E-scouting for Elk with Randy Newberg: Episode 8

A further look at elk needs and how they change.

Last week we learned about the importance of elk needs and how understanding these needs are imperative to filling your tag. This week, Randy dives headfirst into these needs, while breaking down how they apply to each phase of the elk hunting season. Follow along to learn more about how to find elk needs and how they change with the phases of the rut and the changing seasons.

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Video Transcription:

Hey folks, in the last video we talked about the four needs that elk have, super important video. Well today, we’re going to talk about how each of those four needs might change over the course of our hunting season. And I break our hunting season into five seasonal periods. We’re going to go over all five of those. We’re going to talk about what is the primary need, what’s need number one, two, three and four. In each of those five periods. So that when we’re all done, you’re going to be able to start building your plan, just like we’re going to do. And you’re going to first look at. “Alright, what is the seasonal period I have my tag for? Is it the early season? Is it the pre-rut? The peak rut? The pos-rut or the late season?” Because, in each of those five seasons, the need changes.

So, if I’m in late season, I’m going to have a different number one highest priority need than what I have in the early season. And, that’s how I build my plan. So, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to take these five calendar periods and I’m going to convert them to our human calendar. You’re going to see a graphic that shows each of the five periods and then I’m going to tell you, in my experience, what dates on the human calendar correspond to each of the five seasonal periods. To me, the Early Season is kind of an August event. It’s mostly archery hunting. You think of the archery seasons in Nevada, in Utah, a bit in Colorado and even in a bit in Idaho. That’s August stuff, that’s kind of early season. That then, transitions to the next season, which for me, is this Pre-rut and in my mind, most the places I hunt, the pre-rut is about right towards the end of September going towards maybe, September 9th or 10th.

So, what you’re seeing is a transition from this bachelor-up early season period to, “Oh man! It’s that time of year. I’m starting to have these crazy feelings.” Where the bull activity is starting to rise towards, what’s the next period? The Peak-rut. For me, that peak-rut period starts sometime September 10th, 12th somewhere in there. And depending on where you’re at and what type of hunting pressure they’re subjected too, may last into the first week of October.

So, we have that early season, we have pre-rut and then we have this peak-rut. So that takes us almost into early October. Then we have Post-rut and post-rut is the hardest time to kill a bull elk. So for me, the post-rut period on our human calendar is probably, October 10th-ish, 12th until the end of October. To me that’s the post-rut period. And then that, transitions to what I call late season. And for me, late season is anything from November 1st to the end of when we hunt them. It could be a November hunt, a December hunt and even some places where they have late January hunts.

So, why is it so important that we understand what these five seasonal periods are? Well, remember when we talked about the needs back there, in the last video? Those needs change in each of these five calendar periods. So now, in the rest of this video what we’re going to do is talk about each of these five seasons and what the primary need is. In other words, which of the four needs we talked about in the last video, is the number one need you should be focusing on in this seasonal period that you’re hunting elk? In this early season, you’ll still these elk, especially these bull elk, can still be bachelored up. Where you might find two, three, five, six bulls in one group. And where are you finding them? You’re finding them where the best food is because, they’re trying to put on that last bit of fat before this really stressful period of the rut starts. And they’re always going to be near water because it’s really hot.

So, when you’re building a plan around a hunt that occurs in this early season period, you’re top two priorities. Priority 1A and 1B is food and water. Find their preferred food near some water and you are going to find bull elk on public land in the early season. Where can I go find food and water? Well first of all, for food. You need to become a bit of an ecologist, a bit of a biologist. Do the research to find out what food elk prefer to eat at the time of year you’re going to be there.

Now, where are some general locations in August where you’re going to find good abundance of high quality food and an abundance of water? High Alpine. It’s cool and wet, right You might go and scout elk in August and find them way up high. And then, you come and hunt them in November and it’s like, “Where’d they go?” Well, they went somewhere else because, in August that was prime habitat. But in November, it isn’t. If you can find shade and water and in my mind, I’m thinking of places like Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah. You find water, and the onX system is so helpful in this. The water sources show up as little blue dots. For me, if I’m hunting one of those places in a time when water is a primary need. I’m not hunting more than probably, two or three miles from water.

