Topographic Maps can Help Bow Hunters Find Their Way to Game

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

I crouched behind a stand of small firs waiting for the herd to come through. The elk had seen me and stopped, whirling to run back through the trees. Anticipating their next move, I had run down the trail to watch a clearing.

Sure enough, here they came again. I waited as the nervous animals filed through the clearing, probably twenty-five of them. They were going somewhere and one hunter wasn’t going to slow them down much.

I chose one animal from the bunch, waited for a chance, picked my spot and released. The arrow vanished, the elk turned and started away and I took no more shots, unsure as to what had happened to my arrow. When the dust had cleared and the herd had gone, I saw my arrow in the meadow and nothing left of the elk except hoof prints. A clean miss. But I hadn’t seen all the elk. There had been no dominant bull with them.

I waited, sure he was still coming.

My heart pounded in my chest, where would he go? Would he follow directly behind the cows or off to one side? He'd be wary, I guessed, wondering what had made them stampede. I ran seventy yards down the trail to where I thought he'd cross, at a low spot in the trail, through a dry creek bed. With another arrow on the string, I waited and watched and saw him come.

Limping, as if wounded by another bull, he came on, his gait jerky but moving at a fast trot. Alert, he passed me at forty yards out. I had no shot, but I knew I could stop him with some cow talk. Blowing a chirp on my call didn't do it, so I chirped again and that stopped him. On one side of the tree I could see his head and the six by six rack. On the other side of the tree was his rump. No shot. Then he was gone, leaping across the wide trail, changing direction to pull up out of the dry creek for the safety of the trees.

Trotting down through the tall firs, light and shadow played on his body as I watched him out of sight. I found myself wishing for a camera in place of the bow I was holding.

The individual who craves solitude must choose between hunting private land (often paying access fees) or traveling deeper into public land.

Often, all you have to do is to hunt farther away from the roads. The way to do this is with good maps combined with aerial photos. To start with, buy a USGS regional map which covers a lot of territory and gives a general idea of elevation changes. For deer, start with the higher elevations. You don’t need to hunt the highest peak in the county, but the higher reaches in any region are where you will most likely find bucks in August and September. Elk, on the other hand, will most likely be found in cool canyons and on north slopes during the early season.

Once you have pared down your search to one or two specific areas then you can get the larger scale charts like the US Geological Survey quadrangle maps. These will help you narrow your search for good roadless habitat down even further. Good information like springs, swamps, water holes and the presence and conditions of roads are indicated on these maps. Recent aerial photos will give even better information about current conditions. When used together the hunter can extract much information about where his quarry can be found.

We who choose to bowhunt are doing it for the experience. For many of us, that means that we don’t harvest an animal every year. Taking part in the annual tradition of the hunt reminds us of a time when hunting meant harvesting your food yourself or going hungry. This is our heritage and an expression of the freedom we enjoy in this country.

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