E-scouting for Elk With Randy Newberg: Episode 3

What Makes a Good Burn and How To Hunt It…

Fans of Randy and his show, know his obsession with hunting burns and in this week’s E-scouting video he not only tells you why, but how you can start hunting them as well. Follow along as Randy dives into the Historic Wildfire Layer for onX Hunt and tells you how to find burns in your area, which burns to target and more.

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Video Transcription:

All right, folks. This is number three in our episodes that we’re doing onX, related to E-scouting for elk. This one, it’s one of my favorite things to talk about. Burns, burns, burn. No, that’s not a Johnny Cash song. Yeah, it is a Johnny Cash song, but here we’re talking about the rings of fire that relate to elk. When we go through this, you’re going to see why we hunt burns, because a lot of you comment, “Randy, in all your footage, whether it’s mule deer, or whitetail, or elk, you’re always hunting burns.”

Yep, and here’s why. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand what burns do for the soil. In fact, I just Googled here, soil burns. Soil nutrients after a burn. Pages and pages of articles, and every one of them say the same thing, that fire causes the soil composition, the layer of penetration for water to get through, gets rid of all that thick mat of whether it’s leaves or pine needles or whatever, and allows all of the fresh new growth to come up.

That’s why burns are so great. When we talk about burns, we’re going to talk about the most effective tool you’re going to find for locating and planning with burns is onX. For those of you who watch our videos, onX has a special deal just for you. Go to onXmaps.com/hunt, and use promo code Randy, and they’re going to give you 20% off this product. When you see how we use it, you’re not going to be able to get there quick enough to buy it.

We’re going to talk about burns and we’re going to go into a lot of detail because all burns are not created equal. One of the most common questions we get about burns is how soon can you hunt them? How old are they before you quit hunting them? All kinds of stuff. I’m going to answer every one of those before we’re done with this video.

Finding burns is really, really easy thanks to the folks at onX. Right here in their nationwide layers, they have this thing called Historic Wildfire. Right here, I know there’s been burns south of my house here in Montana, so I pulled that part of the map up here, and you can see, oh, there’s a burn right here. It gives a whole outline, the whole irregular shape of the burn. When I click that off, the burns go away. I click it on, there they are.

When I’m doing my scouting and I know what unit I have my tag for, I pull out to a pretty high level and look it, there’s a burn, there’s a burn, there’s a burn. Move my map around a little bit. Hmm, there’s a burn, there’s a burn, there, there, there, there, there. Pretty easy with the onX layer, the Wildfire layer, to see where you should start your scouting and your planning.

When onX was putting this layer together, they had asked me a couple of questions of, well, what’s the most important stuff that you think a person would use for a burn? I said, “Well, we want the date,” so it tells what year the fire was, and we want the shape or the outline. To me, those are the absolute minimums, because, when I’m hunting, I’m usually not hunting in the middle of the burn. I’m usually hunting an edge, or if I can find some little out of the way corner of a burn, I’m hunting those kinds of spots. Maybe it burned up this little drainage right here, and there’s a trail, everyone’s going to hang out over here. I’m going to get up this drainage, up in this part of the burn.

In last week’s video, we talked about edges, right? Edges in canopy disruptions. We told you how burns are the ultimate canopy disruption. Well, edges around the perimeter of burns are the spot on the spot.

When I say all burns are not created equal, there’s definitely some truth in that, and here’s why. This is a pretty big burn right here. This is many thousands of acres. Usually bigger burns, especially in their core, burn with a really high intensity, and sometimes, a really high-intensity burn takes a bit longer before the vegetation and other nutrients start to express themselves.

If I’m looking at an area, and I have the choice between a really big burn and let me see. I know there are some smaller burns around here. Oh, right here’s some smaller burns. Let’s see. Where’s a better example of that? Okay, right here. This is a really, really big burn right here, from 2007. Well, here’s a longer, narrower burn from 2013. This one in its core probably was a very high intensity burn, so it may not have the nutrients, the feed, the lush vegetation, immediately, or maybe not even a year after, because of the intensity of the burn. Something that burns narrower and longer, probably didn’t burn as hot. In this burn, the soil is going to recover faster.

When I’m saying that all burns are not created equal, I’m looking for smaller burns, and I’m looking for newer burns. Obviously, I’m always looking for burns a bit further away from the roads. People often ask me, “Which burn do I hunt? Is the burn too old to hunt?”

Well, no. It’s never too old to hunt. I always hunt the newest burn on the mountain. If I had a tag over here, guess what, the only burn is from 2006. There are not 2010, 12, 14, no recent burns, so I’m going to hunt that burn. It’s still a very good area, because all this other stuff outside of the burn may not have burned for 100 years. Even though this is 12 years old, there’s still really good habitat in there, so as a general rule of thumb, you want to hunt the newest burn. The newest burn that’s at least a year old.

Then, some people will ask, “Well, how long is a burn productive?” Like I was saying here, it’s going to be productive, it’s going to be the most productive part of the landscape, until another burn comes along. Over here, all of a sudden, all right, I’ve got a 2012 burn here, and a 2006 burn here. I’m going to shift over, I’m hunting that 2012 burn because some of this is starting to grow in, it might start getting a little bit stagnant. This is like in its prime. You give me a burn that’s two to seven years old, that’s where the groceries are. That’s where the elk are going to be.

