E-scouting for Elk With Randy Newberg: Episode 11

Day-by-day strategies for post-rut and late-season elk hunts.

Carrying on from the lessons of the last video, Randy goes into more depth on post-rut and late-season elk hunts. Learn to make day-by-day scouting and hunting plans for your late-season rifle hunts and learn Randy’s rules for hunting high pressured bulls in popular general seasons. Your late-season success depends on your dat-by-day plan.

Start planning now
Be Ready No Matter Where Your Hunt Takes You. Try the onX Hunt App for Free.

Video Transcription:

Well folks, in our prior video, we built this post-rut plan. Right? We know it’s a glassing plan. They’re in sanctuary mode in the post-rut of late October. This is what we got to do. We got to get in there. We got to find the sanctuaries as our primary need. We want sanctuaries that are close to food and water, because those are the secondary needs.

Now, we’re going to figure out what is our day by day strategy? How are we going to execute this plan from the scouting days, to day one, day two, day three, whatever? You know that everything I do with this planning is built on the onX system. If you’ve been following along, you’ve probably already taken advantage of this opportunity, but if you haven’t onX provides a promo code for all of you who are watching. Go to onXmaps.com/hunt and use promo code Randy, and you’re going to get 20% off the purchase of any of these app products.

You’ve heard us talk about these five calendar periods. In the later calendar periods of the post-rut in the late season, sanctuary is primary. So even though I’m calling this a post-rut plan, the plan I would do for a late season hunt is going to look almost identical to this. So we’re almost covering two of the calendar periods with this one plan. We told you in this unit that in this season in New Mexico, they give you five days for this last rifle season in late October. Well, with five days to hunt, I’m hoping I can get there for maybe two days of scouting, because those two days of scouting are going to tell me so much. They’re going to be so helpful.

When you’re doing this scouting, you have to use your time as wisely as possible. A lot of people say, “Well, why don’t I go there and scout in August?” Well, it might show you where the roads are and the water tanks are, but the elk are doing something in August that’s completely different than what they’re doing in late October. So I tell people, “If you can, save your vacation time, your family time, whatever it is that might constrain you, save that time and use it as close to your hunting date as possible.

If I had this tag, I would try to go down the two days before season open and give myself the full two days to scout this unit. I’d have my plan with me, and I would be checking things off, “That was a bad idea. Oh, that one’s working.” My goal is when season opens two mornings later that I’ve got some of these areas just crossed off, because they’re not going to work, and I’ve got some areas that are like, “This is it. I’m going to be here opening morning.”

There’s really three things we’re trying to accomplish with these two scouting days. We want to eliminate the areas on our map so that when season opens, we’re just focused on these areas we know are good. If we’re lucky, we’re trying to find an elk that we can pattern, and we can kill him opening morning. We’re going to talk about why that’s so important. Then, we also want to be looking around. Where are the other camps? What’s the hunting pressure going to look like? Are there other trucks parked at these same trail heads I’m at? Are there other people in here scouting? That’s going to give us a feel for what the hunting pressure’s going to be, because we know that after the first day, the hunting pressure’s going to have a big impact on how these elk behave.

In a post-rut hunt or in a late season hunt, you really have my opening day strategy, and then I have my rest of the season strategy. Because what you see happening on your scouting days, those elk are going to be in a very similar pattern, doing kind of the same thing opening day. But once the shooting starts, once all this noise, all this scent, all these people are in the woods, the elk are like, “I remember this,” and they are moving. Where you saw them in your scouting, they might be in a completely different location.

So as you approach this, put in your mind that I’m here scouting for an opening day idea, an elk I can pattern and maybe kill opening morning, but then I’m also thinking where are the places these elk are going to go. What are the places for day two, three, four, and five? What puts a smile on my face is in my scouting days, I find an elk I want to shoot. It might be the first night. It might be the second scouting night. Whatever it is, if I find an elk, I’m going to go there, and I’m going to try to pattern him each evening. I might go there to try patterning him in the morning, but I’m going to use the rest of my day to go and explore other spots. Okay?

