With a unit or region in mind, contact the supervising big-game biologist. Query him on the known summer range for cows and calves. Colorado offers an online mapping guide to show elk summer ranges in specific game-management units.

Elk may calve anywhere on their way back up a mountain, depending on annual snow levels, but they tend to summer in specific locations. On opening day, these same herds can often be found at or near summer range locations. And even though bulls might not summer with the cows, they will be camping nearby and visiting cows by the archery opener.

Ask smart questions
▶ During your conversation with the biologist, ask about water availability, wildlife water projects, and if the area is experiencing a drought or a wet spell. Research in various Western states indicates that elk prefer habitat within one-third to one-half mile at most from a permanent water source during the summer. That partiality holds into the early archery season, especially with a bull’s weakness for wallowing.

Springs, streams, reservoirs, and even livestock water tanks can provide water, but locating a source before you arrive is critical. To pinpoint water, refer to topographical maps and employ Google Earth. Remember, Google Earth images may be years old, so what you see online may not be representative of what you find onsite.

The U.S. Geological Survey has numerous up-to-date water-resource guides for most areas across the nation. You can check stream flows, groundwater levels, floods, droughts, and more online. The National Weather Service also maintains a national water resources outlook at its site for a general idea of the seasonal moisture an area is experiencing.

If you find multiple water sources, focus on the one with the best habitat. Look for water near parks, meadows, or even lowland hayfields. A nearby north slope choked by dark timber adds value to water access and grazing with secure bedding cover. It’s a sure bet for an early-season elk hotspot.

Elk Scouting Helplines:

Colorado Division of Wildlife Elk Range Maps

NWS National Water Resources Outlook

U.S. Geological Survey

Photo by Alamy