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Tracking elk in the snow?

TommyCorrgs

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Joined
Jan 15, 2021
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30
I was on a hunt this year with one of my buddies family friends, long story short a group of elk passed in front of us but the brush was too thick to get a visual, we waited a few minutes and found their steaming scat. At the time it was starting to snow and there was about an inch of accumulation. I was ready to go after these elk and get one down. But the guy had brought his wife and daughter who were out of shape and complaining about being tired and cold. So we hiked up 1000 feet out of the heavily timbered canyon we were hunting in and abandoned the elk. The guy my friend and I were with told us tracking the elk in the snow would be futile and we'd never see them even if they never detected us when they passed by. Something didn't seem right though and my friend and I were pissed he decided to hike back to the truck when we were fired up and ready to kill one. Im new to Hunting this year was my first exposure to it. Im curious if what he said was right and following elk tracks in the snow is dumb or of he was just being lazy. Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
 

TommyCorrgs

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Jan 15, 2021
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30
The area we were hunting is heavily timbered with not much in the way of open areas or above the tree line, dark timber is probably 90% of the area however I can find elk most times I go up. But encounters seem pretty random and the animals seem hard to pattern in this monotonous vast habitat where you can't see very far.
 

BAKPAKR

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May 16, 2018
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746
Location
Appalachia
It sounds to me like your buddy’s friend just didn’t want to pack an elk out of that canyon. If it didn’t appear that the elk were spooked, I would have definitely gone after them. If, on the other hand, it looked like you had jumped them and the tracks took off running, that might be a reason not to pursue them in the thick cover you were hunting. When spooked, elk can cover a lot of country fast.
 

TommyCorrgs

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Jan 15, 2021
Messages
30
It sounds to me like your buddy’s friend just didn’t want to pack an elk out of that canyon. If it didn’t appear that the elk were spooked, I would have definitely gone after them. If, on the other hand, it looked like you had jumped them and the tracks took off running, that might be a reason not to pursue them in the thick cover you were hunting. When spooked, elk can cover a lot of country fast.
I've spooked elk before and this wasn't one of those times they just kept strolling along and our wind was right as well...
 

Mainewoods

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Mar 17, 2019
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63
If you have the wind in your favor and they are not spooked, it sure as hell wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot! I would use the same approach as tracking whitetails, creeping and scanning the woods looking for an ear or antler.
 

Dougfirtree

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Jul 27, 2016
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1,398
Location
Adirondacks
Definitely my favorite way to hunt whitetails and a buddy and I did it successfully for elk, once. As was said above, if you think the elk are spooked and trying to put some distance on you, it may not be worth your time, but if you think they're not spooked, that can be a great way to hunt.
I think the one consideration that is different about elk though, is that when you're following tracks, it's difficult to play the wind and if elk smell you, they have a tendency to scoot a long way away, which is bad. Whitetails will spook when they smell you, but they're less apt to spook 3 miles and over a big mountain. With whitetails, if you're careful, you can spook them and keep following them many times in one day, maybe getting your crack on the 7th attempt. If I were tracking an elk, I'd be more vigilant about the wind that I am with deer and I'd probably try to do some of the tracking with my binoculars when necessary, allowing me to circle around areas where the wind direction was dangerous. And most likely, when I had a sense where that elk was bedded, I'd be inclined to do another circle and approach from downwind (that's a good trick for whitetails too).
 

Big Sky Guy

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Joined
Dec 10, 2018
Messages
199
I was on a hunt this year with one of my buddies family friends, long story short a group of elk passed in front of us but the brush was too thick to get a visual, we waited a few minutes and found their steaming scat. At the time it was starting to snow and there was about an inch of accumulation. I was ready to go after these elk and get one down. But the guy had brought his wife and daughter who were out of shape and complaining about being tired and cold. So we hiked up 1000 feet out of the heavily timbered canyon we were hunting in and abandoned the elk. The guy my friend and I were with told us tracking the elk in the snow would be futile and we'd never see them even if they never detected us when they passed by. Something didn't seem right though and my friend and I were pissed he decided to hike back to the truck when we were fired up and ready to kill one. Im new to Hunting this year was my first exposure to it. Im curious if what he said was right and following elk tracks in the snow is dumb or of he was just being lazy. Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
I agree with the above poster. Your buddy probably just didn’t want to kill an elk. I’d rather someone just say “I’m not willing to pack an elk out of here” rather than try and make up an excuse.

