So you’ve drawn an elk tag for a Western state renowned for its millions of acres of public wilderness. The immensity of the terrain can be overwhelming, especially to hunters who are used to hunting a few dozen acres. Start by studying a topo map of the area you intend to hunt, and break it down into ridges, valleys, and creek bottoms. Not all valleys have creek bottoms, mind you, but all creek bottoms are in valleys. Look for small, flat areas between the towering peaks and cliffs. Some of the best spots are only a few hundred yards wide.
▪ These can offer grassy areas, where elk like to feed, amidst heavy timber. Ridgetops adjacent to flat, waterlogged creek bottoms are ideal places to still-hunt through during the first and last hours of the day, especially in warm weather. Elk will use timber-covered ridges as travel corridors between their feeding and bedding sites. If you find fresh tracks and droppings on one, it could be a good place to sit and wait.
▪ Elk find seclusion in valleys in the middle of the day, particularly where the bottom is wide and flat. The wet areas on your map should be denoted with the color white; if it’s really wet, it will typically be symbolized with grass hummocks. Elk usually congregate in these areas from the September rut through early November. If the area is flat and wet, and especially if it holds the headwaters of a creek, keep the wind in your face and quietly slip through the area. Elk tend to congregate right where the highest point of a creek begins. Finding these locations is the most important thing you can do when hunting elk for the first time in a new area.
▪ Big bulls are drawn to creek bottoms in warm weather for a variety of reasons. They have the most dense vegetation and variable winds throughout the day, and are frequently 10 or 15 degrees cooler than the surrounding hillsides. Hunting creek bottoms must be done with a keen awareness of what the wind is doing. Try sitting and listening about halfway down a ridge that leads to a creek bottom. If elk are present, you will often hear cows mewing or a low bugle from a bull even as late as early November.
Locating elk and keeping the wind in your face as you sneak into the area can be the most effective hunting tactic for any part of the season.