E-scouting for Elk With Randy Newberg: Episode 2

Identifying Forest Canopy and Edge Disruptions…

Food source may be one of the most important factors when searching for elk. An 800-pound animal that grazes all day needs an ample food supply and you need to know how to find it when scouting.

In this week’s video, Randy goes through how exactly to find forest disturbances like fires and logging, which will lead to nutritious new growth.

Follow along as Randy runs through where to find the nutritious growth elk crave, and learn how to use the Historic Wildfire Layer, Timber Cuts, Aerial Imagery and much more to find the perfect feeding habitat for elk in your area.

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Video Transcription:

Hey, folks. Thanks for tuning in to our second video that is part of this long series of E-scouting videos. We’re doing these with onX. This is the critical piece. This is the tool we use to build these plans. I don’t care if you want to call it desk scouting, E-scouting, cyber scouting, whatever, it’s me standing right here searching and scouting and planning for a hunt that’s a thousand miles away. Remember, onX has a special promo code where you can save 20% on the purchase of their app products. Go to onxmaps.com/hunt and use promo code randy, R-A-N-D-Y when you make your purchase. They’re going to give you 20% off. In the first video, we gave you a general idea of what this series will be about.

Now, we’re going to go into edges and disruptions, that’s the video we’re going to talk about today. And then we have burns, we’re going to do a whole video on burns. We’re going to have a whole video on sanctuaries, and then we’re going to do one on hunting pressure. Because those are the four critical elements of what I’m looking for when I’m putting together my plan. So with that, let’s jump into the first part of this. I’m talking about edges and canopy disruptions. The reason those areas are so important is food, food, food, food, and more food. No matter where an elk is in any time of the year, he still is looking for food.

Even in the later season when he’s in a sanctuary, he wants a sanctuary that’s near some small food area, someplace where he doesn’t have to go very far to feed. And we’re going to talk about why edges and canopy disruptions are the best place to find those food sources. When you’re looking for food for elk, understand that they are grazers. They are looking for grasses and forbs. That’s what they key on.

Yeah, if they have to, they’ll browse on other type of stuff, but their preference is grass and forbs. And where you’re going to find the best grasses and the best forbs are in areas that have an edge component to it or where a big disruption has happened, maybe even a small disruption to a large expanse of forested canopy. If you’ve ever been in a forest that is let’s just say a big thick pine forest or spruce forest of whatever, way beyond maturity level, a climax type forest, go in there and look what the floor of the forest looks like. It’s mostly needles, maybe some decaying tree limbs. There’s not much in the way of food, very little in the way of grasses. Because no sun is getting through the canopy. The moisture and the nutrients are being absorbed quickly by the trees and they’re out-competing the elk food, i.e. grasses. So that’s why we’re looking for these areas that allow sunlight, moisture, and nutrients to go into what the elk want for food.

In the early season, food is the number one priority. Even as you go from early season into this pre-rut to peak-rut, food is still critical because the cows year-round in any of those five seasons and rest of the year, the cows are looking for the best food. So if the bulls are starting to get towards the peak breeding season, what are they looking for? They’re not looking for good, necessarily, they’re looking for cows. Where do you find cows? Where the best food it.

So for those three seasons, the largest abundance of greatest nutritional value is where the cows will be. As we transition into the post-rut and into the later season, security and sanctuary are paramount because these elk have been in the woods, they’ve been exposed to all this hunting pressure now through archery season, maybe a muzzleloader season. They’re like, “Wow, I got to find someplace to hang out.” But the sanctuaries they’re hanging out in also have a nearby high-quality food component.

So that’s what edges and canopy disruptions provide is food. So what is an edge? Those of you who are whitetail hunters. I hear it all the time from whitetail hunters, “Oh, I hunt this edge row.” Well, it’s where trees convert to maybe a food plot of crops. Here in the west, it might be where aspens convert to oaks, or it might be where pines convert to Pinyon-juniper, or it might be where aspens convert to sage or where sage converts to grasses. It’s these areas, they’re not like perfect straight lines like farm fields. Out here in our country they meander, they might be little mosaic pockets. But they’re places that transition from one type of habitat to another. And usually, we’re talking about a habitat that is somewhat exclusionary to the food source to a habitat that is very accommodating to the food source.

When we start talking about canopy disruptions, there’s four types of those that I focus on. Some of you who do this same thing might focus on a few other types of canopy disruptions but I put them into four categories. They’re fires either man-made, i.e. a controlled burn, or a natural burn. They’re logging areas and it doesn’t need to be a clear-cut. It might be selective logging. They’re beetle kill and they’re avalanche shoots. Those are the four places that disrupt large canopies that I look for that hold food which in return will hold elk. I’m going to be looking for different types of edges in canopy disruptions in the pre-rut and I will be in the late season. I’ll be looking for a different type of edging canopy disruptions in the early season than I will in the post-rut. That’s why we’re going to cover them all and give you some ideas so that when we start putting together our plans in these later videos, you understand what we’re talking about when we say, ah, there’s food here because of this disruption or because of this edge or whatever. And that plan starts with knowing how to locate these edge and disruption items on your onX systems.

