The warm summer months of late June and early July signify that my favorite time of year is quickly approaching: archery elk season. When hunting public land, I’m always looking for ways to gain the advantage over the next hunter. I’m going to share with you my secrets of how utilizing minerals and trail cameras has helped my public land elk hunting success soar—specifically on opening weekend.
One giant advantage that I have is mules; they provide me the independence to be able to pack up to 400 pounds of salt and minerals into the backcountry on my solo scouting adventures. Those of you who do not have access to mules, there are many options that are lighter weight and easier to carry.
Targeting The Stomach
Typically, I put out 50 pounds of trace salt—a loose mineral attractant with a yummy smell like molasses or anise—and a feed or mineral block that the elk can chew on. The loose salt will leech into the ground, establishing a location that the elk will return to for years. The loose mineral attracted has an odor that draws the elk into the site and provides them with the minerals that they seek during antler development, and the block is high in protein and fat and releases much more slowly.
Show Me The Antlers
The main—and in my opinion, most important—advantage that trail cameras provide is having established patterns of movement. With photos, I know which bulls are residents of a particular area vs. bulls that are passing by. And, of course, I want to see antlers! Nothing gets me more fired up than seeing photos of the bulls that I will be blessed to hunt come opening day!
Timing Is Everything
Timing for placing your trail cameras and mineral is crucial. The bulls will be attracted to minerals during critical antler-development stages. The desire to visit mineral sites diminishes once the bulls go hard-horned about August 15, and that desire becomes virtually non-existent during the rut. It’s important to place your cameras and minerals out as soon as possible. Oftentimes that’s snow-dependent in the high country, so typically mid- to late-June or very early in July is when I shoot for. This is the time when I get my best trail camera photos.
Placement Is Key
Trail camera placement is critical. Vary the elevation points of your cameras, placing some in areas that are likely to hold cow/calf nursery groups and others in areas that are likely to hold bachelor groups of bull elk. Look for places that have a close proximity to heavily used game trails to ensure elk will discover the minerals, generally between bedding and feeding areas, and in a locale that has a nearby water source or wallow. It’s my ultimate goal to locate these bachelor groups of bulls long before opening day because the bulls are often in the same area that they have been all summer long.
Putting It All Together
As the summer weeks pass, I’m able to utilize my trail cameras to better monitor when the herds of bachelor bulls begin to break up to establish a territory or begin the search for cows. This helps me identify rut phase trends and helps me to determine my hunting strategy and calling sequence that I use in the area.
One additional advantage of summer scouting is having the ability to monitor the change in vegetation. Oftentimes, much of the summer feed is depleted by mid-September, and if you don’t scout you might not know that dense vegetation was there in the first place. This will cause you to look around and think that there’s nothing for the elk to eat when, in reality, they’ve been in hog heaven all summer long and you are catching the tail-end of the summer binge.
Train hard and scout hard to give yourself and your hunt the advantage of opening day knowledge. Before you put a bunch of work into setting up trail cameras and putting out mineral bait, please check with your individual state game regulations about what is allowed.