Hunting Low-Country, Black Timber Elk

Though elk are commonly thought of as animals of the high mountains, in actuality, they prefer lower elevations. The “PJ” (pinyon and juniper) country of the mountain foothills is prime habitat. Throw in some oak brush and a few springs and/or ponds, and you’ve got a recipe for excellent elk country.

In early bow season, the main tactic for success on low-country elk revolves around the use of treestands and/or ground blinds near water sources. With the onset of cooler temperatures — and the rut — spot-and-stalk and/or calling efforts are usually the tactic of choice.

Eddie Claypool

All of our western states have low-country habitat that harbors often overlooked populations of elk. Often, however, due to the ease of access to most low-country habitats, hunts in these areas are regulated on a drawing basis. Many times, such hunts produce some of the largest bulls available.

If you’re a trophy hunter, don’t be fooled by the old adage that “the biggest bulls are always the hardest to get to,” or you may be missing out on an excellent resource.

Black-Timber Bulls
Here’s another location to focus upon. When the rut is at, or past, its peak, I head to the dark, damp, mature timber to find bugling bulls. Since this habitat is bedding cover, you must be careful with your approach to the “bedroom” of your treasured resource.

Generally speaking, I stay out of the dark timber during midday times when winds are unpredictable and elk fairly immobile. As a rule, I try to walk ridges high above black-timbered drainage’s during late-morning and early evening times, listening for bugling bulls. Sometimes — when there is good moonlight before daylight, or just after dark — I’ll roam high ridges in the darkness, making “location” calls into new country.

I prefer to focus on east facing slopes in the evening (evening thermals start early) and west facing slopes in the morning (morning thermals stay longer).

I approach as close as possible to a bugling bull, trying to determine if he’s alone and on the move … of if I’m dealing with a herd bull. Loners are easiest to call-in, and herd bulls are best to stalk. The thick cover of black-timber can’t be beat for either approach.

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Eddie Claypool provides weekly tips on bowhunting, with an emphasis on whitetails. Over the past dozen years, Claypool has harvested 23 Pope & Young recordbook whitetails. Six of the deer were taken on public ground, with the rest coming from private ground that he accessed through knocking on doors. He has not been guided on a hunt, or hunted on managed properties. He also has hunted many other species of game including elk and mule deer.

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