Finding Elk Means Hunting Smarter, Not Harder

Finding elk is not hard, unless you’re looking where the elk aren’t. I realize that sounds a little silly, but the key to finding them is being at the right place at the right time.

The right place changes often with elk. The right time rarely changes: early and late in the day. During the rut, noon hunts might prove to be effective, but the first and last hours of daylight are always prime time for elk to be up, moving and feeding.

Recent Articles

  1. Elk Nut (Paul Medel) Elk Communication Products Now Available

    Joe Carter's 2013 Bull 250
    “Elk Nut”, Paul Medel, has studied elk sounds for over 30 years. His products will help you have more “close encounters of the herd kind”. Available with free shipping on this site.

    Read More

Wrong Place, Right Time

Related topics available:
Elk Sign: Aging and Interpreting it
Elk Habits and Patterns
Finding Places to Hunt
Finding Elk in Their Habitat

To avoid hunting in the wrong place, even at the “right time”, be diligent about scouting and documenting significant elk evidence for future recall. Seeing elk while actually hunting is most likely to occur in areas where there is very fresh sign, along with recent aging sign.

Finding some fresh elk droppings or fresh elk tracks simply means theywere there, perhaps while moving on to a spot a mile or more away.

Walk Away From Fresh Sign?

If you are finding recent mixed age elk sign made days, hours and minutes ago, the elk will be back there. Either start carefully "still hunting", or mark the spot in your mind, map and/or GPS. If you're not prepared to still hunt now, and it isn’t prime time, consider leaving the area. Don’t rush a good spot by haphazard, desperate efforts at finding elk right now. Come back at "rush hour", if it is a feeding area. If it is a bedding area and after about 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., it might be best to back out quietly.

If you want to hunt bedded elk, try to pinpoint them with cow talk or a locator bugle from a distance. Then quiet down as you approach the area from downwind (no exception), very slowly. Use muted cow talk, if you make too much feet noise. You could just get in close and wait it out. They will begin moving again about 3:00. If you can stay downwind and be in the right place as they move, you might get a shot.

Right Place, Wrong Time

If it is archery season, you might should set up and spend some time cow calling, and maybe some very light bugling. But if nothing shows up, consider leaving it relatively unmolested for a later prime time hunt. Don’t “stink up the joint” with human scent by tromping all over the right place at the wrong time.

Click here for scent control page.

Watch Instead of Hunt

Finding elk often needs to come before hunting elk. If there is a high vista you can get up to and just glass the surrounding area before dark, do it. You might see how they come to that hot spot, or determine if they are currently using it. Watching instead of hunting, especially during archery season, may seem like a waste of time, but it could save you a lot of tiring and discouraging hikes.

If they don’t appear to be using the spot, they may have been pushed out by you or other hunters. Finding elk requires planning and patience. If the sign is fresh mixed with recent older sign, finding elk there will happen sooner or later.

Rotate Where You Hunt

That doesn’t necessarily warrant hunting it from then on every day until they finally show up, although that might work, if done carefully. Put it down as one of several hunting spots for you to rotate in and out of. If you push them out of there with your repeated scent and presence, they might avoid the area for a while, moving on to some faraway place.

Elk keep excellent mental notes of where the current best food, water and safe refuges are. They move around for miles as food sources change and pressure (fear) is experienced. Elk constantly play the shell game with us. Once we think we know where they are hanging out and how they are traveling, suddenly they disappear overnight to somewhere unknown to us.

Right Place, Right Time!

Finding elk is all about hunting several “hot spots”, rotating from one to another, until we are finally there at the right place and at the same time they are. Finding elk successfully is often the result of knowing when not to hunt, when to back away and come back another day.

Hunting hard is not always the best approach. Hunt smarter, not harder.

(Share your comments below.)

(Check out our map and cyber scouting page here.) 

Please subscribe to or our Quick Elk Hunting Tips and Updatesnewsletter or to an RSS feed (see left column for both) to be alerted whenever new information is added to the site.

We'd appreciate it if you would "Like" us on Facebook, or share this site with others.

Related topics available:
Elk Sign: Aging and Interpreting it
Elk Habits and Patterns
Finding Places to Hunt
Finding Elk in Their Habitat

New! Comments

Leave a comment in the box below.

Shop Our Store

Elk Tips Outdoor Gear Logo


Newsletter Opt-in:
"I just get so excited talking about elk.." ~Tristan, CO

Search This Site Here:

Hunting Gear Reviews

ElkNut Outdoor Prod.
Bugling Bull Game Calls
HECS Stealthscreen
Montana Decoy
StringSling Bow Sling
Skull Hookers
Safari Sling Rifle Sling
Clip-Shot Mini Camera Mount


Free U.S. Shipping

Bugling Bull
Game Calls

ElkNut Productions

Free Shipping on
ElkNut Products Here

HECS Stealthscreen:
A New Type of Concealment!

HECS Stealthscreen

Including U.S. Shipping

Montana Decoy Elk/Deer
Available Here!

Montana Decoy

$59-$109.99 Free Shipping!

The StringSling:
Best Bow Sling Design!

String Sling Bow Sling

$29.95, Including U.S. Shipping

Clip-Shot: 1 oz. Camera Mount

$21.85 Free U.S. Shipping

Skull Hookers

Skull hooker

$34.99 & 59.99 Free U.S. Shipping!

The Safari Sling:
Best Rifle Sling Design!

Safari Sling Best Rifle Sling Available

$27.99 Free US Shipping

Share your elk hunting pictures and stories on our Facebook Page!

Go to Forums

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, 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 " .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)

Big Game Recipes

Popcorn VenisonPopcorn Venison with Maple Syrup?

Elk or Venison Steaks Grilled to Perfection Here's how to turn them into steakhouse steaks!

Spice-Crusted Grilled Venison Roast Recipe This Spice-Crusted, Grilled Venison Roast recipe works great for any red meat roasts, including elk, deer or beef roast...

Corned Elk Recipe You can easily make corned venison and elk, moose or corned beef from these instructions...