E-scouting for Elk With Randy Newberg: Episode 9

It’s time to put your plan together…

After eight weeks of advice, tips and elk knowledge, join Randy Newberg in compiling all of that information into a pre-rut hunting plan. Now is the time to put your newfound knowledge of burns, timber cuts, elk behavior, boundaries and more, into one cohesive plan for opening day in September. Follow along to create your best chance at early season success.

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Video Transcription:

All right, folks. Now it’s time to put everything together. In this video that we’re doing in this E-Scouting series, we’re going to put together a plan. And one of the things that you’re going to see is this part of the process is super, super intensive use of the onX system. So because you’re a viewer watching this series, onX has a promo code where you can save 20%. Go to onXmaps.com/hunt, and use promo code Randy and save 20% on this app product. Because when you see how much we use it for this part, you’re going to want to have it. Trust me on that one.

I’ve chosen a unit that … I chose it for a reason. One, I want to have the minimum amount of disruption to tag holders, so I’ve picked a unit that’s hard to draw. I also wanted to make sure it was a unit where I’ve hunted archery, and I’ve hunted rifle. I’ve hunted both in this unit that we’re going to demonstrate. And I wanted it to be a unit where there was a significant difference in how I would hunt a pre-rut hunt, like we’re planning for in this video, and how I would hunt a post-rut hunt that we’re going to do in the next video.

So as a result, I have chosen a unit in New Mexico, Unit 16A, because I’m familiar with it. I can show you, here’s what I did, here’s why I did it, and here was the result, because in both the archery hunt that we did here and the rifle hunt we did here, we ended up filling a tag and we were in elk quite frequently. So my disclaimer to this is if you want to use this video as your shortcut to scouting because maybe you have a Unit 16A tag, expect a lot of other people to be doing the same, and it’s going to be a lot of crowding in the places I’m showing you.

The idea is this is how we do it, this is why we do what we do, this is why the prior videos were very important. And what you’re going to see, and I’m going to just pull back right now so you can see the big differences, okay? You see this cluster waypoints of the plan I’ve already put together here? That’s on one part of the unit. That’s for a pre-rut, earlier September hunt. You see all these waypoints over here? I’ve marked them all differently. Here, we’re going to be 30, 40 miles away for a post-rut hunt, a rifle hunt.

And the reason I want to do that is to show you, you can’t be hunting, or in most cases, you shouldn’t be hunting the same place in archery as you will in rifle, or you shouldn’t hunt in rifle where you were in archery because the elk are in different places, satisfying a different need at a different time of the year. This video is pre-rut. September 1 through about September 10 is what I call that pre-rut phase. This tag is actually going to overlap partially into the peak rut. So the reason it’s really important to figure out, “All right. If my tag dates are this, my seasonal period is that.” Because the seasonal period determines what the elk’s need is at that time you are hunting.

And that, that primary need is what drives where you’re going to hunt. This period of time that we’re talking about is a pre-rut. So the bulls in August are still bachelored up. Towards the end of August, after they’ve rubbed their velvet, they start dispersing. Then in early September, the young bulls are moving in with the cows, the bigger bulls are staged a little bit further away. By the end of this hunt, the bulls are going to be in with the cows all day every day. Their need at the beginning of this period is food, food, food. And by the end of this hunt, their need is breeding. Absolutely, the only thing they’re worried about is breeding.

I’m not using sanctuary and survival as my primary need for planning this hunt. You’ll see how we do that in the post-rut time. In this pre-rut hunt, I am focusing on food for two reasons. One, at the beginning of the pre-rut phase, bulls are still very interested in food even though at the end they’re going to be interested in breeding. Where do you find the cows that interest you if you’re a bull elk? Well cows, year round, are looking for food, food, food, food, and food. So there’s still a food component at the end of this period we’re hunting. Very often, the cow elk are where the really lush vegetation is, maybe at a lower elevation. The bulls, they will stage up higher where it’s maybe a little dryer and not quite as lush.

So even though they’re both focusing on food, they’re probably going to be in different locations seeking that food. And that’s where you have to become a student of elk. Google is your friend. Here, I just typed in “elk forage study Gila National Forest”, and pages and pages of stuff comes up. Why do I read this stuff? Because I know that the cow elk are going to select for the best food on the mountain. And I know that the bulls are going to select, possibly, for a different type of food, and I want to know as much about the range conditions, what kind of soils, what kind of foods, what kind of grasses, and I can’t give all that to you in a video. You need to be doing this research yourself.

