Dissecting the Area
Once I get the basic overlays on my map I do what most hunters do, I look for isolated pockets. I’m not sure it’s so much as finding un-pressured Elk as an attempt to just getting away from other hunters. We all understand there will be areas that hold
fewer numbers of Elk and we can deal with that. What bothers me and those I know the most, is having other hunters move in on us when we’re working a Bull. Our first instinct is to find isolated pockets, away from roads and trails hoping there won’t be people in there. To do that, I turn on the Unit layer, FS map layer, open roads layer, and the open ATV trails layer on my map. I zoom out a ways and just look. I don’t focus on anything, just look and pretty soon there will be places that catch my attention. It’s real possible there isn’t an Elk within 10 miles of these places but this is where I start marking up my map. I mark the largest areas first, and then work down.
This is our FishLake map when I zoom out.
Remembering that the roads are green and the trails are red, we can see some spots that we can circle.
The first area that sticks out is NW of FishLake.
Once I circle a spot I’ll zoom in for a closer look. I turn off the FS layer and turn on the Topo layer.
This is what it looks like:
In this instance, I see the two trails running off the end of the road. Other than that, there isn’t much for access in there and lots of ground you could cover. What stands out is that the ridge running the length of the Lake has the main road under it. Everybody and their dog will be spotting Elk up on that East facing slope. The Cirques area seems to have the same potential problem, too easy to spot game from the main road.
The head of Tasha Creek however might be OK. It’s on the backside of the main ridge so the Elk won’t see the resort and road traffic, and its several miles up from the valley floor. The problem I see is that the trail runs right down the creek from the top. The morning thermals will be going down the draw so if somebody decides to drive up the road and bail off down the trail, they’ll bust everything out ahead of them. I would look at coming up from the btm in the dark, getting on the ridge above the lake and glassing across at first light. You could then head down to the creek and up the other side, coming in under or from the side of any Bull over there.
The other place I would look at is the West facing slope between the Hightop ridge line and the CWMU. Unfortunately the access runs right along the bottom for most of its length. It appears to be an ATV trail rather than a road so that may help a little.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s real possible there isn’t a Bull within 10 miles of these two spots but the process I use to find areas starts out as above. I find a random spot based on the lack of roads and trails, I zoom in to see if there are other trails that may be on the Topo, then I ask myself where would the Elk be and why, how would I hunt it, and how can I get messed up by other hunters that are also in the area.
Going back to my map I see a couple spots over on the East side of the unit and zoom in.
When I get in closer I see the streams are designated as “intermittent”. I turn off the FS layer to see the vegetation. It doesn’t look good at 8 miles up. I also see that the roads and trails stop at the edge of the main vegetation. I’m pretty sure that’s not by chance, there’s a reason for it.
It looks dry and arid when I get closer:
I’ll mark it and drive out to look at it. I’ve killed some Bulls up here in our Pumice flat/Lodgepole Pine country so I won’t discount it completely but again, there is a reason the roads all stopped at the transition points.
I zoom back out and turn the FS layer back on. I see a spot up North that has a couple ATV trails but no roads to speak of.
When I zoom in I see there is a main road running along the West side of the area but there is private land preventing access. The trail runs down the top of the ridge, so there is a chunk of land that is a couple miles wide by about 5 miles long that only has easy access from the trail.
I turn off the FS layer and turn on the Topo layer, looking for other details that may not be on the FS map.
I see a pack trail running down the middle of the area cutting it in half. So, it’s not as good as it looked before but still not too bad. I turn off the Topo and look at the terrain.
It looks a little dry but there are fields down in the private on the West side, and “maybe” no access from that side. The animals that are in there should come down to the private and feed, then move up. It’s open enough for glassing so it is probably worth a trip in there and side hill the canyons, glassing to see if there is anything in the area.
I turn the Topo layer back on, then turn on the “Water” layer. I zoom in to get the better Topos to display. I see several springs up near the tops and if those actually have water in them, the area might hold some Elk. I also see a possible access area off the lower road.