I’m focusing on my area A that I talked about in the first video. That’s going to be my first scouting day. Now, if I find a bull in there, I might even use my second scouting day to figure out how am I killing that bull opening morning. But there’s a very good chance maybe I don’t locate a bull in here in my scouting day. I’m just seeing sign. I’m really not that familiar with everything. I’m learning a lot. So I will use my first scouting day in area A, and then my second scouting day I will go over to my area B. Or maybe morning in area B, afternoon in area C.

But if I’ve found an elk in my scouting, I am not leaving him. I want to kill that thing opening morning, because I know his pattern of what he’s doing in my scouting days is the same pattern he’s going to have opening day, and that’s my best chance to kill him. If I don’t find a bull in my scouting, as my opening day strategy, now I’ve just got to really be moving around and crossing off as many locations as possible. “Oh, well this spot’s no good, because that water hole, it’s dry.” Or, “This spot’s no good. There’s four camps right at the bottom of my trail that goes up to the sanctuary.”

In one day of scouting, I can eliminate a lot of terrain. The more you eliminate, the less you got to worry about when you’re hunting. Because how many times have you been out there hunting, and you think, “You know, I almost wanted to go to that other ridge,” but you didn’t get a chance to look at it in your scouting period? So it’s always in the back of your mind. Finally, you’re like, “I’m going to go check it out.” You go check it out, and there’s three rigs parked there. Well, if you would have had enough scouting time, you would have known that there were other groups using that ridge, and it wouldn’t have been bothering you in the back of your mind, distracting you before you got there. You could have just crossed it off. You could have went and hunted and called it good and focused on the area you were at.

When we talk about what to do in our scouting days, we really have a fork in the road of what we’re going to do in day one based on did I find a bull that I can pattern, or did I not. If I find a bull that I can pattern day one, I’m going to be there opening morning. So what I’ve done in my scouting days, the night before, I’m going in and I’m watching that elk. I’m seeing what he’s doing. I’m making sure, “All right, in the morning, the thermal’s going to be doing this. The wind’s that. I want the sun at my back if possible. What’s he going to do?”

Then, I’m going to get out of there, and I’m going out of there, and I’m marking my trail on my way out of there so that when I come in in the morning, I’m going to be coming in with headlamps. It’s going to be way before shooting light. I’m going to have the wind in my favor, and I’m going to walk in there, and I bet you I’m going to be there probably 45 minutes before shooting light, and I’m going to be in that spot that I know I wanted based on how I patterned that elk. With any luck, I’m going to kill that bull opening morning.

Let’s say I get in there and I don’t get him killed opening morning, but I saw him, and he goes into his sanctuary. If no other hunters come and bust that bull out of that sanctuary, I’m staying there for the afternoon, and I’m going to set up in a slightly different position, because I know that bull is still there. It might be that last 10 minutes of legal shooting light, but he’s going to come out of there, and I’m going to be there to kill him. Now, if some hunters come in, and they come blowing through there and that elk scatters, write that plan off. That sanctuary’s probably not going to be any good for at least a week. Season’s going to be over. Cross that spot off.

Before we get into this day by day strategy, there’s a couple general rules to think about. One, you never leave elk to go find other elk. In this case, we’re talking about bull elk. If you’ve found bull elk, either through their sign, you’ve spotted them, you’ve seen them, you caught a glimpse of him, whatever, you do not leave elk to find elk. That’s rule number one. The other part is that if you’ve found them and you’re not going to leave them, you might not be able to get them killed that day.

So let’s walk through if you see one in the morning and he gets out of sight, he goes into that sanctuary area before you can get over there and kill him in the morning, stay there all day. Do not go back to camp. Figure out what’s the wind going to be doing, what’s the sun angle going to be, and get yourself in a position to kill that bull that afternoon, because he is going to come out that afternoon if he’s not been disturbed. The same thing could happen in the afternoon where, “All right, I saw an elk. He came out of his sanctuary. I couldn’t get over there in time.” If you know you can’t get over there in time, at least be marking, “All right, he’s going to be feeding there in the morning. I think at daylight, he’s still going to be there. Where do I want to be set at? Where’s the wind going to be at least not hurting me, hopefully helping me, and how do I get in here in the dark?”