So, as much as I talked about high Alpine, there’s also times in hot, dry areas where canyons have the same effect. They’re cool, they’re shaded and a lot of times there’s water that stays accumulated down in those canyons when it’s dried out on the rest of the landscape. And as always, everything being equal they’d prefer to be further from roads and trails, than closer to roads and trails. So this early season that transitions, starting around September 1st into this pre-rut period. And this is a time when you’re going to start hearing some bugling. The bulls are going to be active especially the older bulls, are going to be a little bit easier to kill because they haven’t built up these big herds of cows yet. If you looked at the priority of needs at this time, because of how active they are, water and food and breeding are kinda all equal.

At the beginning of the pre-rut phase, food is maybe a little higher than breeding. But by the end of this pre-rut phase, say September 10th, breeding is number one. Food and water have just lost priority. So, in this short 10-day period of the pre-rut, these needs really change quickly. Food and water being big priorities at the beginning, quickly get surpassed by the need for breeding. And as that’s happening, these bull elk are moving quickly across the preferred areas of the landscape. So, one of the cool parts about the pre-rut and the peak-rut is, sanctuary ends up dropping down pretty far. They’ll throw caution to the wind.

I’m less concerned about sanctuary areas in the pre-rut and peak-rut because those are lower priority needs. I’m less concerned about food because, food kinda is the … I’ll worry about that later. That’s why an elk loses so much weight during the pre-rut and the peak-rut. He’s so active, he’s not feeding. So that leaves my other two priorities of water because, it’s usually hot in early September, they need to be near water. And, they need to be near cows. Where are you going to look for bulls in this pre-rut period? Well, we know that water is a priority, right? If you got big parts of your unit that don’t have water, delete those. Just wipe them off your map. And here on the onX system, you’re going to know that because, they show up here. You’re probably going to want to be within a mile of the cows. The bulls have left their early season periods and they’re starting to get closer to where these cows are congregating. And where are the cows congregating in the pre-rut? Wherever the best food is. Almost by default, food ends up being a pretty good priority need in this time of year, in this pre-rut period. Not because the bulls are looking for food but because, the cows are looking for food and the bulls are looking for the cows. If you think about how the bulls leave their summer areas, their early season areas, and come to the breeding areas. The very first ones to show up are the younger bulls. The older guys, they’re like. “Yeah. I’ve been through this gig before. I’ll let those young guys go round everybody up and make a bunch of noise and do everything. Yeah, every day I’ll come through, check things out. At night, I’ll kinda be hanging closer.” But the older bulls are still at this time, going to be a little bit further away from where these cows are at. They would rather be away from roads and trails for the sanctuary value of being undisturbed.

But, I’ve seen some bull elk in crazy places during the pre-rut and during the peak rut. Our third seasonal period is the fun time, right? It’s the Peak rut. Things are crazy, the woods are noisy. In this peak rut, of these four needs I talked about in the last video, what’s the number one priority need? It’s breeding. In fact, I would say that need number one through 99 is, breeding. Followed by water. And food and sanctuary, really aren’t even on his mind at this point. So, for breeding, what do you need? You need cows. And where are you going to find cows? Where the best food on the mountain or on the landscape, exists. That’s where you’re going to find the cows. That’s why we spent so much time on earlier videos talking about canopy disruptions. Talking about burns, talking about places that elk go to satisfy that food need.

And for me, this peak rut period I’m talking about, it makes this really quick transition from pre-rut and ramps up to peak rut and then it stays there for quite awhile. And even when it starts transitioning into the post-rut, that’s a much slower transition from peak rut to post-rut, then the rapid transition from pre-rut to peak rut. So, where do you find bull elk in the peak rut? Wherever you find cows. Find cows, find cows, find cows, find cows. And you’re going to find cows where there’s food and water. I know that sounds really simple, and it is. That’s why it’s so easy to find elk in the peak rut.

