E-scouting for Elk With Randy Newberg: Episode 4

Finding post-rut sanctuaries…

Hunting post-rut bulls can be one of the most challenging aspects of elk hunting. In this week’s episode of “E-Scouting for Elk with Randy Newberg” Randy dives into the steepest, thickest and roughest areas on the mountain that he refers to as sanctuaries. These are the pockets you don’t want to go to, but post-rut bull elk love to live in after the rigors of the rut. Watch the video to learn more about elk sanctuaries and the tools you need to find them.

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Video Transcription:

Wow. There are so many bulls down here. It’s gonna take, if we shoot one or two of ’em tomorrow, it’s gonna take the rest of the hunt to get ’em out of here. This is so classic of sanctuary I wish everyone who asked me the question about hunting sanctuary was right here sitting with me right now. There is not going to be another hunter willing to go down in here, I don’t think. Today, we’re gonna talk about another critical component to putting together a plan to go and fill your tag. It’s what I call sanctuaries. You hear me talk about elk are in sanctuary mode or you have to find a sanctuary. There’s two seasons of the year that it’s critical, the late season and the post-rut. Remember we talk about these five periods of the elk calendar? Early season, pre-rut, peak rut, post-rut, late season. These last two, in those last two periods when most of the rifle hunting is going on, elk are in sanctuary mode.

So many times when we talk about sanctuaries, people try to apply it for the early season or the peak rut. Don’t worry that much about sanctuary in the first three seasons. It’s an absolutely critical issue in the last two seasons. Before we get too deep into sanctuaries and how we find em and how we hunt them and what they look like, I wanna make sure that you understand most of what we’re talking about and what we’re doing. We use the onX System to identify sanctuaries and right now for those of you that are watching this video, onX has a special promo. If you go to onxmaps.com/hunt and you use promo code Randy, R-A-N-D-Y, they’re gonna give you 20% off this app product. And I know when you see it in this video and the other videos you’re gonna want it. If you walk up to some place and say, “Man, I don’t really wanna shoot an elk there,” the odds are you’ve found a sanctuary.

Sanctuaries are the places that due to distance, due to topography, maybe due to blow down and vegetation that hunters don’t wanna go and elk quickly figure that out that if they go to those places that hunters avoid, they’re less likely to be disturbed, less likely to get shot at and that’s a good place to hang out in the heavy pressure of rifle seasons. And some people challenge that, “Oh, Randy, elk aren’t afraid of roads, they aren’t afraid of motorized trails.” Well, I talk about sanctuaries and roads and motors, as I call them, not because I’m trying to make some political statement about motorized travel. Anyone who doubts the impact that motorized travel has on elk, there’s a place in Oregon called the Starkey Experimental Forest, it’s funded by many groups, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is a big supporter, the U.S. Forest Service, they’ve done multiple studies about how elk respond to motorized travel.

And when you read those studies you’re gonna come to the same conclusion I have and you’re gonna come to the same conclusion that most successful public land elk hunters have arrived at. Elk avoid motors and that’s what creates a sanctuary. So I’ve said that a sanctuary is usually a function of distance, maybe a function of topography or a function of just vegetation and nastiness. I’m gonna show you a few examples of what they look like and how we locate em using the onX System. Now I’m gonna start with the easy one, distance. They have this wonderful feature right here called the Roadless Area. Watch my map when I click that on. Voom, all these really white and purple-ish areas, it goes from really, really bright white and the gradient transfers to more of a purple. Those are areas without a lot of roads and I can tell you right now that in places with a lot of public land hunting pressure, this right here is so critical. It shows me where are the areas that are furthest from roads and trails and it’s as easy as just clicking on the layer. There it is.

This shows you the distance from a motor to the elk habitat is greatest in the areas with white. And I’m not saying that I always hunt the whitest of the white area because sometimes that’s like nothing like rock, granite and ice. But I know that these purple-ish areas are still pretty far from a motor and those are the areas I’m gonna focus on. I’m gonna use my other information about burns, about canopy disruptions. I’m gonna use all of that together to put my plan in place but making it super, super easy is this layer called the Roadless Layer on the onX system. The other part about when I say distance it might be that there are no roads like it’s showing on the Roadless Layer. It might be that roads are closed seasonally or just temporarily. Or it might just be the fact that people don’t wanna walk that far with a camp on their back and possibly to haul an elk out.

