elk Hunting Idaho Unit 8 8A 11, This is my first year seriously trying to track down some elk. Is there anyone that has hunted in any of these units and can give me some friendly advice? Mitchell, Moscow Idaho

Elk Hunting Pocatello by Cameron (Pocatello) Where is the best place to elk hunt around Pocatello, Idaho? I'm a student at ISU and I'm looking for somewhere around here to hunt next season.

How is the elk hunting in unit 30A in Idaho?, by Terry (Richland Center, WI) Has anyone archery elk hunted in unit 30A in Idaho? What can you tell me about the area?

Elk Hunting In Montana

Hunting in Western Montana, by Mike A. (Alabama)

I did not draw a tag for Missouri breaks where I have hunted in the past. Having to start over and try western Montana.

New Mexico Elk Hunting

New Mexico Unit 49, by Silas (Los Alamos, NM)

If anyone has tips on areas to start scouting, I'd really appreciate it.

First Elk Hunt First Elk Hunt, by Big "R" (NM)

I finally got drawn for a late elk hunt in Unit 28, north of Road 506 and south of the boundary line of the Lincoln National Forest...

Elk Hunting Nevada

Cow elk in Nevada's unit 222:

"Any good places known in unit 222?"

Northeast Nevada Early Elk hunt, by John (Carson City,NV)

"Any suggestions on what areas I may see some signs of elk?"

Questions from Novice Hunters

Retired USMC MSgt Needs Advice, by Ken Wing USMCRET (Bealeton, Va)

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