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How to deal with wolfy elk

Ithaca 37

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Mar 4, 2001
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Ok, so the wolves are here and the elk know it, so how does a hunter use that to his advantage?

I think a change in tactics and hunting style is called for. First, elk are now using different habitat where they aren't as vulnerable. They're not spending as much time close to streams and rivers---too noisy, they can't hear as well. They're spending more time in places where they can use their noses to better advantage. They're not spending as much time in the open, where they can be surrounded, and they're not spending as much time in real thick woods where they can't see the wolves coming. Ideal habitat is medium open woods where they can use their eyes to spot the wolves and places where scent swirls around from different directions so they can smell wolves. Good escape cover and enough trees or big rocks, ledges or steep hillsides so they can back up against them and keep the wolves from getting behind them. Naturally, they're more alert all the time. Over the past 15 years I've watched the whitetails become more wary and alert, where I hunt, as more lions have moved in. The elk are doing the same thing.

Can you make a wolf call? If you know where the elk are and want to drive them, or at least get them focusing their attention in one direction, would it be a good idea to sound like a wolf when your hunting buddy was sneaking around behind the elk?

Any other ideas on how to take advantage of the wolves? You can't just keep hunting the same old way and expect the same results. It's time to deal with the changes.

How about putting wolf shit in places you don't want the elk to go? Would that work?
Good topic Ithaca. Elk are still up where I hunt and so are the wolves. It has made for some harder hunting for sure. But as long as the wolves are there, i know the elk are there also. The past four years, my elk have been taken in places that you descibed above. Their habits and daily routine have definitely changed and i am still trying to learn this.
I don't agree with you on some things, but this was a good post.
Now if I can just get that wolf to shit in a place I don't want the elk to go!
What's wrong with scooping some into a plastic bag with a stick and dumping it where you want?

A good place for elk to hang out and use their nose better is a finger ridge coming down into a bowl area. Easy escape, too. I spent about three years trying to get a real smart whitetail that loved to bed down on a finger ridge like that. He could smell anything that came into the bowl and if anything or anyone approached him he could hear them, smell them, see them and get away by stepping off the other side of his ridge. One jump and he was outta sight.

Maybe I should invent a wolf howler like those coyote howlers. :D

Elkhunter, what are you noticing about the new elk behavior that can be taken advantage of?
I think you're asking a bit much from the average "hunter", you really expect them to be observant enough to figure out how wolves effect elk and elk hunting? Much less being able to put it all together to be successful.

I mean come on, they still havent even figured out that roads, atv's, and clearcuts arent what elk like.
Ithaca thanks for coming through with the discussion…interesting topic! I wish I was able to spend more time in some of your country to actually be able to note and take advantage of the changes in the elk patterns. It probably is very similar to what I have been seeing in NE Calif. due to the increased lion population. The last few years the mule deer in our area seem to have literally left the “middle range” and are now concentrated at either the top of the timberline (damn near sub-alpine :eek: ) or at the lowland foothills near the ag. lands. The traditional transition zones (sagebrush, juniper, rim rock country) doesn’t hold nearly the deer it did before but what you do see a large amount of tracks and scat from the big cats. Those lions have to eat so I’m sure they will be changing their patterns as well.

It used to be that we’d see a gradual migration from the timberline down to the lowlands each year. Now the herds seem to hang at both extremes and when the migration does occur it’s over in a blink. Fewer deer seem willing to make the return trip in the spring either…almost as if they are staying around the ranches more for protection that anything else.

Buzz, do you think it’s really that the average “hunter” doesn’t have a clue or is it the lack of time most people are able (or willing) to spend in the field to notice the changes in patterning :confused: .
One thing that has affected my ability (or again, my willingness) to view and pattern deer and antelope where I hunt is the changes in the tag allocation process over the years. Whereas I used to go into these areas on a year-round basis knowing that I would likely be hunting there in the fall, now I frequent the areas a lot less (and subsequently am not able to view the gradual changes in the wildlife patterns) as I only can draw a tag every 4-6 years. Course it could be the rigors of fatherhood and three kids that are also chewing up a disproportionate amount of my free time… :( .

