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Joined: 02/16/2013
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Better strategy - Early archery or rut on pressured public land?

I only get 1 week for elk, so I have to make it count. I am trying to decide if I would be better off going for the opening of archery season, or the rut. Here are the basics of the area:
- It gets lots of pressure and is surrounded by private land.
- It is hard to get more than 1 mile from a trailhead because of size, but it is steep so you can get away from most hunters.
- There are lots of elk in the area in July, but it is in the winter range
- Last year I was there the week leading up to the rut. The heards from July were mostly gone. There was one group above the treeline about as high and far away from any trail as it is possible to get. But that group dissappeared by the third day.
- There were a few individuals in pockets of thick stuff on some secondary peaks
- There were more hunters than I saw during the 2nd gun season
- There were fresh rubs and some big wallows, but I didn't see much actvity around them while I was there
- I have also seen lots of sign ot rutting activity when I have been there after the rut in some pockets of thick timber

So do I get there and get setup before opening day to try and catch the summer heards before they leave, and hunt the wallows? Or do I wait for the rut, and hunt the thick stuff on the secondary mountains? Or just start from scratch in a better unit?

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Location: Montana
Joined: 06/08/2005
Posts: 86
I would personally chose a

I would personally chose a unit with more limited access. It's sounds like the elk get pushed out of there early.

SGM
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Location: Canon City, Colorado
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From what you said I would go

From what you said I would go early as it sounds like the elk will be all pushed out to the private land after the first week. However, it is possible they go back into your area the later part of the season if the hunting pressure goes home early but you did not say. Of coures you will have 9 days of ML season mid way thru and the folks that come up early to scout for rifle season. Due to these factors I would go early. As pnelson said, might be time to look for a new area. 

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Joined: 07/16/2009
Posts: 63
I vote for end of season.

I vote for end of season.  I've gone opening day of archery before and it was like you described - more crowded than 2nd season.  It's also annoying to listen to flatlanders from out state bugle every 10 minutes as they walk around a mountain.  The weather was really warm too, too warm in my opinion for climbing mountains - don't know what we would have done if we stuck one.  Never heard a bugle (as in from an elk) the entire week.  

We saw elk that week but never got a shot.  If you're thinking hard about the first week, you might want to skip opening weekend.  By Monday morning, the crowds were down by a third, maybe even half.  

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Location: Western Colorado
Joined: 03/26/2009
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If the elk were there in July

If the elk were there in July it is quite likely that they are still there unless they were pushed out by something.  Come July they are in their summer grounds and where I am located that means 10,000'+.  The cows may be lower since the caving season is in June but can run into July and they like the grassy meadows around quaking aspen trees. 

I personally like the last week of the bow season here in Colorado.  It is late enough that the vast majority of hunters have given up and gone home which leaves me the whole mountain to prowel around on with very little competition.  Also don't confuse the term rut.  In the unit that I have a ML tag in this year there are already hard horned elk with all the velvet rubbed off and they were talking all day long.  Were they in the rut?  No, but a lot of people would believe that they were because of all the bugling that was going on. 

I once read a magizine article and the title was "They Don't Leave, They Hide" and that is true for elk.  Where you see them today they will be in the same area come hunting season.  Perhaps they will stick to the trees more but they will still be in the area unless they are pushed out. 

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Joined: 02/16/2013
Posts: 9
My brain is telling me to

My brain is telling me to move to a better unit, but I am having a hard time walking away from all the hours and hard miles I've invested. The elk are high in September. In this case, 11,000+. I was there from 9/7 - 9/14, and only heard 1 bugle at the end of the week. I did have a few close calls in the first 3 days before the heavens opened up, and it rained for 5 straight days and nights. I never saw another elk or anything else. I felt like I was in the right spot. Lots of sign. I just haven't seen any animals at all except for three days out of more than 2 weeks of hard hunting. I am packing in as far and high as you can get in this area.

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Location: Western Colorado
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You may be too high.  Even

You may be too high.  Even the elk that hang out on Vail Pass like it better 1000-2000' lower than right on top.  Even where I bow hunt at 10500' you will find most of the elk hanging around 9000-8000'.  You will find some up high but not many.  Remember if you are hunting during the mating season you will find the bulls where the cows are and the cows usually like it where the pines transisition into the aspens.

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Joined: 07/16/2009
Posts: 63
i agree

Critter wrote:

You may be too high.  Even the elk that hang out on Vail Pass like it better 1000-2000' lower than right on top.  Even where I bow hunt at 10500' you will find most of the elk hanging around 9000-8000'.  You will find some up high but not many.  Remember if you are hunting during the mating season you will find the bulls where the cows are and the cows usually like it where the pines transisition into the aspens.


Critter wrote:

You may be too high.  Even the elk that hang out on Vail Pass like it better 1000-2000' lower than right on top.  Even where I bow hunt at 10500' you will find most of the elk hanging around 9000-8000'.  You will find some up high but not many.  Remember if you are hunting during the mating season you will find the bulls where the cows are and the cows usually like it where the pines transisition into the aspens.

I concur. Took me a few years to figure this out, but I whole heartedly agree. You might see a lot of sign at the top of the mountain, but most of the sign seems to be for travel/migration routes or escape paths during high pressure times - AKA hunting season. These places can be an effective choke point if the elk's options are limited, but I don't have the patience (nor have I had the luck) to wait until another hunter pushes the elk through a high ridge saddle.

Hunters seem to be the biggest factor, then cover, then food, then water in my search for elk. We've had some luck getting into them early morning as they climb back up the mountain from feeding on private valley-land grass/grazing fields the night before. This year we've had a lot of rain, so food and water won't be an issue. I'll try to use the other two variables to try and find them in the upcoming months.

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Joined: 02/16/2013
Posts: 9
It sounds like I need to look

It sounds like I need to look somewhere else. Almost the entire NF where I am hunting in So CO is above 10K. I never thought about the elevation being too high, especially in the heat of September. But it may be more than the pressure driving them out. I just pulled up Google Earth, and most of the surrounding private land is in the 8-10,000' range. Thanks.

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Joined: 02/16/2013
Posts: 9
7500' too low for September?

Well I compromised. I rented a place in the NW corner of 85 near Gardner. It has about 1 sq mile of what looks like high desert type terrain that is private. It boarders Wolf Springs RFW property which takes about 14 pts to draw. It is a gamble since I am not familiar with that part of the unit, but it is close enough to the areas I have already scouted. There is also plenty of public land in 86 and 82 that I can hit if needed. The whole property is between 7' and 7.5'K. I know it is not a huge tract, but it does have a ridge and canyon that run the length of the property. Would the best tactic be to find some high ground and glass all day to try and catch animals passing through, or bail out to my familiar but unproductive grounds if I don't find elk in the first few days? Is this too low to hunt before the snows?

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Joined: 02/16/2013
Posts: 9
I'll be going up Sept 19th.

I'll be going up Sept 19th.

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