The sport of hunting the sly and sought-after elk has brought thousands together. Sharing tales and stories, laughs, and tips are all a part of the conquest. Tips that can help bring another to the ranks of the elite hunters who pursue and harvest the world-renowned species are kept secret when they should be shared freely, as I am trying to do in this series of articles. In my last post I talked about the fact that persistence is key in that pursuit. The constant return to an area allowing insight into herd cycles between food, bed, and water. The average herd running on a 4–6 day pattern, but, just as in real life, counting on a variable free equation is about as realistic as finding a 600 class bull.

So what are some standard variables in this calculation that will help you to put one of these mighty critters in the freezer?

      1. Herd Location 
      2. Herd Size
      3. Season Depth

These variables are intertwined just as tightly as the branches of the trees in the woods where many herds can be found. Here’s a breakdown:

  1. Plains Herds band together in massive numbers, anywhere from 100 to 450+ elk browsing in the sage and hay fields. These huge herds move in a couple of different patterns.
    1. They will hit the same spot every day, be it a perfect honey hole or a farmer’s field. They will return until there is nothing left for them to eat. Often times hunters will bust them up, and they’ll be right back the next day. It’s worth the return. Some herds, spooky to begin with or weary later in the season, will vanish, off to find a new water, food, bed pattern someplace safe from hunters. On the plains, it can be a long way from their favorite place to the next patch of timber or good hiding place.
    2. They will oftentimes run a bed, water, and feed cycle that isn’t too much longer than that of a regular herd. The larger the herd, the longer the cycle usually lasts, sometimes taking seven days before return.
    3. They will sometimes feed a spot for a couple of days, head for water and bed, and return a few days later, extending their cycle past the 4–6 range. This can give you a couple of looks at a herd before they disappear for a week.
  2. Forest Herds are full of variables and unique characteristics. They range from herds of 40 down to little satellite herds of three or four elk.
    1. Little herds are the hardest to catch. They can run on that three-day cycle, watering, bedding, and feeding in constant motion. You’ll see them the night before season on a salt lick and think they’ll be right there the next morning, but odds are you aren’t going to find them unless you get lucky or find their tracks in the snow.
    2.  The bigger herds will usually run the 4–6 day triangle cycle but can often have more than one source of water and food. This will make their triangle more of a large circle, which might not bring the herd back to your favorite spot for two weeks.
    3. As the season brings about deeper snow, finding elk in the woods becomes harder to do, the animals’ awareness to hunters heightened and the numbers of elk moving out of the hills for lower country grows. This is often a good time to head for the plains and run the patterns listed above, unless you want to stay high and track the wily bulls, which I’ll discuss at a later date.

This is generally what I have observed hunting in the Montana Rockies and the plains they overlook. Any feedback from other locations or other observations you have will be a great conversation starter in the comments below. Anything helpful could find itself in my next post.