So in this peak rut, the activity of these bulls is as we all know, just ramps up so high that they cannot sustain that level of activity without abundant water. They can get by without food.

They will get by without food, which is why they lose so much weight. But, they’re just so active and it’s usually hot in September, they need to water multiple times a day. And in a … If there is a general pattern to how an elk waters, it’s … Okay, in the evening when they get up out of their bed and they come down to their feeding area. There’s usually not a huge distance of travel there. There is water somewhere nearby. He stops that afternoon or evening, gets a drink. And all the breeding and activity of the evening, he’s not sleeping. He’s just continually chasing cows. He’s going to drink one or two times during that period.

And then in the morning when the sun comes up and the cows start saying. “You know what? I’m going to go to bed.” He usually stops and drinks on his way up to the bed. And this is a really good tactic to target a really old, mature herd bull. Very often, the big bull will take his cows up someplace and bed them. And you’ll hear him bugling and walking around up there kind of telling all the other bulls. “Hey, stay away. These are my girls.” And then, it’ll get kind of quiet for awhile. And part of what’s happening is, besides him bedding. Very often that old bull knows that he can sneak away at maybe 11, noon, 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock and he can come down to that water source and he will come in completely silent. He will water and he will head right back up and he will bed with those cows for the rest of the day. That’s how much they need water in this peak rut period.

If you’re an archery hunter and you say. “Well, how do I target one of these big bulls in the peak rut period? I just can’t get in on them with all the eyes that are watching me.” Maybe you want to go setup on his path from his bedding area to his water area. Because, he’s going to come in there very often in this really peak rut period. He’s going to be making some midday appearances in a waterhole. And if you’re there, not back at camp, but you’re there. You might hang your tag on that bull. And in some states, that peak rut period runs into say, October 5th maybe even, October 10th. But, as quick as there gets to be rifle seasons or even some of the muzzleloader seasons. There’s getting to be a lot more hunters in the woods because in most states, the majority of our elk hunting pressure happens in the next phase that I call the Post-rut phase.

If you looked at it in a curve from pre-rut to post-rut, it comes like this and it ramps up really quickly into the peak rut. And then it slowly tapers down into the post-rut. So post-rut, there’s a lot of rifle hunters in the woods. The old bulls on public land, they’ve responded to hunting pressure. Remember, we did that whole video on hunting pressure. The reason we did that is because in this period, the number one need quickly switches from breeding to sanctuary. And so, if you look at what the order of the needs is, it’s sanctuary, sanctuary, sanctuary. Followed by food because he’s trying to recoup. He’s gotta put some weight on or at least, sustain at an even keel during this period if he’s going to get through a hard winter. And then, water. Breeding isn’t even a part of the equation at this point, he is like.

“You know what? I’m going to leave that to the young guys. I saw those young fools out there last year when these rifle hunters were there, and hardly any of them made it through season. I’m going into this sanctuary. In my sanctuary, I’m a smart old elk. I’m solo at this time of the year. I don’t have to go more than 100 yards to get a drink or to get some food. Maybe I’ve gotta go 300 yards. But my sanctuary areas are going to be places I can meet the number one need of sanctuary. In other words, I don’t want to be disturbed. Along with the next two needs of food and water.

If the number one need is sanctuary, where do they need to go to satisfy that need in this post-rut period? They go away from roads and trails, right? In that whole sanctuary video we did we said that distance or topography or borders and boundaries, those are the kinds of things that create sanctuaries where a bull is going to go, be undisturbed, have food nearby, maybe get a drink when he needs to. That’s the place you’re looking for in a post-rut strategy. So, this post-rut period is usually when the bulls have left the cows and they’re solo, and they’re in sanctuary areas.

