E-scouting for Elk With Randy Newberg: Episode 5

Dealing with hunting pressure and using it to your advantage…

Hunting pressure is an inevitability we all have to deal with, but when you understand and analyze it, you can use the crowds to your advantage. Follow along in this week’s episode of E-Scouting with Randy Newberg as Randy talks you through hunting pressure and which days and weeks of the season to pick for your hunt. Watch the video to further learn which onX functions can help you find areas away from the crowds.

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Video Transcription:

Hey, folks. Thanks for tuning in to the next video in this series about E-Scouting for elk, that we’re doing with our great friends over at onX.

In this video, we’re gonna talk about hunting pressure. Hunting pressure is a reality of hunting bulls on public land like we do, and like you do. So we just have to accept it, and figure out how we’re gonna deal with it. And in this video, the whole idea is to predict where it’s gonna happen, and how you can use it as an ally.

So before we get further into this video about hunting pressure, you’re gonna realize real quickly why I use this onX product to predict where this hunting pressure’s gonna happen. And the good news is, onX is giving all of our viewers a special promo code. If you use promo code, “Randy,” R-A-N-D-Y, and you go to onXmaps.com/hunt. You use that promo code “Randy,” and you’re gonna get 20 percent off your purchase.

So really, what is hunting pressure?

Well, hunting pressure is how elk respond to human activity, out there in the field. Pretty simple, right?

But hunting pressure can be in the form of what period of the day, the week, the season, the year, hunting pressure happens. Hunting pressure is also a function of a lot of topography, geography, and just distance and terrain, and all those other things.

So the idea, in this part of the video, is to talk about how we can predict where and when hunting pressure will happen, and how we build our plan, right? Our scouting plan is what we’re doing here. How do we build a plan that accounts for that? And if we account for it, we can kind of think, “Well, it’s probably gonna happen here. Let’s go there.” Let’s be the contrarian. Let’s let everybody else do this. We’re gonna do that. Because we want to be where the elk are, and hunting pressure can actually help you find where the elk are.

Some people say, “I’m only gonna apply for tags where there’s 20 permits.” Well, good luck with that. Yeah, you’re not gonna have a lot of hunting pressure, but you’re not gonna do a lot of hunting, either, because you’re gonna draw a tag about once every 25 years. So I don’t use that as one of my options. The other option, we accept that there is hunting pressure. We predict where it’s going to happen, and we plan in a manner that allows hunting pressure to actually work to our advantage.

I said that hunting pressure is a function of the period of the day, the time, the week, the year, the season. It’s also a function of locations and geography.

The first thing I want to talk about is hunting pressure by period, and the very first thing we’re gonna talk about is daily hunting pressure. When is the greatest amount of hunting pressure? It’s gonna be the morning, specifically opening morning, right? You get folks, “Alright. Well, I got up early. I’m at the trailhead. I’m gonna go.” Well, you’re not the only person at that trailhead in the dark, usually. There’s gonna be some other people, and there’s gonna be people filtering in, they’re coming, okay, right at daylight, right at shooting light. The elk sense that. The very first truck that pulls up to the trailhead, the elk are like, “Hmm.” Their ears, their smell, they’re like, “I’ve seen this story before.”

So if you are going to use that hunting pressure, that morning hunting pressure, to your advantage, you want to be the first one to the trailhead, you want to be really good with your headlamp. You want to be able to navigate. You want to have all of this charted on your onX, because you’re gonna be going in there well before the sun comes up. You want to be the first person there, because think about what happens when … If the trail head is here, and this is where all the people come and park, and the elk are right in here, they start moving this way. They start moving away from all that human activity that we call hunting pressure.

You want to be over here. You want to be the first hunter who gets to that trailhead, gets over here, because as those elk start responding to hunting pressure, they’re gonna disperse. They’re gonna go to certain locations that they know are a greater likelihood of survival in the face of hunting pressure. You want to be there. You don’t want to be the person who’s creating the hunting pressure. You want to be the person who is responding to, and acting on, the hunting pressure.