When I’m looking for any type of edge or disruption, I’m either using the hybrid part or I’m using the satellite map. The two biggest canopy disruptions that I focus on, burns and logging activity are layers right here in the map system, the layers of onX. So if I want to find any type of logging activity, whether it’s thinning or clear-cut, and I know that those provide food, I have it right here at my fingertips with onX layer. Just click on these layers. Do you see right here’s a layer that says timber cut? I click on it and wow, there’s 2008 clear cut comes up. And then what really gets me going where most of my planning happens is around burns, whether they’re controlled burns or whether they’re some sort of natural wildfire burn.

So again, there’s a layer here. You click on it and here’s a 2012 fire, here’s a 2001 fire, a 2006 fire, a 2007 fire. I don’t know how they could make it any easier. So just with that, the two critical canopy disruptions that we talk about, in other words, fires and logging are right here as layers on your onX system. That’s as easy as easy gets.

And I’m going to go into some that are a little bit harder. I’m going to stay with the canopy disruptions. I’m going to talk about beetle kills and I’m going to talk about avalanche slides. Right here outside of Bozeman is the Bridger Mountain range. And anyone who hunts this, I apologize if I’m messing you up. But I’m going to get rid of my layers here, you can see the forest service layer. I’m going to click that off and I’m just looking for certain things. And I don’t want all the other layers on top. I’m looking for certain types of topography, geography, and vegetation.

So right here on the Bridgers, I’m like, “Hmm, a lot of people ski here. They talk about all the avalanches up there.” This whole side of the Bridgers is full of avalanche shoots. And if you look at it it’s like okay, look, there’s all this dark timber, but seems like it’s always interrupted by something. Hmm, will you look at that? Avalanche comes down off the ridge and over years and decades of avalanches coming down here it’s opened up this whole bottom of this drainage. Same over here on the next shoot, and the next shoot. And there’s places in Colorado and places in Wyoming where every mountain range, like the Wind River Range or the Wyoming Range is just a series of avalanche shoots. And any place the avalanches don’t go, there’s dark timber. And then there’s an opening from an avalanche shoot, and then there’s dark timber. Those avalanche shoots create edge type of habitat that elk love.

There’s not any onX layer called avalanche shoot layers, and there’s not a layer called beetle kill layers. So I’m going to show you where you can go to see what beetle kills look like on satellite imagery. Go to Walden, Colorado.

The Medicine Bow Mountains over here on the east side of North Park have miles and miles of beetle kill. And when I was down there I think around 2000 was when this beetle kill really started showing up. It was more orangish dead tree looking. When I was down there 10 years later, a lot of the beetle kill went from just being like stands of dead trees to now having a lot of food growing up inside it. So the reason I tell you to go here and look is you can see from the aerial, though, oh, that’s what beetle kill looks like from an aerial photo. It will give you some relative idea of what you’re looking for in places you might have a tag that have beetle kill. And like here, you can see there’s snow cover on the ground, it’s really easy to tell beetle kill when there’s snow cover on the ground. It just looks like dark matchsticks on white snow.

Now, if I go over here on some satellite imagery that doesn’t have snow on the ground, you’re going to see that it has kind of this grayish purple look to it and know they’re the dead trees. So that’s how we find these four categories of canopy disruptions. Burns and logging you find through the layers. Just click on the layer in onX. Beetle kill and avalanche shoots takes a little bit of training of your eye, little bit of practice and pretty soon you’ll quickly be able to figure that out. And then when we get to edge areas, I’ve kind of saved the edge areas for last because they’re the easiest.

Edge areas stand out because just on a satellite imagery, they’re a big change just in color. Like most edge areas will go from … here you’ll see it goes from a dark rich green to an almost a brown with some green in it. In the west, we call them parks or meadows. So edges are easier to find just because on a satellite imagery, they’re a big change in color.

A lot of this is just practice and knowing that you have to understand what you’re looking at when you’re looking at an aerial view. And to do that you can see that you need the onX system, right? Just for our viewers, they have a special promo code where you can save 20%. Go to onxmaps.com/hunt and use promo-code Randy and they’re going to give you 20% off the purchase of these app products. Thanks for watching.

If you like this content and want more of it, you can show your appreciation by checking out Randy’s forum HuntTalk as well as following him on Facebook.

Written by Cavan Williams