Now, those sanctuaries in this post-rut period might be closer to the summer range and not as close to the winter range. Now, over the course of October transitioning into November, sanctuary becomes even a higher priority I mean like, sanctuary in the late season period that we’re going to transition too from November, December, January. Sanctuary is number one as the primary need and as probably, the next 10 needs. I would say that sanctuary, security, survival is need number one through 10, in the late season period. And just like the transition from peak rut to post-rut, it’s somewhat gradual. The transition from post-rut to late season is equally gradual. One of the things you’re going to find as the change occurs, we still have the same priority of needs between post-rut and late season. It’s sanctuary, sanctuary, sanctuary but, you’re going to see a couple of changes.

The sanctuary area locations they’re looking for in the late season, are probably closer to the winter range and further from the summer range. Whereas in the post-rut those sanctuaries they’re looking for are probably closer to the summer range than they are the winter range. And now, the reason I kind of make this distinction of November 1st, that’s when these bulls have bachelored back up, right? They were in bachelor groups before season started. Now we get to November and they’re back in their bachelor groups. Two, three, five, six however many. And that makes them a little bit easier to spot because, looking for one elk in a sanctuary is a bit of a needle in a haystack. You get four bulls in that same spot, I’ll probably find one of them.

So, what kind of sanctuaries are they looking for in this late season? Well, they are again, trying to rebuild fat reserve. They don’t want to lose anymore weight. So, sanctuaries next to food is really, really important. Because, it’s cooler, water is almost a non-existent need. In a lot of places, in the northern latitudes, they’re getting their water from snow, from just moisture that’s in the vegetation. So, water’s less of a concern. In southern latitudes, water can be still, a good part of the equation in the late season because, there’s no abundance of it.

There’s probably not snow on the ground, they’re probably not getting it from the vegetation much. So, based on your latitude a late season strategy, water may play a little bit more importance, the further south you go.

And really, when you think about what these bulls are doing. They’re in their sanctuary, their sanctuary is somewhere nearby food. Probably no more than a quarter of a mile away. And they are staying in that sanctuary area all during the daylight hour. Yeah, they might be out feeding for that first half hour, right … I mean, just like sun barely is out. And then, they’re going to their sanctuary. And they’re staying there all day. They’ll get up a time or day to pee or to grab a little nibble of something. And then, they’re coming back out that last half hour of the day. That’s really their behavior. And they want sanctuaries that allow them to go the shortest distance possible to satisfy the food need because, traveling distance with all those hunters in the woods, means danger. And the smart old bulls that have survived a few seasons, they know that.

You see me hunting a lot of post-rut and a lot of late season. Reason being is, that’s the easiest time to get tags. In this post-rut period when the season is kind of going to post-rut slowly transitioning to late season. It’s all about sanctuaries in both of those periods. Sanctuary, sanctuary, sanctuary. But the sanctuaries that they’re looking for in the post-rut period are probably going to be closer to the summer range. And eventually … They don’t use one sanctuary for the whole period. They’re moving a bit because, they have to respond to weather, to other conditions. That as you get into the late season, there’s those transition areas that are not real far from the winter range. The cows are probably already down on the winter range in November and December. The bulls, their sanctuaries are going to be closer to the winter range than what sanctuaries they were using in the post-rut back in say, October 20th.

These five periods, these seasonal calendar periods that we hunt elk in. You notice that everyone of them have a different priority of what the absolute number one need is. You need to know what that number one need is, and that will tell you where you’re going to find the bull elk in one of those five seasons.

So, there you have it folks. We talked about the four basic needs in the prior video. In this video, we talked about the Five Calendar … These seasonal periods that we hunt them. And now, when we merge all that. You’re going to understand why this onX system is so critical of solving the where. Everything we’ve been doing to this point has been to get us to, where. Because, if you can’t find an elk, you aren’t going to kill an elk.

So, use an onX System, it’s going to be the critical glue that gets our plan together about, where. And for those of you who’ve been watching, onX has a promo for you. Where you can save 20% off their app product by using promo code: Randy. Just go to their website onxmaps.com/hunt. Use that promo code and they’re going to give you some good stuff at a great price. Stuff that absolutely is critical to the next step of building this plan. Thanks for watching.

Written by Cavan Williams