So in the daily, kind of 24-hour period that we talk about, the morning is the heaviest hunting pressure. Afternoon, hunting pressure is less, but what have the elk done, in response to hunting pressure? Because they might have been closer to roads and trails in the dark, just before the legal shooting light, but the hunting pressure is moving them back, moving them back, moving them back, and in the afternoon, when you plan your afternoon locations, that’s when the elk are furthest from the trailhead.

So when we build this plan, we’re gonna be talking about morning locations and afternoon locations. Your afternoon locations have to accommodate the fact that, by afternoon, the elk are the furthest they’re gonna be from the trailhead. You want to think about what this cycle, this pulse of hunting pressure is, as a daily pulse, and what do the elk do in response to that.

So we also talk about hunting pressure in terms of the normal, human calendar week, right? And we’re gonna talk about this from Saturday to Friday. Instead of Monday to Sunday, we’re going Saturday to Friday. The general situation that we have to deal with is, the greatest hunting pressure is going to be on Saturday and Sunday, with the greatest peak Saturday morning, pretty heavy pressure on Saturday afternoon, probably just as much pressure on Sunday morning, somewhat tapering off Sunday afternoon, and then come Monday, there’s still usually some pressure. Some people might have extended their weekend. Tuesday there’s some pressure. By Wednesday, it’s starting to fade. By Thursday and Friday, those elk have said, “Hmm. Maybe season’s coming to a close. There’s not nearly as much scent, as much noise, as much activity.”

So as you’re planning your five-day plan, and we … when we do this whole planning, we’re gonna do it for a five-day hunt. So as you’re doing your five-day planning, if flexibility in your calendar allows, show up and hunt Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Let the locals have the weekend warrior opportunity. You’re gonna have better hunting Monday through Friday. But assuming that your calendar doesn’t allow that, maybe you have to hunt over a weekend. Maybe you get there on Thursday and you hunt Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. Maybe that’s how you have to do it, but understand that elk are going to respond according to how the human activity is throughout the week.

We talked about how they act daily. But think about how they act weekly. I love to hunt Thursday and Friday, because I know, if there’s any part of the week where the elk are gonna be their most relaxed … Maybe they’re gonna stay out in the morning an extra 10 minutes, and that extra 10 minutes is just enough for me to get that shot. That’s greater likelihood that’s gonna happen on Thursday or Friday than Sunday, than Monday.

I want to hunt elk that are as relaxed as possible. So in my general planning of when I’m going to hunt, I try to do Monday through Friday, if I can. But if I can’t, I still want to account for the fact that there’s gonna be differences in hunting pressure and different elk responses to that daily hunting pressure. Monday, they’ve had two days of weekend pressure, they’re gonna start moving back further and further and further. Tuesday, they’re gonna be back even a little further.

So if season’s been open for four days, know that the elk you’re looking for are probably responding to pressure, and they’re gonna be even further from the trailhead, or roads or trails, than they were on opening day.

So as you’re putting together this plan, this five-day plan, “Alright. I want my day one strategy, my day two strategy.” Be thinking about these things, because hunting pressure is going to affect where you should be hunting. Whether it’s the hunting pressure of the day, or the hunting pressure during the week.

So now we have two other, what I’ll call “periodic discussions” as it relates to hunting pressure. One is: When are you hunting throughout the season that you have? And then: Where does your season fall within the calendar of all the seasons that might be there?

So first, let’s talk about throughout the specific season that you have. To me, I have my opening day strategy, and then I have the rest of the season strategy. And the reason that is, is there’s so much pressure opening morning, that what you see while scouting, say, one or two days before season, that’s really relevant for opening morning, but after opening morning, and there’s all that noise, all that human activity? All bets are off. So as you put together a plan, and you say, “Alright. I’m gonna be there for the first five days of season.” Know that you really have a day one plan, and then you have a rest-of-the-season plan.

[ 00:10:12] Now, if you come the last five days of season, you think about those pulses of hunting pressure, right? Hunting pressure doesn’t happen equally across the season, doesn’t happen equally across the day, across anything. There’s always these pulses. We’re a rambunctious group, right? The pulse is always at the beginning. Well, if you can, plan your five days more towards the end of the hunt, especially if you don’t have days to scout.