Those are the times when distance can create a sanctuary. Then I also talk about topography, steepness, ugly, nasty, whatever you wanna call it. The best way to find that, we’ve got these three layers down here, satellite, hybrid and topo. Put that on topo right here. Holy cow, look how those topol lines are stacked. I mean, I don’t want em so tight that I can’t climb it but I know that if I leave this trail and I walk up on this ridge and I glass down in there, topo lines stacked that tight, look down there, I probably don’t wanna haul an elk out of there. The old Bull elk, he’s figured that out, he’s found some place to make a living down there and it doesn’t have to be a monstrous mountain. Maybe it’s just one little canyon that people don’t wanna cross. It can be a multitude of things that topography creates as a barrier or a discouragement, a deterrent to the average hunter. Those places help create sanctuaries.

Vegetation can also create a sanctuary. Some places just have ridiculously dense, thick, nasty vegetation. We were on a Mountain Goat hunt where I was happy when we got to the Alpine because it was just rock. I had to go through about a mile and a half of blowdown and jungle and the wind had blown it down, some burn areas. Nobody wanted to go in there but I didn’t have an elk tag at the time, I did see one of the biggest Bull elk I’ve ever seen in Montana while I was in there. Why? Because that Bull had found a sanctuary. He knows, guess what? Most people aren’t gonna come in here and to find these places where vegetation creates sanctuary takes a bit of a trained eye. I talked about it in the video about canopy disruptions. Burns, deadfalls, avalanche shoots, beetle kills, after a few years, those trees die and the wind starts knocking them down. Those are no fun to climb over and to navigate around, especially in the dark with a heavy load on your back. That discourages a lot of hunters.

Sometimes if you see an old logging area, what happens right next to the logging road, it’s alders just terrible bad thick and it’s that way for about a hundred yards on each side of the logging road. Once you get through those alders, a lot of times they’re clear cut once you get back there in the thinned area, wow, pretty easy going but most people don’t wanna go through that first hundred yards of Alders. There’s a lot of things that can create a sanctuary. Distance, topography and vegetation, either alive or dead vegetation. And all of this gets back to elk, public land bull elk, figure out over time that they need certain places to survive hunting season. They need food, they need water but mostly they need sanctuary. All sanctuaries are not created equal. If I’m looking for a sanctuary on my map there’s a few things that I have to know.

There are three characteristics I find with almost all of the sanctuary areas, I find elk. So you have big areas that are a general sanctuary but you have spots in that sanctuary that I call the spot on the spot. In other words, it’s the place where you’re gonna find the elk in this big area that you consider to be a sanctuary. And the three characteristics are food nearby, hard to approach and easy escape routes. And we’ve talked about burns, how that provides food. We’ve talked about canopy disruptions, avalanche shoots, beetle kills, logging. We talked about all those things that create food. I’m looking for sanctuary areas with food no more than a half-mile away, preferably a small pocket of food a quarter mile away. Elk know that if they leave that sanctuary and they have to travel a long distance for food, traveling means risk, it means exposing yourself to hunters.

Old Pete, he decided last year he was gonna go three quarter of a mile over there to get food. Guess what? He got a victory lap in the back of somebody’s truck. Tom and Fred, they saw that and they’re like, “No, we’re gonna feed right nearby here.” So food near this place is going to make it a higher priority, a more attractive option for these bull elk. The other two aspects of sanctuaries is they’re hard to approach and they have quick escape routes. So hard to approach could be, “All right, I gotta cross this scree hillside to get around to even have a look at where they’re at.” Well, guess what? They’re gonna hear you coming or they’ve put themselves in a situation where it doesn’t matter what the prevailing wind is, doesn’t matter what the thermal is, it gets in that little basin wraps around her, it gets down in that canyon and it wraps around and you just can’t get on em with them smelling you.

And the other part is escape routes. You will just about always find, especially if you have snow, you’ll look and you’ll see these beds in there and you’ll be like, “How did they get out of here?” Well, usually within five to ten yards, they’re bailing off or they’re shooting up out of there or they’re in the thick timber. They have quick escape routes in places they prefer as sanctuaries. So like I said, all sanctuaries are not created equal but they’re gonna have the characteristic of food nearby, hard to approach and good escape routes. There you have it, folks. That’s a really brief overview on sanctuaries. I could spend hours talking about it but if you wanna get schooled up on it and find them a lot easier, make sure you have the onX system and right now, if you go to onxmaps.com/hunt those of you who are viewing our videos, they have a special promo code.

Use promo code Randy and they’re gonna give you 20% off their onX App system. 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