Sam Averett: Rifle Elk Hunt and E-Scouting for Success

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onX Ambassador Sam Averett finds success on an October elk hunt thanks to earlier time and effort invested in e-scouting. Here’s Sam’s take on why e-scouting makes a difference:

From Sam: Rifle Elk Hunt – October

Morning light crept through the hazy eastern sky. Scorched skeletons of a once-green forest reached dead and dying for the sky. We crept forward through the burn, eyes up and scanning. The bull screamed again; we could hear limbs cracking and hooves on soil.

Sunset in the mountains.

We made the rock outcropping as the sun topped the far ridge, bathing the basin in golden light. I eased forward and looked down. There, 300 yards below us, the bull screamed again and loped into the meadow, cows scattering. I glanced back at Will and Casey, eyes wide.

“Nice bull,” I mouthed.

Kneeling, I unshouldered my pack and checked the rifle. Easing back the bolt, I chambered a round and set the gun aside, then crawled forward and set up. The bull circled in the meadow, bugling every few seconds and pushing cows. Far off, another bull bugled back. The cows turned for the edge of the meadow, filtering through the burn to our right. I settled in behind the gun and waited. 

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Finally, the bull turned to follow. I squealed loud as he strode into an opening and he stopped. The shot sounded and the bull staggered. I chambered a second round and fired again. Cows crashed through dead and down timber in every direction. 

The bull lay still in the meadow. I opened the bolt and sat up, smiling at Will and Casey.

E-Scouting + Preparation

When I started e-scouting for areas to hunt in this unit, I was overwhelmed. Everything looked like absolutely stellar elk country. Certainly not a bad problem to have, but it did complicate things when trying to narrow down a couple of key areas.

Topography in this unit ranged from 8,000-foot peaks to sagebrush flats and, based on my research, every bit of it could hold elk. I leaned on a couple of friends for tips, and they confirmed my suspicions. 

The entire unit was elk country.

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I shifted my focus to areas I thought might see less hunting pressure. The unit was inundated with roads and trails, some motorized, others seasonal. As it had in September’s high country mule deer hunt, onX’s Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) Layer played a crucial role here. I was able to determine which trails were open to motorcycles, and when those trails closed for the season. Combined with the Roadless Area Layer, I narrowed down a few places I thought I could get away from people.

Granted, most of those areas required four or five miles of hiking through fairly steep terrain to access. I was fortunate to have a couple of in-shape buddies along, complete with good attitudes and strong backs.

The onX Hunt App is used to help hunters find elk.

From there I used onX’s satellite imagery to pinpoint areas that I felt had a good mix of timber and open, glass-able country. I wanted to find an area where elk felt secure, but that still gave us the opportunity to use our binoculars. It’s no secret that burned areas can be a magnet for game, and I utilized the Historic Wildfires Layer to help narrow our search even further.

Friend hiking out elk meat harvested while hunting in the West.

By the time we actually arrived in the unit, I’d been able to narrow our search to three or four spots I felt optimistic about. We hiked in three days before the season and were fortunate to find elk in all of our marked areas.

In the last few years, pre-season e-scouting has become an absolutely critical part of my process when hunting new areas. Spending a few hours picking through maps and utilizing the layers on onX Hunt can save you days of time learning new units, and give you the best-possible chance to have success when you do actually get boots on the ground in new country.

Success hunting elk using the onX Hunt App. Empty cartridge against elk hide.
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Jess McGlothlin

Before taking the role of onX Communications Writer, Jess McGlothlin worked as a freelance photographer and writer in the outdoor and fly-fishing industries. While on assignment in the past few years she’s learned how to throw spears at coconuts in French Polynesia, dodge saltwater crocodiles in Cuba, stand-up paddleboard down Peruvian Amazon tributaries and eat all manner of unidentifiable food.