The really important layers when we’re talking about food is the wildfire layer. There. Boom. Here’s the fires. Turn it off, they’re gone. And the timber cut layer. I can see 2015, 2016, 2013, ’16, ’16. There’s all of these other areas that are producing food. The two greatest sources of providing great food are the timber cuts and the wildfires. This unit has multiple fires. There’s been a fire here, there’s been a fire here, here, here, here, here. There’s been a lot of fires in this unit. Some controlled, some wildfires.

Well what did I say in the past videos? I want the newest burn, right? So I’m going to this big burn right here. It’s 2012. It’s … this one over here is 2006. And then I talked about all burns are not created equal. How I usually don’t go and hunt right in the core of the burn. Because in the core of the burn it probably was a really high intensity burn. I’m looking for these places along the edges where it was probably lower intensity, so the soil recovered faster, the vegetation is probably a little better, where the elk feel a little more secure because they have some timber that they can move in and out of, they can bed right next to the food.

Up here, you see this really interesting line of this fire. Well what this is is a road. They put the fire line along the road. So even though that’s got an edge to it, the edge is a road. It’s going to have all kinds of traffic. I want an edge that’s more of a natural … kind of a function of the topography and geography, so I’m going to be looking more over here.

One of the other things we talked about is how sometimes, boundaries create a comfortable place or a sanctuary. And even though sanctuary isn’t our primary need here, down here is a boundary. This is Unit 16A, this is Unit 16B. I’m looking at places that people are probably going to neglect or ignore because it’s near a unit boundary. I suspect some of you are saying, “Well Randy, here’s a really good mosaic pattern over here where that burn did all kinds of cool things.” Yeah, you’re right. It did. These places over here are every bit as good as these places over here, but I’m going to turn some layers off, I’m going to get rid of the burn layer and the logging layer, and all other things being equal, elk want to be undisturbed.

So the way to find where elk are going to be undisturbed is this roadless layer. So you see when I turn that on? Look what happens. This area where all my waypoints are, are more purple. They’re not white, like totally roadless, but you’ll notice, mine are mostly in these purple areas. Where all this other good burn fringe habitat was, where there’s good food, there are a ton of roads. Motorized roads. So even though the food quality is the same here and over here, all other things being equal, elk want to be less disturbed, so I’m going over here where there are fewer roads. There’s still roads over here. You’re going to find that in a lot of these southwest states. I just know that these elk, both the bulls and the cows, prefer to be undisturbed.

So even in a pre-rut hunt like this, where food is the number one priority, my number one priority being food, my greatest layer for telling me how to find food are the timber cut layer and the wildfire layer. You notice that I still did, at some point in my plan, used the roadless layer. I want to lower the likelihood that it’s going to be disrupted by other hunters, that’s why I want to get further away from other hunters. One thing I’ve learned from reading all of these forage studies in just about every place I hunt is that in the pre-rut, the bulls will be seeking food in a different place than the cows are seeking food. And because I’ve read a bunch of studies, I’ve hunted down here a lot, I know what’s going to happen in this part of New Mexico.

The bulls, at the beginning of my hunt, they are on food. They’re not quite yet at the breeding level, so you’re going to see my waypoints here, where I’ve marked spots where I know that bulls are going to be, those are higher elevation places. The places where I think the cows are going to be feeding are lower elevation. They’re closer to water, they’re going to have a little bit easier terrain, there’s going to be certain aspects and features that draw a cow elk to feed in these places and bull elk to feed in these higher places.

Here’s what’s going to happen over the course of this fourteen day pre-rut period where the pre-rut goes to the peak rut. These cows are going to be down here where the best food is, there’s a lot of water, and that’s part of why I selected this. There’s bedding cover. There’s reasonable terrain, it’s not like this super steep stuff. This is the classic place that cow elk love to feed. So these cow elk waypoints that I have here, they’re going to be in these general areas from the start of this season to the end of this season. From September 1 to September 14, these cow elk are not going to move hardly at all. But these bull elk are going to move a lot.

Right now, they’re anywhere from one to three or four miles away from the cows. And when I say right now, I mean September 1 when the season opens. So if you can only go for the first seven days of the season, you’re going to be hunting these higher areas, slightly away from the cows. You’re still going to be looking for the best food because the bulls, they’re looking for good food in the early part of this season. Yeah, occasionally they’re going to drift down and they’re going to check these cow groups, but until the rut really gets going, they’re going to move back away.