You want to get in there well before shooting light. You want to be there even if you’ve got to stand around and wait in the dark, because the further you get into these seasons, the more hunting pressure pushes these elk back into their sanctuaries earlier, and the more it keeps them in there where they come out even later in the afternoon. So know that your first day, you might have elk that are hanging out for 20, 30 minutes after legal shooting light. If they’re not pressured that day, they might come out a half hour before the end of shooting light. As the hunt progresses, the amount of time that they spend out in the open where you can find them, where you can see them gets less, and less, and less.

By the fourth day, they might be going back into their sanctuaries within 5 or 10 minutes of legal shooting light. They might not be coming out until the last 5 or 10 minutes. But once you see them, once you spot them, don’t give up on them. We’re going to talk about how you do this over five days. We’re talking about the assumption that each day you aren’t finding elk, but if you have found a bull elk, don’t leave him until you kill him or someone, you or someone else, blows him out of there.

Now, let’s go into the five days of how we’re going to do this every day. Day one, day two, day three, day four, day five. Morning strategy, afternoon strategy. On the night before season open, if I don’t have an elk pattern, I sit down and I analyze everything I learned in my scouting. Now, in my mind, whether it’s in area A, area B, or area C, wherever I’ve had a chance to go and look, I’ve got one spot that gives me a better feeling than any other, and that’s where I’m going opening morning.

My opening morning day one spot is going to be the best location I’ve found in all of my scouting. Now, let’s take again this area A that I put together in my plan in the previous video. How I approach my number one spot is going to be based on what’s the wind going to be doing as I’m hiking in in the dark. Well, I’ve got four different approach angles here. Maybe I can make one of them work. All right. Where am I going to set up based on that? Well, I’m going to account for what the sun is going to be doing in the morning and what gives me the opportunity to glass as many of these areas as possible from one location. That’s going to be my opening morning spot.

If I have found a bull elk in one of these spots opening morning, I’m hunting that spot that afternoon. Let’s assume I didn’t find a bull elk opening morning. Now, I got to go back to my plan. That’s why I did all this e-scouting, is to have a plan, to have something to keep me on track, on focus, that keeps putting me in the areas with the greatest likelihood of finding a bull elk. So the afternoon of day one, I’m going to my second best spot. It might even be here in area A. It might be over here in area B.

That second best spot hopefully has some different features that I can look over some different habitat types. So here, in my favorite spot of number one, I overlooked an area that was on the edge of a burn. Well, maybe that burn didn’t get reseeded, or maybe it grew in naturally, or maybe it grew in with invasive weeds. Maybe this burn isn’t as good as I thought it was for whatever reason it may be. Well, where I’m going to go look that afternoon is probably a place that has a different food situation. Maybe it has a different access and road situation. Very often, I’m not seeing the elk themselves, but I’m seeing their sign, and that’s helping me decide, “All right, they’re using this elevation band,” or, “Okay, they’re all in north slopes. Okay, the majority of them are down in canyons. All right, they’re really far from water, because the food is better further from water.” Whatever it might be.

The rationale between going to a different spot day one morning and a different spot day one afternoon is to cover as many different habitat types as possible. With day one behind us, let’s assume I didn’t find any elk on my scouting days. I didn’t find any elk on day one. Now, day two, what I’m probably going to do is … the likelihood is day one, my morning and afternoon spots were probably in area A. So now, I’m going to go over to what I call my area B. I’m going to find what is the best spot I think I have in area B, and that’s going to be my morning location.

Remember, you have a day one strategy, and then when the shooting starts and all the commotion in the woods, the deck gets reshuffled. Well, my day two places are going to be places that are even further from trail heads, even uglier, even nastier, because overnight those elk may have hunkered down just waiting for darkness on day one. But when darkness came, the woods were alive with elk moving to their other sanctuaries. They’re like, “I’m getting the heck out of here.”