Anyway, good topic and interesting posts. Hell, Cabela’s will probably be coming out with freeze dried wolf shit in this falls Master catalog…
I have been hunting elk for 20 some years, but really didn't hunt them in the deeper sense that I do now.
I have noticed in the last five years since I really started getting my nose in the dirt, that I just don't see much sign around the big open parks that I did when I first started hunting Montana.
I do see them pulling themselves deeper into the country side.
Yes, there are some that come right out into open fields, I can take any one to them any morning or evening and let them see a couple hundred elk (cows, spikes).
Maybe it is the drought, maybe it is the wolves that have moved into the area, I don't know.
It is still a learning process and even after five years of really trying to study them, still feel as if I am only just learning the basics.
I am going to start really watching the effects the new movements of wolves may be playing. I saw a wolf just a couple months ago along the free way not far from here.
Buzz, I don't know about the "average hunter" figuring out what's going on, but I do know that any time animals change their general behavior it opens up opportunities for observant hunters to take advantage of. I wonder if the Indians had ways to use wolves to their advantage. I bet they did. I know I use other animals and other hunters to my advantage all the time, even if it's just flanking another hunter who doesn't even know I'm there so I'll see the deer that move away from him.

My point is, as you know, we can figure out ways to take advantage of the wolf re-introductions. I'm not going to be one of the hunters who bitches about anything new. I'm going to be the one who figures out how to deal with it and, if there's a way to use it to my advantage, I will. There's no doubt in my mind that you will, too. Elkchser will, too, and some of the other guys here. It's a new ballgame now and I'm trying to figure it out.

[ 07-21-2004, 09:42: Message edited by: Ithaca 37 ]
Marv, "It used to be that we’d see a gradual migration from the timberline down to the lowlands each year. Now the herds seem to hang at both extremes and when the migration does occur it’s over in a blink. Fewer deer seem willing to make the return trip in the spring either…almost as if they are staying around the ranches more for protection that anything else."

Great observation.

I saw the same thing with elk migration in CO thirty years ago. As the elk moved lower to the private ground earlier (mostly because of increased hunting pressure) and stayed later (because it was easier living), the calves were born there and then that became their natural home. They also migrated faster each year because they figured out they were more vulnerable as they moved. What had been a gradual two week migration became a three day migration.

Over an eight year period we moved our hunting camp a total of 60 miles to the west of where we started. If we hadn't the hunting would have been pretty meager. Most guys didn't move and just bitched about the poor luck they had. We had 100% success on bulls every year.

I think the elk are now realizing they're more vulnerable to wolves as they migrate.

[ 07-21-2004, 09:40: Message edited by: Ithaca 37 ]
Marv said, "Buzz, do you think it’s really that the average “hunter” doesn’t have a clue or is it the lack of time most people are able (or willing) to spend in the field to notice the changes in patterning."

I really think the average "super-sized" hunter is too fat and lazy to get off the ATV long enough to observe anything.

They like to gripe about a lack of game from the seat of an ATV.

I mean come on, how can you not find and kill elk? Big bulls are tough, no doubt about it, but 95% will kill the first legal elk they see.

I'm not much of an elk hunter, but I kill them every year.

All you have to do is cover country on foot, glass, and observe. Its not that tough.
I agree. The only hard part is finding the area they're in. Once you're there, they're big, noisy, smell so bad you can scent them like a bird dog, run in bands or herds, they bugle and mew (cow talk), make easy to follow tracks and have light colored rumps that are easy to see. And when the wolves show up you can bet there will be lots of commotion. Can you imagine how much easier to hunt whitetails would be if they bugled and mewed?

You can't expect them to be standing next to the road, though, so that makes it real tough for the fatassed ATV crowd. :D
Well I'm not sure now this turned into an ATV thread...unless that is the wolves preferred form of transport...

Ithaca I heartily agree that one should be able to use the changes is the way the elk are reacting to the wolf population to your own benefit- similar to what I mentioned with the CA Mt.lion population, the influx of 20 acre "subdivisions" into migration corridors, burns or habitat alterations, etc., my "guess" :rolleyes: is though most hunters don't or won't spend enough time in the field to take notice. They will continue to go back to their "traditional" haunts and complain that there is now no game...even though it may in fact just be concentrated one ridge over.

Thats what I was eluding to Buzz, not the fat assed crowd, or stupidity of hunters, just the fact that for many (due to whatever reason) its jsut business as usuall year after year with little thought (or perhaps time?) to do what is necessary to adapt to the chages in wildlife patterns (due to wolves or whatever reason).

...their gain.. ;)
Great Topic Ithaca. You make a lot of good points. I spent the last 3 years in real wolfy country north of Stanley Ideeeeho in Unit 27. When we saw wolves...and sign...we didn't see the Elk. They would avoid the waterfalls and noisy part of the river & creek and seemed to like the quiet bogs and dams created by the blowdown. Also...the 2 really big bulls came in just at dark...and were not going to be there long. And yes...they liked the Oldgrowth Trees...with a little visibility...and on the steep slopes...more than the thickets with too much cover. Smaller bands as well...One to 2 Bulls with about 7 or 8 cows.