The beauty of the onX system is it’s right there at your fingertips. I used to have maps, and piles of just newspaper clippings of oh, big burn in whatever drainage. They’ve made it really, really easy, folks.

Another thing that I look for in burns is what part of the burns have water, and what part of the burns have ugly, nasty terrain. Because let’s take a burn this big right here. Even within that burn, all parts are not equal. There’s some canyons here, I know, because I’ve hunted this burn before. You have seen this burn on our TV show before. I know that some of these bottom areas have water. Guess what? Those areas are going to green up earliest. They’re going to be the greenest later into the year, and animals need water. Keep that in mind.

Then some of these burns here have a lot of roads. I don’t really care for those roads. Even though these roads are closed seasonally or temporarily, I’m going to put on my pack, grab my Kenetreks and my trekking pulls, and I’m going to be hunting out on these trails. I’m going to be hunting down either in canyons or steep ugly stuff.

Again, back to elk wanting to be undisturbed. A burn like this gives you so many options. There’s water in the bottoms, there’s places to get away from the roads. This has everything you’re looking for in a burn, and most of the burns that I hunt and that I look at. I hunt burns in Arizona, in New Mexico, and Colorado, they all have these features. They have some roadless, ugly, nasty stuff. They have some water, and they have places where I can go and hunt some far away pockets and corners of those burns to get away from the hunting pressure.

I know I’m making this sound really easy, and it is, because of onX. This Historic Wildfire Layer, makes planning for burns as easy as it gets. Hopefully we’ve told you that the age of burns really doesn’t matter, it’s what’s the newest burn. We’ve talked about how the size of the burn usually determines the intensity, and sometimes the intensity can determine or for how long that burn stays productive, and hopefully, if you’re able to use the other parts of onX, you can see where within that burn are the good places to hunt.

When I go about hunting these burns, there are a few things I keep in mind, and I talked about them earlier. You look at this big burn, and I’m probably not going to go hunt right out in the center of this. I’m going to take this trail over here, and oh, man there’s some really crazy stuff here where that burn made this really neat edge pattern. Again, edges are the places that provide food in the burned area, sanctuary and cover, bedding cover, in the unburned area. Elk, especially public land bull elk, don’t have to go far, if they have sanctuary in somewhere that hasn’t burned, and they can just go three, four hundred yards, and there’s the grocery store, that’s the kind of place I’m looking for.

Another part of my hunting strategy is, not only do I like small burns for the fact that they probably recover and become nutritious sooner, they usually attract less hunting pressure. They’re easier to hunt. They’re just that place where an elk’s probably going to feel a little more comfortable, because if there’s a big burn down here and a little one over here, most of the hunters are going down to the big burn. Not me, I’m going to hike around over to one of these fingers right here, and I’m probably going to find some undisturbed elk that haven’t seen a lot of hunting pressure, in spots like this. Those are the features I look for in a burn.

The other way I hunt is I try to find ridges within the burn or next to the burn or on the edge of the burn, where I can glass it. I don’t want to be walking in and out of there, plowing through there, because these kinds of places, if you can find where elk have food and sanctuary, they will habitually use that day after day, week after week, as long as they’re not disturbed. If I go walking through here, kind of, “Oh, I wonder if there’s any elk around,” all of a sudden, between my scent, my noise, my movement, there’s a good chance I’m going to scare those elk.

I like to find burns where I can glass them. I want to hunt them with my eyes, be patient, be patient, and sometimes, I’ll see the elk over here, and I can’t get to them that afternoon. Okay, it got dark before I could get there. The next morning, I’m going to be over here waiting for them. I know my luck’s going to happen sooner or later. Or maybe I see them in the morning and he disappears into the timber before I can get over there. Well, I’m going to come over here, I’m going to set up with the wind, and I know, if that bull has not been disturbed, he’s going to come back out somewhere in that general area.

Don’t go plowing through these burns, riding your ATV through them, stinking them up, doing foolish things, because you’re probably going to have an effect on either how much the elk use that burn or you might pressure them into the point where they’re only using it strictly at night. There are some ways to hunt burns that make sense.

Before we leave this whole topic of burns, some burns do have problems. I know some of you are going to say, “Well, Randy, you’re always preaching about the benefits of burns.” Well, some burns, in areas with invasive plant species, like cheatgrass and other stuff, those burns, especially in the inner basin, great basin areas of Nevada, Idaho, Utah, the cheatgrass and other invasive weeds can take those burns over so fast that those burns actually lose productivity for wildlife because invasive plant species such as cheatgrass and knapweed and other stuff, have no nutritional value for the elk, for the deer, for the antelope.

If I’m in a place like Nevada or Utah or Idaho, maybe eastern Oregon, and there’s a burn, I want to find out was that reseeded with native plants, or was it just one of those places where, you know what, we couldn’t get to it and the cheatgrass now owns it. That cheatgrass complex is probably not a very good burn to hunt. If it’s been reseeded with natives, it’s probably the best area that you can find to hunt.

Well there you have it folks. Burns. Got to love them if you’re a hunter. The rest of the world might think they’re ugly and nasty. When we hunters see them, we’re like, that’s where I’m going hunting. The onX system makes it so easy and for those of you who watch our videos, onX has a special promo code just for you. Go to onXmaps.com/hunt, and use promo code Randy, and they’re going to give you 20% off this app product. 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