The afternoon of day two, I’m going to repeat this process. I’m going to some place slightly different, probably my number four spot. It might not be in area B. It might be up there in area C. Okay? It’s day three. The night of day two, I’m sitting there scratching my head saying, “How could I have missed it this bad?” Well, I’m going to go find my top spot in area C, and I’m going to go try that.

What I do in the middle of day three, I take this plan, because I’ve got this and I’ve been taking notes. I sit down, and I say, “All right. What have I learned in three mornings and two afternoons of hunting, plus however many days I had of scouting?” Okay. Where did I see elk sign? I haven’t seen any elk, but where have I seen the most sign and the freshest sign? Okay. That tells me elk have been there, tells me elk are preferring that area. Okay? Where is the places that are no elk sign, and they’re just waste lands? I got two and a half days left. Anything that looks like a waste land based on being void of sign, I’m just getting rid of it. Cross it off my map. Delete those way points.

With it being the middle of day three, I’ve hit my reset button. I’ve eliminated a lot of territory. I’ve taken notes of what at least has shown some sign of elk, and that’s going to be my day three afternoon strategy. What’s the best spot? What gave me that feeling in my gut that, “Okay, I didn’t see them there, but I saw their sign. I smelled them.” There’s a lot of scat, a lot of tracks. It’s farther from roads and trails. It’s maybe a little steeper and nastier. That’s where I’m going back for the afternoon in day three.

Day four, I just look at it and say, “Of all the three morning locations I have, what was the best one?” And that’s what I do for the morning of day four. I go back to the spot I thought was my best morning location, and I’m going to give it another go. Which of my afternoon locations was the best, and that is where I’m going for the afternoon of day four. Understand, with all this hunting pressure, the elk are only coming out that last 5 or 10 minutes of shooting light. I can’t give up in these afternoon hunts. I cannot leave early. I got to stay there well past legal shooting light. I’m going to be walking out with my headlamp on.

I still haven’t found any elk. Now, it’s time to experiment. We’re talking like the hail Mary type ideas. Maybe you’ve had some strategy in your head, some crazy idea that, “Someday I’m going to go do this.” Well, the time to go do this, the some day to go do this is the morning of day five. What do you have to lose? The thing I would do is whatever that crazy hail Mary idea is, I would just make sure I do it in an area where hunting pressure has pushed elk, where your gut tells you by looking at a map, “Elk are probably concentrated here after four days of hunting.” I’m going to go try this crazy idea in a spot like this.

Now, it’s like the bleakest, darkest of hours. You’ve been at it four and a half days. All you have left is the afternoon of day five, and then you got to pack up in the morning and head home. For me, the afternoon of day five, if I have not found an elk, I have not identified a pattern that’s working, that’s when I do the craziest of crazy things. I do experiments that are going to be an investment in my long term knowledge of elk. I’m going to go do something so crazy that if you watched it on film, you would laugh at me. But sometimes, in the hardest conditions, it’s the craziest thing that pays off.

The odds are you’re not going to get to day five without having found elk. The odds are, in your two scouting days, you have located some elk. If you haven’t, the odds are you’re going to have located sign, scat. You’re going to smell where they’ve been. You’re going to see beds, all that stuff. You’re going to see the grass and the vegetation where it’s chewed off. You’re like, “Oh, at least they’ve been grazing in here. I know that.”

Every day in this process has a purpose. Yeah, the purpose is to try finding elk, and kill that elk. But you also have the secondary purpose of trying to eliminate bad areas and trying to accumulate knowledge that you can apply each successive day that increases your likelihood to have an elk encounter. Because I will tell you that a post-rut or a late season bull elk, once you find him, once you have that encounter, these are rifle seasons. That elk is one of the easier elk to kill. He’s one of the harder elk to find, but once you find him, he’s one of the easier elk to kill. Thanks for watching.

Written by Cavan Williams