But if your hunt is the last seven days of this hunt, let’s say the 8 through the 14, well then, you know that these bulls, by that time, are moving down in with these cows. So you’re not going to want to be hunting up here higher, you’re going to want to be hunting down here where these cows are pretty much permanent residents through the entire period of this hunt, and the bulls, especially the mature bulls, are now down with them. So understand, over the fourteen days of this hunt, you’re going to see where the bulls go from here down into here.

I know some people are probably saying, “How did you pick where to put these waypoints?” And the answer is explained in pretty much all of the previous videos. So I’m looking in here. I’m going to go way down in here. Oh, there’s water there. There’s water there. There’s water here. There’s water all over this place where these cows are. There’s water there. There’s water here. All these little blue dots you see right here? These blue dots on your onX, those are water sources. So I know that cows are going to be very close to water. I know that they also want to be where the best feed is, and I know the best feed is in these edges of the burn, these mosaic patterns, probably at the lower elevations, probably in canyons or slopes that have a north face or a northeast face that aren’t going to dry out as much. That’s the logic of how I came to these spots where all these cow elk waypoints are that you see.

And then you’re probably asking, “Well, how did you pick the bull elk waypoints?” Well a couple things. One, they’re in the core of this burn, but when I turn the burn layer off, I now get a really good aerial view. And if I want an even less disrupted aerial view, I go from hybrid to satellite, where it’s strictly satellite. So now, I can see places where, wow, okay, the burn went through here, but there’s still a lot of standing timber. Wow, look at this. There’s some timber that didn’t burn. Here’s some that didn’t burn. Remember in the burn video, we talked about how elk prefer certain parts of burn or certain types of burn. Well these are the kinds of places that bull elk like in late August, early September. Little higher elevation, little cooler, still going to be really good feed, and there’s still going to be some shade and bedding cover, and they don’t have to go more than a mile to get water. Maybe a mile and a half at the most.

So those are the kind of things that I know are going to attract bull elk at that time of year. Additionally, again, these forage studies that you read tell me, I know what bull elk are eating that time of year, and I know at what elevation it grows, I know where it’s going to be in a drought year versus a non-drought year. Speaking of droughts, we may as well just throw this out here right now. I don’t care if you’re talking Northern Rockies, New Mexico, from Colorado to Nevada, drought or other weather conditions, maybe it’s a really wet year, are going to change some of these general patterns slightly. A really bad drought year might get the elk more concentrated in this pocket or that pocket. A really wet year will have them more dispersed and more evenly distributed.

So know that everything we talk about here is the general rule, and every general rule has exceptions, right? Now I want to talk about how I would hunt this on a day by day basis. In other words, if I’ve got seven days, what am I going to do day one, what am I going to do day two, what am I going to do day three? Four, five, six, and seven? And before we get into that, understand that in the pre-rut hunt here that gets close to the peak rut, I’m really not worried about glassing points and stuff like that. What you’re going to see in the next video, where a lot of my strategy is based on where am I going to be able to glass, how many places am I going to be able to see at one time? Here, I’m mostly focused on how are these elk going to respond to their need for food at the beginning of my hunting period, to their need for breeding at the end of my hunting period?

You’ll see that I kind of have three general areas down here in the south part of my unit, kind of in the central part of my unit, and kind of in the north part of my unit. So if I have seven days, probably what I’m going to do is I’m going to spend one day in each of these areas. And the whole idea is to either validate or reject what my thoughts were as I was putting this together. There’s going to be times when I go there that, oh, guess what, Randy? This area? That was a waste. When that burn came, this all grew in with noxious weeds, and there’s really no quality food left there. Didn’t know that. But if I put my boots on the ground and I spend a day walking around there, I’m going to learn that.

So I don’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket. I want to have multiple places that I can go and hunt, because I can assure you, out of these three general areas, maybe one of them will be that really great spot. The odds are that one will be really good and the others will be so-so, or one will be really good, one will be so-so, and one will just be a complete bust.

So here’s how I’m going to do it on the seven day hunt. In a place where I’m going to be covering this much terrain and I have seven days to investigate, I’m doing a base camp. I’m not hiking in here and staking my claim on this spot. I’m doing a base camp, and probably what I’m going to do is, right here is a forest service road that comes like this, I’m going to park my camp somewhere along this forest service road, and the first day, I’m probably going to come in and I’m going to hunt/scout this part of my unit. I’m going to go, I’m going to hit these higher ridges and say, “Alright. Am I seeing signs? Am I seeing rubs, am I seeing any elk? Am I hearing a few bugles?” Maybe even in this early part of the pre-rut.

