Many hunters employ spot-and-stalk tactics for elk, but on public land you may reap more rewards by staying still, silent, and secluded. I recently returned from a hunt in the White River National Forest of Colorado, an area repeatedly slammed by early-season snow storms such that many resident elk had migrated to lower elevations. On the third day of the hunt, we encountered four men from Nebraska on horseback who had left the trail head at 3:00 a.m. to reach our remote spot. “We have cow tags,” the leader said. “We’ve been hunting for four days and haven’t seen a one.”
Although the number of elk in the area was much lower than usual, we stayed to our plans and selected areas of good visibility over likely travel and escape routes, counting on hunting pressure from outside to move elk into view. Dr. Steve Sachs (left) had previously hunted this region and had taken an excellent 5×5 bull by stand hunting. This year, he found a concealing evergreen that allowed a good look at two snow-filled faces that connected two patches of dark timber. The second morning, two bulls and a cow ran from the timber before he could connect. But he stayed the course and, an hour later, a 4×3 bull followed six cows that walked across the snow-covered opening.
The next evening, Charley Toms (shown at top) assumed his buddy’s stand and took a 5×5 bull just before dark from the same spot. This success came from six eastern hunters with no guided assistance. The hunt was further complicated by brilliant lunar nights, which allowed elk to feed at will, and bluebird days that kept them in the dark timber longer than normal.
When hunting public land for elk, mule deer, or whitetails, hunter pressure can work for you if you can locate travel and escape corridors. Elk and mule deer in the West frequently cross at ridge top saddles and watching one or two is always a good bet. Whitetail hunters often select narrow sections of timber that funnel deer travel. Wind direction is important, yet by hunting a ridge top you may avoid detection. Even though you are “standing” if game is sighted at a distance, by seeing it first you can often move into a better shooting position. Patience is the greatest challenge to this type of hunting, and you need to dress appropriately and prepare to sit the entire day. Pack a Thermos of hot chocolate, sandwiches, and your favorite snacks to keep you satisfied and content. Check in every hour with your buddy by phone or walkie-talkie to make the day go faster. Walking may be more fun, but patience puts meat in the freezer.