You are spot on with some of your insights.

Road., Thanks for your observations. I suppose the changes in preferred habitat are for defensive purposes. Why do you suppose the bands are smaller? That's an interesting observation. Are smaller bands easier to set up a defense with or harder to locate? Those are my first two guesses. Nobody else has mentioned noticing the bands are smaller, but I haven't been questioning many of the elk hunters I know yet on this subject.

Have you noticed anything else?
Just a thought here,but I havent seen any recent picture of Ithaca with an ELK.
I know he used to be a guide and he has the knowlage .
Maybe Ithaca would be willing to go out with a camcorder and really show how its done.
If there is enough intrest we could get a money donation to cover his expences and moosie could put it on hunt talk for sale.

He wouldn't have to tell us where it is .
If Ithaca can't use all that elk meat we can donate it or have a big hunt talk BBQ.

Come on Ithaca we all love good video's ,Heck we even like the ones moosie does.
I dont know about the others but I really did come on here to learn about hunting.
We aren't a very smart bunch of hunter's anyway so there really isn't much of a chance that many of us could go out and find your spot or put your secret's to use.

I havent seen any video's out that give any info. on how to hunt Elk in wolf country.
Alot of Hunt talkers havent had the chance to see live wolves ,it would be a kick to see it all take place on tape with a hunt talk member.
What do the rest of think ?

"MD, Actually, I haven't hunted elk in about 12 years, but I'm thinking about taking up the sport again now that the wolves have made it different. I think it would be interesting to get into the new ballgame and see what it's like. I'm hoping it's more challenging."

I had no idea it's been that long sense you hunted.
So your up for the video challange???????
The elk are in smaller groups because there are less of them. The wolves ate the others, thats not hard to figure out. My observations with hunting elk in wolf country is that it sucks, period. If there are wolves there, then the elk are somewhere else. I had one ridge scouted really well last summer, had lots of elk on it. Around August that ridge started crawling with wolves, tracks everywhere and howling everynight and the elk were gone. I didn't see a single elk track on that ridge in hunting season or hear any bugling. I did find some elk later and low and behold there wasn't any wolf sign where those elk were.
MD, Why don't you go be an asshole in some other thread? "I havent seen any video's out that give any info. on how to hunt Elk in wolf country." Real hunters don't wait for somebody else to make a video, they go figure it out themselves.

Well, Tone, It sounds like you're learning already. No sense hunting where the elk aren't, right? So everybody needs at least a few options. You can't expect to go back to the same spot every year and find elk. That's what I see most Idaho resident hunters doing. They go back to the same traditional spot they started hunting with their grandfather 40 years ago and then, when something changes there, they sit around and bitch about it instead of finding new spots-----which requires time and effort.

I don't think the wolves ate all the elk. I think it requires different tactics and better hunting skills to get one now. After all, they are certainly more alert.

Marv summarized it pretty well. Adapt or fail.

I was hoping to use this topic to get a discussion going on why and how to adapt.

[ 07-22-2004, 13:24: Message edited by: Ithaca 37 ]
Good topic Ithaca. Very relevant in these parts.

I'm not much of an elk hunter, having never killed one. And maybe this is complete nonsense.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned has to do with the hunting habits of the wolf. We see how the elk are adapting their survival habits, but would it make sense to try to understand why (other than the obvious). What is it specifically about the habits of the wolf that is causing the behavior, other than the fact they are a predator. Like cover when approaching elk for example. What are the hunting techniques of the wolf that elk instinctively know and compensate for to survive. I think the purpose of knowing this would be so that a hunter knows how NOT to act like a wolf. I think if someone knows this about wolf behavior, it would add to this discussion.
Hangar, Good questions. "What are the hunting techniques of the wolf that elk instinctively know and compensate for to survive." I don't think the elk instinctively knew how to deal with the wolves. In Yellowstone they were observed to get hammered for the first few years until they started figuring out how to deal with wolves.

But we know the wolves attack quickly and silently, so elk eyes become more important and steep hillsides would be helpful. Places with shale slides are good, because it's hard to run across them quietly. Roadtrip mentioned staying away from noisy water so ears are more effective.
I think too many people make elk hunting harder than it needs to be.

Get off the road, do a lot of glassing, cover country on foot, look for sign.

Once you find the sign, hunt there until you find them.

Wolves may push elk around, but so do people.

I do agree that you have to be flexible to be successful hunting elk.

Personally, I'll let the wolves worry about the wolves and how they hunt elk...I'm more concerned with elk and how I hunt elk.
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