In 2017 I shot my biggest (~290” in my profile pic) bull by going out after we got about 12 inches of fresh snow. I snowshoed in a couple miles and had only crossed one set of fresh elk tracks. I took my snowshoes off and told myself I’d go “just a little bit further.” 1/2 mile later I came across a set of what ended up being very fresh elk tracks. The soft powder makes it very easy to stalk as you can remain practically silent. I tracked the set of tracks for about 1/2 mile until I caught up to the elk. Unfortunately the elk saw me before I saw them (ended up being 3 bulls). They spooked, but having the determination I did I dropped down and hauled towards them as fast as I could catching glimpses of their bodies moving through the trees. They only ran about a quarter mile and stopped. Once I stopped seeing them run I got behind a tree and just watched. Eventually the biggest one stepped out for a clean shot at 190 yards and that was that.

In 2019 I took a buddy of mine from Ohio out. We hiked in about 4 or 5 miles and we were getting pretty whipped. We took lunch, hunkered down in some rocks up on a ridge with the wind absolutely howling. It was so windy you couldn’t really glass where we wanted to without getting tears in your eyes. I glassed up a bull bedded at about 1 or so in the afternoon and asked him if he wanted to go after it, and of course he did because he never an elk and this was a 3 1/2 year old 5 point. There was about 6-10 inches of snow in most places. We stalked in to where we knew the bull was and I put him in front of me and just told him to take it one step at a time and be ready. Well the bull was bedded on a hill crest and turned out there was no way to have really approached him without immediately being seen. He jumped the bull and wasn’t comfortable shooting through small pine trees at the bull when it stopped to look back. It took off. I went up to him and he was very discouraged as he has always hunted white tails back East and if this was a deer back there the day would have been over. Having remembered my experience and having read a recent article in Bugle (“To Follow an Elk” Nov/Dec 2019 issue) I knew there was a solid chance we could catch him with the deep snow. We started following his tracks and after about 30 minutes or so of climbing through the forest he was getting pretty beat (and I was indifferent of packing a relatively small bull out of an unknown drainage in the dark). I told him this was his hunt and whenever he was ready to be done we could start heading back. He replied that he could go “just a little further.” When he told me that I had a great feeling, and not 50 more yards of walking he dropped to his knees and got his gun ready and I looked up to see the bull just standing there staring at us. One shot to the brisket with his 7mm mag and that bull crumpled picture perfect.

The situation you described is my preferred way to hunt ell. Both of those hunts are very memorable and in my experience when there is ample snow elk don’t particularly enjoy running and are less likely to bail out of a drainage. Rather they will run off but they always slow down and watch their back track. A smart hunter can use this to their advantage and in timber it makes stalking very achievable.
 

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Wy067

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Joined
May 3, 2017
Messages
159
Location
Cheyenne, WY
Like others have said if they didn't smell you and they were just wandering through then the fresh tracks and steaming piles definitely could have led you to an opportunity, especially with a rifle.
 

pre6422hornet

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Joined
May 21, 2015
Messages
395
Oh heck yes!!! I have killed two elk in the snow after tracking them down. One at 30 yards! Killed my biggest muley to date, 32" wide, by tracking him down after seeing him cross an opening on the opposite side of a valley. He was with a bunch of does and gave me run for my money. At one point I lost his track and couldn't find it. I looked down the hillside and there it was, he had jumped 30 feet down the mountain and was now walking below the does. About an hour later I caught up to them. He was laying looking directly at me, his head turned sideways and buried in tangle of brush. He was trying to camouflage himself and was hoping I would walk on by.... at 20 feet it was actually not that easy of a shot even with scope at 3x :) Buried a 150 Partition into his sternum and it was lights out. He literally never moved. He knew I was on his track.

I also had one of my best days tracking where I didn't kill the bull I was after. Spent the better part of 6 hours on a hot track of two bulls traveling together. I busted them out of beds twice without a shot at either. Eventually they were shot out from under me as they made their way across a two track and some guys on 4 wheelers took their shots and killed them both. I was able to walk up, admire them both ( one a really nice 6x6) and head out looking for the next track to follow. This was before the days of phones with cameras so no pics, 2000 or 2002, can't remember which year.
 

belshawelk

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 27, 2015
Messages
964
Location
Oregon
There is no better elk hunting than in snow. If you have fresh tracks, go slow and you will find them. Keep your head up, use the wind. It doesnt get any easier. You can tell is they are walking, running, feeding and really get a good sense of what they are up to. I literally pray for snow every elk hunt.
 

MTHunter1321

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 10, 2015
Messages
368
Location
Great Falls, MT
tracking in fresh snow is the best way to rifle hunt elk.
This. If I cut a fresh set of tracks in snow I’ll follow them all day. Takes the guessing out of where they could be if you can just follow where you know they are. Killed a bull 2 years ago out of a big group of elk that had spooked when another hunter shot a cow out of the group. Elk took off up the mountain and I could have easily went back to the truck, but I knew I could follow those tracks until I caught back up with them. Got within 50 yards of a bedded bull and then took him when he got up to stretch.
 
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