If you have a couple extra days to scout, maybe you want to go the first five days, because you’re gonna build a pattern in your two days of scouting, and you’re gonna kill your bull opening morning. That’s a great strategy. Happens a lot. Just don’t expect that what you see while scouting is going to be the same elk behavior you see after opening day.

So for me, very often, if I’m given the choice, I’ll hunt the last five days of the season, and I’ll make my plan according to those days. And what I mean by that is, last five days of the season, elk are going to be probably a little more relaxed, alright? The big pulse happened the first couple days of season. It’s now, maybe it’s … I like these units where you have a two-week or three-week season. I’m there later. Really no one else in the woods, just me and the elk, hopefully. But I do know this, that the elk now have remembered, “Hmm. Hunting season’s on. I’m going this way. I’m going some way that is going to get me further away from roads and trails.”

So my strategy, as far as how I’m going to pick my spots, whether I’m hunting the first five days or the last five days, are going to look different. Because I know the last five days, those spots I’m gonna look for are further away from roads and trails. The first five days, at least my opening day spot? I might hunt a little closer to roads and trails, and I know that, over the course of those five days, the elk are progressively going to get further and further away from roads and trails.

So the last part about hunting pressure is how it happens over the course of the year, because you might start out with an early archery season, maybe a middle archery season. Maybe you have a muzzle-loader season. Maybe you have a general rifle season in the post- elk rut [00:12:38] , and then maybe you have a limited-entry season that’s in November.

So, each of those five seasons have a different amount of hunting pressure, and the very first season, those elk have been relaxed now for about nine months. They haven’t seen a lot of humans in the woods. So if I’m hunting that very first season? I feel like I’ve got an advantage. I’m gonna change my plan accordingly. I might hunt closer to roads or trails. I might take advantage of elk that are closer to human activity locations.

But if I’m hunting the fifth season of the year, and there’s been some bull hunts, and some cow hunts, and some archery hunts, and some muzzleloader hunts, guess what? I know where I’m hunting. That hunting pressure has driven those elk into the deepest, darkest sanctuaries in the entire unit.

So hunting pressure has this pulse, both in terms of the day, in terms of the week, in terms of your season you have, and in terms of how your season fits into the multitude of seasons that might be going on in that year. Every one of those need to be something you take into account with this plan. When you look at your onX system, it’s gonna tell you pretty quickly where the greatest hunting pressure is going to be, and hunting pressure is amplified earlier in the day. It’s amplified earlier in the week, Saturday and Sunday. It’s amplified earlier in the season.

So take all that into account and don’t be nearly as worried about roads and trails if you’re the first season on the unit. If you’re the last season on the unit, I’m not gonna hunt near any of these roads and trails. I know these elk have been pressured and been exposed to so much human activity, they’re not gonna be anywhere near this stuff. So build a plan that reflects that.

So in this hunting pressure discussion, I talked about hunting pressure by period, because that tells you when elk will start to be concentrated in some places and displaced from other places. And when I say, “places,” now we’re starting to talk about locations, and that’s where the onX system really comes into play when we talk about hunting pressure.

Hunting pressure is going to be the highest near roads, trails, and trailheads, right? It’s going to be the lowest where distance and topography discourage hunters, and that’s what you have here. You can look at this stuff, and say, “Oh, look. I’m gonna have to bushwhack to get in there,” or, “Wow. If I want to hunt this burn, there’s all kinds of roads and trails on that part of the burn, but there’s none here.” So hunting pressure is going to be less where roads and trails are not. It’s gonna be greater where roads, trails, and trailheads are. It’s going to be less where distance and topography discourage hunters.

One thing I’ve often failed to take into account is, there’s a lot of other users of these public lands, and I’ve built plans about this hunt or that hunt, and I’ve showed up, and there’s a motocross [00:16:05] race going on, or an ATV jamboree, or whatever it might be, and I’m like, “What in the heck?” So you have to be thinking about those other, non-hunting kind of things, because they can affect wildlife behavior, elk behavior, as much or more than actual hunting pressure.

