In-Season Scouting for Hot Weather, High Country Elk
By Gary Lewis
When the mercury climbs to 90 degrees and above, as it can throughout the late August and September season, elk have to adapt. At the end of last season, I joined a hunt with Mike Crawford of Battle Creek Outfitters on their Buckaroo Ranch in the Heppner Unit.
Temps topped out at 100 and dropped into the 70s at night. So low was the humidity that the air fairly crackled when the wind blew.
A bull elk is in his comfort zone when the thermometer reads 70 degrees or so. The elk were in the rut, but would only bugle in that first light of morning and again when the sun was down.
When the weather heats up, elk can find a 70-degree zone on a 100-degree day. A bull can camp out in a wallow and let the breeze cool the mud caked on his hide. When the wind blows over water, a cooling effect can drop the temp ten degrees or more.
Scout the north-faced slope of a ridge and pay special attention to flat spots on a contour and possible bedding spots above them where elk can catch an upwelling breeze.
If a bull has taken residence on a ridgetop, there will be sign: oval-shaped beds, droppings with thumbnail-sized dimples, saplings rubbed seven feet high, or hair stuck in tree bark or barbed wire.
One evening we made a stalk on a bull that called from the edge of a meadow. After we’d bumped him, we found the foam that had frothed at the corners of his mouth while he bugled.
In the extreme heat and low humidity, fresh tracks lose definition quick as the soil turns to fine powder. Day-old droppings dehydrate and turn brown faster than they do later in the fall.
Now, elk seek out their beds long before the sun is halfway up.
In a narrow canyon, I found him, a five-point bull that trotted toward me through a grove of aspens. Arrow nocked, I was ready for him to step into an open glade at 40 yards. Instead, he took the next trail over and stopped on a rocky slope. Broadside for a perfect shot, except he was 80 yards away.
There were other days and other elk that bugled in the cool of the morning. But that five-point bull, as it looked back over his shoulder, antlers high, his flanks dappled by pine-filtered sun was mine. It just wasn’t my day to take him.