As is the case down in the South East corner, this area is drier and has few trails. There are trails all over this unit and for some reason these last areas have few trails. There is a reason for it, but with nothing but maps to look at, I can’t determine what it is. I’ll have to ask around when I get down there before season, then take a look in person.
After I look at the larger non roaded areas I go back and look at the “regular” open areas. These are areas that may be only two or three square miles in size. It sounds small but if there are Elk in there, two square miles is a lot of country.
I look at each of these areas, one at a time, using the same process as before. Why would they be there, are they just passing thru, how would I hunt it and how might somebody else mess up my hunt. I will zoom in and turn off the layers so I can look at the roads and vegetation. Just because there aren’t any roads doesn’t necessarily make it a good spot. We’ve already seen that no roads might mean arid conditions.
You can see from the map above that there are plenty of areas that need a closer look.
After going over the “regular” spots, I zoom in and start panning over the map looking for what I call “drive by’s”. Up here, after a few years of pressure the Bulls smarten up and sometimes move to small areas bounded by busy roads. Hunters discount these areas and simply “drive by” on their way to those deep canyons that they assume hold all the Bulls. There is criteria I look for in Eastern Oregon and it very well may not work in Utah, but I’ll at least go thru the motions, seeing if it’s a viable option once I start hunting.
To find these "Drive By" areas, I look at my map for an area that’s at least one mile wide and two plus miles long, bounded by roads, generally with one spur road or open ATV trail going up the center. The vegetation needs to be dense enough that a 30-50 yard shot would be the max yet open enough that you can see roughly 100 yards. It sounds contradictory but remembering you can see thru some of that vegetation will clear it up. The Bulls feel hidden yet can see danger approaching. Up here the typical vegetation in an area like this would be a mix of small Doug or Grand Fir, 5-30 feet tall with some decent 24”-30” Ponderosa Pine mixed in. If I can find a few of these spots on the map, I will drive past the center road or trail and brush out the tire tracks. If I check it the next day and nobody has been there, I prepare to hunt it the following day. I want the center road/trail to have no activity for two days. Oddly enough I have had more successes than failures in these little spots.
Here is an example of what I look for, although not perfect, will show you the basics of what I’m trying to find; A single road or trail going into a decent sized area that if left alone for a day or two, will provide a secure spot for Bulls that have been getting pressure from other hunters.
I then check the Satellite image to see the extent of ground cover.
Everything seems to check out. There may be no Elk here, there may be tons of them, I have no idea since I have never been here before.
But, there is one more thing I can do. Going back to our FS GIS dataset page http://tinyurl.com/287hjon
I can preview the “Vegetation” shape files. This is a pretty slick setup the FS has done here. They have cataloged all the vegetation types for the District.
Clicking on the “Preview” link will load up the .PDF file.
Zooming in will then show us the different types of Vegetation; Oak Brush, Aspen, etc. and their locations.
I can’t really distinguish our spot even after I zoom in but I do know I want to add this feature to my map. The question is, how well will it work in our map?
I download and extract the shape files, then use the “add content” to bring in the shape file. I have to really shrink down the lines to get the display I want but once I do, I can see this is really a slick overlay. They have marked all the different types of vegetation for us. Granted, there will be errors but as a scouting tool this is pretty nice.
Zooming in to the last area we were looking at, we can see the different vegetation areas they have marked for us.
When we left click inside one of the areas, a descriptive box pops up and will list all the data associated with that particular polygon. The Vegetation type is listed in the “Community” field.
The .XML file that is included as one of the support files has the descriptions and abbreviations listed within it. You can double click on the .XML file and it will open in Internet Explorer so you can read the descriptions. IE by default will block the file from doing anything and will pop up a message saying as much.
The vegetation referenced above is Pinyon-Juniper/Gambel Oak.
I mark all the promising spots on my map so I can refer to them when I get down to the unit. During my actual scouting trips I will take a closer look at the terrain and vegetation. I’ll also head out with the spotter and try to see what the areas have for animals. Obviously I can’t just start at one end and glass the whole unit; I have to whittle it down into manageable pieces. The above is how I do that.