The other thing to think about is, we as humans are conditioned to hunt in places that we’ve seen in magazines, that we’ve seen on TV shows. In the elk world, a lot of people think that’s the big, open meadow up in the dark timber. You know, it’s … The little valley runs down, and there’s a little, grassy knoll up there. That’s where we think we gotta go elk hunting. Well, the odds are, everybody else thinks the same thing. The hunting pressure is gonna be the greatest in the places that look “classic.”

Every unit I know of has the “local honey hole,” I’ll call it. “Yup. All those bulls, they get out there on Blueberry Nob, boy that’s where you gotta kill ’em.” Never hunt the local hunting hole, but use it to your advantage. If there is some local honey hole, let everybody else go there. You go somewhere else, you’re gonna have less hunting pressure, and because the elk have been displaced from Blueberry Nob, the densities in places away from there is gonna be higher.

So with having covered the discussion about hunting pressure periodically, and hunting pressure from a location standpoint, how do we make that part of our plan that we’re putting together using our onX system?

Well, the onX has the layers about roads and trails. It has Forest Service trailheads. It has the roadless layer. I’m gonna click it on here, and you’re gonna see that, when I “Foom.” There’s all these things. This roadless layer almost tells you where there’s gonna be more or less hunting pressure. The whiter it is, the more roadless it is. The gradient goes from white to purple? That means it’s going from no roads and trails, to more roads and trails.

So this type of layer helped me put together a plan that accommodates the hunting pressure by period, by season, by month, by whatever, and by location. So when I put my plan together, and we’re about one or two videos away from actually starting on the plan itself, but I wanted to discuss every one of these factors that go into building a good e-scouting plan.

When we get into that, I’m asking myself questions, and the questions I’m asking myself as it relates to hunting pressure is, “Does my morning spot account for the fact that that’s gonna be the time of heaviest pressure? Does my afternoon spot account for the fact that the elk are gonna be further away from roads and trails in the afternoon than they probably were in the morning? Does my week-long, five-day plan, does that reflect what the hunting pressure will be like during the week that I plan to hunt?” In other words, have I overlain my five days of hunting on the normal, human work calendar? Because that’s gonna tell me how much pressure I’m gonna have of other hunters, the weekend warriors, if you want to call them that, on whatever days of my hunt, and as a result, I’m gonna adjust my spots for this five-day plan according to when and where I expect that hunting pressure.

The other part is, does my five days that I picked to hunt, is it in the early part of the season, or is it in the late part of the season? Because we’re gonna talk about where I select my camp, whether it’s a [ 00:20:02] camp, or whether it’s a base camp. Well, that is gonna be completely changed if I’m hunting the last five days of the season, versus if I’m hunting the first five days of the season.

So I have to be asking myself, “Have I considered which days of the season I’m hunting, and what hunting pressure has done to the elk?” and my spots now reflect that change in elk activity. Does my five-day plan account for all these geographic things that I see on my onX system, that is going to attract the most hunting pressure, and therefore make me say, “I don’t want to be where all the hunting pressure is, I want to be where the elk are.” Those are the things that go into using hunting pressure as your ally.

Because think about this. In most places, you’re gonna have a large part of the landscape that has a lot of hunting pressure, and then you’re gonna have smaller parts of the landscape that have low hunting pressure. If the elk densities get removed from the high human activity areas, if you can find those low human activity areas, think about how much the elk density has increased in those areas if it’s been decreasing in the high human activity areas.

The real goal in using hunting pressure is to understand what elk will do in response to hunting pressure, and put yourself in front of where the elk will go as they respond to that hunting pressure. The pressure is a reality. I accept that reality, I adjust my plan accordingly, and I use that hunting pressure to my benefit. That is how we predict hunting pressure, and how we plan around it.

And you can see, the onX tools are absolutely critical for developing that plan. So take advantage of their promo code that they’re giving all of our viewers. Go to onXmaps.com/hunt, and use promo code, “Randy,” and save yourself 20 percent, and build a plan like this that accounts for hunting pressure, and you’ll be really happy you did.

Good luck. Tune in again next week.

Written by Cavan Williams