Oregon High Desert Elk Hunt

OREGONCODY

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Aug 4, 2019
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Beaverton OR
Hey all, new to the forum here and hoping to get some advice. I'll be going on my first elk hunt in about a week and a half in SE Oregon. My father, one of his buddies and I drew cow tags in the southern portion of unit 66 (all the land south of hwy 20 within the unit). I'm fairly inexperienced, never hunted elk or really this type of habitat before. My father and his buddy have both hunted elk in Colorado, but none of us have really hunted the high desert, pinyon juniper, sage flat environment before.

The season opens on the 15th, and we plan in being there from the 13th until the 21st, or until we fill our tags. On the August 1st-2nd I spent some time driving through different portions of the unit looking and glassing for what I thought might be good habitat, sign, and elk. I found what I hope to be good habitat, but no sign or elk from the road. I didn't spend too much time on foot, this trip was mostly to get the lay of the land (my inexperience with e-scouting led me to significantly underestimate the size of the hills). Based on what I saw and know about elk, I think I found a couple of places to give a closer look at. On the 6th I'll be back out to spend some more time looking on foot, but don't want to waste time checking out stuff that should be overlooked.

I have found two places where some privately owned alfalfa/hay fields back up to the hills, right where it become public land. The fields are right off the highway, but to get behind them on the BLM land is at least an hour drive into the hills to get the nearest vehicle accessible spot, and a few mile hike down to where the public meets private. I don't know for sure, but it seems to me based on what forage I saw and how much some of this unit has been overrun with cheatgrass that those ag fields would be a might tempting night time meal for any nearby elk. I imagine that they must be bedding down in the shade of the junipers in the heat of the day. So far, checking out these locations further is my plan.

The other option is to check out the more eastern part of the unit, which is mostly sage hills/flats with less junipers, and almost no agricultural land. I haven't been out there yet to actually see it, but there seems to be much less human influence/traffic out in this portion of the unit. Water also seems more scarce, and it seem more difficult to glass large sections of ground at a time.

This is a 45 day long season with only 150 or so tags available in a pretty good sized unit, so I don't imagine the animals will be too pressured. General archery season will open a few days after we leave, so we might see others scouting, but I think hunter numbers will be relatively low. We're also not looking for the biggest bulls- just anything without antlers that will fill our freezers.

So, my question is essentially this: how would you spend the 4-5 days of scouting available to you if you were in this situation? Do you get out on foot and start looking for sign/elk off the roads near the ag land? Or do you check out the parts of the unit that are more isolated that you haven't seen yet? Spend more time glassing or more time looking for tracks/sign?

I don't want to come across as a newbie just looking for handouts, and I don't expect/want anyone to give up their honeyholes. I'm trying to do my homework and put in some real world effort, but any help on where to direct that effort would mean a lot to me.

Thanks everyone!
 

ElkFever2

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Mar 4, 2019
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Location
Iowa
Have fun scouting and hope you have a great hunt. Don't worry too much about asking the 'wrong' questions on here. It's obvious from you post that you're willing to do some hard work yourself and would like some direction rather than just wanting someone to give you unearned shortcuts. You'll very likely get some good input from some very accomplished elk hunters.
 

rtraverdavis

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Oct 20, 2016
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OREGON
I’ve not hunted that specific unit, but one very similar. Your plan of getting back behind those ag fields is a good one. If you have some steep canyons and draws with tall sage brush near ag fields, you’ll have good elk habitat. That said, you’d be surprised where you find elk in country like that. Good luck!

Also, regardless of how you, post up the story and pics here on the forum.
 

OREGONCODY

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Joined
Aug 4, 2019
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20
Location
Beaverton OR
Have fun scouting and hope you have a great hunt. Don't worry too much about asking the 'wrong' questions on here. It's obvious from you post that you're willing to do some hard work yourself and would like some direction rather than just wanting someone to give you unearned shortcuts. You'll very likely get some good input from some very accomplished elk hunters.
Thank you! I have gotten some input, and I’ll be sure to update (hopefully with pictures) during/after the next few days, I head out tomorrow morning for another peek at the area!
 

