How To Scout For Elk – 8 Elk Scouting Tips

By Charles •  7 min read

In our article “E-Scouting For Elk With Google Earth – How To Find More Elk” we discussed, how to e-scout for elk, what to look for when e-scouting elk and finding elk on Google Earth. This article is going to assume that you have done your e-scouting and have a spot picked out. Now you are ready to take a summer trip to scout for elk with boots on the ground.

Table of Contents

How Do You Scout for Elk in The Summer?

After spending all spring scouting for elk digitally you will want to get out to your chosen hunting area and look for elk signs.  While e-scouting ahead of time is extremely useful and can save you a lot of time, there will still be a lot of work once you get on-site.  Google Earth is very accurate but there is no escaping the fact that you are making some assumptions while e-scouting that need to be verified and there is some information you will only get by physically being present.  The following steps will walk you through the process of scouting for elk.

What To Look for When Scouting for Elk?

The first thing you may be asking yourself is… “What do I look for?” You are going to want to find three primary things elk will always need.

  1. Water Sources
  2. Feeding Areas
  3. Bedding Areas

If you already did you online elk scouting with Google Earth, you should already have several of these spots picked out and marked. Now you will want to visit these areas and confirm whether these locations are being used by elk.

Elk Scouting Tips

Pay Attention To Prevailing Wind While Scouting Elk

Upon arrival at your new spot, take note of the prevailing winds in the area and record it for future reference. You should know that you need to play the wind while hunting elk. However, it is just as important while elk scouting.

  • Learning the prevailing winds now will give you a head start on opening morning.
  • Knowing the direction of the prevailing wind around the locations you are scouting will allow you to make an informed decision about how to approach them and where your eventual glassing point should be. 
  • You will want to stay upwind of any saddles between peaks, trails between your marked water and food sources, and certainly any bedding areas.  
  • If the upwind side of the site you may have picked on Google Earth to set up in is too steep or rocky, you will need to reconsider your plan.

Find a Glassing Point to Scout for Elk

After you know how to safely approach your chosen glassing point, you will want to glass your intended hunting grounds before doing anything else.  Pick a spot where you will have a clear view over a large the area, hopefully with a 360-degree field of view.  While glassing you will want to confirm a few things from your e-scouting.

Elk Scouting Tips - Find a Glassing Location -How to scout for elk
Elk Scouting Tips – Find a Glassing Location to Scout for Elk
  • You will want to look for any differences in the landscape from what you saw on Google Earth. This can include:
    • Evidence of recent fires and/or logging activity.
    • Approaches to saddles that you found or even saddles that may not have been clear.
    • You will want to look at any feeding areas you may have marked in hopes of determining richness and use of the area.
  • With luck, at this time you will also see some elk which is always the best elk sign.

Assess The Situation On The Ground While Scouting Elk

After a glassing session, you will need to do some hiking. During this time, you are looking to confirm a few things and discover a few others.

Confirm & Find Any Water Sources

Water sources are usually easy to find. Most elk will not be too picky when it comes to water so just confirm the ones you have marked and mark any new ones you find.

Elk Scouting Tips - Locate Water Sources - How to scout for elk
Elk Scouting Tips – Locate Water Sources

Confirm & Find Any Food Sources

You should try to confirm and mark as many food sources as you can. After all, the same group of elk might use several different areas while you are there. Look on southern and western slopes for good food sources. However, do not rule out benches and other open areas.

Elk Scouting Tip - Locate Feeding Areas - How to scout for elk
Elk Scouting Tips – Locate Feeding Areas

Confirm & Find Any Bedding Areas

Northern or eastern sides of slopes with thick timber and flat benches are often where elk prefer to bed. They like areas that afford them protection from sight, a warning of anything approaching, and easy escape routes.

Elk Scouting Tips - Look For Bedding Areas - How to scout for elk
Elk Scouting Tips – Locate Bedding Areas

Look for Wallows

Wallows are where elk cool themselves when they are hot. These are muddy spots in the terrain will be all churned up from the thrashing elk. You can gauge how long it has been since an elk has been in a wallow by how dry the mud is around the edges and on the surrounding vegetation. Wallows are also often close to bedding areas. Use them to aid you in confirming possible bedding areas.

Look for Game Trails

Game trails are an important discovery if you can find them. These are very often trails between water sources, food sources and bedding areas.  You will also want to confirm the trails you identified while digital scouting for elk earlier.

Elk Scouting Tip - Find Game Trails - How to scout for elk
Elk Scouting Tips – Locate Elk Trails

Be On The Lookout for Other Elk Sign

Keeping track of sign while scouting for elk will give you an indication of how viable your hunting spot is. During your hike, you will want to mark and take note of the following.

Elk Scouting Tips - Look For Rubs - How to scout for elk
Elk Scouting Tips – Locate Elk Rubs
  • Rubs – Bulls rub their antlers on trees for a variety of reasons.  This includes establishing a perimeter around a favorite bedding or wallow location to getting the velvet off their antlers. What is particularly important to note is if there is a variety in the ages of the rubs present. Ideally, you want old and young rubs to show that this is a spot elk return to often.
  • Tracks – There are several points about tracks that you will want to take note of while scouting for elk.
    • Did bulls or cows leave the tracks? If these are mainly cow and calf tracks, you are in the right area if you will be hunting during the rut. However, you will want to focus on bull tracks for pre-rut or post rut hunts.
    • How deep are the tracks?  Heavy impressions indicate a more mature the bull.  However, if the tracks are too deep it means the elk were running and are likely to be long gone.
    • Are the tracks heading primarily in one direction or are they headed in every direction? If they are in one direction, these will not help you unless you want to follow the tracks to see what the elk’s destination or point of origin was. If they go in all directions, this is a place where they are likely to be again.
    • How old are the tracks taking current weather into consideration? If you are in an area with only old tracks, you may be wasting your time in that area.
  • Scat – Just like tracks, if all the scat you are seeing old, you may want to keep moving.

Final Thoughts – How to Scout For Elk With Boots On The Ground

When done right, scouting elk in a new location is a time-consuming process.  It can possibly take days just to scout the area properly. In addition, it may take you a few trips or even seasons before you are confident where the good water, food, and bedding areas are.  However, if you do it right and follow these steps, you will be better off than if you just rushed in hoping to get lucky.

Featured Photo by Revolver Creative Company on Unsplash


Charles is a man who loves the outdoors. He moved to Wyoming specifically to spend more time in the mountains and wilderness. A hunter and fisherman, Charles knows how to enjoy nature and all that it has to offer. He is an outdoorsman through and through, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Charles is the President of Absaroka Enterprises, an company focuse on outdoor entertainment and endeavours. He's also an Editor for Alpha and Omega Outdoors, an online hunting, fishing, camping, trapping, and all around outdoors blog.

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