Depending on what I see there, then I’m going to drop down and check all of these places that I think have great food sources and water sources. Because here, I’m looking to validate, are these cows here? Because if these cows are here and it’s September 1, I know pretty soon these bulls are going to be there. But if these cows aren’t here, there aren’t going to be any bulls there. It’s that simple.

So my first three days of a seven day hunt, I’m doing as much scouting as I am hunting. The beauty of hunting places where water is a concentrating factor is that around a water hole, it’s going to tell you a lot. If there are no tracks, you’re probably wasting your time. If there are a ton of tracks, it validates, all right. Some of my planning was good. It’s going to show you which direction they’re going. It’s probably going to give you some idea of the amount of use that’s there. If there’s just a few tracks, maybe this wasn’t as good a spot. Maybe there’s one of these water holes that has way more use than the others and is really close to good feed and good bedding cover.

So the very first day is going to be spent in a spot like this, checking the higher areas, listening, doing some locating bugles, but during the middle of the day when things are kind of shut down, I’m going to be doing a lot of scouting and exploring. So let’s say I put my base camp here or over here, the next day, I’m going to come down into this area. It’s close by. Say I set my camp along this forest service road. I’m only a mile or two in these spots. So I’m going to go do the same thing. I’m going to go through this high country, bugle, listen, look for signs, and then I’m going to drop down and check all these water places.

So by the end of day two, I’ve pretty much sorted out this general part of my … the central part of my unit. I’ve checked out the southern part of my unit. And then maybe I’ve found the hot spot. Maybe it’s like, “This is it. I got it dialed in.” And what I’ll do is that’s the spot I’m going to hunt. But let’s say I didn’t find anything super great there, and I haven’t found anything super great here. It’s just early in the season and I’m not hearing a lot of elk activity, I’m mostly still in this scouting recon mode, I probably pull my camp, I drive around the forest service road, and I’d come camp here, and then I’d do the same thing.

Maybe I’ve got to go back to my day one spot. Say, “You know what? Of all the places I’ve looked at, this little draw here. Man, there’s water in here. It’s really good.” I know bulls are going to be coming in there, that’s where I’m going to be hunting. I’m going to stake the rest of my hunt, days four through seven, based on what I found in days one through three. And the reason I went through that exercise is that I don’t want people to think that you put the plan together and you just do what your plan says. You go there, your plan is kind of your roadmap, but you have to be thinking, looking, interpreting, analyzing, and making decisions based on what you’re seeing while you’re out there.

And the other part of building a plan like this is to give yourself as many options as possible. So in this case, I’ve given myself the option of one day in here, one day in here, and one day up here. And if I could hunt all fourteen days, I might go and build another part of my plan here, or another part of my plan down here. Whatever your time allows. If I only have five days, I’d probably have to get rid of this upper one and say, “All right. With five days, I really only can spend a day here, a day here, and then I’ve got three days where I’ve got to figure it out.”

So there you have it, folks. This is how I would do a pre-rut plan. And again, what did I do? I said, “All right. My tag is September 1 through the 14. I know that food is going to be the primary need at the beginning of that hunt, with breeding at the end of that hunt. I know that the bulls and cows at the beginning are feeding in different places. I know as the hunt progresses, the bulls are going to be coming closer to the cows. I’ve given myself as many options as possible. I’ve done all the research I can about … since I’m hunting a food period, right? Pre-rut is a food period. I’d better know everything I can about the food the elk in the Gila National Forest.”

I’ve put all that together, I’ve decided my camp based on what gives me the most flexibility. I know that I’ve got a plan for day one, day two, day three, and then I’m going to go from there. With all this put together, I’ve got a way better chance of encountering an elk to hang my tag on than if I just showed up. If there’s one thing you saw when I was putting this plan together, it’s how intensive this tool gets used, this tool called onX. And for those of you watching this video, go to onXmaps.com/hunt, use promo code Randy to buy this app and save 20%. And when you do that, no matter whether it’s a pre-rut hunt like this, or what we’re going to show you in the next video, a post-hunt rut like this, you’re going to have a tool to make yourself way more effective for that one hunt. That elk hunt that we all wait for. We anticipate it all year long. Invest in this, invest in yourself, build a plan, and go there, and get your elk. Thanks for watching.

Written by Cavan Williams