OREGONCODY

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Aug 4, 2019
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Beaverton OR
I’ve not hunted that specific unit, but one very similar. Your plan of getting back behind those ag fields is a good one. If you have some steep canyons and draws with tall sage brush near ag fields, you’ll have good elk habitat. That said, you’d be surprised where you find elk in country like that. Good luck!

Also, regardless of how you, post up the story and pics here on the forum.
Thank you! I’ll head back into those areas and get a closer look, maybe see if I can find tracks/scat during the day and glass during the evenings and mornings where it looks like their travel corridors might be. have you seen them bed directly in the sage? I assumed they’d need something taller for better shade on those hot days.
 

rtraverdavis

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Oct 20, 2016
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OREGON
Thank you! I’ll head back into those areas and get a closer look, maybe see if I can find tracks/scat during the day and glass during the evenings and mornings where it looks like their travel corridors might be. have you seen them bed directly in the sage?
have you seen them bed directly in the sage? I assumed they’d need something taller for better shade on those hot days.
Yes. Like I said, you’d be surprised.
 

454

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Aug 5, 2014
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Location
Missoula
I've done this cow hunt several times. It runs along with the pronghorn seasons in that unit so I always apply for the cow tag when I apply for the antelope tag. Did not draw either this year. I grew up hunting unit 66 for mule deer and my family has hunted 66 since the 60's. The elk are very scattered in the Southern part of 66 but they are in there. You're on the right track watching the areas near the ag fields. I usually find that they bed down in the junipers within a mile or three of water. Also, the antelope hunters are usually pretty friendly about sharing elk info when I have stopped and talked to them. I have rarely run into archery hunters during the cow hunt. This is also an excellent place to have a cougar tag if that interests you and coyotes are usually everywhere. I have seen herds as large as 200+ in August but usually just smaller pockets of 6-10 or so. Find water in this unit and you should find elk. An extra spare tire can come in very handy here as well.
 

Elkdog

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Oct 7, 2014
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Location
Nevada
I have not hunted that unit but I was raised northeast of there in similar country. As noted above, if you can find water water sources in the vicinity of the fields that should be good elk country. Good luck!
 

Brittany Chukarman

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Dec 16, 2003
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1,147
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Richland,Or
I don't know that country well but I'd look for higher north facing slopes above hay fields. They'll go a long way to hit a green field but often leave the field before daylight and head back to higher, cooler ground.
 
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Werty

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Apr 23, 2018
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Bzn, mt
Get up early and get on the highest spot you can get too and glass everything, spread out if you have other people. Definitely glass the ag fields. Mark the areas and note wind direction and what time they leave the fields and return. Also, try and keep your presence unknown too them. Just my 2 cents. Good luck
 

OREGONCODY

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Aug 4, 2019
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Location
Beaverton OR
I got out here yesterday afternoon and headed up to a section of hills where the ag backs up to public , took a few hour hike through there. Didn’t see any fresh sign but lots of old scat on many of the ridges. Got up this morning and so far have been hiking from rock outcropping to rock outcropping to glass the canyons from the ridges. So far, haven’t seen and fresh sign, but lots of old stud. If I don’t see elk or fresh sign in this area I will probably check out a different area with a similar set up this afternoon.
 

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OREGONCODY

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Joined
Aug 4, 2019
Messages
20
Location
Beaverton OR
Got it done! Got into a few different herds yesterday, but wasn’t able to make it happen (had a shot but missed, nerves were too bad and I rushed it). My father and his buddy filled their tags yesterday afternoon after chasing a herd 3 miles. I hiked a mile and a half before sunrise to get on some BLM land on the backside of some private land the elk seemed to like hanging out on. There was no herd today, but a single cow came through the same saddle that’s the herd came through the day before. She started to head towards the opposite side of the ridge when I mewed and chirped at her and she headed right towards. Two shots later and she was down.

I can’t express how thankful I am for all the help I’ve received from everyone here, between the replies on the thread and PM’s I’ve had more help and encouragement than I knew what to do with. All I can do now is pay it forward!
 
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